by RCJ Graves
Conrad Toad was sunbathing by a little pond in Central Park, snacking on the occasional gnat, when an enormous blue and black butterfly fluttered by overhead. Conrad’s eyes bulged. Magnificent, he thought, she’s beautiful.
“Hullo, up there!” Conrad called.
Brittany Butterfly pointed her black antennae at Conrad. To her he was a massive, slimy, predatory blob with an enormous mouth. Fear shot to her wings, and she fluttered higher and further away.
“Don’t be afraid,” Conrad said. “I wouldn’t hurt someone as beautiful as you.”
Brittany pointed her antennae back to the heaving, beastly mouth and saw it had two big, honest eyes on top of its head, and she saw her reflection—fantastically, magically beautiful—in those eyes.
“You wouldn’t?” she asked, as she batted her wings and dropped a little closer to Conrad.
“Oh, never,” Conrad said. “I eat the ugly little things, the gnats and flies and mosquitoes, you know. You’re way too pretty and too big too.” Conrad blinked vacantly at the butterfly as he spoke.
Brittany could detect neither deceit nor craftiness from Conrad, and butterflies’ antennae are especially sensitive to such things, so she fluttered even closer to him in order to give him a better look at her.
She watched herself in his eyes as she came closer. “Yes, I am very beautiful,” she agreed.
“We should be friends,” Conrad said, his wet eyes bulging with pleasure at the sight of her.
“Oh, no, no, no!” she exclaimed to Conrad’s surprise. “We could never be friends. It wouldn’t be right.”
“Why sure it would,” Conrad said, “being friends is fun.”
Brittany laughed. “Oh, no, no, no! That would be wrong: I am the beautiful, glamorous Brittany Butterfly, and you are an ugly, bulgy-eyed, slimy, big-mouthed, moist blob of ugliness. You see, we just don’t go together.”
Conrad’s eyes became even moister than usual, and then big tears rolled out.
“Why would you say I’m ugly?” he asked. “Aren’t I nice?”
“Ugh, nice and ugly,” Brittany answered.
“But no one else says I’m ugly,” Conrad countered.
“I’ll prove it to you then,” Brittany said with confidence. Conrad’s wet eyes blinked up at her. “There’s a human, a little girl, not far from here who’s reading a book on a big round stone,” Brittany continued. “We’ll find her, we’ll each get her attention, and then we’ll see what see says about us.”
Conrad just blinked up at Brittany not knowing what to do. But inside himself, he felt a warm little light glowing, and he knew that that light was not ugly, no matter what a butterfly or a little girl or anyone said.
“OK,” he finally agreed. “Please lead the way, beautiful Brittany Butterfly.” Brittany laughed and fluttered off, and Conrad hopped along behind.
The girl wasn’t very far away. Her sneakers dangled just above a fragrant patch of red clover. Conrad plunged toward her, enveloped in the smell and softness of the clover. Then he leapt with all of the light and joy inside of him and bumped the little girl’s foot, startling her.
The little girl snapped her book shut and looked down at Conrad. Conrad’s big, wets eyes stared up at her.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Toad,” the girl said, “Aren’t you friendly?” Conrad’s heart burst with joy. He looked around for Brittany, but she was nowhere to be found.
Conrad wondered why she had left. He had proven he wasn’t ugly, so she should want to be his friend now. He hopped off through the clover to find her.
“Goodbye, Mr. Toad,” the little girl called after Conrad as she watched him disappear into a nearby flower bed. Then she opened her book and gasped. “Oh no, no, no!” the little girl said. “Poor butterfly!” And she used a napkin to wipe Brittany from the pages.
RCJ GRAVES‘ fiction and poetry is widely published in print and online. His work has recently appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Danse Macabre, Fear and Trembling Magazine, The New Flesh, Poetry Quarterly, and The Short Story Library. He lives in Augusta, GA, where he teaches literature and rhetoric at Paine College.