The prisoners bang against the walls of their cell. First one, then another; soon the cacophony is impossible to ignore. The lights go down but the inmates pay no heed: seeming to feed on one another’s frenzy the noise is now deafening. Then, two escape, arm in arm a’ la The Defiant Ones, the Sidney Poitier movie in which a black and white prisoner chained together at the legs are forced to look after one another’s welfare despite misunderstanding and mutual prejudice, in that their fates are inextricably entwined. The lights blaze overhead and the alarm sounds: “Derek!,” wails the siren, “The butterflies have escaped again!”
I should have known this batch of butterflies would be nothing but trouble. From the time the innocent-looking miniature caterpillars arrived they made my life difficult. First, each minuscule larva had to have his or her (its?) individual abode prepared. (What, they were too good to bunk together like the previous batches had?) Yes, for these caterpillars I had to prepare 23 cups of food, “tamped down lightly” and then ever so gently, with a paintbrush, lest I maul their wormlike bodies or harm their little psyches, place them into their deluxe caterpillar suites. The extra caterpillars (Now, why did they give us 10 or 12 extras?) I housed, flophouse style, in an old fish bowl with a not too secure lid.
For a week or so, the caterpillars made no new demands. I had to admit, the children were ever so excited to have their own little baby caterpillar to examine with a magnifying glass. It was fascinating to learn about and see their propeds (temporary legs) and their strangely punkish hairiness. For awhile, much as newborns everywhere, they ate, grew, presumably slept, and defecated. Then, the children started to name them. “Okay, Bob, back to the nursery. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Then, the tragedy one or two days later: “Bob isn’t moving anymore. What’s wrong with Bob?” Finally, Thanksgiving weekend came. As some of the children gave thanks that their caterpillar had not met Bob’s fate, others had a lesson in nature’s harshness.
Returning after the long Thanksgiving holiday, we discovered that the caterpillars had really GROWN. Then, much like the adolescents they were, the flophouse caterpillars began running (creeping) away. I’d tuck them all in safely before leaving each afternoon only to return the next day and find 2 or 3 of them attempting to crawl to freedom. Obviously they didn’t think it was fair that their many siblings got their own rooms while they had to share.
Next came the waiting and waiting: Would they ever hang upside down, spin chrysalises and fly away from the nest or would they mooch on their families forever? Day by day one or two would form chrysalises which I would have to painstakingly detach and move to the butterfly penthouse. Of course the caterpillars couldn’t all form at the same rate so each day I would have to move the latest bloomers. Finally, the last caterpillar had formed its chrysalis. Now, to wait for them to burst out in butterfly beauty to the oohs and ahs of the children. Natch, it was 2 days before Christmas vacation and there was no way they could grow up that fast. The pathetic part of it was, I had become strangely attached to the little critters. I couldn’t leave them in an unheated classroom, all alone. What to do??? Get a babysitter! Frantically I began typing a parent letter, emphasizing the beauty of nature in action and minimizing the pain in the a—factor of raising “God’s living flowers: Butterflies.” Alas, before some poor sucker I mean some science-oriented and sensitive parent could respond to my plea, school was unexpectedly closed a day early.
Well, I caught Sidney and he’s back with the rest of the cell block. Maybe I’ll have to punish him by giving him a sponge with no sugar, only water. Meanwhile, the other fugitive flies around my kitchen, taunting me. It’s getting personal, now.