Butterfly's Child

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Authors: Angela Davis-Gardner
temple with Doric columns. The base was etched with leaves of the woodbine plant, which Isobel had loved. Set just below the roofline was the feature of the memorial that drew curious sightseers from other towns: a marbleized photogravure of Isobel. The photograph had been taken in Galena, a year before Isobel and Keast had met; it captured perfectly, he thought, the delicacy of features and fineness of spirit that had in them the quality of the immortal. Isobel’s eyes, black as a crow’s, looked directly at the viewer. Her face was a perfect oval framed by a cascade of lively dark curls, but nevertheless there was in her face an expression of premonitory melancholy, as if she had divined that one day her eyes would be gazing into those of her mourning husband.
    Keast said his prayers kneeling before Isobel’s tombstone. Then he stood and in his customary manner began to talk to her, but instead of a recital of the events of his week, he described the part-Japanese boy now living in Plum River, a young lad three years younger than their Horatio would have been. He was bright, with an abundant curiosity and a naturaldignity that would serve him well. The boy had a large heart, and loved the animals. Isobel’s face seemed to come to life as she listened to him: the dainty pink lobes of her ears, the flush of her skin, the lips slightly parted, as if about to speak.
    Isobel would have held nothing against the boy because of his race. She herself was part Sioux. They had attended a performance of
The Mikado
in Chicago and afterward had together looked up Japan in the Book of Knowledge, reading bits of it aloud to each other.
    The boy Benji was an orphan, living with a married couple who were well meaning but sometimes insensitive. “Dear Isobel, you would have been heartbroken to see the boy in grief after losing his Japanese plaything and receiving a harsh punishment from his guardian mother. The guardian father, who is fond of the boy, nonetheless later confided to me that he has been a trouble to them. When I asked in what regard, he replied that he often wanders away from the house, causing them much consternation and interruption of work on the farm. I believe the boy means no harm but is searching for whatever comfort he can find in this alien world.”
    Isobel responded with her whole being, her heart and spirit. Yes, he answered, for little Horatio’s sake he would befriend the lad.

    Benji and the cat
had a language. He named her Kaki, for persimmon, even though she wasn’t orange all over, and she followed him like a dog might do, though not in a straight line. She wasn’t a kappa, she was a real cat, like Rice Ball.
    He showed Kaki the picture of Mama and the writing he had found on the back. He couldn’t read it, because he hadn’t begun to learn his characters yet, but when he cupped his hands over the writing and Kaki was purring beside him, he could hear Mama saying the message, that he should be as strong as a samurai and that she was proud of him. He carried her message with him every day as he wandered about the farm.
    One day the animal doctor was in the barn. His eyebrows were funny, with hairs sticking out. He gave Benji a striped candy stick and showed him what he did to the horses’ feet and a sick place on a cow’s belly.
    Kaki wanted to see, so Benji picked her up.
    The man rubbed her head with two fingers until Kaki purred and closed her eyes.
    â€œKaki,” Benji told him.
    â€œCat,” the man said, talking slow. “Kaki, cat,” and led him around the barn, telling him the names of the animals in his language. Then they sat on the ground and Benji watched while the man took a piece of wood from his pocket and made Kaki’s head come out of it with his knife.
    At night Benji whispered to Kaki in cat talk—little words he made up—and she purred back. Sometimes he just thought to her and she understood. When she lay humming

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