Butterflies by Patricia Grace

The grandmother plaited her granddaughter’s hair and then said, ‘Get your lunch. Put it in your bag. Get your apple. You come straight back after school, straight home here. Listen to the teacher, she said. ‘Do what she say.’

Her grandfather was out on the step. He walked down the path with her and out on to the footpath. He said to a new neighbour, ‘Our granddaughter goes to school. She lives with us now.’

     ‘She’s fine,’ the neighbour said. ‘She’s terrific with her two plaits in her hair.’

     ‘And clever,’ the grandfather said. ‘Writes every day in her book.’

     ‘She’s fine,’ the neighbour said.

The grandfather waited with his granddaughter by the crossing and then he said, ‘Go to school. Listen to the teacher. Do what she say.’

When the granddaughter came home from school her grandfather was hoeing round the cabbages. Her grandmother was picking beans. They stopped their work.

     ‘You bring your book home?’ the grandmother asked.


     ‘You write your story?’


     ‘What’s your story?’

     ‘About the butterflies.’

     ‘Get your book, then. Read your story.’

     The granddaughter took her book from her schoolbag and opened it.

     ‘I killed all the butterflies,’ she read. ‘This is me and this is all the butterflies.’

     ‘And your teacher like your story, did she?’

     ‘I don’t know.’

     ‘What your teacher say?’

‘She said butterflies are beautiful creatures. They hatch out and fly in the sun. The butterflies visit all the pretty flowers, she said. They lay their eggs and then they die. You don’t kill butterflies, that’s what she said.’

The grandmother and grandfather were quiet for a long time, and their granddaughter, holding the book, stood quite still in the warm garden.

‘Because you see,’ the grandfather said, ‘your teacher, she buy all her cabbages from the supermarket and that’s why.’

‘Butterflies’ was first published in Electric City and other stories, Penguin, in 1987.

Her latest publication is the novel Chappy, 2015.

Whitney NPWai