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RAGE OF THE BUTTERFLY

Len Rely - Just thinking about the next time he would see her made him numb with lust.


Music does not influence real life, of this Mark was certain as he crouched uncomfortably in his seat beneath the opera lights. The last person on Earth who cared for his wife's taste in music, he had come with her and her friends only because a fight was inevitable if he refused. He crossed his arms and grumbled to himself while she filled the seat next to him and "their" friends engaged in conversation to his displeasure. The curtain rose. The audience donned their glasses and Mark prepared to go to sleep as the performers took their places. He was soon senseless and dreaming of things perverse.

He sat unresponsive until the middle of the production when a thunderclap erupted from the timpani in the orchestra pit and Mark jumped irritably. It was the beginning of a number, the drums pounded and he wondered why anyone would want to listen to such a morose bunch of noise. There was a male character making his way across the stage dressed in black, and a pale something in the center which Mark decided was a female character crouched and motionless in a cocoon-like shape.

The man, a baritone testified his anger in incomprehensible Italian as he paced and shook his fists at whatever thought infuriated him. Soon he realized he had awakened the woman with his caterwauling who now emitted a single prolonged note as she arose at a snail's pace. He sang more submissively now, circling her as she began to repeat his fury- leading verse in this bizarre duet. As her part became steadily louder and higher his became more frantic, terrified of what would happen when she was fully alert and enraged. Mark was curious himself but his eyes had closed again before the number was finished. He dreamt of the woman he was seeing behind his wife's back, a guiltless little trollop good for what ailed him (a lack of sex without conversation). She was a moaner, not a talker. Just thinking about the next time he would see her made him numb with lust.

The production was over, the house lights were back on and his wife woke him. The group got up to leave but between the performance hall and the lobby they stopped to share impressions with every other buff in the place. Mark glared at the exit. Surrounded by his wife's friends deep in discussion, one of them turned to him and asked what he thought of the program. "Well," he said, "I didn't care for that 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' crap."
The group was suddenly quiet, eight pair of eyes focused on him. "The number." he said, pulling at his collar. "'Rage of the Moth' or whatever." No one knew what he was talking about. "We'd better be going." started the conversation again and the crowd thinned as people embraced and Mark thumbed through a bulletin with mild confusion. "You were asleep the entire time, dear." his wife whispered when they were finally alone and she led him to the door.
Mark reclined in the driver's seat, staring through bloodshot veins at the passing multicolored lights. Until now he had never viewed the world from any musical perspective and he wanted it to go away. His wife would have never gotten him to drive in the first place if she knew how to use a stick.

When they came home he went immediately to the fridge for a beer. (Most of these annoying excursions seemed to be one long wait for a bottle.) He unloaded himself on the couch to watch the screen thinking of where he'd rather be, leaving the wife to worry about anything that remained to be done today.

The apartment was modest and unadorned except for her feminine junk. She walked to the bedroom, the mattress the nearest unoccupied place to sit down. They did not as a rule prepare for bed at the same time; Mark would crash in the middle of the afternoon or wait until three AM. She didn't seem to mind, just smiled at his laxity while he made silent comments to himself.

She saw the world as an endless procession of engagements, pretentious enough to see herself as the queen of her domain but oblivious to her husband's secret activities. Mark tapped his fingers and waited for her to disappear.

He spent the night on the couch, not turning his head until the door latched and he was finally alone. He exhaled loudly, releasing the empty bottle from his hand. He had watched the sky fade to an overcast white at the window, the color of his wife's repugnant hide. But the deadweight he married was gone now and he didn't even have to move from his spot to dial the number of his loyal slut.

Her name was Mona, although he only called her uncreative pet names. He didn't even know her last name, one of many details skipped on the night they became acquainted. She had been swooning from powder all night and was waiting for his call. When she appeared at the door she was wearing an unflattering halter on her bony frame and a purse hung leisurely from the crook of her elbow.

She tore into him, her right hand still holding a cigarette as she wrapped her spidery limbs around him like a black widow seizing her prey. Her leg came up instinctively, the hem of her miniskirt too short for a woman of her experience. Mark's wife spent close to an hour preparing herself each morning but Mona had probably not even changed clothes since yesterday.

They went right to business, Mark starving for the only time of day he actually felt less than miserable. Even Mona was put off by his desire to go directly to the bedroom. The first couple of times they had at least played with a bottle in the kitchen or started on the couch. To her this was him being attentive. In her world these things made her feel like a lady.

But now he only hungered for one thing and the day she couldn't provide it she would be history. She pushed against him in mock protest, but it wouldn't have mattered if it were real as he forced her into the bedchamber, pulling the grey shirt over his head. They had sloppy, careless sex devoid of any beauty or meaning. Their clothes ended up all over the room, a high-heeled shoe knocking a lamp on its side. The bed was a shambles. He would have to take great time and attention in concealing the evidence, but right now he lacked even the stamina to adulterate well. The top half of his body was off the bed with his head senseless on the floor and his arms limp. This swoon, this stupor was the only ten minutes of the day he ceased to be chasing something or hiding something. There was no smile to show his contentment, only a russet face that would lead him to complain of a headache and cure it with alcohol. Mona slid off the bed as if she had somewhere to go and Mark lurched upright in puzzlement. She was unsatisfied, or at least the drug had worn off. She put her clothes on hastily and went for the door.

"What!" he shouted with the volume of an infant wailing to be fed. "You went too fast." she said, shouldering her purse. "You don't make me feel like a woman." "At least you could give me that much. You don't love me." "You know I do!" Mark whined, prepared to say anything. "I'm just an easy lay to satisfy you." she retorted.

She was gone before another thought elapsed and on her way to her car. Mark fell backward onto the bed, exasperated. He put a hand to the sweating veins of his forehead. He couldn't think, he only knew he had to have more and his only chance (if any) was getting away. He'd tell her whatever she wanted to hear to have her again. He dressed in a flash and ran out the door to catch her. He didn't even think to close it on the way out. He rocketed down the hall and the stairs like a killer after his next victim. He broke the handle on the outer door when he slammed it into the cement wall of the parking garage. He ran much like he made love, fast and reckless. The only sign of his mistress was a screech of tires at the gate. He rushed to the curb where his sleepless, oversexed body finally ran out of steam. The pupils of his eyes rolled back and he fell into a slump, his skin dark as a beet.

The moment Mark awoke he winced from the pain in his skull and tottered slowly to his feet. It was still the middle of the workday, the cars looked about the same. If it had been more than an hour someone would have noticed him and knelt to help (people around here cared about that sort of thing).

As he pulled himself up from the concrete, a sound came out of him that was more like an attempt to hit a note than a groan. People make all sorts of noises at the extreme of the human range when they are just waking and there is no one around. They also see things differently, and now Mark looked at the world as if through an aquarium. He staggered in ape-fashion the way he had come, a line from some wordless song mumbling incoherently from his lips until he made it to the door.

He pulled himself up the stairs to the third floor. He was more alert when he reached the hallway, where he stopped and saw that the door to the apartment was now closed.

"Damn do-gooders." he muttered, hoping a neighbor had closed it out of courtesy. Then he heard a noise from within like the slamming of a cabinet door. He clenched his fists, praying to fight a burglar. His wife never came home at this hour, it wasn't possible. He stepped inside, cursing under his breath. He could still smell Mona's perfume. The percussive sound struck again, seemingly from nowhere. Mark's heart was racing like a steam engine beneath his ribs. The place was deathly quiet except for that noise which he waited to hear again so he could locate the source. He stepped from one room to another like a walking corpse, that same unintelligible tune being whispered from his mouth as his eyes panned frantically. In the kitchen he saw his wife's handbag sitting on the table. The queen was here. A rolling tympanic thump resounded in his brain and shook his entire body. The sound was coming from his head, and it began a steady rhythm he remembered all too well from that opera number with the butterfly. The mallets pounded his skull as if he were right there in the pit. He held a double handful of his hair in desperation as he moved slowly toward the bedroom. He didn't know if he was trying to block the music or figure out what to do when he saw her. Everything he spotted that Mona had left out of place brought a new revelation and higher notes.

Why was this insane ballad haunting him? He knew what was coming, but he had never seen the finale so he didn't know what terrifying end had met the poor baritone who disturbed the cocoon. The score grew louder, faster and more intense as any hope of covering what he had done disappeared but the exact moment of the discovery remained an unfathomable unknown. He followed the rolling stanzas up and down about to be sick from it. Mark leaned against the side of the hallway pulling his arms inward, unable to walk in a straight line. He was scared out of his mind.

"L-l-eave m-me the h-hell alone..." he pleaded desperately to the unseen orchestra. He finally made it to the bedroom. Even the light was wrong because the lamp was on its side. His wife stood with her wide back to him, her frilled business clothes pristine as always. He made his way silently forward, looking for any dead giveaway he would not be able to explain.

The chords rolled, the female part of the duet almost upon him. The music made it impossible for him to think or do anything but stand behind her and pray. He couldn't comprehend the silence surrounding her, his face that of a man about to be beaten. She turned around, and Mark found himself unable to read by her statement whether she knew or not, his eyes watering from fear and fatigue. She returned the lamp to its upright position, then approached the bed to make it. She complained without looking him in the face that he could clean up after himself every once in a while. She could have known everything or still been oblivious for all he could tell with the racket in his brain.

He stood motionless, watching her tuck and fold each sheet with maddening attention. The notes were calming down and he wondered if they might fade altogether before he had to endure the climax. Watching those careful hands he imagined for the first time that she could really hurt him, that he was no longer in control of the relationship and perhaps he never was.

As she pulled back the undersheet, a cymbal crashed and Mark's eyes bulged watching her lift Mona's red thong from the bed with a hand that had never touched such a thing in her life. The size and style of this ridiculous piece of clothing made it a revelation as clear as a stain of blood upon his soul.


She turned to face him. He could not bear to watch her hold it nor could he think to escape with the notes so high he clamped a hand over each ear to make it stop. The wail he imagined from her open mouth as she approached him was deafening. She was suddenly a huge and hideous beast moving in for the kill and what she would do when she got her hands on him he was unable to fill the blank.

This was a woman you do not scorn, you do not cross. She wielded more power than a hundred harlots. As he watched her near she had never been more terrifying, and until now she had never been more beautiful. Until now he had never been truly ashamed he had deceived her. He had not truly seen how perfect she was and the depth of his crime. The realization pummeled him into submission like a refrain ever higher, ever shriller. She had not even reached him or knew exactly how she would rebuke him when he collapsed onto the carpet, wailing and clutching at his ears for the music to spare him.

© Len Rely 2001

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