Today I went out with the moth-ers, the lepidopterists and the butterfly enthusiasts. I use all three names, because it matters to them, the men who care about these things. It was early in the year and early in the day. Moreover, it was overcast. The regulars were somewhat disappointed, but for me it was the best kind of weather. Warmth and sunlight make the winged creatures fly; I prefer it when they are still, waiting.
On the stem of a dandelion clock we discovered a green-veined white, new as a leaf in springtime, utterly self-absorbed, an être-en-soi. It not only ignored us; it was ignorant of us.
We panned the low-lying grasses and shrubs all morning with scarcely anything to show for ourselves. My companions are the best of men: patient, gentle. One day will turn to dusk, and they will be back again on the next. This is a passion which goes on till death.
‘I dream of butterflies,’ Paul told me, with a smile that was surprisingly girlish.
It was Paul who found the small white. With its wings together, it was as thin as a stalk of grass, but, viewed side on, it was clearly visible: a flake of gloss paint, dripped and dried. A clinical, minty white.
We found drinkers in abundance, small hairy railway carriages, which glinted when you picked them up, the skin beneath the fur iridescent. It was an hour before we found the orange tip, another hour before he opened his wings and we saw what we already knew, that he was indeed male, a smear of mandarin to gratify us on each wing.
We’d certainly had better days. When hours had passed, a find lifted our spirits like a drop of honey on the tongue.
The last of the day was a pair of muslins: he mocha brown, she white, a tiny diamond pattern of dots on each. They were mating, but I prefer to think they had arranged themselves like two cards peeking out of a deck, so that we could the better admire them.
Every one of us men has lost something. Perhaps that is why we keep on searching.
Felicity Notley was published in this year’s UEA Creative Writing MA Anthology: Prose Fiction and Non-Fiction