Huge tangles of black and orange hung in the trees, quivering with anticipation. Each butterfly’s beat of rice-paper thin mosaic wings, stirred the air, wafting perfume from it flowery perch.
Mesmerized, Jorja sat beneath a kaleidoscope of butterflies, watching as a single monarch flitted from the rabble to settle on another swarm. Her mother, Laurie, and grandmother, Charlotte sat on a garden bench nearby.
“When are you going to tell her the truth?” Laurie said.
“What is the truth?” Charlotte asked.
“Char,” Laurie shook her head. “Roger’s been gone for six months. We can’t let Jorja keep thinking he’s coming back. She needs to know the truth.”
“Did you know that the Michoacáno believe that the spirits of the dead return to earth as monarch butterflies?” Charlotte shaded her eyes to look at the sun-drenched garden. “During El Dia de los Muertos millions of monarchs fill the skies over their village of Anguangeo.”
The two women watched Jorja dance along with the swirling butterflies.They would light on her hair and arms, sending the little girl into squeals of laughter.
“Who are we to say Grampa Roger isn’t among them?” Charlotte squinted at Laurie. “Is it really such a far-fetched idea?”
Laurie shook her head, but didn’t answer.
“Is it really that different from her thinking Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real?’ Charlotte shifted in her seat to get a better view of her granddaughter.
“It’s not the same thing.” The exasperation in Laurie’s voice was evident.
“I’m worried that she’ll have nightmares about ghosts,” Laurie tried to change the subject.
“Jorja doesn’t look frightened,” Charlotte said. “I’d say she’s found her grandfather.”
The two women watched Jorja as a monarch landed on her open palm. Cupping the tiny, delicate butterfly, in her hands Jorja gleefully lifted it to her face. Speaking to the butterfly for a moment, she opened her hands and the monarch flew away. Once it was out of sight, the little girl joined her mother and grandmother.
“What were you doing?” her mother asked.
“I was saying good-bye to Grampa Roger,” she said, squeezing between them on the bench and taking each one by the hand.
“Good-bye?” Charlotte said.
“Yeah, he just wanted to see us and make sure we were okay,” Jorja said pulling the women off their bench. “But now he has to go. Can we get ice cream on the way home?”
Laurie looked over Jorja’s head at her mother-in-law, her mouth agape in stunned silence.
Charlotte smiled and shrugged.
“I think ice cream sounds great,” Charlotte said, helping Jorja into the backseat of the car.
“Mama?” Jorja said. “When we get home can we make a butterfly garden?”
“Sure, sweetie,” Laurie said.
“There are other butterflies who can’t find their family, we can be their family until they leave too,” Jorja said. “Grampa will tell them where we are.”
“I think you have your answer about whether Jorja should hear the truth,” Charlotte said later at the ice cream shop. “She found her truth.”