The speckled moth, usually so aware of the nuances shaping his world, was too troubled to notice the trespass of a single bougainvillea vine, the sap spilling from the flowering petals of a warrior tree, or the beguiling way greenery kissed concrete. Were the moth not so consumed by self-reflection, he would have rejoiced in these beacons of spring and celebrated with a nap on the vine, a taste of the sap, and a welcoming dance on the grass. Instead, the moth perched on a nearby tree trunk and did his best to assume a critical expression.
What is so “dull” about these wings? the moth wondered, trying to see himself through butterfly eyes. Antennas furrowed, eyes sharp, mouth drawn tight, the moth lifted his brown wing, inspecting the large scales for inadequacies.
Their words bounced through his brain. “Dull means you don’t belong in the daylight,” the butterflies had teased.
He flipped his wing down, peering at a wash of brown decorated with a zigzag pattern of black dots. But try as he might, he could not summon a discriminating eye—he was quite charmed by his thick and fluffy wings.
“Your brown belongs in the black of night. It’s not dazzling enough for the sun.” That’s what the other moths were always telling him.
He understood he was not colored orange, vibrant like the juice of a poppy flower. He could see there were no streaks of gold or silver to add flash and bling. He admitted a hue of blue would be nice, but then feared he might fade into the sky and disappear altogether if that were the case.
Still, he could not understand why the others did not see his brown as it was: rich, deep, earthy…beautiful. Relaxing his critical mask—his antennas were cramping and his eyes tired—the moth decided he did not want to understand the word the butterflies used to describe him. “Dull” was not too bad of a word by the sound of it. It reminded him of a woodpecker drumming on bark.
Alighting on the underbelly of a hickory leaf, the moth rested his wings, reminding himself that he was, as the others told him, a moth, not a butterfly, and as such wanted to sleep during the day. He tried to convince himself that he was attracted to artificial light and that the soft drone of electricity did not make him want to turn into a vampire moth and suck the blood of all the flying insects in his path. He buried his eyes into his wing, ignoring the ray of sunlight that tempted him just on the other side of the leaf. But his antennas started to boogie and his fuzzy body to itch and soon he was swirling in the sunlight once again. He joined the flight of a pearl white butterfly, matching the rhythm of her dance, and although he was a good partner, she was not pleased.
“What are you doing?” she hissed.
“I’m dancing with you,” said the moth.
“I don’t dance with moths.” The butterfly swooped low and settled on a blade of grass, folding her white wings gracefully above her back.
The moth perched beside her. “Why not?”
“Well…because…we aren’t the same species.”
The moth flittered one blade of grass closer. “We were both hungry caterpillars.”
“But…” the butterfly protested.
“And we both spun cocoons,” said the moth.
“A butterfly’s cocoon is hard and shiny. A moth’s cocoon is fuzzy and made of silk.” The butterfly fluttered one blade of grass farther away.
The moth stood firm. “We both drink nectar from flowers.”
“Can you really not see yourself?” the butterfly asked. “Your body is stout and hairy, mine is smooth and slender. You perch on the grass with your wings outspread, I am much more dainty. And your color…that brown…it’s just…”
“Dull,” the moth finished. “I know.” And this time it was he who jumped a blade away.
“I wouldn’t say dull,” the butterfly corrected, taking flight above the moth. “I was going to say—”
A rush of wind swooped down, and the butterfly gasped. “Look out!” she cried, dashing up into the blue of the sky.
The moth’s feathery antennas stirred, but his wings were not quick enough, and he felt the crush of two sweaty palms come together like a thunderclap around his delicate frame.
The moth’s breath felt thin.
The palms, indifferent, opened and the moth floated down to the grass. He cherished the low breeze that sailed through his scales one last time. He smelled nectar from honeysuckle—oh how he’d love one more taste! He saw a ruffle of white land beside him and felt the butterfly drape a gentle wing over his broken body. And as he gazed one last moment at the ash blue sky and caught the trees waving a salute, he heard the butterfly whisper, “I was going to say…beautiful.”