Saturday 6 June 2020

'Cio-Cio' by Nuala O'Connor

We sit on the garden bench, Ernestine and I, listening to the CD player waft out that aria from Madame Butterfly where Cio-Cio-San waits for her Yank.

Sea. Boat. Longing.

I scratch Ernestine’s head. ‘Have you ever heard a dafter story than Butterfly’s?’ I say. The cat looks at me with her I-plot-your-death eyes then dips her head and licks her arse. ‘You probably love the fucking thing,’ I say, ‘silly little pessimist.’

Butterfly sings, beautifully, of her vain hopes, and I watch Ernestine groom herself, the mottled spoon of her tongue pulling and sleeking her fur. Foolish Cio-Cio watches for her husband and offers up first her son, then herself.

Blindfold. Flag. Knife.

‘A hopeless case,’ I say to Ernestine, but I’m moved too, as I always am. ‘Poor girl, diddled by a selfish plonker. Shouldn’t have happened.’

By some small miracle a red admiral sails over the hedge into the garden and lands on the wheely bin. I savour the fragile grace of the velvet-backed wings, the tremor of the antennae.

‘Would you look at that now, Ernestine? It’s Cio-Cio herself.’

The cat stills her body mid-primp and stares. Before I can even blink, she’s arcing from bench to bin, a feline superhero, and the butterfly is no more.

Stamped. Stunned. Swallowed.

‘Oh, Ernestine, you’re good,’ I murmur.

I stand and stretch myself. The cat lies down atop the bin and drowses to sleep.

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