Literary Journal – Fall 2016

A Memory of Hawaiian Butterflies

By John A. McCabe

The white haired, clean shaven man was considerably handsome and his square boned jaw became more pronounced when he spoke, “That is everything you need to know. It is all pre-ordained by our being female or male.” The woman hearing only some of what the man said, thought, “What is he talking about,” but she remained more or less inattentive, slowly stirring her drink.

Smiling broadly, the Hawaiian man said, “Young women are like butterflies. They are so fortunate to be so. The butterfly is the female, the male, the bug. You see, it is that simple.” He rubbed his lips as if drawn to them by his very own words.  “She is the one most pleased by flutter and flight. He, on the other hand, would rather grip and sting or keep walking around in circles or up the wall. And that my friend is why you have such differences around us; the silver airplane is like the female and the infantry, the male drudging along. The helicopter, whirling and swaying is her again and the tractor plowing is the man who sits all day going back and forth.  The sailboat graceful and windblown femininity and the locomotive solid man on the rails, all matched to the female and the male.” In a whispered voice he said, “That is everything you need to know. It is always simply a matter of her and him.”

She was still not paying as much attention to him as was her husband. Her husband was locked into the enchanting voice of their dinner guest. She noticed the man’s knees, how strong and flexible they looked and how tan his legs were below his Bermuda shorts. Her eyes also made sweeping glances toward his prodigious white hair. Sitting on the opposite side of the table, her husband was grasping the edge of his seat. His grip matched the unanticipated, mounting anxiety he felt about how dominant the white haired man had become.

The restaurant was busy – its patrons talkative, the wait service were moving quickly in every direction. Pahu drums playing in those melodic, rolling notes sensually permeated the ambiance of the evening. Royal palms soared to great heights over the beaches darkened with their charcoal black, volcanic sand stretching out from under the palms and presenting the ocean.  Waves in a ballet of synchronization with repeating crescendos of sound poured forth before all those who noticed, and those who did not as well.

A Polynesian girl, beautiful, in a white gown, danced barefoot on a mound of sand. She wore flowers, a showy hibiscus in her hair, and leis around her neck and over her breasts. A sunset was transforming the sky behind her into resplendent oranges shimmering magnificently and episodically in spectrums of multi-colors advancing to reveal the ensuing darkness.

This was Hawaii, and the white haired man seemed to possess it all, as if he was prince or chieftain. His hair, long for a man, completed his imperial image. His eyes, however, in their humbling brown power gave both comfort and mystery to all who engaged them.

Seeing that he now had her interest he said, “Did you know there is a place here, beyond Heavenly Hannah actually, called the Valley of The Butterflies?” The woman’s husband was nodding attentively.

“Yes, and there are banana groves beneath the slopes, and black bamboo along the beach and, of course, it is very Hawaiian, very Hawaiian. I was schooled there. The valley is refreshed by a lofty waterfall. The falling water, and the ever present aerial mist, is hypnotic. And song birds fly about in acknowledgement.”

The woman shifted in her chair, her hand fingering the rim of her glass rested in stillness as the white haired man’s words painted vivid images in her mind.

“There are lovely aromatic, purple and gleaming, sacramental white flowers throughout the Valley of the Butterflies. If you can convince a person to sit perfectly still, not making a move or sound, within minutes …”

He was looking directly at the woman, pausing deliberately while his eyes are focusing on her. He continues, “That person will soon be covered with butterflies, completely blanketed with butterflies. It is beautiful to behold.”

The woman smiled and said, “Covered?” She imagines him seeing her amongst the butterflies.

“Yes totally. The person like the caterpillar is transformed until a sound, any sudden sound, is made” He swoops both his arms up over his head and lowering them slowly says, “There gone…”

She, her face first in delight changes to concern and a frown forms where her eyes still sparkle. “So being like the butterfly is complimentary and dazzling, not the whimsical, insincere female you were speaking about a minute ago, true?”

“We are all, from childhood, thrilled by butterflies.”

“Do many tourists go to that valley?” asked the husband.

“No, it is still a secluded treasure, but I recommend that you and your bride visit. Go before your departure.”

“Do you think just young women are like butterflies, or all women?” she teases.

“I think all women have their time to flutter and fly about.” He looks to the Polynesian girl in her graceful dance and advises them, “Better to see the butterflies while you still have time for quietude.  Leaving Hawaii is a noisy affair at the airports. Remember please, the slightest unexpected sound startles the delicate creatures. Although they are not so delicate, really, they migrate great distances and they have the fortitude to await their own re-birth from that earthbound larvae stage.”

“It is difficult to think of you living anywhere but here with the butterflies.” she says.

“You have such beauty here in Hawaii.” the husband adds with a questioning inflection.

She asks, “Whatever made you leave Hawaii?”

The white haired man turned to the scene of the ocean and said, “When you live on Islands you are beckoned by the sea just as your ancestors were. It is the fate of all Island people to wander.”

“But not you; you are so totally Hawaiian. How did you adapt to other places? How did you leave?

He stood up as if demonstrating the strength in his will to detach and said as he looked to the waves gliding to the beach, “The Japanese made me leave twice; once when they came with bombs and torpedoes and secondly when they made the value of land and property elevate beyond a native Hawaiian’s pocketbook…”

His white hair was moving gently in the sea breezes and falling down on his forehead and over his ears. It changed his appearance to a more natural look, more Hawaiian, more native; as he concluded, the glint of the lost warrior entered his eyes, ”“Then of course the core reason, the colonization and unstoppable encroachment on the culture and us. We were dulled by the Doles.”

He began to sway slightly picking up the rhythms coming off the shark skin covered Hawaiian  pahu drums and the dancing Polynesian beauty and the sounds of bamboo sticks clicking in the hands of the other dancers. Studying him, her eyes in fleeting discoveries, displayed her impressions of the gracefully aging Hawaiian man before her.  She began to reach out to him emotionally not wanting to miss his thoughts and words all of which had become as sweetened nectar that was also left bitter when consumed. Later in life, the woman and her husband would remember the white haired man calling him, The Hawaiian. She would always add in a whisper, The Butterfly Man.


John A. McCabe, a lifelong writer in all genres, is an active member of the Writers Guild at the Pearl S. Buck Writing Center. His novel The Sanctity of Remembering centers on his experience as a young soldier undergoing atomic bomb testing in Nevada and is actively seeking a publisher.

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