The Anatomy Of A Butterfly


Chapter 1: Pity Party


▢ 1½ cups all-purpose flour

▢ 1½ tsp baking powder

▢ 1 tbsp lemon zest

▢ ½ tsp salt

▢ ½ cup unsalted butter

▢ 1 cup granulated sugar

▢ 2 large eggs, room temperature

▢ 1 tsp vanilla extract

▢ 2 tbsp lemon juice

▢ ½ cup buttermilk

This was the cake my mother would bake every birthday. While it was tasty, my favourite part of the cake was the freshly-picked flowers my mother would pick from our mini-garden. In our living room, we had a small bay window with plants lining the windowsill. It has always been my favourite place. I would sit there with a cushion behind me for the entire day, watching as butterflies landed on each flower outside the window. I had always been fascinated by them, observing their design and sketching them on the margins of my homework. 

That garden brought me serenity that I couldn’t find outside. The idea of large schools and crowded rooms engulfing me made my chest burn as the ideas of dying in the most abstract ways clouded my judgement as vines wrapped around my throat. The smell of the fresh flowers acted as a contrast to the daunting world outside – my escape. 

Today was my 15th birthday. My best friend, Corrie, and I were planning to spend the day at the bay window gardening and chatting. Corrie didn’t talk much. He usually just listened to me. Sometimes it felt like he wasn’t even real. He put me at ease, though. Corrie has always been my best friend and has always been there for me, even during my worst moments. 

I looked down at the same two-tiered cake in front of me. My birthday had never been a good day for me since the incident. A clichè protagonist’s tragic backstory. It almost felt like I was being written out in a book.

Images flashed before my eyes like an old camera film, memories of a thousand butterflies gnawing inside my chest overwhelming me as I watched flames slowly engulf the earth. The ringing in my ears only became more intense. Dozens of icicles punctured my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. The chrysalis that was my room around me swallowed me whole.

Darkness surrounded me. 

I invited my entire level to my 13th birthday party. My mother helped light the fireplace as about fifty goodie-bags full of my favourite candy lined the dining table. A vase of freshly picked flowers from my mother’s garden sat as a showpiece on the table. I gathered all the pillows and blankets in the house and placed them near the television. We’d all sit down and watch “The Calling Monster ” – the latest movie at the time that I had rented specifically for this occasion – together. It was supposed to be perfect. 

Hearing a knock on the main door, I opened it, hoping to see dozens of children, but was greeted by a mere few. Out of the entire level, only two people had shown up. Firstly, there was Astrid. She had recently moved into town from Armenia, and I invited her in hopes of making a real friend – the only thing I wanted. The only thing I still wanted. 

Then, there was Sullivan. Sullivan was one of the biggest bullies in my school. His mother, being CEO of a global real estate firm, Blackfeather & Associates, had always had good ties with the school, causing her son to be favoured by the staff. 

When his parents found out about the party, they made sure he went in order to maintain his “good reputation”. I had invited him as a desperate attempt, not actually expecting him to show up.

I attempted smiling at them but could only offer a wince. Inside I felt nothing but agony – I couldn’t breathe. Thoughts of fury and worry filled my brain as I awkwardly stared. I was snapped back into reality by Astrid waving her hand in my face. “Uh, Gabriel?”

Flustered, I welcomed them inside. I offered them some food from the ceramic bowls on the dining table. Sullivan took the most, while I put a collective five chips in my bowl. The three of us sat down as I observed the both of them eat the snackables. I showed them some card tricks and games and we were having a good time. However, just as I began to believe everything was going my way for once, it had all gone downhill. A shriek reverberated down the corridor from my parent’s room. They were arguing, again. 

I watched as my parents rushed to the living room and my father opened the front door of our house. There was a suitcase in his hand. It was visibly packed in haste, as edges of articles of clothing and thread poked out from the matte-black surface. He looked back at my mother and the 3 children watching his every movement. In a threatening tone, my mother’s words sent chills down my spine. “If you walk out of that door, we’re over.”

Nothing but silence filled the room. I had no idea what had festered such an intense argument between my parents, but it scared me to pieces. My father looked into my eyes only to nod, before closing the door behind him.

Panicked, I looked to my mother for some help. She sighed before turning the three sculptures sitting on her sofa. We sat as our eyes followed her as she sat down on the floor next to us.

“Let’s play some UNO,” Mum said, smiling. She took the set of UNO cards and started dealing them. Did that really just happen? Is Dad really gone? Are we really playing UNO right now? I glanced over at Sullivan. Even he was too distracted to play properly. Astrid put her hand out and patted my back silently, trying to empathise with me. Sometimes it felt as though that day was a figment of my imagination.

The chorus of the song “Happy Birthday” acting as background music was the only thing keeping me grounded to the real world. I looked up to see my mother clapping to the words of the song. Her eyes had dark bags circling them; she had been up late last night, probably working. I looked into her deep brown eyes and long eyelashes, which she had passed down onto me, and smiled as if nothing was wrong. 

“Do you like the butterflies this year? I put extra effort into making sure they were not scriggly,” she laughed. I complimented the cake before applying one of my favourite puns to the situation. “Hey mum, how do caterpillars swim?”

“Gabriel, you really need to stop using this joke so often! They do the butterfly.” My mother ruffled my hair as we both sat down on the sofa together, superficial smiles covering our faces. 

We clicked through channels endlessly, in search of meaningless conversation as silence slowly descended onto us. I shifted in my seat as my mother looked at me morosely, as if she wanted to say something. 

“Hey, Gabriel.” Her tone had shifted into one I was ever-so-familiar with. 

My nerves tensed up as I made a sound, grudging her continuance.

“Do you really not have anybody you can spend time with today?” The question had seemed to have been tugging at her mind for a while.

I glanced over at Corrie, who was sitting next to me. He shot me a reassuring glance as I sighed and slumped into the sofa. “I have Corrie.” 

 My mother shot me a disapproving look. “Okay… what about any real friends?” Her words were meant lightly. However, every syllable she spat was more antagonising than the last.

Why couldn’t she understand? How could she disregard Corrie like that? I knew she just wanted the best for me, but it’s not like I haven’t been trying to make friends. It’s difficult. I thought she would have known that, especially after I was diagnosed. This monstrous disagreement had been chasing me in loops, its red fury eyes and sharp glistening teeth, ready to swallow me whole at any moment. 

I looked into her eyes as I felt my heart reckon with vexation. I knew I couldn’t talk back to her, so in an attempt to avoid the conversation, I paced to my room. 

I bit my lip as I leaned against the foot of my bed. My room had always been in utter disarray. Art of scenery and nature plastered my dulled walls, as music records and potted plants lined the floor of my rooms. Old cups of berry juice and water were scattered across the room, and the stains on my carpet had turned green. The creaky floorboards curved upwards as paint peeled off the walls. I chewed on the inside of my mouth, overshadowed by agony. 

Hey, just breathe. I’m here, don’t worry. You’re safe. Corrie had always been there for me. I sighed, trying to catch my breath. In an attempt to calm me down, Corrie pointed at a potted plant on my windowsill.

I glanced outside my window to be met with a glistening orange. Light rays played in the sky as the clouds danced around. Groups of children outside were basking in it while others were rushing home from school. 

I lived in a town in England called Brighton.  A little 4-story apartment building on the second floor, to be exact. It looked like any other building you would imagine here, honestly. The building’s once-burgundy bricks had turned a shade of rust, and fresh white trim had turned grey, succumbing to dirt and dust. Yellowed trees and bushes lining the building uniformly acted as a separation between the cracked structure and its pavement. The establishment stood at the top of a hill likened to an old imperial palace looking down on the rest of the town. Brighton, having mild summers and winters, had pretty predictable temperatures year-round. This spring was no different, and I often enjoyed observing the blooming flowers and drawing them. 

Feeling a little bit better with Corrie’s help, I went back downstairs to see a note on the counter saying there had been an emergency at work. What type of emergency could there be at a dry-cleaning service? Instead of picking apart my mother’s excuse, I sat down at my bay window. I sighed as Corrie patted my shoulder, reassuring me that everything was alright.

Observing the plants, I could only focus on the browned, wilted shades tearing the once-bright garden apart. I guess since Mum works so often, she doesn’t have time to work on the garden. Our garden. 

Every day when I came home from school, Mum and I used to sit down at the bay window, gardening and talking about our days. Often, caterpillars and butterflies would also visit, pollinating the flowers. 

That garden was such an integral part of our bond. Seeing it wilt was like seeing our love wilt. I fiddled with one of the leaves before heading to the kitchen to get a cup of water. I had to keep this garden alive. While watering some of the plants, I thought about the events that had just unfolded. 

Sometimes it felt as though I’d lost my mother as a friend too. I knew I had to fix my relationship with my mother. But was the only way to do that really branching out?


Every morning as I sat on the bus on the way to school, I would usually plug in my headphones and either complete my undone homework or observe the people around me in the bus. My secondary school sat a few blocks away from the foot of the hill that I lived on. Every morning at 7:25, I would get on the bus and greet my driver. 

I had never enjoyed school. Every time I went down a corridor, I could feel everyone’s eyes staring at and burning me as negative thoughts filled my head and I got dizzy, remembering the weeks of pitied messages and conversations which had only made me feel more like an outcast.

 I checked my prescribed anxiety medication for the third time that day as I walked into my next class, Biology. Sitting in my seat near the window, I fiddled with my thumbs during the dreadful wait for the lesson to begin. 

I watched as classmates interacted with one another. Should I try to interact with them? I looked over at a group of girls talking about art and showing each other their sketchbooks as I went through my weekly debate of convincing myself to approach them. 

You don’t need them, you have me. Corrie’s words were like the devil on my shoulder. 

“But I need friends other than you, Corrie,” I muttered to myself as my mind replayed the conversation I had with Mum like a broken record.

Trust me. I’m only trying to keep you safe, remember? They’ll hurt you. 

He was right… I think? I wasn’t sure. Coming to the conclusion that they wouldn’t appreciate if I self-inserted into their conversation anyways, I took out my notebook as my teacher walked in. As the class settled, she told us about how, for our next segment, we would be learning about the anatomy of insects. The class seemed disinterested at first, so instead of waiting for the end of the lesson, she opened with telling us about a field trip to an insect garden, where we’d go in depth about the anatomy of a butterfly. 

Since the school had a lack of resources, they could not afford for the entire level to have this opportunity and told us we would need to apply, the criterion being answering a form about how Environmental Biology was important to us in our lives, and to place the form at the general office by the end of the day. 

I spent my free time writing about my garden, using the metaphor where I related how the experiences a human faces shapes their mind and personality – sort of like how my garden did, me. 

When I finished, I walked towards the general office, noticing a long queue snaking the corridors. Apparently, almost the entire cohort had applied for the trip. Scenarios of what-ifs filled my head as that familiar feeling in my chest made me feel as if I was going to throw up. 

I sucked in another breath. How was it that I was breathing, but the air felt devoid of oxygen? Too crowded. Too many people here, taking in my air. I needed space. The hallways were packed like sardines. Suddenly I was thirsty, so thirsty. I pulled out my bottle from the side of my bag. The cold liquid soothing my tight throat. Calming my rapid breathing. I scanned the room again. 

That’s when Corrie snarked, “Well, this is one hell of a party.”

Dia Bansal (class of 2025) has always been passionate about telling stories through various forms. She constantly explores different themes in her work while focusing on ideas that many are afraid to touch on. That is what allows her work to stand out.