The Provincial Little Caterpillar
By Lou Blodgett
The caterpillar hatched from his tiny yellow egg, which was on the underside of a large leaf. He hatched at exactly a millimeter long, and I’m grateful for the metric system, because he was so small that I’d hate to have to tell you how long he was in a fraction of a foot.
This caterpillar was provincial. He couldn’t help but be. But, he was smart, and open-minded. He couldn’t help that his perspective for those first few days of his life was one that was not only narrow, but upside-down. It was in that respect that he was provincial. Instinctually, he clung to the bottom of a leaf and munched and munched.
As he munched and munched and munched, an insect passed beneath him slowly, and seemingly, above the caterpillar, keeping in mind the physical perspective of our provincial little guy. Passing below him was an insect known by many names. He was a sowbug. A woodlouse. A roly-poly. The caterpillar watched him for five minutes as he munched and the bug covered a couple of feet in that time. The Sowbug finally got up the gumption, looked up at the caterpillar and asked,
“Do I happen to be heading anywhere in the direction of Toledo?”
“There’s more than one Toledo? How ‘bout that! Hope you don’t mind if I walk and talk. Are they the way I’m headed?” the roly-poly said, all fourteen legs churning, having gone a couple of inches so far during the conversation.
“Yep! You’re headed toward both that I know of,” the caterpillar told him.
“I’d better hurry, then,” the sowbug answered. “I want to see both.”
“After a thousand miles, there’s ocean for a while…”
“No problem! Sowbugs love the damp.”
It took awhile for the sowbug to fully depart. About two hours. Between the both of them, it was all ‘see ya later’, ‘adieu’, and ‘have a nice daaay’, and it quickly became tongue-in-cheek between the two. The sowbug marched through the lawn stretching out between them, at intervals reporting to the caterpillar that it was ‘all the same here’. The last goodbye had the caterpillar telling his friend,
“Don’t take any wooden nickels!”
and the sowbug responding,
“Why not? They’re delicious!”
Time passed. The sun whipped around, things went from from light to dark, there was rain, then glaring sun that made the caterpillar get to the bottom of a leaf, if he hadn’t been, and the leaves themselves went from dewy to dry and back again. The caterpillar munched and munched, working underneath the leaf going up to the tip. Then, during a light cycle, a shadow appeared. You know how anyone would look weird when superimposed to a larger size, say, two hundred feet tall within a city skyline in one of those cheesy science-fiction/horror films? That’s how the human appeared to the caterpillar. Big and weird. The human crouched down, looking at the plant, then at the caterpillar, and, in a booming whisper, he said-
What? I would be too bitter? the caterpillar thought. Then he kept on munching. He was that hungry, and, he thought, he might as well go down munching!
He felt a ‘snap’ of the leaf he was on, and he was quickly right-side-up. He felt a push, and the world went slowly flying past him. Then he leant forward as the world stopped moving, and he felt the leaf he was on settle onto a place higher.
“Thank you for flying Delta service from a plant that is in danger of being mowed down to one of the same variety that isn’t.”
The caterpillar paused in his munching and wondered if that was all the commotion that was in store for him. The human was gone. The caterpillar sat still for a long time, even though he was very hungry. Then he understood. What had happened was simply odd. Once he had arrived at that conclusion, he began tearing into the leaf before him. Days passed calmly as the caterpillar munched, with doors nearby opening and shutting, traffic passing, and streetlights turning on and off… days only as eventful as, say, the news specifically produced to be shown in clinic waiting rooms. The caterpillar munched and made jellybeans and became ginormous. I mean, he wasn’t a provincial little caterpillar anymore, he was now just a little provincial, and, I swear, as big as someone’s pinky.
He saw a flicker and looked over. A butterfly was banking around and around, with tighter circles everytime. It lit on the flower of the plant he was on, and took a few sips.
“Aaagh,” it sighed with relish when finished. Then it turned to the caterpillar and asked him:
“What’s the sound of one wing flapping? I think you’re going to find out soon.” Then it left quickly, with a silent flutter.
What’s the sound of one wing flapping. Well, la-ti-dah, the ‘pillar thought. One would make a noise if it were hitting a leaf or something, he knew, but he also knew that that was the wrong type of answer to that type of question. Dangit. Of course, he considered, a sound is made, but also, a sound is heard. What a wing is hitting is air. And, does it matter? What’s it all about.
“Ungh. Erk…” Suddenly, he felt the urge to grasp the stem of the leaf with his back legs and hang upside-down. It was an urge as strong as the hunger he had felt seconds ago, a hunger that had stretched throughout the week. And, so he did. That. Then…
An ant there on the plant next to him shouted.
“We were watching you from over on the other side of the edging and thinking that with antennae like yours, you have to know some things. You see, we’re putting on a show at our new venue, ‘Epic Theatre On The Mulch At Brick Edge West’, but we’re wondering if it’s really necessary. I mean, does Brecht speak to the insect experience. Some of us want to do ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf”, and, although there are similarities, I think we’re on the verge of a schism.”
The ‘only a little provincial and otherwise quite large caterpillar’ continued to work himself into a chrysalis and told the ant,
“…I’m a little busy here…”
“Anyway, it’s a choice between Brecht or Albee, and isn’t that always the type of choice artists have to make? Keeping in mind that it’s for an audience made mostly of aphids. Oh, and we may just settle on ‘You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown’, what with a compromise vote picking up steam. A few influential centipedes have tickets for the whole three-show run…”
And, that’s all the caterpillar heard. He was now encased in a chrysalis, turned to goo, and began to re-form into a butterfly. The sun whipped around, with rays sweeping downward and past, filtering through the walls of the chrysalis, from light to dark, from light to dark…
He emerged and spread his wings, letting them unfurl and dry. After a few hours getting his bearings, he found himself hungry, so he flopped down to a nearby flower. Now he understood what that other butterfly had experienced with the nectar, and it was not bad!
“Hey. You haven’t seen a caterpillar around, have you? Well, we’ve been doing a bit of Epic Theatre In The Mulch…”
It was almost as if the ant had been perched on that plant throughout the past week. But, of course, that wasn’t the case.
“I am that caterpillar…”
“No, you aren’t. You’re a butterfly. Well, we were a hit! With…well…whatever we opened with. A kind of hybrid agit-prop treatment of ‘You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown’. A sort of epic style, in a way…”
“I heard that was gaining traction through a compromise vote.”
“Yes! How did you know that? Must be those huge antennae. Anyway, none of us can carry a tune in a bucket, but that helps remind everyone that it isn’t really Snoopy…”
“I was that caterpillar you were talking to about it, you see. I changed into a butterfly.”
“Right. Pull one of the other five. And we didn’t have parents represented through muted horns. Instead, they shouted clearly from the wings- ‘Form a line! Comb your hair! Pay your parking tickets!’…”
“Remember when you were talking to me? I was forming a chrysalis.”
“Foaming Christmas. Gotcha. Last time I saw that caterpillar, he was doing some kind of trapeezy thing. Anyhoo, we’ve been getting nothing but ‘Standing O’s’.”
“That sounds great.”
“Well, if you see that caterpillar around, tell him that the show’s been held over,” the ant said, while backing down the plant.
“I will. And, I’m him.”
“I must say, you’re very convincing!” the ant chuckled, and slipped down the stem.
The butterfly hopped, flapping once, and coasted a few feet quite well, finding a flower that he’d had his eyes on. He drank the nectar, and as he did, he noticed a deepish, rhythmic “hee…hee…hee…” He lifted his butterfly head, and it stopped. He began feeding again.
Then he realized what the sound was. It was him! His right wing was still a bit puckered, so he’d been flapping it slowly to get circulation into it with every sip he took. So. That was the sound of one wing flapping.
It was a simple answer, and a small revelation, but it set the butterfly aloft, in the direction that the other had gone.