I was sitting in Burger King staring out of the window and thinking about the errands I still needed to run when I saw the thin black man in the empty parking lot. He wasn’t ragged and wild-eyed, like the homeless people I see downtown â€” his clothes were clean and looked neat, a pair of work pants and a light blue shirt â€” but he was swinging his arms wildly around his head and face, batting at something invisible. The neighborhood wasn’t the best, so I just thought it a little sad that this poor crazy guy was wandering around.
Then I noticed a flash of color, and I began to reconsider my assessment. There was something flying around his head. Several somethings, actually, and I remembered the time in my youth when my brother and I were attacked by a swarm of bumblebees in a field, hundreds of them sting our scalps and faces over and over. This man was a good twenty yards away, though, I shouldn’t be able to see bees.
They weren’t bees, though. They were butterflies. Pale yellow sulfur butterflies, dozens of them, and more coming in from above. Soon there were hundreds of gulf fritillaries and cloudless sulphurs, all converging on this poor man. I sat stunned, my mind incongruously trying to remember exactly what chemical it is that attracts these insects to gardens.
The man fell cowering to the ground, tucking his knees under his torso and covering his head with his arms. In a moment he was invisible beneath a delicately fluttering yellow blanket. Then, just as abruptly, a pale yellow cloud rose and dispersed, gliding into the afternoon. “Predictable,” I mused, noting that the man was now gone.
“What did you say?” my lunch companion asked. Over her shoulder I saw the last few golden flecks disappear from view. Suddenly I realized what was different about this vision. This time I wasn’t asleep.
[March 5, 2007]