Flash Fiction: “Watch Us Fly”

Eleven, he thinks, more than last year, less than the year before. He marks the number on the small spiral-bound notebook that sits on the weathered table next to him. Beside it, a half-full glass of amber iced tea, the many ring stains next to it telling of many such mornings.

The monarch butterflies flit between the flowers of the tall milkweed in the garden in front of him, several yards away but close enough for him to keep an accurate count. The orange of their wings gleam in the light as they flutter around the deep green-veined leaves, a nonsensical dance Kenji can’t begin to understand. He doesn’t try. He enjoys their flight and the crisp floral scent on the breeze, all the same, the light trilling of songbirds nearby their soundtrack. 

The noonday sun has yet to arrive. He knows he hasn’t seen the end to the newcomers—eleven so far today. It had been sixteen yesterday by the time he’d taken the last syrupy sip of his wife’s home-brewed iced tea.

His mornings consist of sitting in his bamboo rocking chair on his covered patio, tallying his monarch butterfly sightings, that he would later upload to the citizen’s science website he frequented on monarch migration. It was a duty he undertook for several years now, to catalog how many monarchs he saw in the spring, summer, and fall on a daily basis, to help track the health of the population. To make a difference.

Kenji had planted the milkweed several years back, nestled in a pristine garden bed complete with a baby blue butterfly house his son had built for him the previous year. He’d learned milkweed was the only plant that monarchs laid eggs on, and was food for their caterpillars; a necessary plant for the species survival. It had been his way of doing more than sitting idly.

The morning ritual had the additional effect of calming him, though as of late there was an undercurrent of worry. Even though the numbers for this year were promising, he couldn’t shake the icy knots in his chest that told him they were fighting a losing battle.

But his family had never been the type to quit. They’d fought losing battles before.

His great grandfather had stood on the shores of America and seen an opportunity, when others had seen him as just another immigrant. His grandfather had left behind the weathered doors of the Manzanar internment camp as a child, returning to a town that no longer saw them as neighbors but as the enemy. His father had become the first of his family to go to college, bringing his family into a new age of financial stability. He himself had become an engineer, ensuring his own children would have opportunities he never had, building his own home from the ground up. And now, his own son, a business owner. A father himself.

Each generation flew further along, passing along the next leg of the journey, just like the monarchs laying eggs in the milkweed, each generation flying towards the fields of Canada. Four, five generations to meet their mark, ever closer to a place they could call home.

Now, as he sits on the whitewashed porch he built, he counts another butterfly, twelve, thirteen, and remembers—the battle may not always be brief, but home is always worth the fight.

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