White Butterflies (Story by R.C. Peris)

Maybeline was slow. Her Momma said it, her aunt said, the town said it. Maybeline was 28 years old and lived at home with her Momma and Aunt Ida in Cherish, Georgia. Momma was a preacher’s daughter and married a miner who died early. Momma made money by renting out rooms in the old plantation she owned. The miner gave her one daughter. Maybeline. She had red hair and a thin face. Maybeline could play the guitar and wrote her own songs. Sometimes she sang folk songs and Bluegrass. It was difficult for Maybeline to understand much beyond music.

Every morning, Maybeline took a walk with her guitar. She walked through high grass and pecan trees singing songs. One morning (this was 1961) she was singing one of her songs about flying when she came upon a black boy and white girl doing the unmentionable. They were kissing, panting and pawing each other. Momma called it an abomination. Sex. She was told that word.

“Avoid sex, Maybeline.” Momma was always right. The poor white girl looked in pain, though she wasn’t pushing him away, and the black boy was excited. You could see it in his face. Maybeline hushed her singing and watched them by the bank of a creek. White butterflies fluttered around them.

A week later, the boy was arrested on suspicion of dating a white girl. Her name was Dinah. Just like the name of Maybeline’s cat. Dinah denied knowing the black boy. The Sheriff didn’t have much proof but one day Maybeline went to Woolworth to buy thread, Pond’s cold cream, and nail polish for Momma and Ida and she heard the Sheriff talking to the soda boy.

“I just don’t have any proof,” said the Sheriff.

“White butterflies,” said Maybeline. She ordered a root beer.

“Excuse me?” asked the Sheriff.

“I saw white butterflies when that black boy hurt that white girl.”

The Sheriff knew Mayebline was slow but that just meant she could be manipulated. The soda boy shared the story with customers and one Saturday night some white boys lynched the black boy, castrated him, and strung him up on a tree. Mayebeline found him on one of her morning walks. She was singing Amazing Grace when she saw that black boy swinging from the tree. Maybeline cried until she saw white butterflies flutter around his bruised head.

“So beautiful,” whispered Maybeline. She continued on and thought of the peaches she would eat at lunch. Everyone always said Maybeline was slow.


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