The last moult of a caterpillar is quite an event. The new skin of the organism is not the skin of before but a new form, the pupa. The dermal cells of a butterfly are trimorphic: caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly are all the same. The pupa is a metamorphic transmorphification machine. The larva is dismantled chemically and the embryonic cells divide. Within hours of pupation the adult comes into being, its characteristics are formed, wings, mouth parts, thoracic muscles and legs. When the butterfly breaks free of the pupa haemoglobin is pumped into the wings and they expand and the hormone buriscon makes them hard. In the wind the wings twitch until they take command of the air and in a multi-coloured moment of self-expression the creature lifts, floats and flies.
The first time he saw her a shudder passed through him like the word of God through a virgin. He was sixteen years old and on his way home from school, lost in thought thinking about Christ and pain and torment, scourges, blood, demons and eternal damnation; all the subjects that dominated his life as he had grown up. Walking with his head down, not noticing the empty street. The rise of the black tarmac in the road. The foundation brush of dirt. Or the crisp packet in a crinkle twist on the wind.
His lips were mouthing an argument he was imagining he was having with his mother, who had started berating him for watching a movie on a friend’s mobile phone, that lunch time, involving two naked girls writhing one on top of the other. The argument had escalated, as it always did, into a full blown ecumenical onslaught, as his mother frantically fought for the safety of his soul, an organ he felt sure did not exist, by employing ever more complex theological debate, veering further and further from the issue at hand, insisting that there was no other God but Christ, who is the light and the truth and his kingdom is full of angels who can pass through this world, under the nailed down lino of our dreams, to walk though walls because they are of another dimension, without their intercession the world would be a far worse place and his love is a beauty that transcends and renders all else inadequate.
With his head shaking he told her that this cannot be true, that angels and demons, gods and sprites just couldn’t be and that all the problems and solutions of the world were man-made. Not come from above. And that there is nothing more beautiful than the human form, or the human imagination. The sheer complexity of our organism is God-like. So entangled was he in debate that he didn’t see the girl ahead of him in a short skirt and a tight t-shirt with a heart cut into it to reveal the crest of her young breasts, doing a little skitter with her feet, flashing the pantless dimple between her legs at the traffic, high as a kite; her figure tall and slender, her hair short, spiked and fiery red, her eyes emerald volcanic gems.
His mother yelled no, you blaspheme, there is nothing more beautiful or perfect than Christ, born of the virgin. It was at that moment that the girl turned abruptly and he crashed into her, found himself looking into her eyes and, feeling the kiss of the wind flush him of all the baggage of saints and sinners, he heard his inner voice say, no mum, she is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She is perfect. And when the girl said, look whir yer fucken go’en yer cunt, he saw the sun halo her and flash her hair with a gunpowder dance.
Later, when he got home, and his father said grace before supper, he hardly heard the long paragraphs of prayers or saw the saints nodding on the walls, or the Christ grimace on the cross behind his mother. He was watching the girl as she walked away from him, the sass in her buttocks and back, the bounce in her heels, teasing him on, and he imagined that she stopped and looked back and smiled at him and it was a perfect smile. A holy smile, the kind of smile the virgin gave to the angel before he had his way with her.
And he lay in bed that night and thought of her, tossing and turning, through the darkness of the night, once more beguiled by the fireworks that rollicked in her hair, crackling with all the colours of spring. When he woke, the next morning, he did so with a start. The day began as his life had jolted awake the moment he first saw her. He came in for breakfast but just stared at it and rose early and left, without saying a word to his parents who talked around him. After retracing his steps back to the street corner, he placed himself on the wall opposite to witness the in situ re-enactment of his bump with her and shot in for close ups when he transformed her curse to a smile.
At school he was shut off, staring out into the playground, and when he should have been writing down French, he wrote poems to her. That Sunday he prayed at church that he would meet her, he prayed even though he did not believe in God. In the bathroom, at home, he would stand in front of his mirror and practice what he would say to her, sometimes engaging in arguments so that they could kiss and make up. When he walked home from school he would loiter in the hope that he might catch a glimpse of her. And, more often than not, she was there, outside the old houses with big windows and man size bins, smoking cigarettes, laughing and chatting with the other girls working the afternoon traffic. But a flash of anxiety would cut through him and he would cross to the other side of the road.
One Friday afternoon, whilst engrossed in a phantom conversation with her, explaining that life was not exclusive to earth, but it might be that intelligent life was exclusive to our planet for this moment in time. When our time is done, he mused, a new intelligentsia may sprout into being in another cosmos millions of lights years away. Whose past light has taken whole extinctions to reach us. Giving us a snapshot of time at the birth of stars, heating into being new planets with whole new permutations of life, whose evolution was out of tick with our time. Turning the corner he stopped dead in his tracks. Under a wall that was painted with stars and a moon, ten metres to the left of a bin that looked like a docking pod with the number 1 on it, she stood in a short skirt with bare legs and a T-shirt with the words, heaven sent, embolden in gold across her breasts. At first she pretended not to see him keeping her gaze on something way off down the street. But when he didn’t take his eyes off her she shifted her attention to him, scowled and said, fuck off.
He coughed, said, sorry, didn’t know what to do, turned, felt her watching him, and, feeling like he was performing unrehearsed in a costume two sizes too small for him, he began to walk away.
Wait, she said.
He stopped and turned back.
Dew gone red.
Afraid of the silence he said the first thing that came into his mind. What school do you go to?
The question made her blink. Scaw?
I don’t go a scaw.
Taint no scaw dat wonts I. Ets a fucker.
She took a drag of her cigarette and blew the smoke out.
Whir dew goes? she said.
My name’s Carlo, he said. What’s yours?
Daizee, she said.
That’s a nice name, he said.
Yeah, it’s a summer name like the flower.
She almost laughed. Wot, you’s a fucken poet?
He felt limp with embarrassment.
Wot can I do’s for you’s den, Mistur Shakespeares?
I’m going to get a coke, Daizee. Would you like one?
Carlo began to hear music. Her hips began to hustle. A coke? She said.
He couldn’t help but smile as he watched her do a little jig. The movement of her hips made her breasts sway. Yes, he said.
I dohn’t jus go’s wiv any ole cock, she said. I’m no dat sort o… Dew got enee dosh mosh?
Carlo had managed to save two days dinner money, which he planned to spend that weekend at the church youth club. Fasting to save was his parent’s idea.
I got me’s a righteous feelen bowt dew my sweetz, she said as she took what little Carlo had, like destinee jus poked I.
Yah, tis troo, she grinned.
They went for a walk. He brought her an ice cold coke and they sat in a park with swings, a slide and a climbing frame, crushed in by houses and the main road that ran by it that was rammed with the rush hour traffic. They chatted. It was like a real date. For a brief moment he almost heard his mother’s voice but Daizee managed to pull him back by saying that his time was up, he said, can we meet again, and she said yeah, shure fing sweetz, I’ziz ooked awl week but I can squeeze a bit of room for dews on Fridi, so ow’s abowt dat?