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Milkweed Poison
by Feech
Feech -- all rights reserved
Shortly after their posting, Captain Webster gave me permission to attempt a sequel to his stories "Justice" and "Justice II", which are available to read under the single heading "Justice."

I think that I may have been asleep for many, many years. It is the only way I can explain how everything would have changed so much. The walls used to be tall, and almost smooth, and white, and now there is this rolling clothlike substance all around me and some of the ceiling falls almost to my height. I try to stand, and find that already I am standing. Something is touching a part of me that does not want to be touched. I try to look at the plain whiteness, and find that I can make out its contours and shadows from many directions without turning my head. I try turning my head, and find that it does not turn very far. My awakening is interrupted by voices.

"Insects do dream. Since the whole process of engaging in dream sleep involves shutting down learning and memory functions, it stands to reason that in waking they are capable of learning and remembering. I do not want to make a judgement concerning how much she may remember of you. I do not want to make such a judgement either way."

The replying voice jolts me on my strangely sharp, hard legs; I must not have eaten for the time I was asleep. I try to listen hard to the second voice, but I don't know precisely what I'm listening with. "No, Doctor, I understand, but don't you have any way of telling..."

There is a sigh. Both voices are up high, distant, desperate, but one is a more restrained desperation. "We have no way of knowing unless she chooses to attempt to communicate in some way, whether it be a way appropriate to her former body or not. She has undeniably changed completely from one species to another. How much of her original mind has been retained is currently impossible to say."

The electric voice again. "But you said she's an insect. Isn't there a measure you can make, some certainty, some degree of Nancy that is left? I need to know. I need--"

Again a sigh. "SCABS does not seem to have any predictable pattern of memory loss in any transformation, not even such an extreme one as your wife's. Her entire past may have been wiped out, or only pieces. Her ability to communicate may be intact or may be severely impaired. I'm sorry, but it's equivalent to being in a coma after an accident, only in her case she may or may not exercise choice in the 'waking', if you would call it that. We can't tell until she 'wakes.'"

The one with the voice, the years-past rushing in on my throbbing, hungry and dizzy body, curses under his breath. There follows a long pause.

"Bring her out from under there."

There is enough time for the other man to shake his head. I attempt to imitate the motion, and find I can do so with some concentration. I begin imagining the body of the less-desperate voice to be clad in white. "She went under there of her own volition. It's the only thing she's done voluntarily since the SCABS affected her. We tried to communicate, to detect damage beyond the degree of change, and as I did explain, we found her to be abnormally unresponsive for a butterfly. That was during the tests, and-- believe me-- I cannot stress that enough. She could be recovering some of her awareness, of either human or butterfly, right now. That she chose to go under her nightgown when returned to her room is something I consider to show some form of self-protective behavior."

"But you don't know."

"I do not know."

There is a deep, short-ringing vibration as though someone had punched someone. Could David have-- David. David. Struck the wall. These are not walls around me, and I am not the size I was.

Fear climbs up with sickening speed over the back folds of this safe whiteness, trickling down over my new and terrible head and into what I presume is my heart and groping at a large part of the back of my body that feels very soft and open and deadly exposed. Recalling recalling recalling

I black out, am conscious of doing so. I feel a weird presence of darkness over my wide vision and then become aware again. I do not know how long I was out, but there is a grayer tinge to the rounded cloth I hide in. Lights. Ten o' clock, lights out, Nancy. Good night, Nancy. I never answered. I never... I begin to try to count out my age. Assuming I was only here for... for... I can't figure it out. I remember the police, I remember rocking and not answering. Everything in between then and now was rocking and not answering. That was David, talking with a doctor about me. So they took me some place, and stimulated me, and I did not respond. I cannot recall that time. I can recall everything before. God help me, I can recall everything before.

I begin to explore my body, somehow miraculously staying just ahead of the recollections and the fear. It has to be serious, if David came here. Hardly ever did he come here. I remember a Christmas, so I know I was here at least over one winter. Pressing away the thoughts that come rushing to attach themselves in strings back from that Christmas, I hold out what comes closest to feeling like my hand. I feel it bump something in front of it, and find I have a row of limbs. Six, three on each side, with the fingerlike thing I lifted being in the middle on the right side. Far above my center of weight and motion is the part that brushes the nightgown, the part that does not like to be touched. I get some of my particled eyesight to register to me that it is my wings, their black-bordered orange height visible to some of my eye. I have antennae, as well. I sigh, a blessedly familiar sensation, to find that I recognize most of the parts I am seeing. They are large in my sight, and all out of order from the way I used to see them in passing flight, but they all belong on a monarch butterfly. So far so good. Now to find my husband. I must trust that he can realize it is me. I need somebody, before the memories return in their painful force.

I crawl slowly, painstakingly from one fold to another of what I now recognize as my white nightgown, bringing myself closer to the light at the edges, light seeping in from the one window to the perpetually lit hallways. When I am out, I shake a little and my wings move, feeling like stretching and checking themselves. Now to get to the button. I should be able to reach it by climbing.

I never used the button, but I always knew it was there. Now I drag my new body up the textured paint of the wall, never having known before that it was textured at all. I can see the whole room, and it doesn't look much different from before, except that I was always looking at it from lidded eyes. There is a doll lying half-on, half-off the plain bed. Hands, arms and swaying come back to me. I lose my grip, but panic, gain it again and move on. I am grateful for the nearness of the physical danger. Some things were getting too close.

At last I reach the button, and climb around it, trying to find a way to press it with my limbs.

It may be hours later when I finally give up. I don't feel all that light to me, but I can't make enough vibration to get the call to sound for the nurses. I have to wait all night for David. I fear sleep, remembering what the doctor said about dreams. I would rather black out. I don't want any dreams, no dreams.

I am swaying oddly on my six legs on the string of the nightgown, staring in all directions at the walls, when morning comes the next day and someone comes to turn my lights on. They see that I am awake.

"Honestly, I don't see how it applies to her anymore. She obviously is not capable of hurting anyone--"

"Unless she is a polymorph. I've been to a bar, and I've seen. What if she is a polymorph? What then? Anything could happen."

The doctor sighs, and I think it is not imagining too much to envision him putting a hand on my husband's shoulder. I can hear them; they are outside the door, discussing me. David wanted to speak to him in private. I don't care. I don't even know what's going to happen.

"David. I am not aware of any way to tell whether or not your wife is a polymorph. Truthfully, that does not apply right now. We are not a facility for SCABS cases, especially not cases which appear to be functioning normally, which aside from some dehydration your wife seems to be doing. I highly suggest you take her home. If you feel that she needs psychiatric treatment concerning her initial commitment, then you must go through the usual channels. This is, essentially, not the same woman who was admitted to this facility. She is now awake, social, and drinking well enough to be taken home. Again, I highly suggest you do so."

"But you don't know that's her. It could be a butterfly with nothing left of Nancy in it."

"That, Sir, is what I have just been saying. This is not our patient any longer. It is time to take her home, or find some other way to further her recall process. She will not improve when locked away from you."

"I don't think you underst--"

"No. I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I do not understand, I cannot understand, but I can tell you this: the social and communicative disordered behavior for which Nancy was admitted to this facility is no longer an issue, given her current behavior. It is my belief that she recognizes and seeks out individuals, and is normal for a butterfly. There is nothing-- I am sorry, but nothing-- I can do for her at this stage."

David does not swear nor punch walls, this time. I remember his coming in and looking at me this morning, and looking away. The thought occurred to me then that at least you can tell, looking at me. I'm a butterfly, who was his human wife. At least you can tell I am a SCAB.

I would rather not bring anything from the hospital home with me, and as it turns out I am not certain of all David does decide to bring, because he asks them to put me in a cup from the cafeteria and tape a paper dessert plate on top of it. I sit in it and feel it carried around by a nurse, sensing her intense hand lotion, and feel it set down and wheeled out the front door in a wheelchair. I feel at that moment as though I might remember humor, but there is something else that goes with that which is forbidden by my safe mind.

David drives home, but I do not see the car, so cannot use its make and model as a way to tell how long I have been hunched and closed in the hospital. I try to see if I can recognize the motor, to see if it's the one he drove when-- but I can't. David's voice and other sounds are recognizable, but not the same. He slams a hand on the steering wheel and says "Fuck" a couple of times on the way home. Lights filter in through the sides of the paper cup. The car brakes and shuts down. We are home. He gets an armful of other things out of the trunk, I guess, because there is some slamming and latching before he retrieves me from the front seat. I want to reprimand him for making me wait, but right now I'm listening and trying to piece things together safely. I try a tentative message with my mind, willing him to open the top of the cup and look at my face, but he does not.

I hear his shoe-soles on the concrete front steps. I hear the squeak, just a little one and still almost the same, of the front door. I hear sirens and see massive lawns of light, roofs of light, in three bright colors, but these sensations are in the back of my mind, and a still, quiet house is at the front. I identify the memories as memories, but that is as far as I go.

David putters in the kitchen for almost two hours, judging by the way I feel and the light from the sliding windows at the back of the eating area. Then he messes around with magazines and the television in the recessed living room. I scratch at the sides of the cup, but it doesn't seem to get a glance or a response of any kind from him, although I am just guessing. Then he steps on the kitchen tile again, untapes the plate from the cup and tips me out onto our veneer table. I shudder, stretching a little like I did when I emerged from the nightgown, but fearful of David's towering height. He is stony, holding the cup on its side, gazing at me.

I take a few short steps on the slippery surface, and hold out my wings in a little bit bolder stretch. David watches me, and watches some more as I take some more steps. Then he turns and heads back for the dim living room. I can see the light from the television wash over the back wall, which still needs painting. I imagine David is sobbing, but I have no evidence of this. I stand on the table the rest of the night. There is nothing else to do.

The next morning my husband feeds me, and after that he is fairly good about it. When he's not, I scratch and flutter near the plastic lid he has used for my fluid diet. I imagine I can read his expression, but it seems so grim that I must be wrong, or at least hope that I possibly could be.

I know he blames me for something. The whole world blames me for something. If the doctors think it is over, then it really is over, but it has been done. I did it. I know what I did. I make it easier on myself, saving my life from the crawling fear that moves on over me faster when I open up to the house and what is in it, and what was in it. I tell myself that I killed a man. That makes it easier. I do not know what he looked like, then.

The house is the same as it used to be. When I realized how small I am now, I thought the house would appear larger by comparison. It does not. It appears all strangely angled and shaded, but although I can see more of it and with smaller eyes, it just doesn't seem bigger at all. I walk around it at first, seeing chairs from the floor up like a crawling-stage baby, clinging to edges of furniture and moving from there to the wall and the next piece of furniture. I try to cook something, once, to warm up the kitchen and get David's attention, but I am not strong enough compared to the containers of dry goods. I also cannot open the refrigerator door. He barely ever turns on the lights anywhere, but he doesn't close the curtains, either, so I spend the afternoons in the sun from the kitchen windows. He sleeps in our bedroom, but I have not gone in there, nor down the hall to the smaller one. David closes our bedroom door when he goes to work, wherever he works now. He doesn't have to lock it. I cannot get in.

One day I try to make a phone call. I have a hard time pushing the buttons; I cannot do it in fast enough order to keep the operator from interrupting the call. I panic. I need an emergency speed-dial, in case I need it sometime when I am alone. I try to scratch at David, walk him to the phone, show my trouble, but he pays no attention.

I decide I don't need it anyway. I might not live long. If I do, and something happens, the police will get here. They did once.

David's clothes are not the same as when I went in to the hospital; at least he or someone else got him some new ones. I watch his face, how he shaves it, when he shaves it, when he takes off his shoes at night, when he washes his hair and when he doesn't bother to comb it, when he has something to drink at home or when he goes out. I can't predict a schedule with him, but this makes him more interesting to watch. I wish to know him again. It's been a long time. Back before we decided we weren't enough of a family on our own. I guess we're not. Sometimes I get something of a sidelong glance out of him, but other times not. He talks to the television, but only when he thinks I'm not listening.

"David." I say it in my head, dreaming. I am aware that I am dreaming, dreaming a late dream in the beginnings of sun through the kitchen windows in a sort of waking state since I slept all night and more. "Oh, David." I am joyful. The perfect addition to our family. I just know he'll make everything better. And look, he has butterfly wings. Just like an angel. Isn't that cute. I know I am dreaming.

I hear David laughing, and it seems to lightly jump its way into another dream. My husband is laughing, and watching me being clumsy with the baby, not with wings now but cheerful as his Daddy, and somehow my hands look very human. I have so much to learn before I can handle him so David won't laugh at me. He always used to laugh before we were married. I can barely do this, or am so clumsy with that. I admit it. But I can cook, and handle a car all right, and anyway the little boy just loves me. Just look at him.

I awake and unroll the streamerlike black thing with which I drink my water and sugar formula. I feel like I yawn, and for the moment in between waking and being aware of dreaming, I feel whole and safe. The recalls are not there; they are in my sleeping head. No baby ever had wings.

But I have wings, Nancy. I am you, Nancy. No, the man did not have wings. That man who came into your home and made you so afraid. David was scared straight out of the house. The neighbors never came. SCAB. A SCAB man in the house. A butterfly. Nancy. And David. David and Nancy. Someone else. I picked him up and held him.

I decide to try flying.

The drunken, crazy wheeling I do when I'm first exercising my wings drives David to distraction. He plucks at the upholstery on the back of the sofa, sometimes slitting his eyes at me as if he's almost believing I am a fly that must be eliminated. If he grabbed me, put his hands together and crushed me into pressed butterfly between them, at least he would be touching me. I flit around as best I can, until I flutter in one barely-weaving line from the coffee table all the way to the top shallow step by the kitchen. I cheer myself, that day. David watches the glow from whatever electronics he has turned on, but he also watches me. I wave my wings at him. He tries to crush his beer can in his palm and ends in cutting himself. He rushes off to the bathroom for some peroxide.

I am still panting, catching my breath, fanning my wings slightly and feeling an uncomfortable draft from where the weather stripping has worn away underneath the kitchen door-windows, when David comes back, holding his hand and frowning. He is wearing a plaid shirt and slacks that don't quite match it. I start to take off, but he steps just over me as I begin, and I bump into his cuff and have to allow myself to tumble and start over.

He pauses. Instead of going down to the sofa, he weaves heavily over to one of the chairs and squeaks it loudly out from the table. He's not drunk, just weaving anyway. He clumps when he walks, and falls weightily into the chair. He is still holding his hand, but I no longer sense any blood. I fly a little ways, but then land and climb up the side of another chair by foot, to hang onto the backrest of it.

"I can't say your name."

He has spoken to me. I freeze. It is a defeated sound, and harsh, but it is David. He is looking at the table, as I used to look at my sheets.

"You bitch. No-- I don't mean that."

Yes you do, David, yes you do.

"TALK TO ME!" The thunder and his upturning gaze is unexpected, and I shudder as if in an earthquake. I feel the loss of control of the shaking, not safe like the rocking-- losing control on an edge of being me in my body. This is my self. I must hang onto it. I'm working on it, David, I'm working on it I'm working on it it's not safe to recall--

"Shhhh..." It's not a comforting sound, but the thunder subsides. Now he faces the window. His fingers grasp his wrist as though he has forgotten the metal-cut and has to cling to something. Suddenly the grasp fails as if he is falling and my husband slams his forehead into both palms. Now I smell the exposed blood, a trace of it, and to the table he speaks: "You're so red. So orange and... red."

I try to make sense of that, but sometimes my husband does not make sense. I know he realizes that I cannot speak, but I know what he wants from me; we took home the other one together. Now he is alone. I am not entering it with him. It's safest this way, and maybe he should try it.

"GodDAMN you!" he slams the bleeding hand into the table and lifts himself from the chair. "Goddamn it, Nancy. You fucking bitch. There you sit, and then you get SCABS. What am I supposed to do? Let it all fly away? Like your little Goddamned fluttering all the time around my house?"

I shake my head at him, as best as I have learned how. I can't out with it if he can't say it. My name isn't good enough. Neither of us is back yet, David. Did they ever find out who the man was. The man in our house. I recall that once we did up the baby room in the back, just in case. Did anything ever come of that?

"I can't say your name." He's forgotten that he spoke it moments ago.

The baby. I imagine I am dreaming again. This dream is more violent, and there is shrieking like a wind with voices in it. Suddenly everything goes grey-cold, like the air out of the freezer, everything working just right and smelling harmless and nice. It's not a dream. Not a dream.

I wrestle with the difference between the nice ice blue grey and the shrieking. For a moment, everything was all right. He reached up from the crib, very chubby...

I never thought I had the strength to end a man's life. I guess I had to, and I did. How nice, scent of a freezer, comfortable like that, nothing on the face ever the same color. Three lights. Green is missing or it could have been Christmas.

"NANCY."

I stare hard at my husband, trying to stay with him from way across the table like this.

"Oh, God, Nancy..."

Suddenly he breaks. It seems a physical thing, a cracking along some part of his body, a body I suddenly remember holding. I remember we were married in a month of August. It's colder now, windier. He breaks, and stands taller than his usual height... Or was it something after the intruder that made him hunch down shorter for a time... He breaks, and sounds around the house seem to be meaningless words. He has crossed the tile floor before I am alert to its happening. He has changed the light with his shadow falling different places. He almost lays an eye on me, but it lights instead on the cabinet with the glassware in it and he gets out two pieces in each hand as if setting the table for company. Then he throws them.

I fold into myself upon the crashing, or wish I could. Sparkling sharps lie all over the floor. None come near me, but I wish they would. I want to feel them. I look on in awe and he breaks our entire collection of glasses and some of the white glassware that I used for entertaining when we threw a party for our newly adopted baby.

"GodDAMN you!" David throws anything he can get his hands on, after that. Some of the silverware hits and breaks a vase. My dish of sugar water skids across the table and spreads its contents.

"Goddamn SCABS..." My husband throws everything he can get his hands on, and disappears down the hall to our room. I do not hear him slam the door. The springs creak under him. I imagine I hear him sobbing, but it seems too much to hope for. Too much that he would cry for me.

I almost topple off the back of the chair, but I hang on. Then I look at the floor.

David is crying, definitely now, down the hall on our carnation and yellow bedspread in the room just a jog away from the baby's. He is not crying for his wife. He is not crying for me. It's for his job, and for the man I killed. The baby. The baby. Too heavy to hold right when he was screaming and my ears and his body couldn't take it, and I stopped him before he killed himself. I killed him. I shake, hanging onto the kitchen chair. I shook him.

Damn SCABS, he says. Damn SCABS. Damn Nancy, for not seeing. I couldn't see the intruder until it was too late. He was sick. The poor thing was sick. It comes on me now, and I don't want to stop it, but it bites into me with too much force anyway, no matter how loose I am for it. Isn't he sweet. We have to have him. He's not growing. He has SCABS, he has SCABS. He's not growing. I put a stop to that not growing. I put a stop to that--

It's jarring parts out of me, I'm almost sure. Taking out organs I never knew humans or butterflies had and spearing them with the glass shards from our cabinets full of serving dishes. I know how-- he-- FELT-- he-- God-- I have a desperate need for the glass to take it all apart, all of it, all of it away, nothing left to give to the memories. I killed a man, but SCABS got to him first. He was my child, and I killed him. David wasn't there. He would have stopped me, and he wasn't there. I can hear him sobbing down our hall.

Oh God, David, I'm so sorry, I'm so... I'm so sorry...

I know how he felt. I feel a tearing in me, a cracking force, a desperation to get it back, what I had, anything before I saw the baby. For him, anything before he became the baby. Shrieking until he cried himself hoarse and burning red and hurting himself and me, over and over and over. He cursed his own form, how vulgar of us to love it... how could I shake it like that if I loved it...

The windows go dark. David stops sobbing, but periodically he takes a long breath like a painful whine, and shuffles on the bed as though suffocating in the sheets or his own hands. I climb, my black feet shaking with each step, to the flat table and step into the spilled sugar water. I take a sip of it, but it is not refreshing.

The windows light with one street lamp somehow reflecting from out front; they have always done that at this time of night. The kitchen is strewn with streaks of dimly lit glass like the gleam from patrol lights outside. No one would find me if I had an emergency now. It was because of the screams they were called that night. Because of the screams.

I feel cold, colder than any being I have felt with my hands before. I cannot exist without David. If anything happened to me, no one would know. No one would ever help me. I wish I could do something for him. Something, anything, to make me enough of a wife so he will call if anything happens to me like I did to our destroyed child. Like I did. I need David.

The street lamp seems to hypnotize me even in reflection; I do not know what time it is nor how much time goes by, after the recognized light has shown once again the vandalized kitchen.

I hear a shuffling from the door-molding by the entrance to the hall. I smell a little blood. His cut is still open. If I could do something about it, I would, but not even the hospital wants us now, me or him. Take her home, they said. If there's nothing they can do for me, there's nothing they can do for him. Not about me. I am his burden. Damn me, he said. Yes. I would do anything for him. But I can't say I'm sorry and I can't heal his hand. He may as well be alone.

David takes a deep, shuddering breath. I imagine I hear his lungs repositioning after long hours of discomfort face down on the mattress, wetting the pillow. His eyes are swollen, but he has been wiping them to try to appear more alert. He really should wash them in water. I reach out a front claw in some kind of reflex, but I have no idea what I'm going to do with it or even if he can see it from there.

"Nancy. You're still my wife."

I am shocked. I rebel at the cooling of the horrible sensations in my abdomen; I am not allowed to have this. Not when I could not stop my own screaming long enough to admit that a SCAB could still be my baby. Not if he hated his SCABS. My own voice and his, until we were both silenced. Forever. I am silent forever, whoever you were that turned into our child. The cooling comes into my body, and David steps closer over the crunching glass.

"Nancy. Did-- did you hear me?"

I nod, but I don't know if he can see it.

"I-- this is crazy. I know you can hear me, but do you understand? This is crazy. I can't take this. Come with me. I mean-- I wanted to know if-- you wanted to-- go out with me. It's-- you might not like it. Blind Pig Gin Mill. It's for SCABS. I know it's crazy. This is crazy. Will you come with me?"

I sit still. I don't know how to answer him. He has never touched me since before the baby died, and the most I have done is scratch at his shirt sleeve. He is far across the tiles. He doesn't like my flying.

"Anything-- Nancy-- listen, I'm mad here. Mad. Answer me will you. Do you want to go out."

He draws the back of one hand across his tear-wet upper lip. "Please."

I fly to him, cautious in the dark but unable to slow without falling. He doesn't even look to see where I have landed on his shoulder. He wipes his face again, this time with the opposite cuff, and there's really nothing I can do right now to help him clean up. I hang on tight to the weave of his plaid shirt.

David steps with me down the kitchen steps, across the recessed living room and opens the door. He feels the wind immediately. His hand comes up in front of the shoulder I cling to, and though I feel the wind he is fairly well protecting me.

My eyes can see the lamps above and some of our dark living room behind, the sofa and a rocking chair. Beyond my husband's creased palm, and under his chin, I can see our car and the otherwise empty street.

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