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When Butterflies Kiss

[Editor's note: According to its publisher, Shange Amani of Silver Lion Press, When Butterflies Kiss is "the first ever African American serial novel." 10 authors each wrote a chapter, detailing the emotional and erotic adventures of a young black poet and the women in his life. To learn more about the book, visit]

It wasn’t exactly a lie. Not exactly. And she didn’t go out looking for a game. But men who believe they have been wronged cannot hear with both ears. And so she told the lie that wasn’t exactly a lie (because she believed it was true), knowing in her heart that it would be the easiest truth to digest. For both of them.

Derek was her fiancé; he just didn’t know it yet. And if he didn’t come back tomorrow, he’d definitely come the next day. By the end of the week, at the very latest. He had to return soon. He’d been gone long enough this time. Too long. She was stretched thin with waiting, and for every day he was away, she floated further from the shore.

Derek was the man who named her.

“You the ocean,” he had said. “That’s what you are. You the ocean.”

She’d believed him. And she’d believed too that he was the wall of rock that caught and held her rushing waters. She could swirl and rise in the crook of his body without fear. He had grounded her with the weight of his chin on her head and the bend of his elbow around her middle as they slept. When he was around.

But Derek was in Chicago now. Or New Orleans. San Francisco maybe. Wherever the sound of music had taken him this time. He’d left like he always did. With a kiss. A shrug of his shoulders.

“I’ll call you,” he’d said.

“When?” she’d asked.

“I’ll call you,” he’d repeated and then disappeared down the stairs and around the third floor banister with his guitar.

For the first few days she enjoyed waiting. She took long baths with sweet salts after work. She washed her clothes (and the few shirts Derek had left), perfumed the bed sheets, and hung fresh roses to dry over the doors and windows. She listened to bluesy jazz by candlelight, and lived those few days as if every moment held within it the possibility of his return. He didn’t come. But he did call.

She didn’t ask where he was, only when he was coming home.

“Soon as I can, Baby. We have another couple stops to make before we head back that way.”

“Who’s we?” She wanted to ask, but didn’t.

“What’re you wearing?” he whispered.

It was late. She didn’t want to tell him, but she did.

“My blue nightie,” she whispered back.


After two weeks, he still had not returned. One by one, the rose petals fell to the floor, dried, and became dust beneath her feet. At night, she slept with the windows open and listened for the sound of his guitar to drift up from the street four stories down. The wind that rushed in through the open windows turned the bathwater cold. It shook the bed and made her dream she was drowning. She cradled the phone in her sleep. She dragged it into the bathroom while she showered. And when she had to run to the store for coffee, or chocolate, or cigarettes, she took the receiver off the hook so that if Derek called, he would get a busy signal and try back a few minutes later.

He had left before. Never for this long, but she still believed he was coming back. While she waited, she sat in the dry dust of rose petals and embroidered the sleeves of her dresses with pink and red butterflies. She decorated the pockets of her jeans with deep-sea fish, the cuffs of her shirts with leaves like ivy. While she sewed, she turned the radio up loud to distract herself from the wind that flooded her ears with the sound of water. It could have been hours or days that she sat this way; her hands busy, refusing to wait in stillness like the rest of her body.

After some time, even her art became impatient. The wings of the butterflies began to beat against each other, the deep-sea fish began to jump, and the leaves like ivy threatened to grow up her arms and around her neck and bind her to the spot if she refused to move. Then the phone rang, and she did not answer it. Instead, she let it ring while she pulled herself up from the dust, slipped into her high heels, painted her eyelids with glitter, and stepped out to meet the evening. The phone was still ringing when she shut the door behind her.

The music dropped heavy and loud in the dark room. Shadowy bodies channeled the rhythm and moved together like the flames of a fire. In corners, sisters in shiny lipstick stood against the walls and arched the smalls of their backs to meet the bodies of men who moved in close enough to smell them. At the bar, brothers leaned back on elbows, sipped drinks, and surveyed the scene with untelling eyes.

She did not stop at the bar on her way to the dance floor. She did not look to see who she might recognize or who might recognize her. She went straight for the speaker and stood before it with her eyes closed until the music filled her and sought release through her limbs.

Movement was all she wanted. She found it and was satisfied. Until she felt a pair of strong, soft hands on her hips. The heat of the hands guided her through the music and stirred the longing that sat weighty beneath her breastbone. She smiled sadly with her back to him and let him pull her close. When he did, she could smell him. He smelled of cool earth and something sweet and salty that she couldn’t place, but which reminded her of herself. It was some time before she turned around to look at him. In this darkness, with the swell of music around them, his crooked, too-cool smile made her want to forget everything she ever knew and start all over. Start fresh. It was a dangerous, thrilling thing to want, at this very moment, what she knew she could have.

“I promise to be nice,” she wanted to say. But she said nothing.

Instead she drifted back into the rhythm, to the heat of his hands on her hips, to the scent of him that she couldn’t quite place. For what could’ve been hours, or only minutes, they sweated in the safety of this shadowy crowd, in the driving pulse of the music. Then, while the lights were still low and the atmosphere was still heavy with seduction, she followed him to the bar and gave him her number. He kissed her on the cheek before she left. She didn’t expect him to follow her out and he didn’t. But she did mean it when she said he could call.

“Anytime,” she said. And she meant that too.

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