The butterfly was small — maybe ¾ of an inch wingspan, if it stopped, which it didn’t. It appeared to be looking for something on the rich, long green lawn. It was a light blue with the sort of translucent sunglow that insects achieve effortlessly, and artists strive for a lifetime to get not-quite-right. Small it was, but its color and motion commanded one to look.
The nervous system of a butterfly is fairly rudimentary, so there’s really no way it could have conceived of the doom heading its way. It might have sensed — indeed, given its fragility and relationship with air pressure, it must have sensed — the staccato, rhythmic thunder of an engine, something it could not have conceived; or the sound of blade tips, at a high subsonic speed, shearing the grass to an unnatural, uniform level.
The butterfly could not imagine the lawnmower.
The mower, for its part, could not imagine the butterfly. Built on a production line in America with parts that seemed to come from half the world, it was a dumb machine. Perhaps it was smart for a lawnmower, given its electronic this and solid-state that, but that’s not saying much. The butterfly’s death was written in the swathes, in the next of which it unconsciously gamboled; it could no more know Death advanced than Death itself, Model 150Z Zero-Turn with the 42-inch deck, could know itself.
The death of a butterfly is an inevitability. Every living creature owes God, at the momentary flash of its conception, one death, sooner or later. For a butterfly, the delta between sooner and later is small. Most butterflies, in their adult stage, live only to reproduce — they can’t grow, and many of them don’t even feed. It’s all about the eggs.
It seemed, then, of no consequence that the mower was due to destroy the butterfly. It shouldn’t have mattered one way or another — not to the operator of the mower, who condemned higher animals for meals daily; who had visited all the woe that is war on other humans. After all, it wouldn’t have bothered him if he mowed the butterfly and didn’t know about it. And another time — in crass teenage, perhaps, and certainly Before War — he might have laughed about it.
But today, the operator stopped the mower. Dead in its tracks. The butterfly moved on, unaware that its precious, tiny, one-week life had ever been someone else’s to take. In a minute or so, when the little blue life was safe, the mower moved on as well.
Later, the operator discovered that the little life that he didn’t want on his conscience today was a Karner Blue Butterfly, an endangered species named by, we are not making this up, Nabokov. Yes, that Nabokov; while he’s remembered as a novelist, he was an avid amateur lepidopterist.