Of the Butterfly, Wings on the Muzo by Nicholas Jackson

Late last week, probably Friday, Hector lost his glasses, although it wasn’t until Monday at his desk in front of incredibly long rows of blurry text that he remembered he had lost them, spun around in his chair and asked Terri, well the back of her high-lit bob, if she had seen them, or if possibly a member of the cleaning crew had taken them to the lost-and-found or something.

Her typing was loud and arrhythmic and accentuated by acrylic fingernails. Without turning she answered, “No,” but it wasn’t clear if she meant no she hadn’t seen them, or no the cleaning crew wouldn’t have taken them, or no there isn’t a lost-and-found. Hector excused himself without offering a specific excuse, stood, slightly faltering, and pulled back the dead lock.

The electronic locker beeped in response to his PIN and a little slot popped open revealing his phone, which he dropped into the drooping pocket of his pants. Plastic soles across closely shaven carpeting. A cluster of cubicles, another heavy door, a high-ceilinged hallway, and the restroom.

Fluorescent light bounced off the metallic fixtures, reflected, refracted, and shot out of the mirror in all directions. Inside a stall, his toes facing forward, his calves sweating through his socks, Hector dug his hand into his pocket. Tacked onto the pocket was a pouch in which his phone could barely fit but had managed to slip into somehow/anyway. The display was dim except for a tiny analog-style clock, which meant—curled up in bed in a hotel on the ocean, Marie slept like a stone, dreamless, golden, glowing, stray hairs swept across her face, and on her ankle her first tattoo, a stylized line drawing, a butterfly wrapped around a music sign, a symbol of a melodious transformation—there were no missed calls and no new messages. What it was called, Hector would’ve reminded her, was a treble clef. At the sink, bent and rigid, he brought handfuls of water against his face over and over again. As he picked flecks of paper towel off his cheek—he was the cocoon—he noticed his tie was splotched with water.

“Hello...sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.” All of a sudden a tall man with square shoulders in a dark suit appeared in the hallway.

“...my glasses...”

“How’s the job going?” His cuff-links were crystals sparkling.

“Well, sir...”

“I’ve heard good things about you.”

The two had never met.

“...a lot to learn, though.”

Hector had seen the man only once, in a photograph during his initial interview with the agency, framed, matted, and hung on an otherwise unadorned wall. In it his interviewer was younger and being awarded a certificate from the man with crystal cuff-links, his interviewer was smiling and shaking the man’s hand enthusiastically, and they were in the same office in which his interview was being conducted.

“Don’t worry,” the man with crystal cuff-links stepped into the elevator, a chamber of mirrors, and the doors converged,

“...there’s plenty of time,” with a thud.

Hector thumbed his phone’s back button deftly and squinted. Marie’s name had been removed from his contacts list, so her last message was labelled by a bare phone number. On the balcony, spoon in cereal, salty air around her ears, she sat on a plastic neon fold-out chair with her feet tucked underneath her. Grey lay in the margins of the morning. The surf foamed and produced a sound similar to that of her puffed rice. A lone dog-walker walked the beach. She wondered how long it would take. Her message read:

Take care of it yourself.


Someone was behind Hector, hands on hips, waiting for the locker. He reddened, tossed his phone into the slot, and entered the SCIF.

The day’s date on the peel-away calendar was unmarked and the first floor café was closed while the kitchen staff washed dishes from breakfast for lunch and warmed the day’s warm entrée, so Terri should’ve been at her desk, but—the subtle usually symmetrical organization of her office supplies seemed unbalanced—she was gone. Paperclips peppered the ground near the garbage can. Hector scrambled, attempted to read the morning’s memo, but it was indecipherable. The man with crystal cuff-links had heard good things about him? The ceiling expanded in short, sudden bursts as if climbing the rungs of a ladder. Oh God. He was going to live with his mom the rest of his life. The door—the handle shook—opened.

A hand, and then the body attached to it, entered. A wrinkly old man in a jumpsuit, from a pouch on his belt, pulled out a garbage bag and, in a practiced motion, replaced the old one.

“Excuse me.”

The old man froze, glanced down at something nervously.

“…my glasses…”

It was a pocket watch, an old brass thing.

“…or, maybe, the lost-and-found?”

The old man took a step in reverse, shook his head and left.

Hector almost thought very unpleasant things about the man until—lately, certain parts of each of his days at the office have been, upon retrospection, kind of hazy, like at some point he reaches another level of consciousness, but enigmatic gaps of time, black holes, are left behind, and there isn’t any time to question the hiccup in time because it’s time to go—he spins around, grabs his bag, “Bye Terri”, through the cubes, the hallway—a sweaty guy with thin hair, his interviewer, leans against the wall next to a younger woman who simultaneously grins and grimaces, and, yeah, Serendipity is one of his favorites, too, but the plot points he recounts are those of Must Love Dogs, and the elevator bings—down the corridor, to the locker-room, to his nook, into his agency provided street clothes from a vacuum-sealed bag at his feet.

Nobody else on the train is wearing linen or lime green, though. An overweight man takes the seat next to him, breathes out of his mouth, smells like stale coffee. The train grinds, groans, and tumbles forward. Outside the window, scenery blends together and blurs. Terri was there when he was leaving but how? He doesn’t know what to pick up from the grocery store because he left his phone at work probably next to his glasses maybe because he hadn’t thought to check the locker for them because why would he have put them in there?

His last message reads: It’s hard. Doubt and disappointment, cyclical like the tides, controlled by the sun and the moon and the pulling and the gravity of it all. She can’t stay at the beach a single second longer. This life is real life is happening is being happened. A young man in a tank-top with the makings of a simple meal in his arms careens past enormous displays of TODAY’S SPECIALS!!! marked by shiny star-shaped signs of poster board. One aisle splits into many check-out lanes. It’s still Monday. Hector wades the river’s delta in foam thong-sandals and white socks. He can’t imagine a single good thing one could hear about him. Pauses. One of the cashiers he recognizes, from school maybe. Inconvenienced shoppers collect in a pool at his back. He cranes his neck, tries to make out the name etched on her name-tag. That’s right—water and sand splash, and the silt swirls—she’s a friend of Marie’s. What’s her name? There’s a spot where it all comes together. She sees him, focused, staring at her chest, then looking away, like she didn’t just catch him in the act. Can you believe the nerve of this guy?

Nicholas Jackson lives in Alexandria, Virginia. He is a regular contributor to southsidewhoidoitfor.com (@whoidoitfor), and his favorite R&B singer is The-Dream.