Anne looked at the exhibit box with some satisfaction. She and her son, William, had been working on it for the past few weeks. It was to be a present for her nephew on his tenth birthday. He had a penchant for collecting insects and this display box would be the perfect gift.
Carefully, she slid the glass panes into each of its ten compartments. It could sit open on his shelf proudly displaying five collections on each side and still fold neatly into a single case complete with a handle for carrying. Contented with their efforts, she folded it up into its compact form and engaged the latch.
She had made a felt and satin cover for the box, colorfully embroidered with various butterflies, beetles and bugs. It sat on the arm of her chair near the fireplace. As she rose to retrieve it, the coughing began. It was a bad spell this day; by the time she reached the chair, there was blood all through her kerchief and she could do nothing but try to catch her breath and slump into it.
She would have to remember to hide the kerchief in her sewing basket and replace it from the supply of fresh ones she kept there, before William arrived home. She did not like to distress her son with her ailments and bloody kerchiefs were always most distressing; making him want to send straight away for Doctor Gull. They both knew he could do nothing for her but make her comfortable and ease his concerns a bit.
After a time, she heard the key in the lock of the door downstairs. “William, is that you,” she said as loudly as she could. The coughing spells often taking her voice, it sounded to her as if she had croaked it, but he had heard. She heard his reply drift up the stairs ahead of him. Hurriedly, she slid the soiled kerchief into the sewing basket and tucked its successor into the pocket of her skirt.
“Yes, it’s me. I’m sorry for arriving home so late. I got carried away with the presses.” His words were interspersed with the sounds of his coming up the stairs.
“I hope your day was pleasant, Mother,” he said to her with a smile, as he entered the parlor.
“It was,” she replied, “...and yours?”
“Uneventful,” he said.
“Molly left supper warming on the stove for us before I dismissed her for the evening,” Anne said.
“I shall accompany you to dinner, then,” he said extending a bent arm to her with a chivalrous flourish and helping her rise from the chair.
“And you shall tell me all about those scoundrel presses trying to carry you away from me,” she said teasingly.
“I shall,” he laughed, “...I shall indeed.” William escorted his mother to the dining room and they had an enjoyable evening meal.
As was their custom, they retired back to the parlor for coffee. Anne busied herself with her stitching and William read the evening papers.
Rising from his chair, William deposited the newspaper on the table, noticing the exhibit box there, he commented, “I see you have been working on Georgie’s box. Is it finished yet?”
“Yes, except for the cover,” she said gathering it from its resting place on the arm of the chair and handing it to him. “Would you, please.”
He walked to her chair and took the cover. “I shall, he said, “...and I have that jar of specimens I told him I would collect for him, his ‘London Lepidoptera.’ I will fix them in this evening, so it will all be ready when Aunt Gwen arrives.”
“I hate that part so,” she said. “I think that it must hurt them to spend their eternity so harshly pinned to a display.”
“They are dead, Mother. Dead things don’t feel,” he said trying to comfort her. Sometimes he thought his mother to be yearning for her days in Bengal; the notion that bugs have feelings about how they spend eternity seeming so eastern to him, like sacred cows and such. I should take her back there before...she would love it so...sometimes, I miss it too...he thought, though he knew her health would not permit the trip.
“I will take care pinning them to our gift,” he said.
“I know you will.”
“Would you like for me to fix the fire before I attend to it,” he asked thoughtfully, “...there is a chill in the air.”
“No. No, I think I shall retire. I am weary,” she said tucking her stitching into the sewing basket and adeptly secreting the soiled kerchief into the bag she would take upstairs with her.
“Good night, then,” he said leaning in to kiss her cheek as he had done every night since he returned home to her. He helped her up from the chair. “Take care on the stairs,” he added.
“I shall and good night to you as well, don’t stay up too late...skewering...the specimens.”
“I won’t,” he promised. He straightened the parlor and collected the box and its cover before he went to the study; it was just enough time to hear her bedroom door shut. Knowing that she was safely up the stairs and in bed, he could breathe easier. He had missed eight years of their lives as son and mother while on the plantations with his father and had been trying to make up for it ever since he’d returned to England.
More and more each day, he could see the colour in her face turn as grey as the London skies and it troubled him. He knew that death was inevitable for us all, but he did not have to like it.
He took the box and the jar of specimens into the study and prepared to mount them. Arranging several of the moths on the backing, he pinned them on. He needed one particularly handsome specimen to be the focal point of the display. All of the large ones were less than adequate; they were rather plain and of common variety. It was a somewhat small one that ultimately caught his eye with luminous blue and green wings.
“You’re a pretty one, “he said aloud as he collected it from the pile on the desk.
William laid it out on the backing and carefully pinned one wing.
The shriek startled him so much that his rapid rise sent the chair skidding across the hardwood floor. He had never before heard anything like the sound it made, akin to a scream resonating from within the very core. It was not exceptionally loud, being proportionate with the size of the specimen, but it was profound and impassioned.
The cyan wings flapped frantically against the backing of the box. William hastily unpinned the tiny greenwing and it promptly flew in spirals upward, seemingly to look him in the face, fluttering and vocalizing. He had to swat at it. It kept flying in his face and around his ears all the way to the window.
Once he had flung open the window, the tiny scrapper promptly fluttered away leaving William in a fog. He stood dazed at the open window. Perhaps there was too much cyanide in the specimen jar, he thought, trying to rationalize what had occurred...Mother was right; it is too late for skewering.
Georgie’s gift could wait for another day, he was going to bed.
Oddly enough, he would smell camellia blossoms in his dreams this night.