Illusion, or reality? An improbable, symbolic story with a twist in the “tail” of the tale…
I know my great grandmother was in the room with me, even though I could not see her. I felt her presence. She was looking at me, disapprovingly, from the large, dusty old, but beautiful Venetian mirror, that is hanging on the wall of my study, opposite the window. The window was slightly ajar and outside it was pitch dark.
I was sitting by my writing desk, in front of my typewriter, chewing on my quill pen, thinking that someone ought to invent the computer to make life infinitely more complicated and unpredictable, when a sudden rush of air extinguished the flame of the candle on my desk and the room became as pitch dark as the outside world. What happened next I find hard to describe, it felt so unreal. I think I must have fallen asleep, because I woke with a jolt finding myself covered with cobwebs. The room was still dark and the window still ajar, but the mirror on the wall had a strange luminosity and I clearly saw a female figure, whom I thought was my great grandmother. I realised that I was still holding the quill pen in my hand and in the strange luminosity emitted from the mirror I saw a butterfly perching on top of the quill. I looked at the mirror again and it became clear to me that the female figure reflecting in there was – after all - not my great grandmother, but a much younger, tall, attractive woman, with long curly hair. I could not see her face clearly and I felt puzzled about seeing her reflection in the mirror, without seeing her, or being aware of her presence in the room. It felt strange that the butterfly landed on the quill and stayed motionless.
I decided to light the candle. I carefully placed the quill in the ink-well, making sure that I would not startle the butterfly into flight. As the flame dimly illuminated the room I noticed, with some alarm, that a man was sitting in the armchair opposite me. He looked young middle aged, with a high forehead, short beard and moustache and long hair. He was wearing, what looked like, Elizabethan style costume. I thought he may be an actor, dressed for a theatrical role and was wondering what he was doing in my room and how did he get there. At the same time I was wondering what I was doing in the room, as the room itself seemed to have changed character and – although I knew it was my own study – it somehow felt that I was the guest and the man in the armchair was the owner of the room.
-“Why thou dost loiter in mine writing room and by false intelligence or wrong surmise hold me a foe?” – he addressed me indignantly, in a language that sounded English and yet strange to my ears.
What did he say?... what did he mean? Who was he… or… where was I?
-“Who are you?” – I asked?
-“How now… good morrow dear sire… thou mustn’t jest; I know thee doth not and do arm myself to welcome the condition of the time; which cannot look more hideously upon me than I have drawn it in my fantasy.”
-“What the heck is he talking about ?” - I thought and wished to end the
conversation and wished myself out of my own room… or was it my dream I wished myself out of?
No sooner I wished myself out of there than the man disappeared suddenly, leaving me to wonder what was going on. The butterfly now took off from the quill pen and started flitting around the room, as if driven by curiosity, trying to orient and scrutinise the surrounding. As it was flitting from place to place, without landing, I noticed it emitted a strange luminosity, which like a halo enveloped the whole creature. As I followed its flight with half closed eyes it appeared as if a flickering candle light was flying, dancing around the room. Then, flying near the mirror, its luminosity increased and at the mirror the butterfly increased in size and appeared motionless, hovering in front of the dull glass, with wings outstretched like an angel. It was now looking more like a humming bird than a butterfly, but still very colourful, delicate and beautiful. Yet again its luminosity intensified, lighting up the whole mirror, which seemed to have lost its dullness and reflected the light back into the room with full intensity.
Oddly, there was no reflection of the butterfly in the mirror, but instead the full image of the woman I glimpsed at earlier appeared within the frame. She smiled at me.
-“Hello” – she said in a sweet voice – “who are you, stranger, in the world of my dreams?”
-“Hello” – I responded – “who are you and what are you doing in my room?”
-“Just visiting. Sorry if I disturbed your slumber. I am the butterfly who ventured into your room, out of curiosity and now wondering if you are the man I was thinking about.”
-“I beg your pardon! You just fly into a stranger’s room like a butterfly, flit around, appear like a woman in the mirror and asking me if I was the man you were thinking about? Isn’t that a bit strange? Am I having a real conversation or am I hallucinating?”
-“Oh no, there is no hallucination about this conversation, I hear you loud and clear and I know that I am real… but I am beginning to wonder if you are.”
I shook my head in disbelief. This must be a dream – I thought – and I am about to wake up, because this conversation is stranger than fiction… and I’ve never been any god with fiction. I live in reality, I don’t daydream, I am in my own room, there are no such things as luminous, speaking butterflies that reflect back as a woman from an illuminated mirror… and I am not on hallucinogenic drugs… in fact I am not on any drugs and if I fell asleep by my computer and just dreaming this scenario, how come that I feel wide awake now?
-“You are wide awake,” – she saidas if she could read my mind – “so would you please answer my question? Are you the man I was thinking about?”
-“How the heck would I know what you are thinking about. I’m not a mind reader and at this moment I am not even sure what I am thinking about.”
-“Oh yes you do know. You are thinking that you are dreaming and this is not a real situation… but you are wrong. I am here, I am real, you are not dreaming, and I think that, yes, indeed you are the man I was thinking about.”
-“Now, this sounds double Dutch to me…”
She burst into a flirtatious giggle; shook her long curly hair about and with a broad smile she interrupted me.
-“But of course this sounds double Dutch to you; I am Dutch and I speak to you in my own language, as my English is not perfect.”
-“Come on, this is sheer nonsense, absolute double Dutch…” - I felt a bit irritated – “I cannot understand a word of Dutch, never learned any, I understand every word you are saying, because you are speaking English. What the heck is going on with you? Are you trying to confuse me? Because if you are, you are succeeding… you are nothing but an illusion, a talking butterfly that appears as a woman…. I must be dreaming…”
-“Well, please yourself… if you believe that I am just an illusion, then you are not the man I was thinking of after all, and I better disappear before you wake up… I am real and tomorrow morning you will feel sorry for missing your chance and letting the butterfly flit out of your miserable existence… You question too many things, you let your so called rational mind take over and make decisions for you, instead of listening to your intuitions occasionally. Tonight William Shakespeare was sitting opposite you trying to tell you that “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt in your philosophy”but you just dismissed him, by wishing yourself out of the situation. You are unhappy, but when a butterfly appears in your room out of nowhere and perches on your quill-pen, instead of being inspired by its sheer beauty, you question its existence and let it fly out of your life. You are a fool my dear man… and you are obviously not the man I was thinking about… Adieu…”
And with that the woman’s image disappeared, the mirror faded back to its dull colour, the butterfly shrunk back to its original size and flew out of the window, into the darkness of the night outside…
I found myself sitting by my desk, the light was on, the quill-pen that I never posessed disappeared, the typewriter was gone and I was gazing into the dimly lit screen of my computer, which appeared as empty as my life… There was not a single icon showing anywhere on the screen… just a faint illumination indicating that - once again - the infernal machine crashed out on me… I swore loud, knowing that it will take hours and sweat and blood to restore the system…
Reality once again invaded into my life… and reality is never as sweet as illusions can be…
But illusions are just illusions… aren’t they? They don’t feed hungry stomachs, they achieve nothing, they are just mirages, like the luminous butterfly and the image of a woman within a dull mirror… they are pretty, but meaningless… Illusions… Like the drama I was watching the other night on the television… It’s not real… just an illusion. Images on a screen… created out of electro-magnetic vibrations that are transmitted over the air on invisible waves… you cannot catch them, they don’t exist, they are just illusions….hmm… just hang on for a minute… the television screen is real enough… isn’t it? And, although the electro-magnetic vibrations are invisible to the naked eye, they are captured within the television set and create the pictures transmitted through space… Is the drama on the screen therefore an illusion or is it reality?... where is the dividing line between illusion and reality? And if the butterfly and the woman was an illusion, a dream… did I dream of the butterfly, or did the butterfly dream of me?...
Ah, it’s too late to muse about and philosophise about illusions and reality; let’s go to bed and have a good night sleep. Tomorrow, I shall laugh about the dream I had sitting by my desk, thinking about that the computer should be invented to make life infinitely more complicated and unpredictable… now, where was I?...
The computer had been invented, life is infinitely more complicated and unpredictable than it used to be… and perhaps… just perhaps… it is time to bring back some illusions, if for no other reasons than to escape this unpleasant reality…
It’s too late to go to bed after all…. The sun is already up… there are birds in my garden twittering… I’ll have breakfast and afterwards I’ll sit down again and try to restore the system…
What’s happening?... the computer came to life suddenly proving how unpredictable reality can be… The icons are back, the email software is open… and there is an email on my screen…. It says:
“ Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz who says it was me ?
Could be another Bee zzzzzzzzzzzizzzzzzzzzzzzling back at you, or maybe a butterfly :-)
Amazing you slept that long...well the typewriter may have been easier to deal with but the computer gives you and I ... and the others far more opportunities.
Yes it can be very complicated and unpredictable as long as it won’t lead us to complicated and unpredictable individuals!!! :-)
Hey...I did knock before....but you did not answer....so I had to let myself in and see if you are the one I am looking for.
Pity it is so dark in your room… I couldn’t have a good look.
Me... who am I?
Well...that’s a question I like to know myself sometimes.....
When I look into the dusty old, but beautiful mirror in your room I can see a woman with long curly hair, slim, about 5`8 tall.
…It looks like she likes adventures...”
What the heck!... Who is this email from?... Is this another illusion or is reality merging with illusion?
Let’s open the window wide… let sunshine and reality flood into my room… I had enough of illusions and weird emails for the moment…
Outside my window the garden is bathed in glorious sunshine. Flowers sway gently in the morning breeze and the Buddleja, or otherwise known as the Butterfly Bush, is in full bloom, with several butterflies dancing a merry dance around it. This is a good year for butterflies and neither the butterfly bush nor the butterflies are an illusion. On one of the magnificently full bodied and purple flowers there is a Monarch butterfly perched, basking in the sunshine. A glorious sight for the eyes to behold.
The email from a stranger alluding to a butterfly and the butterflies in the garden are reality. A butterfly turning into a woman, or a woman into a butterfly is an illusion. It is an alluring illusion, but an illusion never the less.
Yet butterflies, from time immemorial, had this uncanny ability to create an illusion, alluding to the female form or even to the female soul, inspiring men – and women – to create artistic images. Butterflies appear in all art forms from folklore, mythology, literature to representational arts and music. They have the power to inspire.
A butterfly flew into my room. It flew around and with its delicate gossamer wings created tiny atmospheric ripples in the air, hardly noticeable, hardly measurable. Yet this delicate creature had the effect on me to move me, to inspire me to write a sonnet, a story and to create a piece of music on the organ.
Because of that butterfly I am a changed man. I am moved, inspired and I am grateful… This is the Butterfly Effect and it is both an illusion and reality…
The email quoted in the story – with one or two minor corrections – is a true email I received…. Although the story is fictional, it is based on true events and email exchanges…
The term “Butterfly Effect” is related to the work of Edward Lorenz and is based in the “Chaos Theory.” In brief: the phrase refers to the idea that the beat of a butterfly’s wing might create tiny atmospheric changes that may ultimately alter the course of a tornado.
The term found its way into popular culture, where it refers – inaccurately – to time travel, implying that minor changes in past events could lead to major, even catastrophic outcome.
In the above fiction it simply means that a butterfly can inspire poetry… a story… music… that in some way may turn into reality…
To listen to the music: “The Butterfly Effect. A Capriccio in C Major”, please click on the link below. (Duration 17 min. approx)
Reviewed by Carvin Wallson7/20/2009 I like the fact that this story portrays the fact that sometimes language makes more sense when you are dreaming. I've often found myself, in my dreams, playing a demo tape of my recorded music, being more fascinated by its beauty than the person I was showing it to, waking up and realizing that I'm not a musician, and unsure of whether I had really written great songs or whether I was just remembering others' songs from my waking life. Also, I have a curious habit of, when I'm trying to read in my dreams, making up great poetry on the spot. I also don't remember this. Anyway, I suggest you read through this once more for typographical errors, and explore this more fully. You are awake, and there is time to philosophize.