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Shooting Butterflies

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

I placed the steaming plates of rissoles, mashed potatoes and peas on the table in front of the two boys who looked down at their food for a second before reaching across the table for the red plastic bottle of tomato sauce.

‘This is what Grandma used to make me for dinner when I was your age.’ I took my own plate of rissoles from beside the stove and sat down at the head of the table with a boy either side.

Harrison looked up at me. His mouth half full of food. ‘You didn’t eat this every night of the week, did you?’

Wondering about his vision of 1980’s Australia, I tried not to frown at him. ‘No, mate, we ate other things too. Dinner really hasn’t changed that much.’

Squeezing bright red sauce over the top of his thick brown meatballs, James didn’t look up. ‘You had tomato sauce, didn’t you?’

Not wishing to go through a list of what we did or didn’t have forty years ago, I sighed and scratched my chin. ‘Guys, we had everything you have now only it was just a little bit different. Like, we only had land lines so the phone was stuck to the wall, and the television was a lot fatter, but it was all pretty much the same.’

‘Who did you play Fornite with?’ Harrison looked at me and blinked.

I stared at him, searching for any disingenuous sign. There was none. ‘Yeah. No. we didn’t have Fortnite. There was no gaming like there is now. We used to play pinball machines.’

Perhaps they knew they were making me feel old. Perhaps I was now one of their games.

Harrison kept going. ‘You didn’t have a pinball machine in your house though?’

I tried to return to my rissoles. ‘No, I had to ride my bike down to the corner shop to play the pinnies, as we used to call them.’

Both boys were now looking hard at me, watching me eat. ‘So, what did you do when you were at home?’ James asked.

I raised my head and looked James in the eye. ‘I read books.’

Harrison rolled his eyes. ‘Not all the time, you didn’t.’

I thought back to how I spent my time as a young adolescent. ‘No, that’s right. When I turned twelve my father bought me an air rifle.’

Now his eyes widened. ‘You had your own air rifle?’

I nodded. ‘It was a different time. As kids we had less things but more freedoms.’

James took a gulp of milk and licked a thin white moustache from his upper lip. ‘What did you shoot?’

I paused for a few seconds then decided to tell him the truth. ‘I used to shoot butterflies. I would come home from school and go and sit in the big wooden squatters’ chair on the back veranda of the old house up in Queensland and try to shoot butterflies out of my mother’s garden.’ I was grinning as I shook my head. ‘You should’ve seen it when I hit one. There would be wings and butterfly and rose petals all over the lawn.’

Aghast, Harrison let his mouth fall open. ‘Oh, Dad! You can never tell that story to anybody. Ever.’ Shaking his head, he returned to his dinner. ‘Why would you go do something like that?’

I felt the blood rise in my face and swallowed. ‘Well, you know. I was young. Twelve years old. I didn’t know any better.’

He stopped eating and looked up at me. ‘So, what were you reading?’

‘For my birthday, Dad had bought me a book of short stories by Hemingway. I’m pretty sure that’s what I was reading.’

Harrison closed his eyes, lowered his head, and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. ‘God! He gave Hemingway and a rifle to a twelve-year-old. No wonder you were shooting butterflies.’


story David Benn;

photos Wix.

This SSOA writers' blog is made possible by grant assistance from the City of Sydney.


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