Chapter 1

Uncle once told Molly: You have a magical bellybutton. When you were born, I watched it ingest a tightly-wound ball of yarn. If you look closely, Molly, you can still see it today. It’s inside of you.

Molly’s skin was cold and covered with gooseflesh. Thin, silvery hairs poked from her flat, adolescent stomach and flickered in the fleeting sunlight.

The sky above Uncle’s pool was a hollowed abalone shell, pearlescent and crusted with overcast. Half-asleep in his favorite rusted lawn chair, Uncle babied an aged double corona, lost in its rich aroma of cedar and burnt graham cracker. Only a few thin rays of sunlight cracked through the day’s dense clouds and one, much like a spotlight, followed Uncle’s head, as it bobbed and twitched atop his thick neck.

Molly tiptoed closer, fascinated by the dance of light. With each baby step, her pea-sized toes curled into the wet grass like baby snails until–startled by the reflection of her own tanned skin in her Uncle’s sunglasses–she darted under his lawn chair and knelt on his damp discarded towel, which reeked of chlorine and molding tobacco leaves.

Uncle groggily groped for his phone.
Pop. “What? This… is me. Tell me.”
Molly craned her neck and listened.
“A once-over? That dirty flamingo.”
Molly tugged at the towel.
“Eyes ride up and slither down. It’s just skin. You can tell that dirty flamingo I don’t believe in regret. If it weren’t for this burnt belly…”
“Uncle?” Molly whispered.
“…I’d pounce on every one of them. I don’t discriminate: stork legs, hippo feet, giraffe necks. I’d pounce,” he repeated, leaning over and peering under the lawn chair, “like a Tiger,” he growled, flashing his yellow, tobacco-stained teeth at Molly, who playfully hid her head in her hands.
“Where’d she go? Molls? I can’t see her. Molls!”

This game of hide-and-seek was quickly abandoned. Molly scrambled into her Uncle’s lap. The reddened tips of her fingers must have felt like the tickle of deep-pink strands of flowering milk thistle on his burnt skin. Like most late-afternoons, slick, salty, sweat oozed from his pores, carrying the festive scent of Dr. Pepper, baby oil, an assortment of citrus and blended Scotch whisky. Uncle cradled Molly in his arms.

“I’m spent. This conversation is over. I already have a lady in my lap; I mean, my life. Right, Molly? Right, my little Hanuman?”

Molly squirmed. Her lanky shoulders jabbed his burnt chest. He grinned, enduring the searing pain in his sun-burnt skin. Or at least, he tried. Her dry, pasty knees slid down his torso and wedged into his crotch. His throat swelled. His intestines rolled, digesting a solid walnut in a pool of lemon.

Uncle clicked the cell shut. “Good Lord, girl. Keep from flailing like that. You’re stronger than you think.”

The Beach Boys were again in his pocket. “Ignore the phone. I want to tell you something, Molls. Don’t waste your life worrying about being loved.”

Molly burrowed her forehead into his chest. His skin was hot to the touch. Molly rolled, twisted, and wrapped herself in Uncle’s arms. He breathed heavily, sweat pooling on his forehead. Her cheeks flushed with a sudden, unexpected anticipation. She felt dizzy. Her bellybutton felt shy, raw, almost foreign.

“Did I hurt you, Uncle?” she asked, nervously.
“No, Molls. No.” He sighed. “Did I hurt you?”


Dark-blue silverfish scrambled to escape into nearby wall cracks when the garden sprinklers kicked on, choking and seething as they spun on their own grit-filled rotors. The day was otherwise dry. A few yards off, dirty doves danced in some family’s imported tanbark, where they feasted on bland American insects. Across the monstrous shell of an abalone sky, small droplets of dew, dander, dust, dragonflies, and dandelion spores wafted through the wind like a string of rainbow colored beads. Uncle sang softly, “Well, it has been building up inside of me for I don’t know how long. I don’t know why, but I keep thinking something’s bound to go wrong. But you look in my eyes, Molly, and it makes me realize. Don’t worry baby. Everything will turn out alright.”

Dire Lies and Butterflies, Table of Contents: