The unlikely ones: Butterflies in the stomach

Voce é sim, e nunca meu não, quando tão louca, mi beixa na bouca e me ama no chão… The song resounded in his head when he woke up. A nostalgic feeling pervaded him. He used to go to sleep to the sound of Brazilian music when he learned Portuguese back in Argentina. Today, in Poland, he woke up to the sound of it coming from his subconscious memory. He lifted the covers to check her out. Her naked buttocks looked unassuming in their dormant position. But why the sad tone? That’s what mesmerized him to Brazilian songs: Their nostalgic romanticism. Brazilians have even invented a new word for this state of mind, between loneliness and healthiness, which they call saudade.

In the world there still are wars, hunger and people with things to do on a Saturday, so she didn’t stay in bed to skip the morning with him. He usually didn’t waste the whole morning, though; he woke up an hour or two before midday to suck in some yerba mate and daydream. The advantage of daydreaming is that you remember what you dreamed. The advantage of real dreaming is that’s awesome. Apparently, the strongest psychedelic is humbly produced by our brains when we sleep, but that shit is so mind-blowing that our conscious minds can’t cope with it and dismiss it as soon as we wake up. But he knew that his most creative time was the leftovers of morning which his subconscious threw at him, and he devoured them as an avid dog. He always licked the pot clean, metaphorically, just as his dogs used to do, literally, back in Argentina, when he and his father left them some food. Once, already in Poland, he’d given a pot with some leftovers to a girlfriend’s dog, but she would have none of it, so she grabbed the pot and served the food into the dog’s plate. Apparently, in Europe, dogs can’t eat from the same pot as humans. So much for animal rights. He turned on the laptop and let the white page on the screen remind him of the pale body under his covers. Time to sully it.

E quando sai de mim leva meu coração. Você é fogo, eu sou paixão. You’re the fire that feeds my passion; it sounded counterintuitive, but that’s how the song went. He knew in reality he was the fire that fed on her passion. She was the wooden pile, the embers, and, eventually, the ashes. Fire is the same as dogs; always hungry. No matter that they’ve just eaten, they can always have more, provided it comes from a pot. His Argentinean dogs had actually become so spoiled that they’d leave dog food untouched on their plate. Actually, they went even beyond that. They’d segregate pieces of onions or whatever things they didn’t like and leave them on the side of their plate. They reminded him of a spoiled childhood friend of his who would meticulously pick the lettuce and tomato from his hamburgers and leave them on a napkin, thus missing the whole point of eating a hamburger: Not having to deal with leftovers. Same as that hamburger covered in cheese which he once saw in a burger shop in Poznan: “What’s wrong with people?” he’d thought, “The point of a hamburger is that you can eat it with your bare hands. That’s why ingredients go in the middle and not on top. Is the concept so hard to grasp?” His mother used to ask everyone not to leave anything on their plate so they would be easier to clean. He’d mastered this task. He’d pick every single grain of rice with the help of a fork and knife, or finger, and he’d soak up any sauce left with a piece of bread. The only things that were thrown to the garbage were chicken and fish bones, because they could be harmful to dogs. The rest was either eaten or thrown back into the pot…

…Fogo e paixão, another romantic euphemism, just like butterflies in the stomach… Time to heat up more water for his yerba mate. The plughole of the sink was stuck with rotting food again. “Poor girl,” he thought. “cuddling herself to sleep.” He could never sleep on his side, so it was impossible for him to cuddle someone and sleep at the same time. That night he’d chosen the latter rather than the former, letting her roll herself into a ball like an armadillo. Maybe it was her way of protecting herself from the room temperature of his tenement house, which he always kept at no more than 20º C. He’d just looked at her from afar, lying beside her sleeping body, with that corny Brazilian song playing on his head.

The teapot hissed while he had an epiphany: He’d never farted when she was in the room. He poured the hot water into the thermos. In his childhood he only farted when he went to the bathroom. He was bad at expelling gas from his body in general. His sister would burp like a baby while eating sometimes, but he’d never managed to do this trick. His cousin would fart out loud for the amusement of everyone in the room, and he wanted to follow suit but he never had any gas in the reservoir. The same with every other kind of physiological trick: forcing vomit or spitting catarrh: He simply couldn’t do it. But when already an adult, he had a stomach operation. At the hospital, the nurses brought him food and asked him to eat, though he wasn’t hungry. The doctor came in. He told him that they were all waiting for him to pass gas, which was a sign that his stomach was working again. Those were the longest two days of his life, trying to learn to fart and to sleep on his back. Since he was a baby, he’d always slept on his stomach, to his mother’s concern. She’d lay him on his back to diminish the risk of sudden infant death, but he’d inevitably turn on his belly to sleep more soundly. He was tired, so he learned quickly to sleep on his back, but farting took him a little longer. In the beginning it was a liquid fart, and only after two days did he manage to issue a clean, though mute fart; the characteristic trumpet-like sound was missing. He’d practiced this trick during his convalescence and for months afterwards, sometimes even managing to play three-second-long trombone solos…

…Butterflies in the stomach… There’s actually nothing there but gastric juices and gas. Of course he felt butterflies in the stomach when he was with her, but he never let the butterflies fly away. And that was the romantic part of it: When you’re passionate about someone, you smother your butterflies. Good phrase, catchy and abstruse. He wrote:

Butterflies grow wild,

in plain sight,

but we also grow them

in our darkest hours.

They’re smothered,

picked one by one,

for they aren’t ready

to display their colors.

Too monochromatic,

when they leave the cocoon,

too ocher, too dark

to see the daylight.

They pupate inside,

then try to get out,

but they’re simply put out,

in mid-flight.

That was it for the day. You can’t force inspiration. Loosely paraphrasing Tolstoy: “Let laborers labor, and let us, artists, create beauty.” He sent her the poem on Facebook. She liked it. She didn’t ask where the poem came from, which was the smart thing to do. You simply don’t dig too much into a poem, because it’s like entering your parents room without knocking: You never know what you’ll find.


I'm a writer born in Argentina, but currently living in Poland. I work as an English and French teacher, translator and copywriter.

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