Butterfly’s Revenge ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
We all know the story. She married him when she was only fifteen. She was a geisha girl, a singer of sorts and an entertainer, naïve and unaware of the ways of the world. She understood desire and longing but not lust, treachery, or disloyalty. She entered into marriage with Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton with her whole heart, believing it would last forever. She even abandoned the faith of her ancestors and converted to Christianity to show him she was going to be a proper American wife.
He was an American naval officer, come to Nagasaki on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. He was so tall, so darkly handsome, his mere presence so commanding; she had never seen anyone like him before. She trembled at his gaze, at his touch. The blood in her head rushed toward her heart and made her feel faint. She never knew it was possible to love so much.
He went away right after they were married. His duties took him back to America, he said, but he would return to Nagasaki as soon as he could to claim Butterfly and take her back to America with him to live. They were going to be so happy. She would count the hours until his return.
Everyday she went up the hill from her home so she could watch the harbor. Ships were coming and going all the time but the ship bearing Pinkerton never appeared. At the end of each day she went back down the hill disconsolate, but with the hope that the next day would be the day he would return.
A few months later Butterfly gave birth to a son, conceived on the night of the wedding. She named the boy Sorrow; he would be called by that name for as long as he was without his father. When the three of them were reunited as a family, he would be called Joy. Butterfly’s faithful servant and companion, whose name was Suzuki, urged Butterfly to send a letter to Pinkerton in America to let him know he had fathered a son, but Butterfly refused. She said that sending a letter to impart such news was not her way and, besides, she wanted to surprise him on the day of his return. He would be that much happier.
The days accumulated into weeks and months and still Pinkerton did not return to Nagasaki to claim his bride. Butterfly waited with patience and courage; each day her heart withered a little bit more when his ship didn’t appear in the harbor. If it hadn’t been for her son, she would have died.
During the time of her waiting, a man of her own race proposed marriage to her. He was considered a very good match because he was good looking and owned more land than anybody else. It shouldn’t matter that he had had several previous wives because he had divorced all of them. Butterfly turned him down and left no room to ever change her mind. She already had a husband, she said. It seemed that everybody around her realized the truth about her marriage to Pinkerton except her.
Finally, three years after she had last seen him, she received word from the American consul in Nagasaki that Pinkerton had returned. Her joy knew no bounds! She gathered flowers to adorn the house. With Suzuki’s help she made herself ready, putting on the dress she had worn on the day of her wedding. She wanted Pinkerton to know that she forgave him for staying away so long and was welcoming him back as if he had only been gone a short time.
When Pinkerton walked into Butterfly’s house and she laid eyes on him for the first time in three years, her heart leapt into her throat and she was unable to speak. She reached out her arms to him but—wait a minute!—there was someone with him. Standing right behind him was a woman, a stylish American lady in a beautiful white dress. All in a moment the truth came home to Butterfly and she hid her face by throwing herself to the floor. Pinkerton looked at her with pity in his eyes and nothing more. The lady in the white dress was crying. The American consul, who had brought Pinkerton and the lady to Butterfly’s house, was looking distressed.
Butterfly understood then that her marriage to Pinkerton was a sham, an insubstantial thing that he threw off as soon as it suited him to do so. He was a man of straw. Only Butterfly had believed in the validity and truth of the marriage. Not even Suzuki in her loyalty had believed it.
Pinkerton had heard through the American consul that he had fathered a child with Butterfly. He had returned to Nagasaki with his American wife, his real wife, to claim the child and take him back to America with him, and nothing more. He wasn’t thinking at all of Butterfly. He had moved on and he hoped she had done the same.
Butterfly was so taken by surprise at this turn of events that she wasn’t able to think. She asked Pinkerton and the consul to return the next day at noon, at which time she would receive them properly with a clear head and a stout heart. Pinkerton reluctantly agreed to leave and return the next day.
As soon as the visitors were gone, Butterfly instructed Suzuki to take her son to the home of some relations high in the hills above Nagasaki and to wait there with him until she sent word for them to return. Without any questions, Suzuki made the necessary preparations for travel and then she left with the boy in early evening just as the moon was rising.
Since her conversion to Christianity, Butterfly had been reading the Bible and had learned many things. A passage in the Bible that spoke to her heart was the one that said: “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” She took comfort in these words. She would not burden her own heart with bitterness and retribution. If any vengeance was meted out, she would leave it to the One who knew best.
When Pinkerton returned the next day with his American wife and the consul, Butterfly greeted them graciously, without rancor. She served them tea and asked them questions about America and about their sea voyage. After an hour or so of small talk, Pinkerton grew impatient. He asked Butterfly where his son was. She answered simply that he was not at home. When Pinkerton pressed her for details, she answered only that her son was not at home. The time of his coming back had not yet been determined.
Pinkerton was not used to having his desires thwarted. He demanded that Butterfly produce his son. His ship sailed for America in a short time and he didn’t have any time to play these little games. If Butterfly didn’t bring forth the boy at once, the consequences for her would be very grave. At this, she only smiled and offered him more tea.
He left in a rage, with his American wife and the consul trying to calm him down. He had no choice but to return to America, he said, but he would return to Nagasaki as soon as he could with a whole team of lawyers trained in Japanese law. He would get his son if it was the last thing he ever did. It would avail Butterfly nothing to try and stop him. All she said was that she hoped his journey was a pleasant one. She would tell her son on his return that his father had visited and inquired after his health.
On the voyage back to America, Pinkerton became stricken with a rare Asian illness that rendered him impotent and incapable of ever producing more children. He recovered but found the lingering effects of his illness to be debilitating. His doctors told him that an ocean voyage—or any kind of legal entanglement abroad—would be the end of him.
Butterfly’s son grew into a fine man. He kept his mother with him always, even into old age. He was, she came to believe, the reason for her being. He eventually married a Nagasaki woman and together they had four children to keep Butterfly company.
Butterfly heard many years later that Pinkerton had died in Philadelphia. She wrote his American wife a letter of condolence. She received a letter in reply telling her that Pinkerton had never forgotten his Japanese Butterfly. He spoke of her on his deathbed and of the little son he left behind.
Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp