The Magician and the Butterfly: Prologue

Caldecott, small town as it is, has had its share of scandal in the past. Heaven alone knows that I, Melanie Judd, have born witness to enough in my long life. There was the time when old man Reynolds, filled with jealousy at his neighbor's fine corn crop, set his barn alight. We all were heartily sick of barbequed chicken by the time the repairs were completed, and it took more than one wash to get the smell of burnt feathers out of our clothes. I remember the hubbub that was caused when George O'Reilly, young and irresponsible with restless Irish blood flowing through his veins, drove his dad's tractor down the main street, causing the pedestrians to scatter. And people still talk about the feud between the McAllister sisters, started over a stolen beau, that still causes them to snub each other in the street twenty-four years later. However, no occurrence was more scandalous than the time Sabine Robbins ran off with the circus . . . .

I remember Sabine well. She was a pretty, slender thing with a dainty ankle at the end of her high-heeled shoes. (I don't care what modern women say - a pretty ankle will catch a man any time.) It didn't hurt any either that she was as cute as corn with her long-lashed green eyes and chestnut hair. Why she settled on Cody Robbins was a mystery to us all.

It's not that the boy was a bad catch. He was solid, safe and dependable. Someone to whom mothers gladly entrusted their teenage daughters during his dating days. A farmer to the core who loved, lived and breathed his five-acres of land. A good husband who provided for his wife. A good father to his next wife's children. Nevertheless, he had no business being with a butterfly like Sabine.

She was not born to be a farmer's wife. Not born to bend her back to the soil, or spoil her silk-smooth hands with digging and cleaning. We used to josh in our quilting circles that she was the kind of Southern Belle written about in those cheap novels of which Reverend disapproved - gracious, beautiful and quite useless. I guess part of it was jealousy, because our husbands and beaus turned to look at her as she walked down the street. Sunflowers to the sun. Caldecott, Mississippi, was no place for a woman like that. If you wished to compliment a woman here, you called her a worker. Beauty and grace had been taken off like old clothes during the Depression years and we had never considered pulling them out of the closet again.

Were Sabine and Cody happy together? I don't know. I only remember the arguments, if you could call them that. Sabine, for all her ladylike ways, was a wildcat when riled. We'd wake to her screaming at him; telling him that she hated Caldecott and hated the farm. It must have near killed Cody to hear her speak as she did - the brown waters of the Mississippi flowed in his blood; his small farm was heaven on earth to him; this quiet county was his home. Yet, he was too gentlemanly to argue back or raise a hand in anger against her. I don't hold with men hitting women, but, if ever a women deserved to be hit, it was Mrs Robbins. Poor man; his passiveness annoyed her even more. She'd insult him; taunt him; attempt to rile him. Like the foundation on which their house was built, Cody remained silent and firm. When her anger had subsided and only soft sobs remained, we'd hear their old Ford starting and know that it was Cody on the way to the bar.

Please don't get me wrong. He wasn't an alcoholic - he didn't drink to forget, or escape. The bar was just a place for him to go, like the creek had been when he was a boy. My husband, Jake, said that he'd spend all night nursing a single beer, staring at the wall. On it, there was a painting of a flamenco dancer with skirts of red and gold flaring around her shapely legs. Her eyes winked at him; her scarlet lips smiled without cruelty. A crimson butterfly that he had no business admiring. Perhaps Cody was always drawn to the unattainable. Perhaps that's why he never left Sabine, despite her spite. Perhaps he loved her - he certainly thought the sun rose and set on her.

I remember that, the day she left him for the magician, he sat on his porch, watching the horizon to see if she would return via the same dirt road she had taken when she left. He remained there all night, rocking slowly, waiting for his butterfly to come home; for the sun to rise on him again.

People often forget that scandals are human stories too.