Gabby froze, her squat, stainless steel fork clutched in her worked raw hand. Her eyes grew wide behind the square black frames perched upon the sheen of sweat coating her sun tanned stub of a nose. Across the camp’s folding table, Ryan held his breath and stopped chewing on the mouthful of rubber passing for meatloaf.
The pattern was unmistakable. The trio of amber spots upon the cerulean background burned as bright as the sun fading through the drooping canopy. Two antennas wobbled upon the tiny head investigating the remains of the sparse pile of soggy crackers and aluminum foil wrapped loaf.
Gabby swallowed and prayed her whispered voice would carry. “Where’s your camera?”
“Packed,” answered Ryan.
“What?” Gabby’s eyes ripped away from the perched insect and shot a fiery glare to her hunched companion.
“It’s getting dark. It’s going to rain.”
She clamped closed her lips against his prudent logic. It was always about to rain. She tried to keep from quivering in frustration. She lowered her eyes back on to the butterfly, willing it to linger with cooing thoughts.
The mottled wings pulsed slower than Gabby’s pounding heart. A tiny rolled tongue coiled out to clean the insect’s eyes and the tiny feet shifted, perhaps taking a taste of the charred loaf.
Gabby lowered her hands one inch at a time until they had fallen below the table’s edge. She dropped the fork onto the tarp covered ground and patted out to either side. Her fingers passed over shrouded roots and rocks and rain drenched ground. With all the clutter filling their small camp, at this vital moment, none of her equipment seemed within reach.
On the other side, Ryan attempted the same steady maneuvers. Gabby held her breath as he dipped to the side, disappearing almost entirely from her view.
“Here,” he murmured. She felt a sharp prod against her pants and winced, but kept herself from jumping at the unexpected touch. The brush of the metal pipe on the fabric seemed as loud as a shout.
She watched the tiny butterfly freeze. The gently flapping wings tensed. The antenna quivered. The feet of the six legs shuffled upon their half eaten dinner.
Gabby let out a small exhale and slid her hands beneath the table to find the cool handle. Her fingers coiled around the rounded edge. She began withdrawing it with another rustle of fabric and the rough scrape of the nets mesh against the floor covered tarp. As she pulled the net from beneath the table her wrists brushed against the edge. The jostle sent ripples in their water bottles and the quake caused the butterfly to leap languidly into the air.
She swallowed down a screaming curse. “Watch it…” she said instead, pushing up to her feet with a frantic shove.
Ryan’s boots scuffed upon the tarp floor and his hands reached out towards the crates by the open tent flap. Gabby heard the clicks of the latches on his heavy plastic cases, but her eyes stayed on their fluttering prize.
Amber specks sparkled with each flap of wing, twinkling like a distant constellation. She watched the butterfly wander near the dangling lines holding up the tent frame, across the stacked crates of rations and then the two cots lined at the far edge of the narrow enclosure.
Her eyes burned as she kept herself from blinking while she stalked forward. One moment of blindness might mean losing sight of the small creature.
She hovered as the butterfly began a tentative descent towards the makeshift bundle of clean laundry she had been using as a pillow.
“Quiet,” she whispered. Behind her Ryan’s hasty extraction of his camera and long lens followed her instructions. She heard the soft snap denoting the removal of the lens cap and the slow crunch of tarp as he neared with all his lumbering stealth.
Gabby’s hands tightened on her handle as the insect debated on which wrinkle to use as a landing platform. With a silent touch the six feet touched down.
Ryan’s camera clicked. Gabby lunged. The net swung. The butterfly quivered.
Gabby’s knees smacked into the lumpy ground and her free hand braced her weight against the metal frame of the cot. The net’s rim swallowed the pillow, encompassing the lumpy sack in a crumple of tiny braided squares.
“Did you get it?”
Gabby shuffled closer, heedless to the poke of sharp rocks and roots pressing into her skin or the oppressive heat and sweat dripping rivers down her body. She lifted the limp edge of the net. Her mouth spread into a dopey smile and her head swam with dizzying exaltation at the sight of blue and amber.