Childhood Memory from the Old Victorian House on Warner

I was five years old
when I began to awaken
before dawn
to watch the first beam of sunlight
coax the green wallpaper awake
the paisley pattern writhing
the way a cat quivers
in a leonine stretch

within mere minutes
the wallpaper would still again
and remain so for the next 24 hours

during that dormant time
I would press my fingertips
to the wall
to take in the smooth warmth
somehow bound in paper and paste
the heat of sunlight
and something more

but one time
a butterfly fluttered through
my open window just as the wall
quivered awake
an inked leaf stretched
beyond the plane
to meet the insect’s legs

then the butterfly was gone
with the wall

despite how I begged and cried
my parents refused to give me another room
so I moved my bed away from the walls
I tried not to notice
how in those scant minutes of life each day
the butterfly
drifted around the window
as if it could make an escape

years later
after we moved
I heard the old house burned down

maybe it’s silly
but I like to think
that as the house went up
the blaze burned through more
than walls and wallpaper

that maybe
through smoke and hellfire
that butterfly
finally did

escape to find true flowers again

(Editors’ Note: “Childhood Memory from the Old Victorian House on Warner” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 27A.)


Beth Cato

Nebula Award-nominated Beth Cato is the author of A Thousand Recipes for Revenge from 47North (summer 2023) plus two fantasy series from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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