Read Butterfly's Child Online

Authors: Angela Davis-Gardner

Butterfly's Child



Also by Angela Davis-Gardner

Plum Wine


Forms of Shelter

This is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Angela Davis-Gardner

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Dial Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

and C
are registered trademarks of the Random House Publishing Group

Davis-Gardner, Angela.
  Butterfly's child: a novel / Angela Davis-Gardner.
       p. cm.
  eISBN: 978-0-679-60458-7
  1. Illegitimate children—Fiction. 2. Illinois—Fiction. 3. San Francisco
  (Calif.)—Fiction. 4. Japan—Fiction. 5. Identity (Psychology)—Fiction.
  6. Psychological fiction. I. Puccini, Giacomo, 1858–1924. Madama
  Butterfly. II. Title.
  PS3554.A9384B88 2011
  813′.6—dc22      2010005562


For Evangeline McLennan Davis


. On a hill in Nagasaki, Japan, U.S. Navy Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton inspects the house he has leased from a marriage broker, Goro. Goro has arranged a wedding between Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-san, known as Madama Butterfly. When the American consul, Sharpless, arrives, Pinkerton describes his carefree life; he is a sailor roaming the world in search of pleasure. At the moment, he is enchanted with Cio-Cio-san, but his 999-year marriage contract contains a monthly renewal option. When Sharpless warns that the girl may not take her vows so lightly, Pinkerton brushes aside such scruples, saying he will one day marry a “real” American wife. Cio-Cio-san is heard in the distance, joyously singing of her wedding. As she enters, surrounded by friends, she tells Pinkerton that when her family fell on hard times she had to earn her living as a geisha. Her relatives bustle in, noisily expressing their opinions on the marriage. In a quiet moment, Cio-Cio-san shows her bridegroom her few earthly treasures and tells him of her intention to embrace his Christian faith. The imperial commissioner performs the wedding ceremony, and the guests toast the couple. The celebration is interrupted by Cio-Cio-san's uncle, a Buddhist priest, who curses the girl for having renounced her ancestors' religion. Pinkerton angrily sends the guests away. Alone with Cio-Cio-san in the moonlit garden, he dries her tears, and she joins him in singing of their love.

. Three years later, Cio-Cio-san waits for Pinkerton's return. As her maid, Suzuki, prays to her gods for aid, Cio-Cio-san stands by the doorway with her eyes fixed on the harbor. When Suzuki shows her mistress how little money is left, Cio-Cio-san urges her to have faith: One fine day Pinkerton's ship will appear on the horizon. Sharpless brings a letter from the lieutenant, but before he can read it to Cio-Cio-san, Goro comes with a suitor, the wealthy Prince Yamadori. Cio-Cio-san dismisses Yamadori, certain that her American husband has not deserted her. When they are alone, Sharpless again starts to read the letter and suggests that Pinkerton may not return. Cio-Cio-san proudly introduces her blond, blue-eyed child; as soon as Pinkerton knows he has a son, she tells Sharpless, he will surely return to her. If not, she would rather die than return to her life as a geisha. Moved by her devotion, Sharpless leaves without having revealed the full contents of the letter. Cio-Cio-san hears a cannon report; seizing a spyglass, she discovers Pinkerton's ship entering the harbor. Now delirious with joy, she orders Suzuki to help her fill the house with flowers. As night falls, Cio-Cio-san, Suzuki, and the child begin their vigil.

. As dawn breaks, Suzuki insists that Cio-Cio-san rest. Humming a lullaby to her child, Cio-Cio-san carries him to another room. Sharpless enters with Pinkerton, followed by Kate, Pinkerton's new wife. When Suzuki realizes who the American woman is, she collapses in despair but agrees to aid in breaking the news to her mistress. Pinkerton, seized with remorse, bids an anguished farewell to the scene of his former happiness, then rushes away. When Cio-Cio-san comes forth expecting to find him, she finds Kate instead. Guessing the truth, the shattered Cio-Cio-san agrees to give up her child if his father will return for him. Then, sending even Suzuki away, she takes out the sword with which her father committed suicide and bows before a statue of Buddha, choosing to die with honor rather than live in disgrace. Suzuki pushes the child into the room. Sobbing farewell, Cio-Cio-san sends him into the garden to play, then stabs herself. As she dies, Pinkerton is heard calling her name.

(Adapted by permission from the Metropolitan Opera's
Opera News


What lovely fair hair!
Dear child, what is your name?

Butterfly to her child:
Answer: Today my name is Sorrow
But when you write to my father, tell him
that the day he returns
Joy, Joy shall be my name!

It is spring in Nagasaki,
and the strands of silk she has set out for the mating birds are gone from the maple tree in the garden, and the mother birds are nestled in silk, but still he has not come. Lieutenant Pinkerton had promised to return to his Cio-Cio-san, his Butterfly, when the uguisu warblers nest. He is late, but he will come. His ship has been delayed—perhaps a storm at sea—but soon she will see him at the entrance to their house, his Navy satchel over his shoulder, his pale blue eyes watering a little, and when he embraces her, his mustache will prickle her mouth and he will smell of sweat and salt.

But last spring he did not come, nor the three previous springs, Suzuki-chan reminds her. Why does madame believe he will keep his word this year? Suzuki makes a sour face as she flaps at the tatami with her cloth.

Because he is a man of honor, she replies, and several times each year he has sent money through Sharpless, so he knows she is waiting. And she and the fox god have a strong premonition that this will be the year.

He will come because he must come. The packets of money are not enough; there are still large debts at the geisha house to be paid, as her geisha mother has lately reminded her. If she is forced to return to the geisha way, Benji will be taken from her and will be an orphan wandering the streets of the pleasure district, destined to become a servant, or
worse. So Pinkerton will return this year. Her skin is alive with the knowledge of it. She and Benji will be saved.

She is not surprised, then, that on a warm May afternoon when the hydrangeas are in bloom all over the hills and fragrant roses spill over the gates of houses, Sharpless arrives with his news.

He is a tall thin gaijin with a neck like a crane's, and sometimes he stutters when he speaks; it amuses her to think that he is a diplomat at the American consulate, such a nervous man, but he is her friend and confidant, and her connection to Pinkerton.

He gives her the envelope of money, an odd expression on his face, not quite a smile. There is something more; she catches her breath.

“I have had a letter,” he says.

“From Pinkerton-san.”


“He is coming.”

Sharpless nods.


“Yes. However …”

She spins around the room, embraces Benji and Suzuki, and kisses Sharpless on the cheek, making him blush. Then, taking Benji and Suzuki with her, she runs to the shrine to give thanks to all the gods.

Now she is preparing, singing as she cleans the Western-style room where Pinkerton smoked his pipe and studied his Navy papers. She drags the lumpish chairs outside to beat them with bamboo swatters, dust and white hair from Pinkerton's cat flying. She freshens her summer kimonos by draping them over the shrubs as an American woman might do—this will bring her luck, she thinks; the pale yellow and lavender kimonos rise and fall in the air like butterflies. Benji has been practicing his English sentences. “Welcome home to Papa-san,” she coaches him, holding up the photograph of Pinkerton for him to address, and “Benji is one smart boy.” Benji resembles his father physically, with his American nose and blond hair, though his hair—the color of butter—is darker than Pinkerton's. Otherwise he looks Japanese; he has her eyes. Pinkerton will be not only surprised but deeply pleased to see such a son and will want to provide for him. She is certain of this in spite of Suzuki's pessimism.

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