Three Caterpillars


(with apologies to Roz. She knows why.)

In the Spring, three little caterpillars hatched out onto the dark, glossy leaves of a laurel bush. They took a good look around.

“Where are we?” asked Green.

“This must be a mistake,” said Red. “There’s nothing here.”

Blue was sniffing leaves, prodding them with a tentative foot.

“Um, maybe..” she began.

“What?” asked Red.

“These leaves smell really good. Maybe we’re supposed to..”

“What?” asked Green.

“ them.”

The other two stared at her.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Red. “We’ve never done that before.”

“We’ve never done anything before,” countered Blue.

Meanwhile, Green was giving the leaves a good sniff herself.

“They do smell good, I must say.”

She and Blue looked at one another for a moment.

“You start,” said Green.

Blue grinned. “OK,” she said. She stretched forth her neck and took a teeny..weeny..bite. The other two watched closely and when Blue started to smile, Red shot forwards and started munching the biggest leaf she could grab.

“Delicious!” she shouted. “Come on, slowcoaches. What are you waiting for?”

They spent the next couple of days eating. Red soon got really good at it. She could strip a twig perfectly in less than a minute. She challenged the other two to munching races that she always won.

On the third morning, they were startled by a noise overhead. They looked up to see a Painted Lady flapping away.

“How beautiful,” sighed Green.

“I’m definitely going to be one of those,” said Red.

Green disagreed. “That’s not for me,” she said. ‘I don’t want to fly, I’m going to carry on right here.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” said Blue, thoughtfully, “but I wonder how you get there?”

“I’m definitely going to be one of those,” said Red again. She went back to a half-stripped twig. “Let’s have another race.”

“Nah,” said Blue. “I’ve eaten enough leaves. I’m going for a wander.”

Red tutted.

“No staying power,“ she said. “What about you, Green? Fancy a race?”

“OK, but give us a head start for once, would you?”

Green and Red carried on munching and after a while, Blue returned.

“I think I’ve got it,” she announced.

The other two looked puzzled.

“Got what?” asked Green.

“How to be a butterfly. You spin a sleeping bag, crawl in, change into a butterfly and then – hey presto – out you fly!”

Green was adamant. “I definitely don’t want to do that.”

“What about you, Red?”

Red looked at the leaves around her. “Yes, yes, absolutely – just as soon as I’ve dealt with all these. I do hate to leave any loose ends.”

Over the coming days, Red and Green carried on munching while Blue tried to spin a cocoon. It wasn’t easy. For a while, she couldn’t do it at all. She wriggled over to the others.

“This is tricky,” she said. “Anyone got any ideas?”

Red didn’t hear, she was head down in her pile of leaves. Green could only offer encouragement.

Finally, Blue cracked it.

“That’s it!” she cried. “I can do it.”

“Oh, well done!” said Green. “I knew you’d get there. Is it difficult?”

“Not once you work it out,” answered Blue. She wiggled her back end. “You just have to..anyway, I’m off for a sleep – and a whole new life. Red, you coming? I can easily show you how to spin.”

Red had her mouth full. She chewed ostentatiously and waved her head in the direction of another branch. She shrugged her shoulders, turned her back.

“How many leaves does she want to eat?” asked Blue.

“You know Red,” said Green. “She does like to do things properly.”

“Well, I’m not sure I can see the point,” said Blue. “You eat one leaf, you’ve eaten them all.”

“I know,” said Green, blissfully. “Delicious, aren’t they?”

Blue smiled at the other caterpillar.

“Sure you won’t come?”

“Ooh, not me,” said Green, with conviction. “I don’t want to flap around getting cold. I’m happiest here. But go on, off you go.”

“See you soon,” said Blue. She started to spin.

For a while, Blue’s cocoon hung lifeless. But eventually, Red and Green heard a telltale rustling overhead. It was Blue, with wet drooping wings, trying to fly. She lurched around them, laughing and gasping in turn.

“Hello you two, how’s it going?” she cried.

“What’s it like, Blue? Is it grand?” asked Green.

“Looks distinctly average to me,” muttered Red.

“It’s – oops – it’s really weird. I’m still getting the hang of it.”

For the rest of that morning, Blue plunged erratically around the laurel bush. By midday, her dazzling wings had dried and spread and she soared around the heads of the other two.

“This is wonderful. You should try it.”

Green was delighted at her friend’s success.

“Blue, you’re beautiful. That Painted Lady had nothing on you.”

“It’s amazing! Come on Red, come and join me. You’ll be the best butterfly ever.”

Red nodded her head.

“Hang on, just let me get this branch stripped.”

“I thought you wanted to be a butterfly.”

“I do, I really do. Just..just let me get this done first.”

So it went on. Red never did find the right moment to transform. Blue flew away and eventually Green wandered off to try a different sort of bush. Red, alone, remained exactly where she was.


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