“Is there anybody at home?” she asks me, her elbows leaning into the wooden table, her hands cupped together gently. It’s as if she is holding within her slender fingers the rarest of butterflies. She may as well just have asked me if I liked pistachio ice cream?

“Jonathan?” She says in a gentle voice.

My head is full of fug, it’s like I’ve just woken up after a siesta and I’m trying to grasp whether it’s evening or morning. “At my home?” I say stupidly.

“Yes, is there someone there now?” I want to say what the fuck has it got to do with you but I resist the temptation. Instead I say, “er, at home? No, no one at home”

I can feel her eyes on me. The last time I felt like this I had been dragged unwillingly into the Head’s office at school. Now I’m studying the line of tatty folders that runs along the shelf above her head. I’m trying to read their labels. I tilt my head but the writing is too small to make out anything and then I smile at my own stupid effort.

“I can phone someone for you if you like?”

Phone someone? Phone who you like, it’s a free world. Again, I resist the temptation. “No” I say “it’s fine.”

“You know I have a patient at the moment who I’ve been seeing for years…..” but her voice trails off into a dream and I find myself flitting like a butterfly up past the shelves and folders, up past the smeared whiteboard and the medical books, right on up to the off-white ceiling tiles. And then I realise that there is no window, there is no escape from this. So I float back down again into her soft vowels. Her name badge says ‘Emily’ and underneath, oncology. I roll the word around in my head, it’s a nice word, satisfying, it has gentle edges.

“Jonathan?” She says and now I look right at her for the first time. She has a kind face I suppose. She reminds me of someone and as I try to remember who, she opens her hands and smiles and there in her palm is the most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen.

Painted Dogs

The memory of you

Pursues me like a Painted Dog,

Tears at my empty stomach

With its wet teeth, it’s wild claws.

And the sea, grey and blue on its torn canvas

Pulls the colours of the landscape into view,

The twisted grass, the thorn trees

Leaning into the red clay

And the paths that run along the sandstone cliffs

Run to you,

To your crooked smile

To your sideways glance

To your absence of being.

And I shall look towards the lighthouse

And pull at the shingle with my tired fingers

And count the clouds in your distant eyes.

The memory of you

Pursues me down dark alleyways of green oak

Through splinters of sunlight

And over the twisted roots of your heart.

And the sea, grey and blue

On its torn canvas

Pulls at my animal soul

With its seaweed fingers.

Don’t Panic

Let me take you back, back to one of my earliest childhood memories; I’m in the compound picking ripe mangoes from the tree by the fence. I’m on my tiptoes reaching up when I hear the gunfire, it’s rapid and loud and I drop back onto my heels to listen some more. Short bursts then a pause, a large explosion followed by my mother’s panicked voice. She’s on the veranda shouting, waving me in but I can’t move, I’m glued to the red dirt beneath by feet. In the end she has to run out to get me; when I get into the house I see that she has already filled half a suitcase with an assortment of clothes, passports and papers. A minute later she throws both  the case and me into the back seat of the Mercedes and we are gone. The front door is still wide open and I watch it swinging gently through the rear window as we speed off towards the highway.

That is my first memory of panic. It’s the first time I can recall that breath-sucking monster, it’s the first time I felt alone and helpless and blinded with fear. They say that smell is the sense most closely linked with memory and I have no doubt that it’s true because whenever I pick up a mango from a market stall or supermarket shelf I can’t help but lift it to my nose and take in it’s cloying odour and suddenly I’m back there in that compound and my head is full of fear.