“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.