Butterflies

“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.

The Lemon Tree

I was living in Israel up near the Lebanese border. It was high in the hills and the altitude meant that the climate there was pleasant; much less humid than down in the valley bottom. It was a small hamlet and not much happened there. During the day I pruned the grapevines and checked the irrigation pipes that meandered down through the long isles of plants. It was kinda dull work but I used to sing and daydream, stopping every now and then to drink from a polystyrene flask. The water was ice cold and I can remember how it would trace its way painfully down to my stomach. At lunchtime I would try and find some shade to sit in and then I’d crack a large watermelon on a rock, scooping out sticky handfuls of the sweet flesh. It was beautiful.

It was a long tedious week but on Friday evenings I would catch an Egged bus down into Nahariyya. It was the highlight of my week. There was pizza and falafel there and it was only the daily thought of this that made my life in the fields bearable.

On one occasion the bus turned up empty. The doors slid apart and I boarded, nodding politely to the driver. I sat a few seats behind him and he pulled away slowly watching me in the rear view mirror. It wasn’t a comfortable ride because the narrow road dropped steeply at times and swung sharply to the left and then the right. It swooped like some fairground ride but I held on tight and all the while the driver chewed sunflower seeds, spitting their shells carelessly over the floor of the bus.

He was an old guy and I didn’t recognise him but he seemed a pretty good driver. I knew the route into town well, I’d been catching the bus for months now so when he made a wrong turn I was immediately on edge. Should I say something? Maybe he was taking a shortcut. I’m a pretty easy going guy so I just sat back and looked out of the window. Soon the metalled road turned to dirt and the ride became more bumpy. He caught my eye in the mirror and smiled then pulled the bus over onto the verge and stopped.

The doors slid open and he beckoned to me. It wasn’t until I had stepped off and followed him around the side of the bus that I saw it. It was the largest lemon tree I had ever seen and some of its branches hung pendulously over a wooden fence. The lemons were as large as grapefruit and a couple were almost within reach. The driver placed one foot up onto an old breeze block, stretched and plucked one down then he handed it to me before reaching up again and taking one for himself.

And that was it. We didn’t speak; I sat for the rest of the journey with that fat fruit in my hands. I had never smelled a lemon like it, I never have since.