Photograph by Carly Lewis
It landed gently upon the faux marble tabletop which had been lightly soiled with spilt drops of iced tea. It stood planted, its antennae quivering in the warm breeze and its impossibly thin wings drawn tightly together as it scavenged the sugary remains.
He took a final swig of his beer and tossed the straggling foam onto the ground of the patio. He upturned the empty glass and captured the butterfly in a single swift motion. Its frosted cerulean wings fluttered violently in protest as it rammed itself impotently against the walls of the invisible prison. Its jailer watched with the mildest of interest.
Her eyes narrowed and her lips drew tight.
“Don’t do that,” she said, lifting the glass. The prisoner took no time to appreciate its freedom, dashing madly towards the fading amber of the evening sun like a six-legged Icarus.
He raised his brow and a single corner of his mouth curled into a mockery of a smile.
“Right, no creature too small. McCartney would be proud.”
She inhaled sharply and swallowed a retort. As she stabbed at a loose leaf of lettuce, the familiar silence began to swell once more. He sighed, picked a french fry and lazily painted his plate with ketchup.
Each unspoken word a brick, the two of them masons. Steadily the wall grew.
“Can I get you guys anything else?” interrupted the peroxide blonde waitress with a service industry smile. “Just the cheque,” he answered.
“Why didn’t you ask me if I wanted anything?” she pressed as the waitress left.
He tilted his head. “Do you?”
“No, but I don’t like you speaking for me all the time.”
Reaching for his phone, he paused to check the hour. 7:42. Too early to make anything of it. You couldn’t pretend to fall asleep at eight o clock, he thought.
“Fine,” he replied finally, as he browsed through week old text messages.
Fine. That most passive aggressive of words. It wasn’t foreign to either of them anymore.
What a harsh understanding that was.
Jarred by quiet revelation, he was brought to a summer past when their words were still honest and spoken freely. He remembered how she had taken him to a forest of evergreens near her house. He had never been to a forest and it was as new to him as everything else about the girl.
She led him to a broad clearing, beyond the poking arms of the brush, where they set a worn quilt atop the bed of soil and pine needles. As the crickets played their symphony and the fireflies waltzed, she lay in his arms and told him of how she had found the place.
She spoke of heartbreak and hurt and nights when her eyes wouldn’t shut. He spoke of doubts and pressures and mornings when his eyes wouldn’t open.
The stars burned brighter there than they did in the city and she had traced Orion and Taurus for him with her finger. He mumbled understanding but his gaze never left her eyes. He marveled at how the glint of moonlight made their pale blue shimmer like silver and how delicate and fragile her frame felt pressed against his. He held her carefully with their palms locked, the softness of her hand smooth against the roughness of his.
How perfectly different she had seemed.
He had asked why her fingers were so frigid, even in the sweltering heat and humidity of the August night. “Poor circulation” was her answer.
“Don’t worry, my heart will beat hard enough for both of us,” he had said. Embarrassment simmered as the words passed his lips. How overwrought and corny they sounded aloud.
To his surprise she grinned widely. “I love you,” she whispered. She kissed him before he could respond.
He would’ve said, “I love you too.” He would’ve promised her the world, the moon and all the stupid constellations that he couldn’t really see. He would’ve promised that he’d be different, that he’d never hurt her.
He would’ve promised it and he would’ve meant it.
With resignation, he looked across the table at the girl with slouched shoulders who sipped iced tea while staring at the ground.
7:43. It didn’t matter. He turned the phone off.
As she emptied her glass, he lifted his.
“We need to talk.”