He unhooks the leash from its nail on the wall, and curls it around his fist.
She doesn’t look up.
She’s frowning as she reads, dark brows curling over her eyes. He watches her, letting the silence ooze slowly down the room, over the flaking paint of the kitchen table and into the cracks in the lino. A dollop of it finally reaches her with its sticky finger, and ever so gently touches the page.
She looks up.
She has no idea who he is. He swallows, shifts his six foot four frame from one foot to the other. He hates this part. She blinks, twice, and then the muscles in her jaw begin to loosen, and she’s back. Her pupils almost look normal.
He feels his shoulders relax as he heads to the stove. He lifts the percolator from its grill with his free hand, sets it down and picks up two coffee cups.
I said, whatcha reading, babydoll?
She shakes her head briefly, throwing who knows what thoughts loose. She closes the book with both hands and then lays them side by side on the table, fingers splayed out. The wedding ring catches the light and throws shafts of gold through the kitchen window.
He finishes filling the second cup and loads a spoon with brown sugar, stirs it three times. He turns back to her and places on the table next to the cover, the bookmark lolling out like a dog’s tongue.
But her gaze is on the cup, the dark liquid still swirling. Her brows are beginning to lower again.
Yep, three stirs, he says softly. All counter-clockwise. No dirt got in, darlin.
She sits up, and reaches for the cup. Her face brightens, and suddenly he knows he could count thirty three reasons why he married her if he was given the chance.
Did you know some butterflies need salt?
He smiles, takes a sip of his coffee. He shakes his head.
That’s why they land on humans, she says. They’re attracted to our sweat.
He rests his hand on top of hers, the leash still wrapped around it.
Her words are almost slurred in their softness.
Do you think they’d want our tears, too?
He taps the metal links of the leash against her ring, clears his throat.
I’m taking Jensen for a walk. Down by the creek. No people around.
She doesn’t look up from her coffee cup.
Wanna come, darlin?
When her eyes lift, he sucks in his breath at the look on her face.
You know I can’t.
You can. You just won’t.
Fine! I won’t then. Why do you keep asking me? Why do you always keep asking?!
She pulls her hand out from his, and turns the book right side up. He just watches, his eyes dropping to the page and then back to her face. He rubs his hand against his jaw, and stands up.
Fine then. Have you taken them yet?
She shakes her head.
Damn it, you know you have to, every morning like clockwork. I’ll stop asking you for a walk if you remember to take them, ok?
She nods, a movement so tiny he almost misses it.
He reaches above the fridge and takes down a small white bottle, shakes two red pills out. It’d taken months for her to stop spitting them out, convinced the doctor was trying to poison her. Convinced of so many things that he just doesn’t have the words to soothe away.
But lord, he’ll keep trying to find them.
He puts them on the table in front of her, and slides a hand into her hair.
I’ll be back in an hour. Keep reading, babydoll. I’ll be back.
He kisses the top of her head and gets to the door before she starts to speak.
They have lovely names, you know. There’s the jezebel butterfly, and the plum judy.
He rests his head against the door frame and smiles at her.
The painted lady, and the rusty tipped page. Isn’t that one beautiful?
Sure, darlin. It sure is.
But there’s one I worry about; the red pierrot.
Why? Why are you worried about a butterfly?
She turns right around in her seat and stares at him. He knows the medication is going to kick in soon, and those pupils he loves will become so wide he can’t quite look at them.
It’s just…it can’t fly well. It can’t fly. It has some of the most beautiful colours of all, but it has weak wings. That makes it vulnerable and it has to fly low, to hide in the shadows.
He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t know what she wants him to say.
I mean, she shakes her head. Why give it something so exquisite, then take it away? Why give it wings in the first place?
He feels the wood of the doorframe against his temple.
I don’t know, darlin…maybe when they fly low they see treasures on the ground the others can’t, high in the sky. Maybe there’s something amazing in the shadows the others will never know about.
Her eyes haven’t left him.
He can feel the dog scraping against the other side of the door. He lets the leash unwind from his fist, the chain dangling.
I do. Yeah, I sure do. There has to be a reason. There has to be a reason for every damn thing in this world, even if we don’t think we’ll ever find it.
The screen door flutters shut behind him.
He stands on the porch, the dog prancing, nipping at the chain. He turns his face to the sun, and listens to the birds with his eyes closed. Then he steps off the porch, and heads for the creek.