'Right now, this is where I need to be.'
He nodded, despite her being 1,500 miles away and on the end of a crackling and delayed telephone line. It was all that he was capable of doing to acknowledge her statement. The sense of despair, balling and swelling in his stomach, rising through his chest and pushing its way towards his throat crushed his ability to speak.
Standing beneath the Levantine sky, she knew this. She knew that it wasn't shock enforcing the silence, but recognition of the inevitable. She also knew that there were no words of consolation to be offered. Very softly, she apologised, and waited. Very softly, he nodded again, and replaced the telephone receiver.
He stared blankly at the telephone: black and silver, with an illuminated display, memory for 40 numbers, an integrated answering machine, and a piercing ring he could hear from the bottom of the garden. From her research in Istanbul to her lectures in Berkeley, family in Tuscany to friends in Sydney, it was the telephone that shared their amusements and frustrations, their insights and their banalities, their crises and their tenderness. Wherever her life took her, it was the telephone that anchored her to him, waiting at home. Now, though, she had cut the line. It was his home, not hers.
His mind was usually a vortex, swirling with ideas, thoughts, sudden flashes of imagination — so much so that he sometimes believed that he was drowning in his own memory. But right now it was blank. It was as if her departure had drawn the contents of his mind with her: after the plug had been pulled, the water had finally drained away. That was it: gone.
He’d known that she would always leave. He never deluded himself that her presence was anything but ephemeral. She floated into his life one sultry summer evening, looking as fresh as the mojito in her hand. He was leaning against a pillar, sipping his champagne and picking at strawberries, watching her chat and smile and charm. He never believed that she would notice him, or that he might hold any interest for her. So when she turned to him and smiled, he reminded himself that she had spoken to every person in the room, and danced with almost as many. She was as elegant and entrancing as a butterfly.
Despite knowing this, he was helpless in her presence, spellbound by her verve and dazzled by her sparkle. When she asked him to go for a drink the next evening, he felt his heart pounding in his chest and colour rising in his cheeks. When she called and invited him to supper the following week, he grinned for twentyfour hours. When she asked him to join her for a weekend on the Norfolk coast the next month, he was giddy with disbelief. When she asked where they would be spending the winter holidays, he had to pinch himself for assurance that it was real.
And it was real. It was as real as the glass of deep purple spicy-toned Shiraz in his hand, as the lamb — tender and pink and infused with rosemary — on his plate, as the foamy waves breaking over his feet, and as the watch she had given him, bound in printed paper and silver ribbon. But the time they spent together was always on her terms. That was the price he paid for her attention, for falling for a woman unbound, unbridled, unfettered. It was both her appeal and their undoing.
It was always 'when', never 'if'.
She will always be a butterfly, dancing on the breeze and following the scent of the honeysuckle. She will linger just long enough to satisfy her interminable curiosity, to sate her desire for sweetness, before the next movement of air will carry her to the next bloom, the next fleeting encounter. She will linger just long enough to captivate you, to entrance you in her spell, to leave a footprint so delicate you'll question if you dreamed her ethereal presence.
The best that he could have hoped for was to have been the honeysuckle to her butterfly.