by Tim Love
People feel safe here. A man with a guide-dog leads three old women carrying white sticks. I sit on my favourite bench by the Butterfly House. I’ve never been inside — I’m scared of things fluttering about.
I’ve put it off long enough. I phone my brother. “How’s it going?” I ask.
“A nightmare, Mark. It’s usually the owners who are the most trouble but this week it’s been tortoises. That’s four in a row I’ve had to put down. There’s thin skin around their neck, but once I get the needle ready they retract their head, so I have to jab the tail. Their metabolism’s so slow that I don’t know if they’ve died or not. After I’ve returned them to the sobbing owner I don’t want them to wake up. Anyway, how are you?”
“Ok. I’ll phone you back.” Starting with “How’s it going?” was a silly mistake — my brother needs little encouragement to talk. I’m the quiet one. I watch the blind people spiralling out. One of them approaches the monument, finds a step, shuffles sideways, realises that it’s a plinth. She continues patiently shuffling sideways, returning to where she began. Perhaps she’s worked out that it’s octagonal. She holds up her stick, about to poke the statue’s backside.
As I think about how to start the call, the guide gathers the women back together. He’s hardly stopped talking. Perhaps his voice helps them navigate. He might be training the dog. I think he can see. He gestures as he says that the Butterfly House used to be the estate’s greenhouses, that the memorial statue is of the benefactor who’d owed so much in taxes he had to hand everything over to the nation though the house had been in his family for eight generations.
“It’s me again,” I say on the phone. “Sorry about that, something came up. I visited dad yesterday. He doesn’t want to stay in the hospice.”
“We’ve been through this before. I’m out all day and some night-shifts too. You work from home.”
“The trouble is he doesn’t know about me and Jason. Me in particular.”
“Ah, all that stuff. Well can’t Jason stay somewhere else for a few weeks?”
“We’re going through a sticky patch. I don’t want to take a risk.”
“Why doesn’t dad like the hospice? It costs enough, and it’s me who’s paying.”
“He thinks they’re trying to kill him.”
“So what are you going to do, Mark?”
The blind group head for the butterflies. I’m close enough to see palm trees inside, the occasional flicker of wings against a bright background. Why are they going in? They’ll sense the humidity and heat, I suppose. Maybe they’ll hear the beating wings or feel gentle gusts on their cheeks. The guide will tell them what to expect, so they won’t instinctively lash out. I hang up and think of the right words for Jason.
Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance, 2010) and a story collection By All Means (Nine Arches Press, 2012). He lives in Cambridge, UK, and blogs at litrefs.blogspot.com/.