Be gentle, you said, your finger against my mouth. Keep your tongue flat and low. Breathe steady. I dangled my legs either side of the log we were sitting on, my bare feet tickling the long grasses. The sun was behind you, turning you into a silhouette against a cotton candy sky. I had my sunglasses on, squinting behind the frames to look at you. It fluttered in my mouth, and I wriggled my toes. The slower you breathe out of your nose, the quicker it will settle. I held your hands firmly, and your eyes glistened like you missed me already.
I shut my eyes and thought of the first time you kissed me. My parents had gone to bed. It was just you, me, and dull light in the living room. The television was on, flashing colours across our faces, but we weren’t watching. We were getting used to each other’s skin, the new feeling of your fingers on mine, my hips slotting into you like tongue and groove on woodwork, your hot breath warming my hair. You weren’t allowed to stay in my bedroom, not yet. It was closing in on 2 a.m. and we knew we should be heading for bed. We stood by the living room door and you pulled me into you. And when you kissed me, slow and gentle, your tongue against mine, it was like one you’d see in movies.
When the doctor gave you your diagnosis, the air clotted and my stomach turned black. Your weeks were cemented on a calendar, not shifting or changing. You nodded, your face a sculpture, and mumbled something about a list and photos and how you had to get started before everything ended.
You told me that even the smallest things that aren’t big or impressive become big and impressive when you’re counting days. It’s settled, hasn’t it? I opened my eyes, and squeezed your fingertips to say ‘yes’. Open your mouth slowly. Let me get my camera ready. Carefully, I opened my mouth as wide as possible without making any sudden movements. The butterfly twitched against my tongue, and within seconds it left my mouth, your camera making consecutive snaps as it flurried around our heads for a while, landing on my sleeves and circling us. It flitted about the branches, glowing inky and ultramarine. I’ve got a couple good ones – look, you said, pushing the camera towards me. You have to keep these, though, you’ve got to promise. I told you that I would promise you anything.
We watched the butterfly disappear into the encroaching darkness, and I thought about how small and short its life was. How it’d only flutter for days I could count on my hands. I moved to lean my head into your shoulder, the sickness in my belly hanging heavy, and your face growing wet as dusk fell.