The Butterfly

Issue 52 by Max McCoubrey

The Butterfly

The first time I saw him he was hanging on the back of a van wearing shorts and a pair of cowboy boots.

The van belonged to a rock band. I was in a pop band. We were both on tour. Musicians love playing but get bored touring, and they ease that boredom by thinking up ways of passing time. That was all very well until the numbers at the shows diminished and management suggested they audition for a female singer. None of the guys thought that a good idea, but all of them had a habit called eating, and had to succumb to the greater knowledge of the man with the money. I was the successful applicant. That career move led to my travelling in a van with a group of men in the personnel wagon going to and from the performances. Such was my luck in life. After exactly one night of them being polite they treated me like one of them. Was that a good thing?

The night of that particular adventure I had not met the poseur although I did learn his name and his occupation. One of my band members, Topher, the bass player, noticed him first and said, “There’s that money man Blair Knockle. Wake up lads it’s not often you see an accountant undressed!” The rest of the band stopped reading, playing cards and sleeping, and sat bolt upright.

Topher opened the window and shouted, “Knock-kneed by name and by nature Blair!” The drivers of both vehicles honked horns and drove on, whooping and hollering until they were out of sight of each other.

My name is Carey. My mother loves Joni Mitchell and the song “Carey gets out your cane and I’ll put on some silver” in particular. It was inevitable that music was in my life and even more inevitable that I should seek a life in music, which I did. I have an ambition to be a recording artist and I know enough to know I don’t know enough. I decided to learn the art of assessing an audience by doing as many live gigs as I could. You have to start on the bottom rung of the ladder if you want to stay when you get to the top. The first thing I learned as an interpreter of songs is how men talk when women are not there. Being a ‘Dudette’ as they call me meant I had to fade to black a few times a night. On stage they were happy to let me shine; it had a direct result on ticket sales, but on the way home I would go silent and let them be themselves. Truth is, I liked it. It took the pressure off and once they knew what goes on tour stays on tour they were happy.

Both my parents are traveling musicians; my late paternal grandmother was a seamstress. To pass the time on the road I enjoy embroidering and hand beading my costumes. I’ve inherited talents from all three.

There was no life in my car this morning. Graham, my housemate, who has jump leads, gave me a start and I drove to the garage to see if Mike, my mechanic, could find out what is draining the battery. He told me he’d need time and offered to drive me home to wait. I declined and instead took a walk to this hotel and ordered a pot of tea. I’m sitting in the window enjoying the morning sun and the silence. Usually when there is silence all around me, I take out my sewing and Blair dances into my mind.

I have my portable sewing kit with me. I am working on beading a butterfly motif on my satin jacket. It’s a light kit, just a sectioned box with coloured beads, invisible thread, a scissors, a thimble, a magnifying glass and wipes to keep my hands cool. Last night I completed the legs, two short and four long, wing veins fore and hind, and I used teardrop beads on the thorax and abdomen. I used bugle beads and sequins in turquoise and indigo pearl seed beads on the borders, and the main wing colour is turquoise navy and blue. I have almost finished the forewing, and then I’ll start on the hind wing. These beads reflect the light beautifully. It is repetitive work, which means my mind can wander to times I was happiest which brings me neatly to the second time I met Blair. The time when we were introduced.

Our management had arranged an appointment with a journalist for me. It was to promote a big outdoor gig we were doing in June. The meeting place was our downtown office.

The receptionist, Liza, a sweet young lady from Liverpool who is interested in men and gossip, told me there had been a new signing in the office. The accountant Blair Knockle had been poached from another agency and was now working for us. I caught sight of Blair through a glass partition.

Seeing me he came outside to the foyer where I was sitting. Gerry, our publicist, two feet away, introduced us and having done so, was oblivious to our interest in each other. Percy from management behind the glass partition was not. He came bounding out and with one swift movement stood between me and Blair forcing me to sit back down and listen to them as they talked finances. As Percy continued to warn Blair that I needed to be protected from any fan who got too close or any man that might make me pregnant, I caught sight of Blair’s sapphire eyes searching for mine behind the back of the odious Percy.

I was so angry at the manipulating ways of management that I, in defiance, slowly and silently mimed the hand gestures for a telephone and then pencil writing on paper. Blair reached into his pocket and took out a pen and an envelope and without missing a beat, still listening to the lecture about staying away from me, noted as I held up the fingers of my hands to signal him my phone number.

We went out to dinner in Nico’s Italian restaurant the following Monday night.

I need to rethread my needle. My mother sent me a lovely gift from London, where she is working in a jazz club with Dad. The club is near a bead shop in Covent Garden, so she went shopping there. In the post this morning I received the most beautiful box of beads. There was ever such a great selection of colours, and seed beads in metallic gold and silver.

She also included frosted glass beads and rainbow crystal seed beads, because I had sent her a picture of my butterfly. Beads have such a visual volume and depth. I find it therapeutic to sew.

Over lasagne and house wine we learned about each other. Blair had been told by his foster parents at sixteen that he was adopted, and the story of his abandonment still brought tears to his eyes in the telling. My story is unusual too. Because my Mum and Dad are continually touring, I lived then with my school-going young sister Jesse. My mother is also a fan of Janis Ian.

The money I made in the band I used to feed and clothe both of us, and Mum and Dad’s earnings went toward the mortgage and house maintenance. For the first six years after we bought the house, I shared it with my grandmother. She was German and after her death I took on the raising of my sister Jesse. To this day I am bilingual as Nana never learned English and I used to translate for her. Jesse had just one year left of schooling when Nana passed.

Blair and I talked about management and how they must never know about our relationship or we’d both be fired. With his accountant mind, Blair had it figured that if we met in places our colleagues would not frequent, we could, as he put it, “stay ahead of the posse.”

So, when we wanted time alone, I would arrange for Jesse to stay over with my aunt who lived nearby. Blair would hire a barge on the Shannon, Ireland’s longest river, and I would meet him.

When the performance was over and the guys would head for Dublin in the packed van, I’d drive my own car and find Blair.

We’d spend stolen magical days and nights on the greatest watery and major physical barrier between east and west of our adored island, and with over thirty crossing points between Limerick in the south and Dowra in the north, it was never difficult to source a meeting place for our trysts.

After the fuss of my life in the music industry, it was delightful to drench myself in peace. Blair did all the cooking, and there were days on board when I’d feel as if I was the only living thing for miles, ant-like in a world so large I was in danger of being forgotten by everyone except Blair.

There was no greater pleasure than holding hands as we breathed the river mud smell or, waiting for Blair to fill the water containers, I’d dangle my legs in the water letting the silver liquid refresh my tired toes.

Often, there was no sound except for our breathing, and the tuff tuff tuff of the barge. When we went for long walks, we would meander slowly with only the birds noting our presence, before they would vanish into the mist with orchestrated cacophonous screams leaving us to languish in the gentle stroking sensation of the rhythm of the river.

We’d walk in meadows pillowed with purple blossoms or make love under an apricot sky, or indoors too, in the blue room of the barge, if the squally showers dictated a time of rain-soaked wonder. Later with a mug of tea we’d watch the jagged shapes appear out of the grey mist, and snuggling together in our Aran sweaters with warm scarves and gloves, listen to the bird’s, ghost-like in the woods until a decent steady breeze would bring the promise of a sunny morning.

The sound of the popple of the water for me would replace the sound of an unappreciative audience or an inquisitive journalist or the ever hungry eyes and ears of the media. To be in love, in Ireland, and in Blair’s familiar company was my way of counteracting the stresses of everyday life. I’d watch the light reflecting from every ripple of the river like crashing cymbals in an orchestra as the rhythmic creaking and shuddering of the barge bringing the innocence of a dangling conversation and the wonder of two people sharing a forbidden experience became my ointment.

Ashore later, we’d enjoy a ploughman’s lunch in dark pubs along winding roads, before the inevitable forward movement of the clock would hasten our return to reality. I’d pack my bag, kiss my lover and find the bus that would take me to my single white car parked where I last left it when all I had was the joy of secrecy and anticipation.

As I drove back to my next performance and the sale of staged happiness and perfection in all things, I’d lock away in my heart every tasty morsel of my adventure to be taken out and savoured when only I decided. No. That’s not entirely true. I confided in Nana. I told her he was the handsomest man on earth. She said plain vases would last longer than pretty ones.

Oh, there’s the phone! Hello? It’s Mike telling me he thinks he has found the fault. It’s the lock on the boot. It’s corroded and not closing, so the boot light is staying on. That would drain the battery for sure. He asked if I wanted him to replace it as he has the parts, the lock and the switch and I said yes. I don’t mind. I’ll finish embroidering this antenna, and the compound eye, and then I’ll pack up, and find the restaurant. It’s lunch time already!

The butterfly has six legs but I have only two and they are in need of stretching, so I will take a walk in the grounds after my meal.

It’s difficult to believe because of the extensive acreage here that you are so near the city. Blair and I loved our fresh-air walks. It was on one of those he confided in me about his feelings on marriage. He spoke about his distrust of it.

Because he had been told that his parents had gone on to marry each other and raise a family of brothers he had never met, he was hurt. He could never see himself as a husband or dad because he had no reference point for those roles.

Because my career was in full flight then with an overseas tour and television series to work on, I was happy to tell him any thoughts of marriage were not on my agenda either. It all seemed so perfect. Even if I had a proboscis and antenna like the butterfly or the perspective of the magnifying glass in my sewing kit, I don’t think I could have predicted what was to come.

Blair changed his mind. I changed mine. It began when Liza, who loves men and gossip, phoned me to say Blair had collapsed and had been taken from the office in an ambulance. I went to the hospital and found a pale, weak, and shocked man in a ward of very sick people.

“I’m undergoing tests,” his almost unrecognisable voice whispered to me as his yellowed hand reached for mine. “They don’t know what’s wrong.”

Weeks passed and the medical team was no closer to the answer. I prayed for his recovery every morning, noon and night. Our love became public knowledge and neither of us cared.

“Marry me,” he said one morning when he woke to find I had stayed overnight in the chair by his bed. “But you don’t believe in marriage,” I said stunned. “I do and I want you to marry me.” He moved his hand out from under the sheets and pointed to the locker. “There’s a wad of notes in an envelope there. Go buy the ring and make the arrangements.”

It was a solitaire. The dress was ivory silk and the priest I booked was known in Ireland as the show-business priest because of his devotion to the gypsies of song like me and my husband to be. “Ask him if he’s sure,” the padre advised. I did and Blair gave me a smile and said he was sure he was sure. “A quiet wedding and fairy lights around the bed,” he joked.

So I kissed him, went home and set another detail in place. “Christmas Eve,” he said as the days rolled by and he was not getting any better. “I love you and want the world to know.” “I love you too, you crazy sailor,” I whispered through my tears.

And then the unexpected happened—my prayers were answered. Blair began to gain strength. He was soon well enough to go home and chose Christmas Eve to do so. Watching the colour back in his cheeks was sheer joy as Blair walked out of that hospital on the day we had booked the wedding. “I want to be standing beside you at the altar when I promise to love you for the rest of your life, darling, let’s move our plans to Easter.”

I couldn’t speak I was so happy.

New Year came and went and Easter did too and the wedding plans were never mentioned. “Not now, Carey,” he’d say if I brought up the subject. “I’m in recovery.”

His recovery lasted for the rest of the year and as the next Christmas Eve approached I asked if he was ready to commit. “ I won’t ever marry,” he told me over a quiet meal one night in Nicos, the night after Jesse moved to London to study to become a nurse. “To be honest with you honey, I only asked you to marry me because I thought I was going to die.”

Oh! There’s the phone. It’s Mike, my mechanic telling me my car is ready for collection. My butterfly is finished too. I’ll pack up my kit, and my butterfly, pay my bill and start the walk back to the garage. Somewhere along the way I’ll pack up my memories of Blair too. Oh, my scissors have fallen on the floor. Nana used to say “tidy things away my gorgeous, leave no trace, both in your home and in your life.”

For the record, he did marry, and the lucky lady was Liverpool Liza, who loves men and gossip. They became parents the following year.

Me? I never did. I enjoyed success in my career, made money, bought a house and met my friend and housemate Graham. He is a cellist with the orchestra, so we have lots in common. We have been co-habiting for three years now, and the love between us is of a kind that makes my heart skip a beat when I hear his key in the door. So it all worked out well and, upon reflection, I learned a lot from the experience. If I, like the butterfly was to live for just one day, I would choose one of those days on the Shannon with Blair.

He took away his love. My memories are here to stay.

When Nana died, she left me a beautiful transfer she had embroidered when she first came to Ireland. She framed it and it hung over her bed for thirty years. Now it hangs over mine.

It reads: Love is not love if it changes when challenged.

About the Author

Max McCoubrey

Max McCoubrey is a freelance writer living in Dublin, Ireland. She draws on her experience in show business—broadcaster, singer, actress and lyricist—for her stories and articles. She has a diploma in Creative Writing. and is a regular contributor to Ireland's Own Magazine and Pioneer Magazine.