The butterfly lady smiled enigmatically as the sailor’s song came, unbidden but not unwelcome, into her mind yet again. The summer’s day was unseasonably bright and warm and the butterfly lady’s garden was equally vibrant.
Butterflies danced drunkenly amidst the fragrant rosebushes as the butterfly lady turned a graceful arc, in step with the melody playing so warmly in her head and in her heart, dancing through the neatly trimmed rows of green and gold and rich, imperial red.
A warm gust of wind caressed her face and she stopped in mid-step. Her gentle blue-Gray eyes went softly opaque with sweet memory...another smile, chaste and carnal at once, tugged at the corners of her mouth...and the breeze brushed impishly across her face once more playfully tousling her soft brown hair at the same time.
The sailor had promised to send her a thousand and one kisses on the wind.
The sailor had turned up on the butterfly lady’s doorstep on a cool, gray June night. The ships were coming into port and the townsfolk knew that the sailors not going home (whatever the word “home” meant to sailors) would want rooms for part or all of the summer.
The butterfly lady had a room to let in graciously rambling old home and sign on her front lawn said so.
The sailor, a burly, dusky man with an unruly black beard and dark, unfathomable eyes, turned up that June night with the sign in his great tobacco-colored hand and a heavy sea bag hefted casually over his shoulder.
To the butterfly lady, an avid reader, he seemed like a Moorish adventurer in his great navy coat and dark knit cap.
“Pardon the late hour, miss,” he said in a deep, even voice colored by more than a score of different ports, “but my ship has only just docked and this sign says that you have a room to let.”
The butterfly lady, who had given room and board to a number of seafaring men over the years, had never seen anyone quite like the sailor and words were lost to her for a moment. But she quickly composed herself. “Yes, it’s still available,” she said through desert-dry lips. “Would you like to see it?”
The sailor nodded and followed her into the house. She took the sign from him and motioned towards the stairs. The house was warm and close...rich wooden furniture and gentle pastel colors (violet and saffron and turquoise blended, against expectation, with earth tones to soothing effect.)
The room the butterfly lady showed to the sailor was much the same...though, in some unfathomable way, more masculine than the rest of the house.
The butterfly lady pointed to close door off to the side. “It has a private bathroom and meals are included.”
The sailor looked around the room approvingly. He set his sea bag down and felt the firmness of the mattress on the sturdy four-poster bed. “Is it available for the whole summer?” he inquired finally. “My ship is in for major repairs and refurbishment and we won’t be setting sail until September.”
“Yes, that would be ideal in fact as it can be a bother changing tenants every other week or so.”
He slumped down on the edge of the bed. “Excellent. Then, if you will have me, I would like to stay here for the summer.”
The butterfly lady smiled shyly, “We are in agreement.”
They agreed upon the rent for the summer and the sailor reached into his sea bag and produced a worn mustard-hued envelope filled with currency (most of it American but some colorful bills from other countries could be seen as well.) Despite the butterfly lady’s protests, he paid for his entire stay in advance.
The butterfly lady bid the sailor a good night as he began to put the contents of the sea bag into the closet and into the drawers of her grandfather’s bureau. She paused outside the door for a long moment as he began to hum deep and melodically.
She smiled again and walked down the hall and back down the stairs. She put the money he’d given her into an envelope she would take to the bank in the morning. She closed down the house and walked back up the now-darkened stairs.
As she passed the sailor’s bathroom door she could hear the shower going and she could hear him singing soft and deep. The butterfly lady smiled yet again for the song he sang wasn’t the bawdy sailor’s tune she might have expected (the kind she had indeed heard from sailors in summers and winters past) but instead it was a wistful song of love in summer fields.
The butterfly lady crossed her hands across her chest and ambled down the hall to her room. The sailor’s song was already echoing softly in her consciousness as she closed her door behind her and it would lull her into sleep.
The next morning, the butterfly lady rose just before sunrise (as was her wont) and went down into her kitchen to make tea and blueberry muffins. Not long after sunrise, the sailor appeared in the kitchen. He was wearing faded jeans and a stark white tee shirt that stretched out across the expanse of his dark chest. The beard was gone but the great bushy moustache that had crowned it remained.
“Good morning,” he said softly.
“Good morning,” the butterfly lady said in reply. “I can make some coffee, if you’d prefer...”
The sailor shook his head as he sat across the table and reached for the teapot. “No, thank you, tea suits me just fine.”
She offered him the basket of warm muffins and he took one. “Did you sleep well?” she asked.
Their eyes met and he almost smiled. “Indeed I did,” he said pleasantly. “It’s a fine room and a fine bed.”
For reasons beyond her, the butterfly lady found herself strangely at home in the company of the sailor (it usually took a few days at least for her to feel comfortable with her tenants.) She asked him about his journeys and he patiently told her tales throughout the morning. He rarely smiled...but his eyes twinkled with wit and wisdom and just a bit of whimsy. The butterfly lady found this enormously endearing.
He walked with her into town as she went to deposit the rent money and run other errands. The sailor asked about the town as they went and she told him all that she knew (which was, of course, a great deal as she’d lived there all her life.)
The sailor waited outside the bank as the butterfly lady went in to make her deposit and when she came out she found him deep in conversation with another sailor, a ruddy red-haired brute with a booming laugh. The two sailors laughed at some private joke as she approached. Introductions were made and the men continued their conversation as the three of them wandered the quiet streets of the town.
Presently, the red-haired sailor shook the butterfly lady’s sailor’s hand and slapped him on the back with brusque camaraderie. He kissed the butterfly lady’s hand with awkward graciousness and went off down the lane to the docks.
The sailor chuckled as they walked on and the butterfly lady found it comforting to know that the “dour moor” (as she had begun to refer to him in her head and in her heart) did indeed know where to find his smile.
During the following weeks, the sailor got to know the small seaside town. He walked its length...buying books in the shop near the bakery, sipping coffee or tea at the cafe, wandering down to the shore to look upon the great ship to which he belonged as workers from the city up the road labored to make her ready for new journeys.
Music went with him...he sang or hummed, softly, almost all of his waking hours...and more often than not, it was the wistful love song the butterfly lady had heard him singing the first night.
He volunteered little but would tell colorful stories of life at sea whenever the butterfly lady worked up the courage to ask (which was a more and more frequent occurrence as time went by.) He wouldn’t talk about his life before the sea, though. “Closed chapter,” he would say with something dark and rueful coloring the edge of his voice.
The butterfly lady, though intrigued, never pressed the matter. The sailor, though he never said so outright, was grateful for her discretion.
On the Fourth of July, they stood on the great porch of her house watching the fireworks explode in the night. The butterfly lady laughed with delight as color flooded the skies above the placid sea in thunderous explosions.
She turned when she felt the sailor’s eyes upon her. He nodded self-consciously and turned away. She grew flush and turned away as well. They never spoke of it.
(End of Part One)
- for Debra Fae -
Shameless cross blog promotion: a piece on Valentine's Day music is up at my other site, Neverending Rainbow