• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 04
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Catarina’s Butterflies

They were small and yellow, Catarina’s butterflies. Hundreds of them that rose from the scraggy lavender bushes by the chicken wire fence to obliterate her. Or more truthfully to pixelate her. At the same time trumpets sounded, bouncing off the surrounding mountains. She didn’t even seem surprised. Stood looking into the violet-blue sky like a Madonna, shiny-faced on account of all the cooking she’d been doing.

The butterflies resettled and the music stopped abruptly.

“Summer Symphonia,” she said and gave me a beer. We clinked bottles. I downed mine, the bottle being small and the beer easy.

“It’s the sound check about this time, isn’t it Bebê?” she said and took the baby from me. She settled into a blue sun-lounger under the pergola to feed her. The curve of her breast was golden against Bebê’s black hair.

“We’re so glad you and Skye came,” she said. “It’s going to be so much fun.”

I stroked Bebê’s cheek. Catarina and the baby had been here for a week on their own. Skye, my nine-year-old and I had arrived that evening, driven here by my big-shot sister who would return to Porto in the morning for work. When I agreed to help with their baby, I thought it would be a month on the Gaia coast not in the hot heights of Serra da Estrela.

“Not what you were expecting?” she said as if reading my mind.

“So many boulders.”


“And the burnt land.” I pointed to columns of black stick trees looking down on us from the horseshoe ridge. It had taken us thirty-five minutes to zig-zag into the valley and in an emergency it would take us thirty-five minutes to zig-zag out again.


Catarina’s Butterflies

“Last year’s fires,” she said. “Look! New growth.” True, the valley was green. My sister said that the steep rock faces were a natural firebreak and being glacial, held icy groundwater.

“Laney?” Catarina asked gently. “How is Skye now?”

I didn’t answer. Hummed along with the trumpets. I liked Catarina very much but had promised Skye that I wouldn’t discuss her like a case study. But under the steady gaze of eminent psychologist Profesora Catarina, and being a little drunk and over-warm, and looking down at the green river and silver tipped trees in golden light, and the tuneful howling of neighbourhood dogs, and Skye safe inside playing cards with my sister, talking fast I spilled her difficulties: teachers at a loss. Not following instructions. Not sitting still on the carpet. Yelling during story-time. Coloured drawings in which the hero always died in imaginative ways involving blood and sharp blades.

I knew that Skye had quietly joined us outside when I noticed the flickering rise of butterflies from the lavender bush. They covered her in a yellow shroud and did not disguise her dark-eyed fury, or that she was wielding a butterknife.

The same butterflies, I reflected as I opened another beer, that had been unmoved when I had brushed past earlier.