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‘‘I found it,’’ you say.
My heart trips over itself, again.
You kneel down. Your hands wrap around its petals.
Haberlea rhodopensis. It only grows here in the heart of the Rhodope mountains.
I feel I am forcing a smile. I am happy, of course. We’ve been looking for it for five weeks now. The botanists wouldn’t believe it.
I lean down and tuck my hands into my pockets. You can tell so much about someone by looking at the way they keep their hands. I worry you would notice them flapping around, feel their weight, their uselessness, the way I do.
I do, shifting my weight from one foot to the other.
Now, the sleeve of my T-shirt touches the strip of your vest. I feel powerful and powerless.
‘‘Beautiful,’’ I say glancing at you sideways now.
The mountain breathes and chirps and whispers.
‘‘What is it?’’ you say.
And I can’t name it. Going back? Where we will go on to living our separate lives? What was I thinking that we’ll roam the Bulgarian mountains forever?
I shrug. You must be used to my ways by now.
It’s also called Orpheus flower. The legend goes that Orpheus, sick with grief over Eurydice, cried and a beautiful white blue flower grew where his tears fell. I suddenly feel jealous of Greek ancients and their legends, big and lasting.
A cicada lands on your shoulder. Makes its way toward your hair. I swear I could do the same. Bury my head in your hair and hide in there forever. In this far-away country, in these mountains, in this sliver of time locked with you.
I look at you, looking at the flower. The mountain looking at you. I want to paint this. I know the warm saffron yellow I will paint your hair with. The breathing body of the mountain – cobalt blue and Veronese green. The sky high and clean, and open. The wind catching your redwood skirt. White vest, one strip slightly off your shoulder. Your fingernails midnight red. Your feet, birds among the tiny white blue flowers.
We go back to the camp. Nestle by the fire. The window above cracks open and the elderly woman pops her head out. I instinctively take a step away from you. She asks if we want ayran and banitsa for breakfast. Devoiki, she calls us. Old Bulgarian for ladies.
You tell me you’ll call the kids. And Jon. I say that’s absolutely fine.
I watch the flames swallow up the wood. I listen to the mountain quieten. I envy its stillness.
I see you standing in the shade looking at me. Or perhaps looking at the fire.
‘‘I brought you this. Getting cold,’’ you say and put the jacket over my shoulders. Then, you stand in front of me, a heartbeat away, and pull the zip up slowly. I smell the summer in your hair. The darkness, soft and comfortable, wrapping us both.
I slide my fingers over each letter of your name on the book cover. You had said you were tired of academia and wanted to write a memoir.
On the back cover there’s some information about you and a picture. You had asked if you could use my painting of you. ‘‘It’s much more me than any picture I have.’’
I flip through the pages.
The flower is known to withstand drought for as longs as three years. It’s still a mystery to botanists how it can spring back to life after so much time. That’s why Bulgarians call it bezsmyrtniche, the one that doesn’t die. Dried for years, it somehow brings itself back to life. Blossoms. Thrives.