He came with the puffins.
We would watch them fly above a shimmering sea against a stone stack splashed with white, the smell of warm grass and salt in the air. They flashed black, white and orange.
Sometimes we talked – about the way the heat and breeze together made our skin prickle, the call of the kittiwakes and the dazzle of the sun-drenched water. One day he spoke about how different it was in the city where he lived, espresso on the way to work, takeaway boxes in the evenings. Mostly, though, we just sat, his binoculars between us. We were sharing special moments and we knew it.
Once, a minke whale came to hunt in the bay far below, its huffing, wallowing noises at odds with that sleek, shiny body. It made us laugh. Boats would occasionally visit too, and we would feel smug that we could stay all day, as long as we liked, instead of being borne away by a commercial stranger after half an hour.
They were going back to the real world, he’d say.
Our tenure was also temporary. Sometime at the end of July or the beginning of August, we would climb wearily up the last few cliff steps, panting and glowing, only to find an empty rock waiting stolidly to be inhabited again. The puffins would be gone, without warning.
When that happened, he would leave, too. Back to his bustling city, his work, maybe even a family. The subject lay between us, a barrier that could easily be broken, yet wasn’t. He would go and I would stay.
The puffins would be back next year I knew, but would he?