Updated: Feb 4, 2019
“Your first time?”
She nodded, feeling naïve and uncool. The woman at the counter was gorgeous with long black hair and some very eye-catching tattoos on her body.
“What did you have in mind and where?”
“A dragonfly, on my arm, up here near the shoulder.” Nadia pointed.
“Let me get some designs for you to look at.”
They were all quite stunning, Nadia was having a hard time deciding until she flicked over a page and saw the one. It was more than beautiful, it looked real, the way it seemed to actually sit on the skin, as though it had just landed there. The colours were natural and lifelike.
Aurora pulled it out and studied it closely.
“I’ll have to make it a touch smaller so it fits on your arm properly. Do you want the same colouring, I can make it brighter if you want.”
“No, I like the realistic look of it.”
“Let’s do the paperwork and make you an appointment.”
“So you won’t do it today?”
“No. It’s good for you to have time to think. After all, it’s going to be with you forever once I put it on.”
Nadia felt a wave of disappointment, she had been all psyched up to have it done today, and to show it off to her friends tonight at the party. She had even decided against bringing any of them along, she had wanted to be able to say that she hadn’t needed anyone to be there with her. Hadn’t needed anyone’s support. She had been independent enough and brave enough to do it alone. Now she would have to wait. She felt her resolve wavering but then decided it was just a matter of a week or two at the most. She was most definitely not going to change her mind.
Aurora wiped the arm with cool antiseptic.
“Are you absolutely positive? Because you will take this to your grave, even beyond.”
Nadia wondered if she was sending our hesitant vibes, or maybe her motives were too transparent. Her friends called her clearskin on account of her body being totally devoid of piercing, tats, anything. They all sported at least ear and one other piercing as well as two or three tattoos. Nadia was as pure as the day she had been born. It didn’t help that her parents would not have understood at all, especially her mother.
“Definitely.” She said it as forceful as she could, it was a shame her voice cracked right at the end. Aurora didn’t seem to notice.
“Dragonflies are a very popular design,” Aurora said, “they are so beautiful but they are also very deadly. They are predators. They kill on the wing. It’s a good thing they're only tiny. Or we might all be worried.”
Nadia took a deep breath as Aurora began gathering the needles and ink cartridges. There seemed an awful lot of stuff.
“I saw one the other day. It was gliding over the pool at home. The colour was scarlet, such a red colour, it was amazing.” Nadia murmured.
“A flame skimmer. They are the most vibrant red. Did you want yours red?”
“No. I like the colours I've chosen.”
“The Native Americans think of dragonflies as a symbol of renewal, rebirth. The Japanese admire its strength and courage. In Tahiti, Hiro the God of thieves and illusions uses dragonflies to dazzle his victims, so they don’t notice he is robbing them. Dragonflies are not what they seem, much like people.”
Nadia didn’t hear anymore. As the needle hit her skin all she could focus on was the pain.
It looked amazing. It had taken a few weeks for it to emerge fully from the cocoon of white bandages and angry scabs, but now it was as though a real dragonfly had landed on her arm, sitting, resting, the wings so translucent they glimmered and glistened with dewdrops of pale gold and lilac. The shadows beneath it heightening the effect, the multifaceted eyes seemed to be watching her.
“It doesn’t look real.” A friend had commented, her pretty face looking spiteful. “I don’t believe you really went through with it.”
“It looks very real.” Her mother said. “Are you sure it’s only a temporary one?” She had even tentatively touched it. “Your Grandparents will be so distraught if it’s real after everything they went through.”
Nadia felt her emotions colliding like two storm fronts coming together. Her friends still thought she was a fake, in their eyes she was still uncool. And her mum would absolutely freak when it didn’t fade. Nadia almost wished she hadn’t.
Till beyond the grave, she thought.
She couldn’t sleep, the night was humid and the moonlight was streaming into her room through gaps in the curtains. She tossed and turned, the sheets hot wherever she moved to. Eventually she got up, poured herself a glass of cold water and even added some ice. She looked out the window; it was so bright almost like day. Perhaps it would be cooler out there.
She wandered out into the backyard, the frogs were singing loud and lusty, and there were rustlings up in the big eucalypt, the fruit bats had flown in for a feast. She could hear them squabbling.
She sat on the garden bench; there was the faintest of breezes. She heard whispering.
“A night to be flying. Oh to skim amid the moonbeams.”
Nadia looked around, then down.
The eyes of the dragonfly were gazing at her and its wings were thrumming delicately.
“Pretty maiden, would thou set me free.”
“Set me free. It’s a night to be free if ever there was one.”
I’m dreaming, thought Nadia, just a dream, harmless, just go with it.
“Why would I set you free?”
“Because deep down you want to. I can feel your heart, I know your truths.”
“Would you come back?”
The dragonfly moved its head and shook itself, but its six legs remained embedded in Nadia’s skin, she could feel them, like little hooks.
“Shall I tell you a secret? The secret of real happiness.” Its multifaceted eyes glittered like jewels in the moonlight.
“It’s to be true to yourself. To be you, only you, beholden to no one else. It’s so very simple but so many try to be someone they are not. To fit in. To conform. To create a false persona. To live as a mirage, faltering and fading.”
“How do you know what you really are?” Nadia was surprised to realise she was crying and her tears fell onto the dragonfly and lay on its wings like dew.
“Listen to your heart. Be still. Listen.”
“Is that all?”
“Try it.” The dragonfly said. “Very quiet. Very still.”
Nadia sat very quietly. Gradually her breathing slowed down. She felt her muscles relax, she felt herself becoming serene, everything became amazingly still. The sounds of the garden floated around her, the breeze gently caressing her skin. She found the silent, undisturbed place within her and lay there like a tiny baby lies within the womb, and outside the world kept spinning. She didn’t know how long she was there. Time didn’t exist. Gradually she felt herself returning. She opened her eyes, surprised to discover herself still sitting in the garden awash in silver and shadows.
She knew what to do.
“Fly. Fly free.” She whispered.
She felt the fluttering, its legs lifted off and it was zooming around her like some unearthly fairy. She heard laughter, her own and another’s.
She looked at her arm, tiny scales as small as dust shimmered on her skin like jewels, nothing else but her pale clear skin.
Winner of Wyvern Magazine YA short story competition 2010
originally published in Wyvern Magazine Issue 2
Wyvern Publications UK