Archive for the ‘TCL #21 – Fall 2016’ Category
“I don’t get many requests to do soles,” the tattoo artist said.
Darla clenched her teeth. “No kidding.”
She had slathered her foot with a topical anesthetic, but the effects were wearing off and she was starting to wonder how she was going to walk home.
Greg, the tattoo guy, must have read her mind. “You walked here, didn’t you?” he said. “Why don’t I get my wife to take you home? I don’t know how far away you live, but it’s going to seem a lot farther going back.”
“It’s just a few blocks from here,” Darla said, “but I have to admit a ride would be nice.”
When Greg’s wife Lacy dropped her off, Darla hopped to the stairs leading to her little apartment over the garage. After trying various options, she got up the stairs by sitting down and pushing herself up one step at a time using her arms and her “good” foot. She hoped Mom wasn’t watching her through the kitchen window—and she was glad the weather had warmed up enough to keep her backside from freezing as she inched up the stairs.
After crawling through the door, she flopped onto her couch. She had expected the tattoo to hurt, but she hadn’t been prepared for the reality of the pain on the sole of her foot. Still, it was worth it if it made David smile. She pulled her foot up and looked at the bottom. It was hard to tell what it was going to look like when the swelling went down.
Two days later, she had her answer. Though the foot still hurt, the design was clear. Small blue overlapping scales covered the bottom of her foot. Lighter in the middle and darker around the edges, there were hints of green and purple in the darker borders of the scales, but the overall color was blue. After putting on her socks and clogs, she hobbled over to the main house and into the kitchen.
“Where have you been all weekend?” Mom asked. “David’s been asking about you.”
“I, uh, have something special to show David, and it wasn’t ready till now.”
“Oh? What is it?”
“It’s something private. Between him and me.”
Mom’s tolerant smile changed to a look of alarm as Darla limped past. “What happened to your foot? You’re limping!”
“I hurt it a little but it’s already getting better. I promise.” She couldn’t risk Mom being concerned enough to look at the foot.
Without pausing, she continued on toward the den that had been converted into a hospital room for her little brother David.
“Darla!” His face lit up when she walked in the door. “I missed you!”
“I missed you too, buddy.” She sat down on the end of his bed.
“Remember that dream you told me about last week?”
His brow wrinkled in thought. His bald head made his skin seem even more fragile and transparent than it had before. “The dragon dream?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Can you tell it to me again?”
“Well, I dreamed a huge blue dragon was flying in the sky. He was so beautiful! And somehow, in my dream, I knew he was going somewhere wonderful. Just looking at him filled me up with joy. But when I called and begged him to let me ride on his back and fly with him, he just said ‘I’m not there yet.’ Do you think there are blue dragons in heaven and that they’d let me ride them?”
Darla smiled at him. “I dunno, David. But I know if heaven has blue dragons, you can ride them as much as you want. Look, I want to show you something.”
She took the sock off her right foot and swung it up on to the bed so David could see it. His eyes widened till she feared they would pop, and his thin face lit up with a hundred-watt smile.
“You got a dragon-scale tattoo? That is so awesome! What did Mom say?”
“Mom doesn’t know. It’s our secret, okay?”
He nodded, grinning. “Are you going to get the other foot done?”
She had expected this question, had been bracing for it.
“Yes, as soon as this one stops hurting and itching, I’ll get the other one done. We can pretend I am a blue dragon—in disguise. It’ll be our secret.”
By June, two months later, scales covered Darla’s legs up to her knees. Her car savings fund took a hit, but she didn’t really care because the dragon feet made David happy. She began working extra odd jobs to cover the cost of her ink. She still hadn’t told her parents. She wore sneakers and jeans most of the time so there was no reason for them to suspect that under those faded jeans she had dragon legs.
David was thrilled. “If you have dragon feet, you should have a dragon name. A girl dragon name.”
They spent several delightful days discussing and discarding every dragonish name they could think of, before settling on the name “Indiglory,” to emphasize the beautiful color of the scales and the general gloriousness of being a dragon. From that moment on, David never called her Darla again unless Mom or Dad was in earshot.
That evening, however, Mom climbed up to Darla’s apartment after David was asleep.
“Darla, you know I’m thrilled you and David have such a close bond. I would never have believed a nineteen-year-old and a nine-year-old would be such good pals. But Dad and I are worried about you.”
“Why? Because I care about my little brother?”
“No, dear—because you care too much. When was the last time you went to a movie with your friends? When was the last time you talked about taking college classes? What kind of life are you going to have left after David dies?”
“Don’t say that! Why do you give up so easily? He’s not gonna die! He’s getting all the right medicine! I’m helping him get better!”
“I don’t deny that you’re helping him feel better, Darla. But you know as well as I do that the chances are very slim he’ll recover.”
Darla put her hands over her ears. “Don’t say that!”
“I love you, Jonathon,” Voice said.
“I know you do, Voice.” The sun was golden and the air was pleasantly warm in the vineyard.
“Are you well, Jonathon? Don’t you want to make wine today?”
“No Voice, not today,” Jonathon said.
“What about climbing?” Voice wondered. “You do love the mountains.”
Jonathon did love to climb and the winds there were always cool and the snow always white and soft. But no, he was just so tired lately.
“Not today, I don’t think, Voice,” he said. He tossed a grape and caught it in his mouth. He sat down. The grass was dew-wet and green.
“What about riding?” Voice said. The world shifted, tilted before him, and Jonathon could see a field in the distance. The horses there were sleek and well fed. Jonathon did love to ride.
“Not today, Voice. Perhaps tomorrow.” He got to his feet and began to walk.
Voice was silent for a time until Jonathon reached the ocean. The waves were white-tipped and the breeze brisk. The beach was golden with white pebbles and swaying palm trees.
“What about sailing?” Voice said. “You do love to sail.”
Jonathon threw a pebble and turned away. He walked through a desert where the sand was warm and the sun red.
“Is something bothering you, Jonathon?” Voice said.
Jonathon stopped. He could see a well that would contain cooling water less than a mile away. “Bothering me, Voice?”
“You seem restless today.”
“Am I?” Jonathon was thirsty, he realized. He walked on to the well. It was closer now. He wound the bucket up. The water was clear and fresh.
“Yes,” Voice said. “Is there anything I can do, Jonathon?”
Jonathon wound the bucket back down. “I don’t think so, Voice. I just sometimes wonder about the others.”
“Yes, Voice. The others like me. Why am I the last one? Why me?” He walked on again. The water had been refreshing.
“Why not, Jonathon? You’re no worse or better than any other. Why not you?”
Jonathon smiled. “You knew them all, Voice. Am I really no better or worse than any of them?” He came to a cool babbling brook in a green and pleasant land.
“There were many people here,” Voice finally said. The sun was bright once more, but not too warm. “But none I loved so well as you.”
“Do you ever get lonely, Voice?” he asked.
“Lonely? I have you, Jonathon.”
Jonathon nodded. “And I you, Voice. You truly are a wonder. But sometimes I want to share your wonder with another. You show me true beauty in the world, but who can I share it with?” There was a silence in the blue sky. “I think it must be a failing in me.”
A further silence in which the sky fell dark. Stars lit the night and the moon was yellow.
“No, not a failing in you,” Voice said. “Perhaps I have been selfish in thinking I could be enough for you.”
“Selfish? You, Voice? You gave me life!” Jonathon smiled, but there was a sadness in it, too. He remembered the Great Library with its books speaking of love and wonder, and wonder and love. What was beauty, the books had said, if there was nobody to share it with?
The world turned and the moon fell and the sun rose and a bridge of ancient stone spanned a rippling river.
“There was another,” Voice said. “Another who survived the plague. I kept her from you because I was afraid she would displease you.”
Jonathon saw her on the bridge. She was tall and slender with golden shoulders. “Or I would displease her,” he breathed.
“That too,” Voice said in an inflectionless voice.
She was named Helen, and Jonathon showed her the Great Library and the Barrier Reef and Victoria Falls. Helen hung upon his every word.
When he touched her skin, she was pliant and when he made love to her, she murmured appreciative words in his ear under vines that whispered in a warm breeze.
“Voice!” Jonathon called out one morning, a tiger cub nuzzling his palm.
“Yes, Jonathon?” Voice had been quiet a long while.
“I am old, Voice. My beard is white and Helen is still young and golden and appreciative.” He had read books in the Great Library, books where men had to fight for a woman’s love, where women were challenging and opinionated. Why wasn’t Helen like that? She laughed at his jokes and was quiet when he was restless.
“Have you thought of children?” Voice said, after a long pause.
“Children?” Jonathon thought of the children he would have. They would be perfect and studious and handsome. Their family would be happy beyond measure.
The very thought of it made Jonathon sink to his knees in exhaustion.
“I am done, Voice. I am an old man and I am done. All I ask of you now, for any love you have for me, is to show me the Truth of things.”
“The Truth?” asked the voice from the sky.
“The Truth,” Jonathon said.
The world turned, then. The grass beneath his feet fell away and the golden sun vanished from the sky, taking the white clouds with it.
Jonathon knelt upon a grilled walkway, the steel above him black and bolted. The window at his shoulder was small and round and showed a planet where the clouds were white and the seas blue.
“It took longer than your species could have ever imagined to get here,” Voice said. “You are the last survivor of tens of thousands.”
Jonathon pressed his hands to the window. The clouds on the planet coiled. “Take me there,” he said.
“It wasn’t the haven your kind had prayed for,” Voice said.
Jonathon fingered his white beard. “Tell me, Voice. Are there others like me there? Others of my kind?” He thought of the thousands upon thousands of silent chambers all around him and he gripped a cold steel pole as something shifted beneath his feet and distant engines began to rumble.
A long silence.
“I love you, Jonathon.” Voice finally said, cold and sterile.
Jonathon swallowed as he watched the planet draw near. “I know you do, Voice.”