She Saw Angel Wings
Rebecca asked for realism, but got magic instead.
The sharp, stinging burn faded with the constant vibrations. Her eyes closed as the artist’s tool slid the needle in and out at a rapid-fire pace. She wanted to count in the beginning as a means of focus, but that Rebecca got to two and no further. It was her first tattoo; she had put it off long enough, way after everyone she knew were walking canvases. Nothing spoke to Rebecca, nothing said “Yes, this!”, until her soul touched her arm.
Rebecca came across the hibernating Polygona while exploring the abandoned Willes house that previous winter. She and Dale had been traveling, searching through dilapidated, seemingly forgotten structures that were left standing, or, in the case of the Willes’ house, partially leaning. They were trespassing and had enough run-ins with various law agencies to know it, but the thrill of their journey blew those concerns away. They were accruing dying testimonies of what was before the rate of erosion took it all away.
That, or the many developers who only saw money in the land.
Dale had remained below on the first floor, busy taking photos with her new Nikon Z6. Rebecca was glad she had splurged on this for Dale’s 25th. The light inside that she had fallen in love with had begun to dim over the last year, that one infidelity one too many; but this object, this thing, seemed to bring it back, sharper, keener, and much more focused.
“Becki, be careful,” lay behind her as she stalked up the slanted stairway to the second floor. Rebecca clutched her sketch pad in her left hand as she white-knuckled the stair railing with her right. Safe on the landing, she released a “yeah, yeah,” white puffs in the chill air as she walked down the hallway, three doors partly ajar, beckoning.
The ceiling molding in the second bedroom was intricate. Rebecca sat in front of the smeared window, having rubbed away enough grime to allow more sunlight into the room. She got lost duplicating the patterns, time passing as the sun moved along its path, erasing when the moving shadows changed her perspective.
Part of the ceiling had caved in, revealing part of the structure between this room and the attic. Something was there that was not wood, wallpaper, or flaking glue. Rebecca pushed her glasses up her nose with her forefinger, a smile etched on her face from Dale’s teasing of the same constant gesture. She stood and reached out with her Palomino Blackwing, reversed so the point would not break. The light wasn’t really with her.
Rebecca took out her cell and activated the flashlight. She hadn’t realized that she had made a noise until Dale came rushing into the room asking what the matter was, she had heard her gasp from below.
“Look, Dale. Angelwings!”
“What? Oh, yeah, your dad.”
“He loved butterflies.”
“Is it dead?,” she asked.
“Hibernating. They hibernate, rare in a house, but… well, there! Hold this, please.”
Rebecca gave her cell, flashlight still lit, to Dale, repositioning her arm every time she put her pencil to paper, seeing the butterfly in a new angle. A few sighs and disgruntled “Becki, C’mon” comments didn’t halt the five pages of full and partial sketches that followed.
The last exasperated puff of air over her shoulder brought Rebecca back. The pencils went back into their case and into her backpack, the sketchbook following. She took the phone from Dale, leaving the flashlight on as she realized they were now in a very dark room. Dale leaned in for a kiss and got a perfunctory one in return: movement from slightly above had recaptured Rebecca’s attention.
Wings fluttered, a slow heartbeat of one, then another. She was transfixed, staring, knowing she did not touch it, knowing it shouldn’t be awake, but Rebecca held her breath as the Angelwing took wobblily flight. It was coming towards the light in her hand, attracted like a moth, but gliding through the dust mote air.
The butterfly landed on her left arm. Rebecca couldn’t move; the butterfly didn’t. The wings were translucent, and even though she knew the coloring was wrong, this one was summer greens on her arm. Dale took a few steps back and snapped a series of shots from any angle possible as Rebecca, and her Anglewing tagged each other into statues.
A beep from the cell, battery dying, and the mood broke. Rebecca’s startled movement sent the Angelwing flying. She watched as it flew up to the crevice between the floors and disappeared. They left the house soon after: there was no safe way to get to the attic. Dale had to take Rebecca’s hand and lead her out.
They drifted apart as well, months later, spring just knocking away the frigid weather that followed. Rebecca looked for butterflies everywhere, in reality, and through her imagination. Sheer fabric became wings; cotton balls became cocoons. Clouds, mist, steam out of the kettle. All this took Dale away and into the arms of another; Rebecca saw it happen and did nothing to prevent it.
Rebecca’s obsession with butterflies overtook her. She researched mythologies, folktales, symbolism. She drew and painted and sculpted butterflies. It wasn’t enough. She reconnected with her father. He went with her on her search the following winter for the Willes house, but it had fallen sometime during that year, a mass of timber and broken glass left behind, a sign in front that stated the property was sold for development. No butterfly. No Angelwings. Not in that spot. Not in that new winter.
The following summer found Rebecca hosting a booth of her art at the state Renaissance Faire. Business was good, and she had many offers of commissions, for her art as well as her time. She was gracious with both, but her eyes searched along the fields that weren’t trampled upon for something else. They were there, flying around, hiding, resting, being chased by children, barked at by dogs, hunted by the birds.
Two booths away were the beginning of Tattoo Alley. Rebecca had been admiring the art that went on there in most of the tents, not all. One, in particular, caught her eye every time she would take her break and walk the grounds. This artist specialized in things in flight, realistic depictions as well as abstract. The presentation of a summer-long project on one of the Faire’s workers back-an angel in flight-drew massive applause from all and the full attention of Rebecca.
Bringing her sketchbooks over while there was that end of the summer lull, Rebecca and Cynthia poured over the images and discussed what could, and should (in Cynthia’s critical eye) be done: a full sleeve, left arm, from wrist to shoulder. A weaving of butterflies in flight and at rest, with the centerpiece being the Polygona, in shades of green.
It took the next month of scheduling, sketches, arguing, fussing, and agreements before Rebecca took the chair and Cynthia began her art. The sleeve was complete by the first frosts of Autumn; Rebecca made sleeveless tops her main go to, only covering up her arms when frostbite threatened (or so related Cynthia to their friends).
“They are hibernating,” she would tell others when she was covered up, keeping her arm as still as can be. As soon as the temperature inside, or the weather outdoors, allowed, they were set free. Rebecca felt free, even when Cynthia held her.
She had asked for realism, but found magic instead.
This was inspired by the photo at the head of this piece. I met this young woman at a dance performance and was taken by the artistry of the tattoo. The photo does not do it justice.
Before anyone gets on my case: I politely asked if I may take a photo of her arm, told her why I was doing so, and what I intended to do with it. She gave me her permission. I also showed her the photo so she could be assured that it centered on the art and nothing salicious. While we exchanged names, the names in this story are not hers, nor anything else beyond the tat.
The germ of a very different idea hit me when I viewed it. Where the story went, well, this is where it took me.
I’m glad I went this way. I hope, if she views this (gave her my card), she’s happy with it as well.