Bird and Dragonfly
I don’t know where I am or how I got here. I’m not even sure why I’m writing this down. All I know is that I had my pen and my journal in my pocket when I woke up, and I might as well use them.
I’m at the bottom of what I think is a well. The patch of sky I can see is dark. It’s a purple color I’ve never seen before, but somehow lit. It’s no bigger than a quarter. I’ve tried climbing out for what felt like hours already. I’ve tried screaming for help. The walls are too smooth, and I’ve lost my voice. I can’t get out on my own, and I don’t think anyone is coming to help me.
There is writing on the stones too, but I can’t read any of it. I can barely make out letters in the blotches. I don’t know what they were written with, but I can imagine. The light coming in is just enough to see the stains all around, from the ground up to a point just past my reach. How old are they? There are no bones down here with me, so whoever wrote them, wherever they went, they somehow got out.
Why would anyone do this? It doesn’t make sense. I don’t have anything they could want.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but I do know what day I came. It was Valentine’s day. I know that much because I’m still wearing the clothes I had on when I went to see her. Her. Could she be behind this? That can’t be true. She didn’t have any reason to. She couldn’t have… I can’t remember her clearly. Something is wrong.
I don’t know how long ago I wrote that last entry. It was at least a few hours, maybe even a day. I can’t really tell. What little I see of the sky never changes. I couldn’t bring myself to write anything more, even though I intended to; I was too busy thinking about her. I remember how I saw her then, but I can see her now in my mind as well, and it’s not the same. Something is off about her, something about her I couldn’t see then, but that I can remember now.
The street was as busy as ever that day, but she shone through the crowd, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. It was as though she was a tongue of black fire, flickering down the sidewalk. I watched her pause at a corner, lingering there with the rest of the herd, waiting. I should’ve felt ashamed, I should’ve looked away and forced myself to forget about her right then and there. I had to talk to her. I wanted to do so much more in the back of my reptilian mind that I had to tighten the grip on its leash.
I crossed the street and stopped her, engorged with abrupt virility and a dreadful thrill coiled tightly in my chest. When she looked up at me, something wasn’t right with her eyes. Why didn’t I see it then? They twitched unnaturally, darting quicker than mine could follow. Her irises were wider than they should’ve been, taking up more of the sphere with their color, with soft black blotches instead of the streaking lines we have around the pupil. Instead of noticing any of that, I felt a pang of an emotion I can’t even name when I looked into them. It wasn’t lust or love, it was less sophisticated than any of those, pulling me to her. Even now, as I remember it from outside that moment and myself, I still feel the draw of that formless attraction.
I smiled and said some foolish thing I’m too embarrassed to write down. She laughed, of course, but she didn’t turn me away. She stood there, close to me, confronting me with self-assured femininity, letting me bask in it. She spoke to me with a soft lilt to her voice, as though she knew exactly what I was going through. She was goading that desperate anxiety on, making my shapeless, unreasonable desire as unbearable as it could be.
I was so drunk with that feeling that I didn’t see her eyes twitching, I didn’t see the strange way the strands of her waist-long hair were actually loops with no tips. How could I miss that? Instead, I felt the whole of me pulsing with the rhythm of my heartbeat. I could feel a honeyed warmth making me aware of every single vein in my body while I stood next to her. I don’t understand where that feeling came from. It couldn’t have been the mere seduction. Was it my own elation at a small romantic victory? Or was it something else, something outside of me that was making me feel that way?
We talked for a few minutes. The crowd didn’t care about us, flowing around where we stood. No one as much as looked at us. Why weren’t they looking at her, like I was compelled to? I’m trying to remember the face of anyone who went by us, just one. I can’t get a grip on any of them. They just slide past us, along the periphery, and all I can focus on is her. Her voice, her hair, her eyes. It was all so clear to me then. Nothing else was.
We agreed to meet for dinner that night, and she left, taking the heat from me as she, a black flame once again, flickered away. She took that warmth, and left me in the crowd with the craving for it.
There’s no doubt in my mind now. She did this to me, whatever this is.
I just spotted a line on the wall, written in a scabby stain like the rest. “Don’t give in to it.”
I have to get out of here.
I lost track of time again until a moment ago. I didn’t lose consciousness, I’m sure of that. My mind just went blank, quieter than it has ever been, though not because I was making an effort to make it so. My thoughts, the voice of my consciousness simply drifted away on its own. It was the last sliver of a mainland gradually slipping away over the horizon of a stilled sea. Now that I can give voice to my thoughts again, though, I feel compelled to write them down. I’m sure they’ll fade again. But what does it matter? The sky here never changes.
I caught a glimpse of something under the dirt and moss at the bottom of the well. It shook me out of that anesthetized trance. While I was scuffing around, I must’ve torn some of it aside. The bottom of the well is actually one smooth rock slab, with an etching of what looks like a dragonfly. There’s more of the same illegible writing carved around it, cruder, scratched in with pieces of rock. It seems like everyone who has come here feels the same urge I do to write. The lines of the carving are still clean, with each of its wings describing a smooth arch. A long, thin loop curving at the end. Its eyes are carefully textured too, suggesting different swaths of color on them.
When I realized what it was, the memory of the conversation we had later that night struck me. I remember that conversation word for word now. We were surrounded by other couples in the tiny restaurant we went to. Idyllic candle-lit dinners, lovers speaking softly. We were the same, except that, as I can see now, so infuriatingly clear in my mind’s eye, something else was sitting across from me. Something else was brushing the back of my hand with its fingers, smiling at me.
“Supposedly,” I said, “today is the day birds start pairing off with their mates for the spring.”
“Really?”, she replied, playfully mocking me with her stare.
“Yes, really! There’s a little more to today than just greeting cards and roses. That came later. It used to be a little more significant than that.”
“Oh, I believe it”, she said, “There is always a darker side of all these little celebrations. They’ve just taken the thorns out of them. De-fanged the old superstitions. Underneath all the varnish, though, there’s still a speck of the old.”
“Do you believe in them? The superstitions?”
“Not necessarily. I don’t really care about that, though. What I do care about is your answer to a question I’ve got for you.”
The same warmth I had felt before rushed through me again as she leaned in closer, staring right into my eyes while she lowered her voice, and she asked…
“Do you think a bird looking for a mate might choose a dragonfly instead?”
“Don’t birds usually eat dragonflies?”, I countered foolishly. It wasn’t the answer she was looking for.
Right then, her eyes twitched in fast, minuscule convulsions. I must’ve seen it. There’s no way I would remember now if I hadn’t. I just ignored it, pushed it aside before it was even a thought. Why, I don’t know. She was staring at me hard, expectant, almost angry. I couldn’t bear the tension that was suddenly there.
“It would have to be a beautiful dragonfly,” I finally conceded, playing along.
“Yes,” her manner softened. Her smile came back as she canted her head to one side, “What would the bird do then?”
“He’d have to become a dragonfly too,” I answered, and her smile became a grin. The thrill of it made my blood boil like it had before.
“We’re very different, you and I,” she said, “So it’ll be up to you to try to become something like me, right?”
I chuckled. Deluded, blind, I laughed at the notion that we were so far from the same. Remembering one’s own arrogance is a very bitter medicine.
I said “Absolutely,” as I leaned in, following the ecstatic urge to kiss her. For all the strangeness I remember about her now, I can’t deny how sweet her lips tasted on mine.
“I’ll grow wings for you tonight.”