Image by Christine Renney
When she was seventeen, Gemma designed a butterfly, sketching it with a biro on A4 sheets. Once satisfied with the shape, using her brother’s felt tip pens she added the colours. It had been garish but she had thought it beautiful, had taken her design to a tattooist and suffered under his needle.
Matching her colours as best he could, he reproduced the butterfly on the small of her back, but the colours had run and mixed to create, once the scabs had fallen away, something else entirely. Not her butterfly but a messy hybrid, a startled moth too close to the flame, mottled and drab.
For months, Gemma moped around in a baggy denim shirt. One night, naked in front of the mirror, turning she glanced back and noticed at the tattoo’s centre the tiniest of eruptions. Her skin was breaking through. She began to claw at it, believing the tattoo was flaking, but to no avail. It resisted her fingernails and although more of these holes would appear she could never find any evidence of this, other then when she turned to look in the mirror.
Gemma notices him noticing her and so they begin to play at that game. He is one of a group of young pups, eagerly lapping at their beer. Although early, already they are restless. He is the least jittery, less inclined to spin around after his tail. She notes all of this and smiles. If he is going to make a move he needs to do it quickly. It’s been a long week and she is tired. Still dressed in her office clothes, prim black skirt and white blouse, Gemma isn’t feeling at her best. She orders another drink; he has until it is drunk.
He becomes insistent. She agrees to go back with him to his room. Her flat is too far and his place is just around the corner.
‘It will,’ he says, ‘be better, easier.’
Outside they push against the tide of revellers. Once clear, he moves ahead and she trips along behind, struggling to keep up. He ushers her into the kitchen and switches on the light. A moth flutters noisily as the fluorescent tube stutters, bursting into life. The linoleum is split, the colours and pattern almost worn away. There is a dirty cup on the draining board and in the harsh light she can see a hairline crack.
Impatient, he holds the door open at the end of the hallway. She is first into his room. When she turns he has already kicked off his trainers, is wrestling with his jeans and boxer shorts. Pulling his t-shirt over his head he emerges, surprised to find her still fully clothed. They haven’t spoken since leaving the bar.
‘I suspect,’ she says, ‘that we won’t be sharing a cigarette when we’re finished here.’
‘I don’t smoke,’ he replies.
‘I don’t either.’
He stares blankly as Gemma unbuttons and removes her blouse. She turns, looking for somewhere to hang it.
‘What’s that on your back?’
She faces him, still holding the blouse. ‘The kitchen here, doesn’t it depress you?’
He is stalled for a second. ‘Come on, let me see.’ He starts to walk around her.
‘What am I, prey?’
‘Man, that is the weirdest tattoo.’
Gemma turns again and studies him, running her eyes up and down. Suddenly, he is very aware of his own nakedness. He glances at his clothes, discarded on the floor. She thrusts her hand out and he takes the blouse, grasping it to his groin.
‘Honestly, the kitchen. Don’t you find it depressing?’
‘No, why would I?’
‘Why wouldn’t you?’
‘What do you want me to say?’
‘Astound me. Buckle my knees with your wit and wisdom.’
‘I think you should go.’
She holds out her hand. Flinching, he backs up.
He hands it to her. Turning her back toward him, Gemma puts it on, breathing in the silence. Taking her time, she doesn’t look back and, avoiding the kitchen, she leaves by the front door.