The Butterfly Tattoo
This morning you want to ask her about her butterfly tattoo. She smiles, looks back over her evenly tanned shoulder and says, “Don’t be so anxious. The time isn’t right. Maybe after breakfast. Besides, you’re not on your death bed yet.”
The words make you shiver. You don’t want to think about your death right now. No one believed it when you said you’d come home to die. Why should they when you are only thirty-one? Your end is near you told them. All the doctors agreed. You want to enjoy yourself while you can. That’s why the girl is here.
You watch her drown her cereal in chocolate milk. Something you never like, especially when it’s a woman. You hold your breath. She doesn’t spill any milk on your new kitchen table.
“I don’t like to eat things that crunch in my head,” she says. “I like soggy cereal. The head is like a big echo chamber. Did you know that?”
To show you she is right she takes her fist and pounds on the top of her head. Even though she has been paid well for her time when women get this way you know it’s best not to say anything. The tattoo is forgotten.
“In case you’re wondering,” she says after licking the spoon. “I’m really a brunette. I know what you ordered, but there were no blondes available.”
“A twenty-two year old brunette with green eyes,” you say. “The perfect age.”
“Mine are brown,” she says. This isn’t going to work if you don’t know the color of my eyes.”
“Sure it will,” you say with a questioning look. “Have faith.”
“That’s for people who are religious.” She gives you a scowl you don’t like.
“And you aren’t?”
“Can we get on with the business at hand?” you say.
“Do I have any choice?” she says.
“When the time comes I want you to wear something lacy,” you say in your sternest voice.
“It wasn’t in the contract,” she says.
“You can’t deny a dying man his last wish.”
“I’ll have to think about it,” she says. A frown wrinkles her forehead in a way you find attractive.
“Black lace,” you say. “I’ve always been fond of black lace.”
“That’s not fair,” she says. “I don’t like black lace. I’m into champagne.”
“Is a man struck down in the prime of life fair?” You say in your most appealing tone.
“Nothing is fair. I’ll bet you went out with the guys who had the best looking cars.”
She avoids your eyes. “What if I did?”
“Never thought about the other guys who didn’t have cars, did you?” you say.
“What are you picking on me for?” She takes another mouthful of the cereal then shoves the bowl to the center of the table.
“Who else can I pick on?” you say.
“You don’t know me well enough for that,” she says nervously.
“What difference does that make?”
“I’m not just anyone,” she says proudly.
“I can see that.” You begin to pace. “What was it like riding around with those guys?”
“A lot of fun,” she says, eyes twinkling.
You stop pacing and stare at her.
“I’m not that kind of person,” she says in a serious tone.
She picks at a spot on the kitchen table.
“Sure you are.” Your voice rises as you say the words.
“I’m leaving,” she says. You detect anger in her voice. Not something you expected.
“You can’t. It’s not in the contract.”
“Fuck the contract,” she says.
She twirls her hair. You know by looking at her she’s thinking about what you said.
“How long do you have?” she says halfheartedly.
“Not long from what I’ve been told. Unanimous.”
“What do you have?”
“I can’t pronounce it,” you say.
Out the window children play in a park across the street. Will this will be the last time you see them? You turn to face her.
“That’s stupid,” she says. “You should know what you’re dying of.”
“I do, but I’ve never been good with scientific names.”
“I was a terrible biology student,” she says.
“I didn’t know that.”
“Ontology pilates ontology,” she says. “There’s lot you don’t know about me.”
She makes it sound like a challenge. You like her spunk and upturned pouty mouth.
“Sometimes I act in art films,” she says. You detect a note of pride in the way she says the words.
“Would I know any of them?”
“I don’t think so,” she says as she catches your eye.
“Try me,” you say. “There aren’t many of those types of films I haven’t seen.”
“You’re one of those are you?”
“I might be.”
“I wasn’t told you liked films,” she says.
“It’s my secret. Don’t you have any secrets?”
“None that I want to tell you,” she says.
“Why not? I’ll be dead soon, so it won’t make any difference.”
“Don’t keep saying that,” she says.
“About being dead,” she says.
You can tell she doesn’t like you talking like this by the way she fiddles with her hair. You begin to pace again. “Well, since I’m not going to live what word should I use?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “How about, no longer among us, taking his last ride.…”
“Does that mean you’re not going to sleep with me? That was the deal.”
“I didn’t make it.”
“But you’re part of it. Think of your personal credibility.”
You nod to emphasize the words.
“I am. I do have standards.”
“Good for you,” you say. “I like a woman who has standards. I’m not asking much. Think of what you’re going to be doing as a prisoner’s last meal—the final moment made memorable with food.”
“Now I’m to be food, am I?” she says.
“You could look at it that way.”
You decide to sit across from her.
She sticks her tongue out at you. It makes her look very sexy and desirable. You wish you didn’t have to die. You give her a smile.
“What do you want me to do?” she says.
“Tell me some more about yourself, and then we’ll see.”
You push the cereal bowl out of your way.
“I like cold macaroni,” she says. “The taste of postage stamps, and I’m fond of the after taste of fig newtons.”
“I used to make houses with fig newtons,” you say. “That’s how I got my start as a builder. What’s your real name?”
“I’ve already told you.”
She jiggles her leg.
“No. You didn’t,” you say.
“Does it make any difference?”
“If you’re to be my last woman,” you say as compassionately as you can. “It will be our special secret.”
“I know all about secrets,” she says.
“I won’t tell anyone else. I promise. I’ll be dead.”
You can tell by looking at her she is irritated.
“Don’t keep saying that.”
“Would you like it better if I wasn’t going to die?” you say.
She tilts her head. “Zelda Czysewski,” she says.
“I like it.” You shake your head in approval. “It’s very distinguished.”
“It’s an old family name.”
She stares at the cereal bowl.
“You’re very pretty,” you say.
“What does that have to do with anything?” she says.
“Well, you are,” you say.
“A lot of women are pretty.”
“But not like you,” you say.
“Are you trying to soften me up?”
“Would you like it better if I told you were ugly?”
“Sometimes I think I am.” Her voice has a desperate edge to it.
“You shouldn’t feel that way.”
“Because I’m telling you you’re pretty.”
“Who are you to judge?” she says.
“Don’t be such a bitch. I’m trying to be nice.”
“I hate you,” she says.
“That’s nothing new,” you say. “A lot of people hate me.”
“You think just because you’re a dying man you can dump all over people.”
“I do what I want—always have,” you say.
“Not with me.”
“What makes you think you’re any different?” you say. “It seems to me that you’ll do anything for money— just like me.”
She reaches into the cereal bowl and tosses soggy cereal at you.
The next morning you want to ask her about her butterfly tattoo. She smiles, looks back over her evenly tanned shoulder and says. “The time isn’t right. Maybe after breakfast. Besides, you’re not on your death bed yet.”
Richard Lutman has a MFA in Writing from Vermont College. He has taught composition and literature courses at Rhode Island Community College, Fairfield University, The Learning Connection in Providence, Rhode Island, and short story classes as part of Coastal Carolina University’s Lifelong Learning program. He was a 2008 Pushcart nominee in fiction and the recipient of national awards for his non-fiction, short stories and screenplays. His first novel is due out in 2016.