The things the butterfly sees;
Are more than broken dreams.
It sees the true desires;
From this one and only liar.
Sketched with colored pen;
On this broken skin.
The butterfly will never tell;
Of the things it sees from hell.
The host lies to herself;
Pulls sweet silver from the shelf.
The butterfly knows all things,
And still flies with broken wings.
Lush grass tickles my face, but my eyes remain closed. A soft breeze dances across my naked back and the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing “Slow Cheetah” from the portable radio Jacob brought along with us. I remain still, the only movements the steady inhale and exhale of my lungs. The meadow—Jacob’s and my secret place—smells of spring and feels of summer. Rays of the sun slip through the overhead ceiling of maple tree leaves and the scent of wild lilies fills the air. Jacob lies horizontally across me, his left arm propped against my lower back. His right clutches a black pen, drawing meticulously just as he has for the past hour. I don’t even notice the tickle of the fine-tipped Sharpie anymore as it moves across my back, decorating my pale skin with washable tattoos. I start to drift into dreamland as Jacob works, and Anthony Kiedis’s smooth voice lulls me to sleep.
I’m in that limbo, that threshold between reality and dreams, when Jacob’s warm lips press against my ear.
“Alice, wake up. I’m all done,” he whispers, his hands on either side of my shoulders. Sitting up slowly, I’m struck by the beauty of the meadow. Although I’ve known about this place for years, its loveliness still takes my breath away. The grass stands tall, about mid-shin length, and the trees form a full circle around us. They’re all maples and in the fall it’s even more shockingly beautiful. There’s a pond just past the trees with bullfrogs that croak when the sun starts to set and other harmless critters that amble through the woods. Lily pads dot the surface of the water. But the meadow itself is just grass, with a few wild lilies sprouting amongst the green. This, I realize, is what Heaven must look like.
I rub my eyes and yawn, content and drowsy from lying down for so long. Glancing down, I see red marks from where the grass rubbed my skin across my belly and I laugh. I probably look pretty comical with my light hair all rustled and with all these red crisscrosses marring my body. I tell Jacob this and he smiles slowly, the grin of a boy so captivated in love.
“You don’t look silly,” he says, his hands settling on my jean clad hips. “You look beautiful.” He presses his lips to mine, and my hands automatically reach up and fist in his copper hair. After just six months of being together, he’s captured my heart and I’m irrevocably in love with him and his gentle personality, his extraordinary patience, his boyish beauty.
He pulls away rather reluctantly and caps his pen before sliding it into the rear pocket of his dark jeans. “Do you want to see them?”
I twist awkwardly, peering at my back. “I can’t. My back isn’t necessarily an easy place to look at.”
He grins, and the smile lights up his cerulean eyes. Wrapping his fingers around mine, he gently pulls at my arm, inclining I should follow. “Here, come with me, I have an idea.”
He leads me to the pond and places his hands on the small of my back, turning me so that I face away from the water. Understanding, I wrap my arms firmly around his neck, my fingers digging into his black V-neck, and he tilts me back, dipping me low.
When I turn my head, the tips of my hair brush the water, causing tiny ripples to expand across the surface. Still, I see the reflection of the tattoos he drew on my back, the pond as good a mirror as any. The three monarch butterflies take flight across my back in vibrant colors of orange and black Sharpie, their wings spread wide. Using his body as leverage, I pull myself upright.
“They’re absolutely perfect,” I murmur, playing with the silky strands of hair at the nape of his neck.
Taking my hand in his, he tugs my wrist to his mouth and plants a tender kiss against the thin white scars residing there. “Maybe they can keep you safe while I’m gone.”
Involuntarily, my fingers tighten at his neck. Jacob is studying to be a tattoo artist, and he has an apprenticeship in Australia for two months. He leaves tomorrow and I still haven’t accepted the fact that he’s leaving me here in Virginia with nothing but a promise to return.
“Oh, sweetheart,” he says, wiping at the tears I don’t even realize I’m crying. “It’ll go by quickly. I’ll write every single day.”
“What am I going to do when you’re gone?” I whisper, afraid to speak the words too loud. But the truth is I’m petrified. What will I do without Jacob, my safe harbor, here to do what he does best and protect me from myself? He’s my anchor; he grounds me when my depression threatens to take me away.
The scars on my wrist tingle, and I wonder how much worse my depression will become without his daily smile and beautiful laugh to light up my life.
“What am I going to do when you’re gone?” I ask again, the tears falling freely now.
“Survive,” he answers without hesitation, pulling me tight against his chest and resting his chin on the top of my head. “And wait for me to come back.”
I think of the butterflies etched on my skin and remember my own promise, the very promise I made Jacob months ago. When I felt the need to self-harm, he’d draw a butterfly on me and I’d name it after someone I love and wouldn’t cut until the butterfly vanished from my skin. I’m unsure of how hard that will be when it’s me and not Jacob sketching the butterflies, and I don’t want to think about it any longer.
As if reading my mind, Jacob pulls away so he can look at me. His azure eyes gaze deep into my brown ones. “Alice,” he says slowly, as if sounding out my name for the first time. “Take one day at a time. Stay strong for me please.”
He kisses me chastely, and I cling to him and refuse to let go, crying and silently pleading for this moment to last forever. He kisses me again, once on the lips and then on the tip of my nose. I bury my head into the sweet curve where his neck meets his shoulder, the taste of his name still on my lips as he leads me back to the meadow.
Anna Skinner writes for a newspaper that covers six cities in central Indiana and spends her free time writing novels, reading, and drinking too much coffee. She’s been writing since she was 8 years old, and she recently published a book of poetry titled Rise, which can be purchased on CreateSpace and on Amazon.
Cassoday Harder is a twenty-year-old photographer inspired by youth, femininity, and summer. View more of her work on Flickr or visit her website.