My body is a canvas of dissatisfaction.
Not the dissatisfaction with my physical appearance that so many latch onto these days. The thinning, strawberry-blonde hairs forming a perfect laurel wreath around my head and the liver-spotted, fleshy wave that washes over my probably-brown belt have become a so much a part of me that I cannot imagine myself without them. I had the summers of flat-belly parties on Lake Holiday; I’ve known the touch of a pretty gal raking her fingers through my hair. And it’s not dissatisfaction with the wrinkles that have bent and distorted the artful lines engraved on my skin.
The beautiful lines themselves speak of dissatisfaction.
The barman at the O.T.T. makes his last call, but Ron and I have known each other for years; he knows that he can give me some space and I’ll walk home eventually. “We used to come here a lot, ya’ know,” I mumble only to my chest, head sagging down. Ron replies any way: something about things not being the same any more, and how I seem to be doing really well, considering. I’m the only patron left; I may have been the only one who even came in tonight. I breathe in and belch a few more slothful words, “Kids these days love their fantasies, but they don’t have true imagination.” This time Ron’s in the back, so my words aren’t interrupted.
All but one light is off, and apart from a jingling of dishes in the back, the only sound is this old man mumbling about the only thing he knows: unrealities and other worlds.
I lean back and look at the yellowed light fixture above my head. It’s domed and has a brass circle dead in the middle. Part of me thinks the light looks like a woman’s breast, but the rest of me feels like the glass enclosure is staring at me. And then, I swear it starts to blink, or maybe wink at me. I look around and make sure no one’s flicking the switches on and off. No one is there, and the flicker continues—but not fast like a faulty wire and not at regular intervals either. It flashes on and off quickly and sporadically much like a person blinks to remoisten the eye. And then my arm starts to burn.
The Mordorian script I have encircling my right forearm becomes unbearably itchy, and, as I lift up my checkered sleeve, the words are glowing red. One Line: “And in the darkness bind them.” She had identical text on her left arm.
I grimace with the initial shock, but the memory of Janette stops me from worrying, or maybe it’s the booze. Out of curiosity I pull up my left sleeve to see the counter text in Elvish: “Not all who wander are lost.” And sure enough, the scrawl glows as blue as we’d always pictured Sting glowing in the darkness of Moria.
“Everything’s too easy in today’s fiction.” I’m looking up again at the light, and I could swear the words are coming from above me. But they’re her words, and they echo and reverberate in my fingers and hands.
Ron cracks the door from the kitchen and asks if I’m all right; I nod.
I’m locked in a staring contest with a flickering light, willing it to speak her words again.
“You remember your Marlowe right? A man sacrifices his humanity to a demon in return for ultimate knowledge and then power?” It was our first shared interest: stories that put good and evil on display in our realm. Of course now each shoulder is prickling like I’ve just hit my funny bone. Inversing good and evil: the devil mask inked on my left shoulder and my right tingling with a cherub’s face.
Too often, I sided with my left shoulder and held her with my right forearm.
“I didn’t mean to,” I whispered to the eye above me, “You remember how unfair the world seemed? That you and I could picture and see all of these worlds of magic and the supernatural. And the only thing real was the mundane physical world we walked through together. Where was the uncanny in that one-bedroom flat? Where was the wardrobe in the back room of the O.T.T. that could transport us to the world we thought we belonged?” My glassy eyes begin to moisten as the light replies.
“We were wrong,” I feel her words now echoing up my arms and moving into my chest. “The mystical is there; we just weren’t selected to see it. At least, not the way we thought we should.”
Is the light dripping water? Is there a condensation build up from the late night? I try to clear my throat. One of those hacking, deep-chested hurrrughms that gross out the twenty-year-olds emanates from my chest.
I see the pattern, and I know what’s coming next: our marriage vows, written in a circle around our chest. It’s a testament to how perfectly matched we were.
And I pop open the metal snap-button on my shirt to reveal my white-haired chest and see the once-faded blue L’Engle quote now shining brighter than the yellowed light above me. “One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.” And my heart feels warm and I’m sure that the light above me is weeping, because the water drips on my chest and sizzles and evaporates.
I slowly massage the words encircling my heart. Pushing and massaging the flesh in slow gyrations.
My fingers begin rubbing violently at my chest.
Until they don’t.
My head falls to the bar with heavy thud. And my glowing, fantastical ink begins to dull.
My body is a canvas of dissatisfaction. And as I move to join the yellowed light above me, I begin to recognize all of the rare, deep magic I shared during my life.