When You Meet Harry. (13.3.27)

Harry changed my life. I was nineteen and stupid, mad at the world. I’d told myself I’d change the world one day, just by existing. But no one sought me out of the crowd, and most barely remembered my name. Every time I realized I told someone I saw everyday my name for the third time, another little bubble of rage welled up inside me.

When I slammed to a stop on the side of the street that day I didn’t bother taking the keys out of the ignition. I didn’t bother locking the equipment box with the best piece of writing ever written; what I thought of people, the world. They could take a hike. They were all ignorant morons who couldn’t be bothered to see the world even when it fell on their head like the lucky shot of seagull shit.

I just left the whole stinking lot on the street, my faded red yard sale helmet swinging a sultry beat on the handlebars of my sickly orange motor bike. I stalked through the sticky heat toward the coffee shop, my battered low heel boots tapping sharply with each step. Barely anyone glanced up from their straight, even strides down the street, staring at the sidewalk. Those who did just had an expression of irritation on their face at my diagonal disruption of their predestined traffic pattern. I didn’t give a damn, but the looks fueled my anger. Everything fueled my anger those days.

Sweat covered a sheen over my whole body. I didn’t care that it probably shown through my button up shirt, the dark green camisole underneath. My black denim coat was slung over my elbow, and the black miniskirt over my jeans, was covered in silver studs and a chain belt. I perched my sunglasses on top of my messily piled hair and shoved open the glass door with the irritating dingle bell that announced my presence.

It wouldn’t be good to strangle an inanimate object. Instead I inhale the spicy scent of piles and piles of exotically spiced cookies, muffins, scones, and pastries. The bitter tinge of coffee over the air only enhances the good affects of sugar pastries. A good metaphor to the world. Bitter overtones on too pretty too shiny people.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of tie dye pants. I turn to look more closely, and I see they’re flowing sweatpants with a slit cut almost up to the hem of the lycra short shorts worn under them. The person they’re attached to is a slim guy with short hair and soft angular features. His thin gray tank top didn’t hide smooth collarbones that reminded me of a dancer’s chest.

As I ordered, I noticed he wore the kind of shoes with individual toes, the ones that look pretty ridiculous on everyone. There was a slightly flirtatious green scarf knotted loosely around his neck, and he was talking to a woman standing beside him. They were both a little older than I was, I think. His voice was musical, cheerful, and he was smiling.

I walked by him to get to a seat at the window, and the energy around him was infectious. A quietly humming enthusiasm, I think. It seemed to emanate from him in waves. His chocolate brown eyes scanned the street outside the window, not meeting mine but giving me a glimpse into his life as I imagined it.

He was pride. He stood tall, though he wasn’t tall. He was shorter than I, and slimmer. His presence was the kind you remember as tall and boisterous. His chin was tipped back with a kind of warning. Like he’d seen things so bad, and he was still standing taller than before. There was a dare in his stance. Delicate vulnerability covered with a layer of challenge. He was the kind of man who could take anything you threw at him.

I noticed he wore eyeliner, and probably a touch of shadow. His short hair had a streak of dark blue in it, another dare. A silent fuck you to a culture who’d screwed him over. I wondered how he could be so cheerful and seemingly carefree with this woman he talked to when the stress of his life seemed to hum under the surface of his enthusiasm. I wondered how he could survive.

He carried a beat up green denim bag with brass buckles, and there was a thin strip of leather around his neck, holding a mother of pearl flower. The makeup, the way he moved and gestured, the sound of his voice, every instance of it practically screamed at me that he was gay, but I wouldn’t let myself assume. I refused myself that ignorant indulgence.

Whatever he’d survived, I thought I would have liked to know. I would have liked to know him.

I was nearly finished with my pastries when the woman bade her friend goodbye, and left the shop. The guy turned towards me, and the window bar I was sitting at. He smiled when he saw me, and caught my eye. He hiked himself onto a bench one down from me, and set his bag on the counter next to him. He glanced up and smiled again, extending his hand for me to shake.

“I’m Harry.”

His voice sounded like a warm breeze of refreshing personality. When I shook his hand, the warmth of his palm radiated up my arm. The bone deep cold I hadn’t noticed melted away. I smile back at him, feeling as if I’d forgotten how.

“Zandra.” I said softly.

I’d forgotten how much people long to be touched, to have any kind of physical connection to another person. It felt good, remembering that. He asked me if I was new around here. I asked him whether he lived in the area, and whether he liked it. He told me that it was a neighborhood, and that people worked together. That he loved hearing the stories of people. He asked me what my story was. We talked for maybe five minutes, and new life breathed into the stale shell of myself.

When the ride he was waiting for pulled up alongside the road out front, he turned to me smiling, and he said he hoped we’d meet again. When he stepped down from the stool, he bent to pick something up. He handed it to me, a shiny new penny face up.

“Good luck.” he said, and was gone.

I had to rethink everything. Everything I thought I knew about people, and how they treated each other.

I chose an apartment on that street to stay for a while, see what might happen. I went to that coffee shop nearly every morning. I volunteered for a teen shelter, got a job at a local restaurant. I was happy for the first time in a very long time. It was a beautiful place, and the people were better here somehow. Better than in any place I’d ever been before.

During our five minute conversation, it was never the place to ask whether he was gay or bi. We barely talked beyond mundane talk of the weather and the neighborhood’s stories, its people. I sometimes thought I saw him on the street, walking in his own world created by his life, the tough place tinged with the wholehearted enthusiasm and delicate feelings, and the beat of his earbuds. Sometimes when I imagined his latest choice of pants, I couldn’t help but laugh, and admire anyone who could wear them in the city that turned into my home. Not a perfect place, but certainly enough for me then. Once I saw in my mind the man standing in the doorway of another apartment building, kissing another man. It answered my curiosity well enough I think, because later I thought I saw him kissing a woman he’d just given roses to.

Harry changed my life. I’d been a sick at heart girl, he helped me grow. He surprised me. I still don’t know what I might have done that day if I hadn’t met him. If he hadn’t stopped the boiling fury inside me. That day had felt like an end to me. When I met him, the kind of end changed. Now it has just the end of an era of hate, anger, and bad luck.

I never did talk to him again, and I never found out if any of what I thought I saw in his eyes the first time was true. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who Harry was, who he is, or whether I would even like him if I met him again. He helped me get my life back. He helped me put away the shit I wrote in despair so I could move on.

He made me want to see if more people could surprise me like he had. And they did. For the last ten years since I met Harry, people have surprised me every minute with what they think and say, and how they reach out to each other. I learned how to see people surprising me that day.

I hope that every person who needs him, will meet their Harry. The Harry Ideal. The person who surprises them out of their own darkness.

I’m glad, so glad, that I met Harry.

Guard Crow. (17.10.15)

The little girl is running; she’s out of breath and stumbles as she stops at the corner of the lot. She stands still for a moment, then as her breathing evens out, she looks over her shoulder, all around where she is. There’s fear on her face, but it’s almost a resigned fear. As if she’s used to whatever she’s afraid of. It fades as she turns to the chain link fence she stopped next to. Curiosity sparks on her face, and a second later she’s pushing through the loose fencing at the corner post.

She pulls the ends of her light pink sleeves down over her hands to protect against the sharp points of fence and crouches close to the ground to scramble under and through. There’s a plaque on the fence at the same corner, marking the lot as under the protection of Ye Olde Watch Services.

There’s a few trees on the far side of the lot, but most of the place is dusty bare ground piled with lumber, some crates, and various other building supplies. It’s flat and open, but in this early night darkness, a little girl, even a little girl in pink and purple, can easily be lost within the strange shapes and shadows. She creeps further around a giant crate, as high as the refrigerator box her mommy used to let her play in. Growing out of the ground just past the crate is the bones of a structure. The darkness warps the lines, but to the little girl it looks like an adventure. Maybe an abandoned pirate keep, or where villagers started rebuilding after the last dragon attack.

She’s smiling as she starts half skipping toward the skewed lines and oddly place shapes. She’s clamoring over the pile of various shaped lumber when she spots the dark bird at the top of the structure. It’s watching her steadily as she scrambles. When her feet touch the ground, she stops and leans against the pile to stare back at the bird. Her smile is open and expectant. The bird still regards her, even in her flurries of awkward motion, it has not shifted or seemed nervous. It’s made no move to fly away.

How do you do, Mr. Crow?” the little girl’s voice is soft, playful.

The bird tilts its head. The girl holds up on arm and points to the sleeve. “Do you like pink?”

The bird’s feathers are shiny black, even in the gloom they shine, and his eyes are intelligent and watchful. Blending in to the night, but holding itself aloof.

The girl scuffs her untied shoes against the dirt, tracing a pattern in the dust. “I think pink is okay. I think I like dark green best. My favorite tree is dark green.”

The crow’s wings swing out and he’s airborne in a moment, swooping down to a corner of lumber only a little bit away from the little girl. He lands softly, his entire movement nearly silent. He regards her again, the little girl hasn’t jumped, only continued to watch him, turning to face him straight on. Pink is a fine color, miss.

The girl beams. “My name is Fiona. What’s your name, Mr. Crow?”

Fiona, it is lovely to meet you. I am called Sebastian.

The girl giggles. “That’s a funny name!”

Heh, I suppose it is, Fiona.

The funniest names I’ve heard are always rich people’s names. Are you rich, Sebastian?”

What is rich?

She shrugs, suddenly looking down at her shoes and frowning. “I dunno. My uncle doesn’t like rich, but they all seem nice enough.”

I see.

Sebastian?”

Sebastian’s head tilts. Yes, Fiona?

Do you want to be my friend?”

It would be my utmost pleasure to be called friend of yours.

The girl’s sad face brightens, a smile flashing across her face. “Awesome!”

What is your favorite tree, Fiona? You mentioned it was green?

She nods emphatically, hopping on the tips of her toes. “It’s this huge, dark green tree. It lived in my old backyard. I think mommy told me it was called cedar. I named it Toby though. We were best of friends.”

Sounds like a very worthy tree indeed, my friend.

She nods. “Yes! Toby was the bestest.”

Fiona, have you ever been afraid of the dark?

She shakes her head. “No. Not really. Mommy used to say that the monsters didn’t live in the dark. But I don’t think she knew I was listening.”

Your mommy sounds very wise.

Yep!” She bounces on the slightly springy lumber, staring absently at the strange structure. “Why are you here, Mr. Sebastian Crow?”

I guard this place. Why are you here, miss Fiona?

Cause this place looks like fun.”

Why were you running, miss Fiona?

She makes a face and hops to her feet. “Nevermind that! Do you want to play adventure?”

Sebastian’s eyes follow her, contemplative. He finally blinks, his head bobs slightly. I would like to very much. How do we play?

It would have been a very strange sight to anyone watching. A girl running and jumping across lumber and half built concrete platforms. Brandishing imaginary swords and speaking with great seriousness, as if to nobility, in turn. A crow flying around her during the fighting, patiently perching in response to her diplomatic talk. Sometimes alighting on her shoulder, or raising a foot to shake her hand. Her play voices, and his playful caws, carried in the night. But no one was there to see, no one was there to hear them playing.

***

Fiona flops down on a tiny patch of grass, panting, and Sebastian alights beside her. “You’re excellent at adventure!”

Adventure is excellent. I am glad you showed it to me.

There’s adventure everywhere! You just have to look.”

Does your mother know where to find your adventures?

She shakes her head, looking a little sad. “Mommy died a month ago. She told me there was something eating her insides, and she couldn’t stop it. She made me promise to find adventures for myself, cause she wanted to see me happy when she looks down from the cloud windows.” She smiles, faintly. “I think mommy would’ve liked you.”

Oh Fiona, I think I would have liked to know your mother too.

Sebastian pushes underneath one of Fiona’s small arms, and looks up at her, his eyes warm. Fiona hugs him back.

I should probably go home, Sebastian. Will I see you again?”

Fiona, child, I’d like that.

Are you always here?”

Yes, I will be here until the fence is gone.

I’ll come visit you all the time!”

I look forward to seeing you. Please be safe on your way home.

Fiona nods and waves as she pushes through the fence and runs in the same direction that she came from. Calling over her shoulder that she’d see Sebastian the next night.

***

She did see Sebastian the next night, and every night that week. Pushing through the sharp fence and meeting him in the ever changing piles of lumber and progressing building. She’d tell him how she felt about the color of her shirt each night, and they’d play adventure together. Sometimes she’d tell him something about her mother, or about something simple and innocuous she’d done that day. Somedays when she came to the fence, she was running. She’d push through the fence faster, sometime scraping the edge of her arm, and crouch down behind one of the huge crates. Sebastian would sit with her, but after a while, when she was satisfied that what she watched for wasn’t coming, she’d smile and they’d play.

Tonight is the last night of the week, and they are sitting together on a stump, after having played adventuring pirates. She’s fiddling with the bottom edge of her orange shirt, around her wrist. Every few moments, her knuckles would rub against the skin underneath and she’d wince.

Does your wrist hurt?

No, not really.” She shrugs. “Sometimes.”

Why does it hurt Fiona?

She turns to face him fully, her face faintly illuminated in moonlight and her expression is utterly serious. Much more serious than even her most important diplomatic talks. “Can I show you something, Sebastian?”

Of course, you can show me anything, Fiona.

She pulls the edge of her sleeve up carefully, revealing a bruise just above her wrist. She twists her wrist, the bruise wrapping all the way around her arm. In places it looks like the shadow of fingers digging into her arm.

Sebastian’s feathers puffed out angrily, his eyes sharp and flashing. Who did this to you, Fiona?

She pulls down the sleeve. “It doesn’t really matter. This one doesn’t hurt as much as the others have. I just wanted to show someone.”

Fiona, who did this to you? This is important.

There’s fear in her eyes again and she shifts down closer to the ground, listening carefully. Looking intensely at Sebastian. “Promise, Sebastian, don’t tell anyone, please!”

I can’t make that promise. Fiona, what’s wrong?

It happens so fast, neither of them has quite enough time to react. There’s a sharp shout from the front of the lot and the sound of a gate opening in the fence. Flashlight beams streak across the ground in switching patterns and half angry voices shout at each other.

Fiona grabs Sebastian and shoves him away from her, half behind a pile of small crates. “Hide Sebastian!” she hisses,

Fiona – !

The men’s lights have landed on Fiona and they’re surrounding her. She’s cowering against the crate, her arms thrown up against the bright lights. “Is this her, Mister?”

Yes, that’s her. About time! Young lady what do you think you’re doing here? We’re going home at once!”

Fiona stands and shouts angrily at them, the man in normal clothes and the three men in their dark blue uniforms and funny square hats. “NO! GO AWAY!”

The man in normal clothes grabs her arm and yanks her toward him as they all stomp toward the road. Fiona yelps at the man’s touch and when she looks over her shoulder, the fear in her eyes is sharp and bright. She’s searching for Sebastian’s calm eyes. “Sebastian, the monsters live in the daylight! Sebastian!”

The crow hops toward her, but the men are walking away too quickly. As they all move past the next building, Sebastian spreads his wings and flies.

***

The couple are walking past the nearly completed construction site, its fence halfway gone. The woman listens intently as the man gestures and shakes his head, explaining something to her. “It was the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen! No one would ever believe me. Old man Grant, he was up on the roof. Must’ve been trying to fix the leak. His wife’s always on him about getting it fixed, especially since they got her sister’s kid, but the cheap sonofabitch, I guess he didn’t want to pay anyone. Anyway, he was up there doing god know’s what, and this slick black bird’s just there out of nowhere, diving on him, attacking him. Scratching him and cawing fiercely, knocks the fucker off the damn roof. His eyes were messed up, his hands too! Scariest shit I’ve ever seen. Time the ambulance got there, he was gone. Hit his head in the fall, I think. Bird’s nowhere to be seen. I can’t explain that shit to the cops, y’know?”

He runs a hand through his hair. “One of em looked like he’d seen a damn ghost though, muttered to his partner something about ‘remember the other night? Remember that ?’ I think he was starting to say bird, but the other guy shushed him so fast, it was real freaky.”

The woman shudders. “I’m just glad the kid wasn’t home. She’s been through enough, what with her mama dyin’ with that awful cancer? I’m sure glad she wasn’t home.”

***

It’s almost a week later, and Fiona’s walking past the site, holding a woman’s hand and smiling up at her. The day is bright and cheerful. As they walk past, Fiona looks into the site, the house inside already taken shape, albeit a crooked one, and the fence is gone. But she still looks, as if looking for someone. The woman stops to talk with another man on the sidewalk and Fiona lets go of her hand and slips into the lot, looking around the corner of the house. “Sebastian?” she murmurs.

The crow is sitting on an upturned barrel, cleaning its feathers. At the sound of her voice, the crow looks up and meets her eyes straight on, half flying half hopping over to where she stands at the corner. Fiona!

The girl laughs and flops down to her knees. “I thought I wouldn’t get to say goodbye before you left! I’m so glad to see you!”

And I you, Fiona. Are you alright?

She nods. “Aunty Agnes is going to take care of me still. It’s been so strange, she seems so much happier now that Uncle Grant is gone. She’s talking to me, telling me all kinds of things and saying she was wrong about Grant, and so many things. She sounds so much more like mommy now. She wants me to tell her all about mommy. She says they were sisters, but she didn’t get to talk much cause of Grant.”

I am so glad to hear that, Fiona.

I think you’re my best friend, Sebastian.”

The crow presses its head into the little girls’ hand. You are the best friend I have had in a long time, Fiona. I would have made sure to say goodbye.

The girl presses her cheek against the bird’s head. “I wish you could stay.”

I will be, Fiona. The man who will live here now, he has hired me to guard his house. I will be here whenever you need me. But Fiona, promise me you will find adventures with other kids your age too?

She smiles. “You’re staying! This is the best news. And I will always find adventure!”

Thank you for being my friend Fiona.

***

For years, the slightly strange man had wondered why little Fiona had always waved at his house when she passed by every day. She wasn’t quite waving at him, but she always waved, smiling and laughing. When he asked her aunt, she didn’t know why either.

He was glad though, that he wasn’t the only eccentric element in the neighborhood. Instead of being the weird half pirate neighbor, he was but one of the slightly strange occurrences in the slightly strange neighborhood, that no one ever really talked about, but everyone saw. The little girl who waved at his house every day, even when she was grown. The retired cops that seemed afraid of crows. The neighbors that whispered to themselves that anyone who hurt children got fiercely punished.

And then there was the neighborhood crow. It must have been a different crow, sometimes. But it didn’t entirely seem different. More always present and watchful. As if it was guarding something. The crow that look like the same crow, liked his house the best. Whenever the crow was there, it was on his house.

And he loved this weird neighborhood where he fit in, where he fell in love with Fiona’s aunt a little more each year. Where he could delight the kids at the library story time with the stories of his adventures on the sea.

He chuckles to himself, holding the curtain back slightly, watching the all grown up Fiona walk past his house with her fiance, and even now, she turns to his house, smiles, and waves.

Bats. (16.4.11)

TW: Violence

 

They had gotten the tattoo at a charity street event to raise money to protect populations of bats. The money they paid for the tattoo went to a bat conservation group whose office was dark and slightly shady, its door set deeply in the building right behind the little tent where the tiny artist had given them the tattoo.

The woman has asked them what their pronouns were, an almost entirely unexpected question in the general community. But she asked, made no big deal of it, and shared her own. Then set to work. She had a strange air about her. Her hair was dark and short and spiky, the ends tipped with dark unnatural colors that still seemed to glow like neon under the sunny heat of the day.

The tattoos that ran down her arms and across her collar and the back of her shoulders were all of exotic and precious beasts, somehow seeming tamed and wild at the same time, giving the illusion every time the woman moved that they moved as well, swaying and watching their surroundings. She was short, her eyes made up with green and black, her lips dark, her ears adorned with many piercings. She moved with silent defiant confidence, and intentionality. When they had thanked her for the tattoo, she had smiled mysteriously and only said that it was a special one; she was proud of it.

In the early hours of the morning, the late hours of the night, and in the groggy moments drenched with sleep, they could almost swear they felt the tattoo warm and shimmer against their neck. A trick of the healing process, of course. An overactive imagination.

The bats that cascaded down their neck from the base of their jaw down across the side of their throat, and curving back toward their shoulders. The designed seemed playful to them, but others sometimes gave them a look that said it was ominous. It reminded them of the sunset when they saw it in the mirror. Or the early morning. They were returning to their roust, or just leaving to feast.

The tattoo made them feel happy. They loved bats. The day they’d gotten the tattoo had been a wonderful day. Every time they saw it in the mirror, they smiled.

When they walked down a busy street, thinking about the designed there on their neck, etched permanently onto their skin, gave them a power to their step, a comfort, and a determination.

It was fall when they saw one move. Just a flick of a moment, a brief second. They couldn’t have been sure it really happened, that the wing moved, that the head twitched.

Overactive imagination. A mind still dogged by sleep.

 

The symbolically first orange autumn leaf fell that day outside the window as they came through the apartment door and shut out the brisk, livening evening wind. As they unwound the dark red scarf from their neck and kicked off the short mud crusted boots haphazardly into a shoe cubby by the door. They dropped their messenger bag and headed to their bedroom. Stripped their flannel shirt, the light blue camisole underneath it, and the heavy light blue jeans off onto the bed. They went to the bathroom, pulling the hair tie out of their hair that was barely long enough to tie back at all. Annoyingly, everyone they worked with called it cute.

They were wearing tight white boy shorts that day. They pushed them down as they turned on the shower and turned to the mirror set on the door. That’s when they noticed the bat at the tip of the group wasn’t there.

They shook their head. It shouldn’t have faded that quickly. But it was gone. They turned their shoulder over in the mirror, and there was the bat on their shoulder blade. It wasn’t in the same position anymore, now it looked as if it was flying toward some unknown destination with a determination far beyond its original expression.

They stared at the tattoo, trying to understand. Trying to catch it’s movement, or blink and find it back where it was meant to be. The shower was left forgotten. They stared and twisted and tried to understand. The steam from the shower edged its way onto the mirror’s surface, creeping strangely across the glass in rivulets and vines and complicated patterns that dissolved into the droplets of mist when they tried to see the pattern.

When the entire mirror’s surface was covered in a living pattern of complexity and finely misted water, they absently turned the shower off and wandered out to their bed. They crawled under the blankets and curled up around themselves, nudging the abandoned clothes onto a pile on the floor in the process.

The next morning when they woke up, the migrating bat tattoo wasn’t the first thing that hit them. The first thing was a wave of nausea. A feeling of intense unease and ill belonging in their own skin. They gasped at the weight of the realization curled into themselves, struggling out from under the covers and trying to find something that would make the feeling creep away.

Instead of standing when their feet touched the floor, a tear escaped and skidded down their cheek. They swipe at it angrily and fold their arms hard across their stomach where the nausea roils.

Their back hunches over and they look unseeingly at the dark beige carpet below them. Something catches their eye, a dark spot on the inside of their hip, just above where the waistband of underwear would fall.

They look more closely and physically start when they see the tiny bat dangling by its feet from the mark on their skin, looking up them innocently. Almost happily. Its tiny eyes seem to be dancing with sparkling humor.

They blink at the tiny tattoo. Their arms fall down at their sides, their nausea subsides at the curiosity and amazement they feel at seeing the little bat staring up at them upside from its perch. Its perch on their skin.

A scar given to them by a boy they’d gone to high school with, on prom night, when they had gone to prom in a dress, a beautiful white dress. The girl the boy had gone to the dance with had asked them to be her date. And when she saw them at the dance wearing a dress, her fear and anger had hardened to hatred and she and the boy and his knife had attacked them in the parking lot.

Before that night, the people of their high school had tolerated their strange style habits, their strange effeminacy, their lack of social interaction. But that night, that dress, had been too much for their minds to comprehend.

They remembered seeing the gray green hospital fluorescent lights flashing over their head dimly as they had been rushed through the hallway surrounded anonymous strangers shouting strange words in what seemed like a different language. They remembered looking down and seeing the delicate silky white dress slashed and stained bloodred. Bloodred with their blood. It had been another rush of pain altogether, but quickly lost to blackness. That had hit harder later, when they spotted a picture of themselves being rushed to the hospital in the paper a few days later, the dress ruined and soaked, their face streaming with tears and contorted with pain.

Their parents had been there every moment after they woke up. Those days were coated with pain and a floating sensation of loosing control and purpose. Their parents loved them. But a moment of stress and fear and pain and their mother had asked them whether was it was really worth risking their life to wear a stupid dress? They had turned away and the tears had stained their pillow even as their mother cried and their father comforted her.

It broke something.

They’re still staring down at the little bat when they come out of their reverie. Its eyes are comforting to them. They absently stroke the bat’s tiny body, but it catches their eye when it gives a little happy shimmer at the touch. They smile, some of the stress edging the muscles of their body easing.

They went to work later that day. Their coworkers commented that they seemed less stressed than the day before, but they didn’t tell anyone about the tiny bat that had flown over their body to rest on one of their most painful memories.

That night when they got home the bat was in flight again. And another had taken off. All of them seemed to be dancing and watching them as they gazed at them in the mirror.

As the next days went by, the bats of their tattoo visited the scars all over their body. The places where the girl had kicked them with her heels. Where they’d been slapped. Where they had fallen when they had been tripped at a bus stop for wearing lipstick and a men’s suit jacket.

The place they had cut their wrist to see if it would hurt. To see if it would change anything about their life. Two of the tiny bats had landed there. They had stroked them while they remembered, and somehow their shimmers and understanding eyes made it easier to remember the first couple years after high school.

When they had been in the hospital, something had changed in their minds. They lost a bit of their will. It didn’t seem like it was possible to be the person they wanted to be. The people tolerated it to a certain point. And beyond that they didn’t want them to exist anymore. The world wasn’t much bigger than that town, at least it never was on those bad days. There wasn’t a point in applying to colleges. It would just be another place where people wouldn’t accept them.

Their parents wanted them to be safe. Told them they could stay as long as they wanted. Didn’t encourage them much to get a job. It would be too much involved with the community that had broken their child.

So they stayed home. They didn’t put any effort into their personality or their style or their appearance. They just stayed in and did nothing and fell deeper in their slump. Lost touch with others, lost touch with themselves.

Lost feeling.

They had gone in for a yearly checkup a little while after that and the doctor saw the almost healed cut and gave them a referral to a counselor in the town one over. The first time they went was out of boredom. The second was out of a strange obligation. The next few because it was something to do, and it got them out of their town. Then they started really wanting to make changes, to fight and to thrive and become themselves.

They had gotten a job at a little internet blogging sight and moved to another town. A bigger, more open minded town. And their life had began again. And it was hard and it was painful and it was worth it.

Those two bats stayed there on that scar for several days while the others kept flying, kept watching her and smiling at her. At the end of the fourth day the two bats were there, there was a third. It was tiny, a baby, and it looked up at them with happiness and joy at being there.

They couldn’t explain what was happening to their tattoo. They didn’t try. It was a secret that they kept for themselves, a living moving entity that gave them strength and companionship and understanding when they needed it most.

The bats shimmered and felt and sometimes an extra baby would pop up and join the rest of them. They would return to their places on their neck sometimes, and as they kept watching and stroking the little figures, the braver the bats got, flying under their gaze, moving and shimmering.

It didn’t matter that it shouldn’t have been possible. They didn’t want an explanation. They loved each individual face that looked back up at them.

And they agreed with the tiny woman who’d given them the tattoo, it was very special.