The thick buzzing echoed throughout the establishment’s cool and sterile environment. It was like a dentist’s drill mixed with excited hum of a swarm of bees. It was the sound most people associated with pain, that there was danger lurking nearby.
For Greg and Dwardy it was the sound of a video game console and the phone not getting disconnected.
For the hundredth time that week the young couple fresh out of high school read the advert that had been placed in the Melbourne paper.
Test subjects wanted
Must not be pregnant or have existing heart condition.
As any teenage couple along with half the city five hundred dollars could do a lot of good, mostly good drinking and a lot of bad indulgences, but with the current job market slightly dead and what little money the couple had going to the never ending demand of bills the money was very tempting.
Like any normal person, Dwardy had her doubts. What if this operation caused her cancer or any number of illnesses down the dark road of time? The bills were always waiting but the hospital bills measured in the tens of thousands if this went wrong… she didn’t want to think about it.
Greg was more of an in the present issue person, he needed money now. He wanted a pack of smokes, a drink, and to sedate his addiction of pixelated gore.
As anyone would suspect when free money was involved the usual suspects had turned up. The junkies, the women that went through the baby boon for the cash, and those who had weighed the long term effects and threw their caution to the wind for some quick cash.
Expressing her concerns was almost second nature to Dwardy, especially when she was looking at a man with horrid teeth and track marks down his arms. “Love. I really don’t think…”
“You always wanted a tattoo.” Greag interrupted, sensing his girlfriend attempting to back out.
“Yes.” Dwardy trailed off. “But not as a guinea pig.”
Almost as if sensing the loss of a test subject a nurse called out. “Number 82. Number 82.”
Though he had calmed Drawdy to some point Greg could not shake off his nervousness.
As he was lead to the back to a private room, asking the usuall questions as she did so.
Do you have an existing heart condition?
Have you been outside Australia in the last five years?
Are you on any medication?
Signing the waver was the hardest part. Whenever somebody hears the word waver they freeze up, half expecting to die on the medical table. But there was no medical table, just a table fitted with black leather and a table with two chairs. There was also somebody taking residence inside the room but he did not look like a doctor or one that Greg had ever met.
The man looked like he had come straight out of prison or had just jumped off his motorbike, an completely foreign element when compared to the building’s white walls, and steel and glass structure.
Doubt must have been contagious because Dwardy must have passed hers on like chickenpox. “I’m sorry. I…” Greg started stepping back.
The big man that must have must have been a previous statement gestured to the wall. “Pick your poison kid.”
Usually when somebody was coated neck to toe in skulls and pornographic tattoos you normally did what you were told else you lose what teeth you had. Still, Greg was hesitant. “I…”
“You want the five hundred or not?” The man pulled out a tattoo gun and replaced the needle.
Greg let out a breath, the man was simply the tattoo artist the institute had hired to implement this peculiar test.
The designs weren’t anything special. Just ten of the twenty dollar stamps tattoo parlours sold to those first time scardy cats who wanted to appear like a rebel but didn’t have the balls to spend a thousand dollars on something that was permanent. Tramp stamps some people called them.
Just the basics. A skull, a cross, a flower. Ten of the basic and unimaginative designs.
Greg couldn’t really see himself with any of them. The skull looked nice but… “You have any dragons?”
“Number six. Pick a colour if you like.” The tattooist said getting irritated that the fool kid was wasting his time.
The moment Greg turned his gaze to the sixth design he recoiled. “It’s got a frigg’en nappy on.” It was a cartoon dragon in a nappy, a cute little terror with all the terribleness of a kitten in a slipper.
The thing belonged on a woman with the mind of a ten year old, not him.
“Then it and you should get along pretty nicely.” Said the tattooist snidely.
Dwardy held onto the table head with an iron grip and tried not to scream.
Her mum had told her that the shading was a thousand times worse than the needle she got from the doctors, this had turned out to be an understatement. It felt as if the tattooist was plunging a ice pick in her leg and twisted the blade.
Still, she would not cry. Dwardy was not going to break down and she was determined to show that this did not bother her, when it clearly did. “So, this is supposed to be alive?”
The woman that was applying the special ink to Dwardy’s leg wiped away the blood. “Sort of. I don’t get it. It just grows.” She expressed this with a board tone that Leonardo Da Vinci might have if he was resorted to doing caricatures for a living.
“So. How did you get this job?” Dwardy wanted to add ‘you sadistic butcher’ but thought better of it. She gripped the table again as the tattoo gun continued to mutilate her.
“Yeah. My bother got me the job.”
“Yeah. He’s some chemist faggot. Got in touch with his looser friends, made the bloody stuff in the shed.” From her words and how she spat them it was clear that the female artist did not much like her brother.
The sound died and the female artist gave a sigh. “All done. Go have a look.” She gestured to the nearby mirror.
The pain caused Dwardy to wince and the cold floor did little in the way of favours. In the mirror she looked at the space on the back of her leg that had once been vacant, there, a butterfly the size of a fifty cent coin with green and purple wings greeted her.
Three months had come and gone.
Greg stuck to his games. He had tried at first. He had put great effort in his resumes and cover letters but they still felt so empty and as the weeks dragged on his heart grew heavy as his hopes had been dashed and dashed again.
Dwardy had little more luck than her boyfriend. She had entered a university, a business degree sounded like a good idea. She seemed content most of the time, just as long as nothing unexpected happened.
Then the letter came, offering promises of a hundred dollars in the bank as an incentive.
Instead of more needles and pain though, instead it was more of a photo shoot. Lab technicians with armature photographers taking shots of the tattoos.
Like always Dwardy was the first to notice that there were fewer people that turned up. In the back of her mind she suspected that many of the participants had overdosed, their windfall manifesting into a suicidal cocktail of drugs. She of course kept these thoughts to herself.
In private studio the participants of the trail were asked to roll up their sleeves and lower their pants.
A sigh had escaped Greg as he rolled up his sleeves. A hundred dollars was not worth this. It had been humiliating enough to display the pitiful baby dragon to his mates, but to have it displayed in a science magazine… He didn’t want to think about it.
The same with the baby dragon on his arm, he did not want to think about it. It and its nappy, that it had grown five centimetres, or that its spins had become more detailed, and he did not want to think about the odd birthmark on its shoulder that looked oddly like the icon of his game console.
Like many women Dwardy did not want to lower her pants and show her legs off to the camera. She did not have much confidence in her looks, at least not in her legs. She expected that if she did have some pride in her legs she might be more than happy to show them off, and so she felt as if she was being judged.
She had put the butterfly on the back of her leg because she didn’t want anyone to see it, not even herself. So she could not see the subtle changes that had transpired during the last few months.
The couple split up in July. Dwardy remembered it was raining. Greg could only remembered there being a bottle of spirits at arms reach.
It had been a fight, a simple one that had been building for sometime. Neither could remember what it was about but the aftermath was clear or became clear for Dwardy soon after.
Without their combined support Dwardy went home to her parents. They gave their daughter her old room and ignored the sounds of vomiting in the morning that followed.
Neither Greg nor Dwardy turned up for their next photo shoot. Greg had found comfort in the bottle, so inebriated he had not noticed that the dragon had thrown away the nappy and hoarded a bottle of beer as if it were gold, its eyes seemed to hold a share of Greg’s misery.
Dwardy found herself in labour soon later. She had a pink jumper and little booties waiting for her first born but soon gave them to the charity bins, they were too painful to keep around. Her pain was evident in the ink on her legs by its tattered wings and its new humanoid face which seemed to be in a constant state of weeping.
Time moved on, an agonising slowness with peeks of both sadness and happiness tossed in. That day when Dwardy got her bachelor certificate in the mail. That experience when Greg had put down the bottle and got that job interview fixing roads. Those moments that deserved to be noted down and framed on a wall or inked in flesh.
It wasn’t until a office marathon for cancer that Dwardy got her first reaction.
“Nice tat. How much did that cost you?” This particular question came from John, an rather irritating bean counter where Dwardy was currently working.
Dwardy didn’t look down at her bare leg. For some reason she had decided to wear shorts for the run and looked to have been already regretting the insane choice. “It’s just a stupid butterfly. Believe me they had to pay me to get it.” She didn’t smile when she told this little inside joke.
There was an audible click and she immediately turned around to see John holding a camera and looking very impressed. The fink had taken a picture of her.
Dwardy closed her open mouth and meant to steal the phone away to either to delete the image or better yet destroy the phone and hopefully make John burst into tears. “Give me that.”
John easily side stepped her and pushed the camera into her face. “Where did you get it?”
She wasn’t about to give him an answer, her cheeks flashed red as embarrassment and hate came over her. But her jaw once again sagged when she caught the outline of something she knew was impossible.
At first Dwardy didn’t understand what she saw and thought John had changed the picture. This was not her butterfly. Sure it had the purple and green ting to it but that had been a small insignificant doodle compared to the monster that now covered most of her leg.
The butterfly through some unknown reason, had grown to encompass her entire back leg. Its wings were ghastly ornate the greens had turned into emerald and the purples had become like a velvet, thick spines covered the the outside of the wings that now looked slightly tattered. The butterfly’s body had gone under a metamorphosis going from insect to a naked fairy, fully developed and gorgeous.
“She looks kinda sad.” John said and Dwardy had to agree, the fairy had the face of a woman that was undergoing a breakup, and Dwardy could not help but follow where the creature’s hand which was creasing its stomach as if she were hungry… No. as if she had lost something very precious to it.
The woman with the butterfly tattoo held her mouth as if it would keep back the memory. “My God.” She sat on the ground and examined her leg and found the tattoo, it was as beautiful as it was sad to look at.
John’s eyebrow raised in scepticism. “You tell me you didn’t notice that monster of a tat on your skin? What about when you took a shower.”
This time Dwardy blushed out of her lack of observational skill. “I normally just use a scrubbing brush”
Her office co-worker shook his head in shock and decided to look over his own body himself should he find he got too drunk one night and got a tattoo on his backside. “Um. Where else do you use the scrubbing brush?”
“Well I…” Dwardy stopped herself before she exposed too much more of her bath time rituals to this pervert.
The day Greg had realised his tattoo was something special was of course the day he got it, but he just thought it just grew in size. The changes were too subtle, too easy to dismiss unless it was staring him in the face.
So, one morning he woke up, saw his latest girlfriend in his bed and just allowed himself to stare into space for a while. His mind wondered and as it did so he caught a glimpse of his tattoo.
‘It had changed.‘ He realised, not out of shock but acceptance.
Like a weed the baby dragon had grown a lot during its five years. It was now a monster, it rand down Greg’s arm like a glove, its tail wrapped around his shoulder, close to its heart was a bottle of hard liquor and its claws looked rough, almost if the brute had been dipping in the dirt.
The dragon’s scales were greys mixed with blacks that did not display the fading effects most tattoos had over the years and instead looked to be new. It was beautiful and horrible and it was the main thing his girlfriend thought of when she pictured him.
Greg looked at his design for a minute longer, looking through the eyes to see something he must have thought was an illusion. There was something in the dragon’s eyes that Greg had seen every time he caught himself in a mirror, something he didn’t have a word for.
He quickly gave up and returned back to sleep, it was just a stupid tattoo.