I have two novels that I'm working on. I've got some nice old Persian rugs to sell in order to bring these books into print. One rug is a huge cream-crimson-turquoise beauty (straight outta one of the Shah's old palaces oh yeah) about 20'X30', signed in an oval at one edge by the weavers. Several smaller ones too. How can anyone resist? Do it For Art. hahaha. Meanwhile - please enjoy these works in progress.

This book precedes COME TO ME in chronological time. Gina went to Mexico to get papers to prove that Frankie's amethyst skull sculpture is a real Toltec artifact. She intended to sell it to pay for Frankie's medical bills, but Frankie just wanted to bang some dope, feel better. On the Mexican coast Gina found a dead body covered with feather tattoos. 

Gina headed back to the CIty, snapshots of the body and the provenance papers in her backpack. As usual, things Don't Go As Planned. Nothing ever does.

EATING BUTTERFLIES by Sin Soracco, copyright 2015, 2016

CHAPTER ONE

People who die without any tattoos are condemned to sit on the banks of the river, heads bowed, eating butterflies. This is true.

This is also true: Events can only be recounted the same way maybe three or four times, then the telling starts to make its own demands on veracity rhythm color volume and voice. Listeners always hear their own version of the story anyway.

For Gina it went like this: Couple hours before dawn light, she found a sharp little speedboat tilted over onto its left side on the shore of a quiet Mexican bay. Its motor was silent, the windshield was cracked, waves slapped the pale green side, and a dead body floated half in half out of the craft. She took pictures. Pictures-from-my-trip. Show the folks back home.

There have been other times and other ways of telling the story: A smashed bark canoe or a ripped leather coracle or once in awhile it would be some great pirate vessel, storm driven onto the rocky coast. All abandoned except for one dead guy floating there.

This time in history it was up-to-the-minute clean lines, shiny as inherited money, expense account. Careless privileged life. Ending with a wrecked speedboat dirtying up a pristine tourist beach, the dead body floating, not yet bloated from interior gasses or water or sunlight or whatever the hell swells them up into grotesque manatee humans about to pop, half in half out of the vessel.

No apparent reason. There wasn't any bloody bullet hole so Gina could point to it and say to herself: "Well. There. See?"

What there are however, in every version of this story, every time, are feathers. Tattooed all over the whole damn body. Nose to toes, dick to brisket, asshole to shaven head, inside the curls and curvatures of the ears, delicately fluttering across eyelids, small feathers framing the lips, tapering across the nostrils. Feathers. Tattooed with a sure steady generous hand.

Human skin is made for tattoos, our skin craves ink. Designs etched and tapped into human epidermis brighten the soul. Give it wings.

This tattoo artist knew from feathers.

As Gina clambered around knee deep in the surf she thought about how humans are featherless bipeds, take a kind of generic unspecified pride in it. Yet, here this odd corpse floated, feathered and dead. Way to twist up the metaphor.

She grunted, took a few more photographs, pocketed her camera in the plastic pouch and knelt in the salt water, peering at the corpse. Ugly gashes and scratches crisscrossed his body. From the last bit of his life, or the first bit of his death? How would she find out? Someone would know.

She gently grabbed the cold wrist, there was ab-so-lute-ly no pulse. She didn't know what she expected, the guy was, long before her arrival no question about it, dead dead dead.

Gina stood up, rubbed her cheek leaving traces of sand. Her stomach was not happy. She glared at the corpse. Her wide mouth pulled small. Sucking on speculation. Refusing to puke. Old stories told around beach fires never mentioned how annoying that floating corpse was. Well, there'd be no butterflies for this fucker. She wondered for a moment where tattooed spirits go, maybe a dead people's parallel Puerto Vallarta. She had lots of tattoos. Puerto Vallarta wouldn't be bad. Did dead spirits get stuck where they died? She'd have to be more careful about where she went. Shit.

She turned away. She shouldn't care what happened to some dead guy covered with several thousand dollars worth of rare and expensive tattoos. Corpses were always trouble. She needed to get far away from it.

A ruddy fellow sporting a brand new tan strode toward her. "Hey. What's all this?" Big voice with a small quaver, as if he used it mostly for saying, 'How about a quick jog six miles up and down the beach?'

Yeah. The tattooed guy died just to fuck her up. Her first reaction was to raise her hands and say she didn't do it. Gina scowled. She scowled at everyone she didn't already know. A habit which had proven its usefulness over time. "Feathers," she said. "Feathers all over." She looked back at the corpse. "Weird."

"What?" Voice roughened with surprise. "He dead?" Dead had two syllables.

She lit a cigarette, "Yep." She stared at the living man, all flat-bellied and old enough to be proud of it. She offered him a cigarette.

"Oh, no. No." He shook his head, shot his eyes sideways at her, didn't look at the corpse. "Um." He shivered, started to mention that second-hand smoke could kill, merely mumbled as if to put things back into his normal healthy perspective. He held out his hand, "Name's Malcolm. Doctor Matthew Malcolm. From San Francisco."

Gina ignored his hand, tipping her head to one side, staring at him. "Well, Doctor. Take a look and tell me what he died from."

He shook his head, didn't look at the corpse. "I'm not that kind of doctor. Philosophy. You know." He moved his hands in an awkward circle. "Eastern philosophy? Chinese Medicine. Uh, Tai chi?"

Gina gave him her best heavy-lidded stare. "How special. Well, you wanna check his balls and ass and arm pits for me to see if there's any chi left there? Or if he's tattooed there too? Being female and all, I didn't want to intrude." Her mouth quirked up on one side.

Matthew was supposed to know what to do in these situations. Always assumed he did know. He'd even taken the First-Responder classes. They didn't really cover anything like this. He held his hands out, splayed in perhaps a Chinese magical warding pattern, he stuttered, "No, no. What happened?"

The dead body, as if not yet realizing that all life processes had stopped with ultimate finality, shifted in the blue water. A pampered beautiful body. Gina, flipping her cigarette end over end into the small waves slopping against the hull, thought it looked to be a self-indulgent never gave a shit about anyone else kind of body. "You mean what do I think he died from?" Pause. "Fear of flying?"

A few people appreciated her humor. Matthew wasn't among them. His voice was impatient. "Are you sure he's dead?" He still didn't look at the body, First-Responder was perhaps not one of the things he did well. "Have you notified the authorities?"

"Who?" She stepped away so he could get a good look at the corpse.

Matthew leaned forward, pulling air in strongly through his nose. "Well. If he's dead, lady, there's things that must be done." Blustering, finally taking charge, he looked for the first time directly at the corpse. Took the proverbial hit to the belly. "Oh my God." He was not hysterical, men did not go hysterical. Slipping in the calm water, ass splash ungraceful sputtering. "That's--uh, that's a dead man, there."

Looking down at Matthew floundering in the water, Gina asked, "So. You know the guy?"

"Me? No! Me? No!" His voice came out high as a gelding's whinny, he scrabbled backwards, his breathing ragged: Get a grip gettagrip gettagrip.

Gina said, "I mean, it's strange," picking up a cold hand, holding it out to him, Exhibit A. "Fingernails. Darkened. Can't tell if they ever had feather designs on 'em. They probably wouldn't since birds don't have feathers on their claws, do they? No. But, listen up now, you can't tattoo nail any more than you can tattoo hair. So what's this here on the nails, henna, maybe? Of course it coulda been done after he was dead." She thought for a moment, turned the hand over. "I dunno if dead fingernails hold ink. I mean, maybe they could be carved or burned like ivory, but these nails are entirely smooth. Maybe it's a sign of some terrible disease? Kidney failure? Ebola? You suppose it's catching?" She waggled the fingers in his direction, enjoying Matthew's panic. "And then there's the rest of him. Could've all been done after he was dead I suppose, but before it was finished he'd surely stink. This kind of thing takes time." She ran her hand along one smooth well-muscled brown arm, "It's tattooed in there good, you can see the needle work. Check out the shading. Masterful. I expect you can appreciate the artistry? A cosmo-politan fellow like you are? But see here, all scratched up. Crazy. Looks like the poor bastid was rippin at it." She tried again to engage the sodden man's attention, "Pay all that money for it, then destroy it. Your friend was an obsessive freak, huh?"

"What?"

"You worried no one will come collect his corpse before it swells up, pops in the sun?" Gina looked up the length of the empty beach, it was pure black gray and white, untroubled in the peach dawn. Not a soul. "Birds and scavengers clean it up in a day or two even if no one come for it. Only huge beasts, whales or walruses, last long on beaches."

"He's not my friend--" The denial started out choked and hesitant but got easier when Matthew looked away over the sand, "He's not my friend." He floundered. "Someone must be told. Investigate. Find out what happened."

"You gonna to be the one to talk to the Mexican police? You any good at that sort of thing?" Gina never chose to talk to police of any nation, it was an exercise in frustration. Stupid. Dangerous. That didn't save her from having to do it, she just never volunteered. "If he's not your friend, what's it to you what happened? The guy's dead." She watched him out of the corners of her eyes.

"Exactly. Dead. Someone must do something."

"Hey. People die. It's what they do. One way or another." Gina walked up the shale until she stood just at the edge of the water.

"Well, we could go to the police together."

Smiling, she shook her head. "Spoil my morning."

"Aren't you at least curious?" Desperate, Matthew absolutely didn't want to deal with Lorenzo's dead body himself. "I mean--" His voice was going funny again, he flapped his hands at her. "What hap-happened?" He wouldn't look at the man. The familiarity he ought to have felt was wiped away by the man's obvious state of deadness. Matthew was already beginning the process (he was big on processing) of forgiving himself for not doing anything helpful. He couldn't, after all, take charge. That wasn't something he could do. Maybe at one time he thought he could. Matthew choked.

"Curious? Oh yeah. I'm curious." Gina wanted to know who inked this poor bird with those feathers. Fucker knew what he was doing, she'd never seen work like that. Curious? For sure: Who was the artist? How did this fellow get anyone to do this much detailed work on him? Then why rip it all up? What the fellow died from was way down at the bottom of her list. Maybe there were dozens of poncy speed boat owners suddenly dying, this guy was the start of a trend?  One thing was clear: The sure hand that did the work was no hack artist practicing on corpses.

"We seem to be the only ones who know about this."

"Don't be silly. Look at the sand. Half a dozen people have been here." Stepping away to walk off down the beach below the water line. "But I haven't." Looking over her shoulder at him, she seemed to focus somewhere a couple inches above his head. "And if you have any brains, you haven't been here either, Doctor Matthew Malcolm from the City."

Matthew peered at the sand around the hull. He couldn't see anything but lumpy sand, some rocks mixed in. A policeman would find footprints, patterns, clues; he lifted a foot, placed it in what might have been the indent from his own step. Careful, he twisted to see the next point to place his foot in his retreat. He thought he heard the woman laughing.

SNAPSHOT #1: LORENZO AND THE OLD MAN

Water slaps the pilings under a rickety deck, the thatched roof keeps the boat house cool, safe from the pounding sun outside. It smells of fish and tobacco. The old man crouches like an artifact facing the bay, a black shadow against a square of sharp gold water, a curl of cigar smoke rises up and out of the frame to join with the dark invisible spirits in the rafters.

Lorenzo's steps shake the boat house as he saunters toward the man in the square of light.

The old man does not turn to see who has come :Take off your sandals.

Lorenzo bends over, graceful, he flips the straps open, the gold cross on the chain around his neck catches the sunlight, snaps it against the deck. He sets his sandals to the side, hitches his linen pants up, a delicate tug so they won't wrinkle, he squats, carefully, to the right of the old man :They tell me you were the best tattooist in the Philippines.

:They could be right. But they only speak for money, so who knows.

:They sounded sincere.

:How much did you pay them to sound so sincere?

Lorenzo hands the old man a photo, a copy of one in the library back in Berkeley :I showed them this picture and they said you are the only one who can do this anymore.

The picture is of a powerful man in three quarter profile wearing what looks like a feather shirt and cutoff feather pants, he holds a spear and glares away from the camera. A thatched boat house is visible behind him.

Lorenzo has another photograph of the man, lying stretched out. The feathers in that one are clearly tattoos, covering the curve of his chest, the rounded muscles of his belly, yet more feathers dance on his thighs. The feathers tattooed across his cheeks are visible. Above them, his eyes are stitched closed, a white band wraps under his chin and ties at the crown of his head. That photograph Lorenzo keeps in his pocket.

The old man glances at the photo Lorenzo holds out :No one can do this anymore. They are all gone.

 
eating butterflies illustration