Write On!

The Dragon’s Lair

In Responses on May 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm

by Tara Wiley

My mother always told me not to play with fire. She usually said it while sitting slumped drunk in the wicker rocker in her smoking room, flicking her Bic lighter over and over – zzzzzpt, zzzzzpt, zzzzpt – seemingly mesmerized by the sight and sound. Fireflies would compete with her flickering light as she wasted perfect summer evenings in an endless stupor.

“Pipa, honey, now you remember, you should never play with – “ she interrupted herself with a sharp expletive. The Bic had run out of juice and was no longer lighting up. “Be a dear and go get me another Bic please? I think there are some –“ I stomped off before she finished.

“I know where they are, Mother,” I muttered under my breath. I made sure the screen door slammed shut behind me.

Mama’s smoking room was actually the sunroom off the south side of the house. Merely screened in, I suppose it was technically outdoors. That was how Mama figured she was abiding by the no smoking policy on the rental agreement. In my typical know-it-all teenage mind, the infraction became another reason to judge and despise her.

That was a particularly bad summer for us. My hormones were raging and her drunk days far outnumbered her sober ones. I wondered why she even had me come out for the summer. Lord knows I would have rather stayed home with Dad. I held tightly to the one saving grace of the visit: Georgia emancipated me from the torture of watching my mother self-destruct.

Mama told me not to play with fire. She should have told me not to play with Georgia.

Georgia Peach Ramsey (I kid you not; she even showed me her birth certificate. She was strangely proud of the ridiculous name) lived across the street in a sprawling, columned southern mansion. The one story, two bedroom rental property Mother snagged for the summer probably housed Georgia’s grandparents’ slaves at one time. Sometimes I thought I woke up to low-pitched moans of caged souls crying out from the ancient wide pine planks under my bed.

Those wide planks lined all the floors of the rental, and they creaked as I trudged heavy-footed to the kitchen for my mother’s lighter. I didn’t find one in the usual place, so I started banging around noisily through drawers and cupboards looking for matches or whatever, punishing my mother’s never-ending hangover headache with each slam. Bad enough I was stuck with her sorry butt all summer; now I had become her enabler too (learned that term from Dad’s counselor), helping her feed her nicotine habit. Just what I wanted to be doing.

I was about to give up when I found a small box of matches wedged between the sugar jar and the back wall of a cabinet. They looked like they’d been there a while. I absentmindedly tested one out and nearly singed my fingertips as the flame quickly engulfed the brittle wood. I repeated my mother’s expletive. The word felt sharp on my tongue. I wasn’t one to swear, but I thought I’d try it out. Usually I contained my rebellion to guilt-free practices like slamming doors and banging cabinets.

I was a good girl in most respects. Really, I was. Ask anyone except my mother. I made all the right choices, was the teachers’ pet with my straight A’s and people pleasing behaviors, never got involved with the wrong crowd. Until Georgia, a one person wrong crowd if there ever was one.

Georgia flaunted her distaste for the expectations forced on her by her family’s wealth and reputation. She pushed the envelope with her ripped clothing, thick makeup, and wild hair. She perfected the silent sneak-out in the middle of the night; not even her parents’ sophisticated alarm system could keep her in. The stories of her escapades made me blush. Georgia had seen and done more in her 15 years of life than I had in my 16 ½. When we were together, she was the older one.

Looking back on it all, I wonder if she would have befriended me if she’d had any other options. All her usual friends were traveling abroad for the summer with their parents and siblings and nannies. Well, I did have one thing she needed: a driver’s license. And we used that to our advantage that night.

A faded imprint of an emerald green creature you would find on a biker’s tattoo embellished the matchbox’s lid. The words under the image were smudged and worn; I could make out ‘Dragon’s’ but not the second word. There was, however, a legible phone number. Curiosity made me impulsively scrawl the number on the inside of my hand with a ballpoint pen from the junk drawer before delivering the box of matches to my mom. When I got to her, she’d passed out already. I tossed the matches onto the floor beside her and walked over to Georgia’s.

“No way! That is SO hilarious! Ow, my side hurts!” Georgia was literally rolling on the floor laughing when she read the number on my hand. I didn’t see how seven numbers could be so funny. “Seriously, girl? You don’t know that song?”

“Song?” Now I really was confused. A phone number and a song…

“867-53-oh-niiiine,” she sang. I still didn’t get it. “It’s an old song from the eighties. I thought everyone knew that song.” I shrugged, trying to pass off my embarrassment as indifference.

“Not me. Anyway, it’s a panhandle area code. You wanna try it?”

“Absolutely.” Once I knew it was a song, I was sure it would be a dead number, but we dialed anyway. A raspy male voice answered.

“Dragon’s Lair Tattoo and Piercing, what can I do you for?” We hadn’t planned out what to do if someone actually answered, but Georgia was the queen of improv. Her eyes widened, pupils dialated, when she realized we dialed a tattoo shop. I knew for a fact she had a long list of wanted tattoos and piercings.

“Where are you located?” she asked in as grown up a voice as she could muster. A quick mental calculation – 45 minutes away.“And, your hours?” If we got in the car right now, we could get there just before closing. “So, if I told you a couple of gorgeous girls could be there in an hour to pay cash for your best work, would you keep the light on for us?”

We were screaming down the highway before I truly had time to digest what we were doing. Georgia refused to let me protest. She plugged her iPod into the stereo and played all my favorite songs full blast, making me sing along with her. She knew me so well. We only had two more weeks left of summer before I headed back north to Dad’s in Augusta. Even as we raced over the state border into Florida, I felt myself giving in to this moment. I was sick of my self-protection, my self-preservation.

I freed my hair from its pinned bun and let the wind fly through the pale brown strands. As we pulled into the single stop light town, I began to formulate the image I wanted: an empty birdcage, its latched door swinging wide open, the captive set free.

Dragon’s Lair was in the last building before the main thoroughfare gave way to rural highway once again. The good girl in me saw all the reasons to flee: a dingy storefront, not a customer in sight, dirty floors, a man behind the counter that I wouldn’t trust for an instant. But Georgia was all excited, chatting him up and looking through greasy laminated notebooks to pick out her first tat. I fidgeted beside her.

“What you want?” the raspy voice drawled. I didn’t realize at first that he was addressing me. I forced myself to lock eyes with him, if for no other reason than to keep those eyes off the rest of my body. Plus, I wanted to look confident, sure of myself in this very unsure moment. I described the birdcage.

“Where you want it?” Apparently his number of words for the day were rapidly approaching completion; thus the need to skip a few here and there. I hadn’t thought of where I wanted it yet. Somewhere hidden, that was for sure. But what part of my body did I want to expose to this guy? If I let him inscribe my backside at least I wouldn’t have to look him in the eye while he worked.

“Paper robe in the john in the back if you want it,” he said, jerking a thumb towards the darkened back half of the small shop.

“Go on ahead, sister. I’m still trying to decide,” Georgia declared, her voice almost squeaking from barely contained excitement. I tried out my best nonchalant saunter and almost tripped over an extension cord on my way.

The next ten minutes are nearly too blurred by adrenaline to recall. I sat on the pot for a few minutes, wondering how in the world a good girl like me ended up in this situation, wondering how to get out of it, letting pent up anger build up until I decided I didn’t want to get out of it. I was hastily undressing, trying to race ahead of my conscience, when I heard the buzzing out front and knew Georgia had decided to get started without me.

Next thing I heard was a slamming door and a booming voice, “Sonny, your day has come. I finally got the search warrant and I am gonna put you outta here once and for all.”

Then, the bathroom door handle was rattling and Georgia was frantically whispering through gritted teeth, “Come ON! Open the door! We’ve GOT to get out of here! Pipa!” Fear made me lose awareness of my lack of clothing and I ripped open the door. Georgia grabbed the paper robe sitting by the toilet, yanked my bare arm, and hightailed it out the back door, dragging me behind her.

“My clothes –” I protested.

“Later!” she growled. A patch of forest wrapped in kudzu loomed in the darkness a number of yards beyond the building. I blindly followed Georgia, my wild friend, the one with a jagged greenish black line on the inside of her forearm that was supposed to be a word or a picture or something. I found myself thanking God she had gone first, not even caring that the crazy events of the evening led to my ending up in the middle of nowhere – naked.

  1. Ha! Nicely done but I wanted more althought that is completely the prompts fault 🙂

  2. I think that this was engaging and well written.

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