The Dragonfly by Alan Michael Parker

It’s 7:31 p.m. in the weird light outside a Los Angeles coffee shop, where a pizza delivery guy waits for his pickups. The city has reopened but only some, the guy’s mask dangling from one ear. There are major rules now. 

He’s texting his sister from under an umbrella on a patio facing the parking lot. There’s a dragonfly buzzing in place atop a concrete wall between the delivery guy’s table and the movie theater next door. On the other side of the movie, a Pilates place his sister used to like, still closed or maybe forever.

Slow dragonfly wings, then fast, fast, steady fast. The dragonfly moves in place and stays still, a kind of shivering.

He looks the other way, where a woman at the next outdoor table tries to smile, her mask sort of tightening, maybe. Was she actually trying to smile under there? Masking a face is just like finishing the clothing thing, he thinks, like Evolution.

It’s early evening, sundown in forty minutes, and coffee’s always a help at night. A cup of Joe, as the gross, smoggy light—pink and indigo—flattens across the horizon, dusk in L.A. He’s a little unsure, this time of day. He’s really sensistive to shifts in the weather. His sister’s like that too.

The dragonfly’s done, arcing around the tables and flying off: the woman pulls down her mask to sip, and yes, she smiles. She smiled right at him. It’s his turn to smile back. People don’t usually smile at him, he’s usually more weather than person, but what’s usual these days?

He’s moving and not. A dragonfly.

The dragonfly could be the returned soul of someone—maybe Mom, say. Or the woman’s husband. When we know each other, we find out who’s missing. He thinks that’s awful, but maybe it’s helpful, but it’s still awful.

No, that’s wrong: a dragonfly isn’t a spirit. That would be too many spirits in the world, it would get too crowded, everyone buzzing everywhere once they’re gone, and probably be really loud, everyone making noise no matter whether they’re alive or dead, and who could tell.

He’s happy to be a dragonfly, just here for now. People moving in life, delivering themselves, he thinks. Like a pizza guy smiling at the woman, he thinks, smiling back, just nice, nothing creepy.

Alan-Michael Parker is the author of four novels, nine books of poems, and even some essays. Awards for writing include three Pushcart Prizes, two selections in BEST AMERICAN POETRY, the Fineline Prize, the Lunate 500 Award, the Balch Award, and the North Carolina Book Award. In 2021, he judged the National Book Award in fiction, and he is currently judging the PEN/Faulkner Award in fiction. He teaches at Davidson College, where he holds the Houchens Chair in English and directs the creative writing program. The Dragonfly” is from a book of stories, Bingo, Bango, Boingo, forthcoming in winter 2025 from Dzanc Books.

Vintage sketch of dragonflies
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