This is the start of a several part story (I don’t know how many, only that I have 2.5 parts done as of now). All these last several days of bits and bobs have wound me up to it, though the seed of this first part is almost 18 months old. I don’t know yet how this will go, and will appreciate any and all feedback I can get on this story. –M
Big Lou, of Big Lou’s Tattoos, scowled.
“Let me get this straight,” he said, “You want that tattoo.”
Sima looked again at the full color lotus blossom design, bit her lip and nodded.
“With no ink.”
The artist, his sleeveless T revealing an Illustrated Man’s worth of his own ink, stood in front of a wall were covered with sketches and photographs; Big Lou’s catalog and oeuvre.
“Get out of my shop.”
“I’ll pay full pri-”
“Out. I’ve heard about you, girly. You’ve got a rep, you know? Think this is some kind of a joke? Some kind of rich-girl’s joke?” His voice raised as he spoke, bald head shading redder. “This is my art. My religion. This is my life. You respect the ink or get the fuck out of my FACE!”
The last words were yelled. Lou didn’t move from his place behind the counter, but suddenly he seemed larger, menacing. The twinned dragons on his biceps looked like they were going to leap for her. Sima fled.
She blinked away the tears as she walked down the dirty street and scanned for a cab. It was still early afternoon. She’d given herself plenty time to get out of the District before dark, but hadn’t counted on so many defeats. Now she felt like everyone she saw knew she didn’t belong there. She’d tried to prepare well enough, a dark worn coat over old jeans and flats. A loose blouse that was easy to lift or take off. She ignored the flip of her stomach and the ache between her legs as she walked, not meeting anyone’s gaze.
Afraid, angry, ashamed, Sima slammed the door of the taxi hard enough to draw an admonishing look from the cabby. Why did this have to be so hard? What’s wrong with me?
“Hey! Lady. I said where to?” The driver’s accent was like Daadaagee’s.
Sima mumbled her street and turned to look sullenly out the window. The interior of the cab smelled of masala spices. The scent both made her feel safe, and intensified the gnawing of need in her bones. Outside, the streets slipped by, the doorways and shop-fronts lost their angles as the light failed.
“Wait. Stop. Stop here!” She peered at a little shop-front through the gloom. The name rang a bell. She fumbled in her coat pocket, pulled out a tattered little notebook and flipped through the pages.
It’d only been two blocks, right at Old Market, where Midtown’s gentrification was waging a pitched battle with the District’s decay.
She could practically hear the driver roll his eyes, but stop he did. Sima overpaid him and stepped out without a word, and stood in front of Chrysalis Tattoo. That name was on her dwindling list of places she hadn’t tried and been turned away from.
I have a reputation, now? Like just finding places wasn’t enough trouble? But dammit. It was almost like claws inside her now. One more try.
The bell on the door tinkled as she came in. This place looked a lot like half a dozen others. The small front space was brightly lit, showcasing walls covered with art. The place was scrupulously clean, and smelled of antiseptic, indigo, and electricity. Behind the counter, a tall, lean man reclined, reading an electronic book. He had close-cut black hair with a pointed beard, and unlike most tattooists she’d seen she didn’t notice any tattoos on him right away, thought he was wearing a buttoned up long-sleeved shirt. Without moving his head he looked up over his half-glasses and raised an eyebrow.
“Can I help you today, Miss?”
No games, now, Sima told herself.
“I want to get a tattoo…”
The man looked around the store.
“Looks like you’ve come to the right place.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. It’s… Look. I want the tattoo. But I don’t want any ink.”
“I want a tattoo,” and she already had spotted exactly which, as well, “without ink.” She finished through nearly gritted teeth, bracing for an explosion.
She’d been asked this before, of course, she forged on, determined.
“Because that’s what I want.”
“Come on now.” He’d laid his book on the counter and taken off his glasses. His eyes were light brown, practically copper, and their gaze somehow destroyed her resolve.
This is useless. She’d been through this conversation so many times. And no matter how she phrased it, the outcome was almost always the same. She pulled herself deeper into her coat and began to turn away.
He leaned his elbows on the thick counter glass, and interlaced the fingers of his hands. “I didn’t say no. I asked why.”
“Because…” She could feel herself blushing, but she couldn’t get herself to say anything more. “Because!”
He looked at her until she met his eyes, and then until she had to look away, ready again to turn and leave. He tipped his chin at her.
“You’ve done this before.” It wasn’t a question.
“How many times?”
His eyebrow raised.
“When was the last time?”
“Three months ago.”
“Show me the work.”
“It’s my left shoulder blade-”
“Ok, let me see.”
“But there was no-”
“You can show me or you can argue with someone else.”
He didn’t sound angry. But he wasn’t joking around.
Sima stepped up to the counter and shrugged out of her coat. She looked over at the door as she opened the top two buttons of her blouse and pulled it down over her shoulder, turning so the man could see her.
He grabbed his glasses and leaned further over the counter to see. She stiffened as he slid her bra strap off her shoulder. His fingers were smooth, cool against her skin.
“Butterfly,” he said. “Monarch.”
She craned her neck around to look at him. She’d examined that shoulder in the mirror just the other day, and seen no sign.
“Trace scarring. The fluorescent lights make it easier to see.”
“Scarring?! Oh, no!”
Sima jerked away from the man’s hand and dropped to a kneel on the floor, yanking at the cuff of her pantleg. Fuck these jeans!
Then she froze, and looked up in near panic. Over his glasses and his counter, the man peered down at her. And her open blouse. Sima felt the color rising in her cheeks, jerked her shirt closed and, then hid her head from him as a sob shook her.