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The Other Side of Everything

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Written on February 7, 2008, and categorized as Fiction, Secret and Invisible.
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The waiting room was clean, but not much light came in as he sat forward on his vinyl-covered seat, nervously fingering the scrap of paper, flicking the edge of it with his thumbnail. Across the window and on every inch of wall exotic designs snaked and writhed: dragons, motorbikes, cyberpunks, football teams, psuedo-celt and every traditional tattoo he had ever seen from Mum and Dad to Love and Hate.

Through the thick, black velvet curtains in the back room, he could hear three voices, two men and a woman conversing calmly and in good humour, with the noise of the electronic needle steadily droning and the smell of clean skin permeating everything. A tall woman with her head shaved at the sides and a thick, glossy chemical-red ponytail materialised beside him, and said,

“He’s finishing up now – five minutes. Cup of tea love?”

He was so startled by her proximity that he dropped the paper on the black tiled floor, and she swooped down, picked it up between pink nails and returned it to him without looking at it.

“Um, no, thanks,” he said, thinking of Jack Daniels.

She crossed the room and peered out through the designs into the bustling street.

“Beautiful day out there. And I spend my time in a cave!” she said, smiling warmly. She was clearly good at this, he thought, and she’s reading me right. A thin trickle of sweat made its way down the inside of his shirt, bumping ribs and making him feel like an animal.

One satisfied leather-clad customer emerged through the curtains, smiling broadly. His neck was the size of a tree trunk, the blue-black curving designs on his torso running up under his hairline, his face a pale moon in a forest of facial metal. He beamed, revealing two prominent gold teeth and several gaps.

“Lovely job!” he said, as he settled up.

Mid-transaction, the woman looked over and said, “you can go in, love.”

He rose, and pushed aside the faintly aromatic cloth, stepped down two steps into the room. He blinked – this was a brighter room than the one he had just left. A skylight above brought the day inside; he observed complex designs on white-tiled walls, angled lights, mirrors, a dentist’s chair, a stool.

Standing up to greet him, a medium-sized, middle-aged man in a khaki cardigan, wearing strong-lensed glasses, behind which kind brown eyes twinkled. Aside from his hair which was, like the woman’s, shaved at the sides, and a long, carefully groomed oriental moustache, he seemed almost conventional. No tattoos visible at all, except on the knuckles of his left hand, which spelled a word that couldn’t quite be made out.

“Come in, come in,” the tattooist beckoned to the chair, taking his place on the stool, beside which the tools of his trade were laid out with a craftman’s casual familiarity on a shiny steel surface. Surgical gloves and cotton wool were strategically placed by a small sink. Everything was spotless.

Thrusting the paper towards him, he took off his jacket, embarassed by the damp patches of sweat under his arms which he could see in the mirror opposite. The tattooist took a long, careful look at the design on the paper, and said,

“Yes, I think we can do that. How big do you want it, and where?”

“Upper left arm please.” He indicated the area.


“Yes please.”

The tattooist looked once again at the design, picked up a pencil and traced the lines carefully on a sheet of white paper, expertly enlarging Chinese characters with a practised hand and eye.

“First time?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

The tattooist chuckled. “When you’ve done as many as I have, you can usually tell. Do you know what this means?” He looked up from his drawing, over his glasses, eyebrows raised.

“Supermarket,” came the reply.

Almost imperceptibly, the tattooist paused in his work. “I see,” he said calmly.

He finished his sketch. “Looking good?” he asked, smiling, holding it up.

It did look good. For the first time, he was flooded with a sense of relief as the noradrenalin in his system started to work biological magic. He felt suddenly and sublimely positive as his doubts melted away like a winter frost – this was something very, very right.

The tattooist took his arm firmly but gently, and sat on the stool beside the chair, and as he soaked cotton wool with surgical spirit and began to wipe the skin clean, with the level demeanour of the completely unshockable, he asked,

“Any particular story to go with that?”

“Ah.. just a love story,” he mumbled, “The usual.”

“The best!” remarked the tattooist, and reached for his needle.

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This thing has 3 Comments

  1. Sizemore
    Posted 7 February, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Love it.

  2. randellfever
    Posted 7 February, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Well done. Nothing like a good love story.

  3. orangefrute88
    Posted 9 February, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    GREAT freakin story! i want more!

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