“I know I’m early, but I have a 3 o’clock appointment with Jenny…” I said to the big guy sitting behind the counter.
“Oh yea, okay,” he said. “She’s running a little late.”
“That’s fine. I’ll wait.”
I had arrived 30 minutes before the appointment because I knew she would have to make some changes to the design to get it to fit perfectly. In the meantime, I asked if they accepted credit cards. “Cash only.” I went and found an ATM two blocks down the road. When I came back Jenny still hadn’t arrived.
“Have you eaten today?”
“Is this your first time?”
“Oh. No, it isn’t.”
“Okay. Just wanted to make sure you’ve eaten and everything ’cause that’s important.”
I smiled. Then I said, “I’m going to get some coffee. I’ll be back.”
I got a latte and a giant ginger molasses cookie. Jenny wasn’t there yet. I finished the coffee, I was halfway through the cookie, Jenny wasn’t there yet. And then I started to wonder if that was a sign. Maybe I had to give up and go home and forget about this. I waited.
30 minutes after the scheduled time, Jenny arrived, apologised profusely, and discussed the design with me. We talked about its placement, size, how much space I wanted it to take up. “I was even thinking we could do a forearm sleeve.” I said it like it was no big deal.
“Mmmmmaybe we could do this one today and work on the back of the forearm in another session.”
“Oh, that’s fine. Sure.”
Then she went into the back, re-sized the design because it was “too large to fit on a tiny forearm”, and, another 30 minutes later, told me she was finally ready for me.
I was feeling a little tired, but I figured it was just the usual nervousness.
“Do you mind if I keep taking pictures? I promised the person who designed it that I’d send pictures at every step.”
“Sure! So a friend designed this for you?”
“Mmhmmm.” I got the phone’s camera ready.
She transferred the stencil onto my arm. “I don’t want that taper at the end, please.” “Okay, I’ll change that.” “I’m so sorry to make you do this again.” “Don’t be; it’s your tattoo, you get to call the shots here.” Hmmmm, nice.
She came back with the new stencil. It looked just the way I wanted it to. I took a picture of it transferred onto my arm.
I don’t share vivid pictures of the tattoos which were designed for me because I never, ever want them copied. I don’t care how well or how little I know the person, how close to me or how far away from me they live. I don’t even care if I’m ever going to see it on another person or not. I just don’t want them copied. Period.
“Okay! So I’m gonna get you to lie down.”
“Should I take my shoes off?”
“Whatever you’re comfortable with.”
I thought about it. I kept them on.
“This is a big one. Your arm will never look the same again.”
“I know! I’ve been thinking that! Besides, I sort of really like my inner arm,” I said, looking at it wistfully.
“Well, say goodbye.”
I lay down on the…um…I want to say…tattoo bed? Yea, we’ll just go with that. I lay down on the tattoo bed.
“I have two on my thighs and one on my shoulder blade,” I told her. “Is this going to hurt more than those?”
“Well, you know, the inner arm is a little more sensitive.”
“If you need a break, just let me know, okay?”
The drone of the buzzing needle filled my ears. The needle pierced my skin. I do not remember it being this painful. “How’s that feel?” she asked. I gave her a thumbs-up. “Good. Just stay still while I do these long lines.”
I looked up at the ceiling and thought of other things. Dolce’s at home alone. I wonder how he’s doing. Did I leave him too many treats? I hope he doesn’t pee in his playpen. Man, I love having him around. He has really changed my life. There’s a battered New York license plate hanging on that wall. Huh. Is Jenny from New York? Maybe I should ask her. Should I? She really needs to concentrate on those long lines. Maybe conversation will just distract her. I know it’ll distract me. I guess I’ll wait. Is that a mirror near my head? Yup. Okay, this is pretty painful. How did I ever think I could endure a sleeve of this pain?
“So, uh, I thought bony spots were the most painful.”
“Well…you know…they’re all kinda painful.”
“I guess you’re right. I mean, it’s a powered needle in your flesh…”
Maybe it’ll hurt less if I look at the needle doing its job. I looked at the needle doing its job. Okay, so that didn’t work…
“I didn’t think this area would be this painful.”
“The inner arm doesn’t get bumped around a lot, right?”
I think the pain gets worse closer to the elbow. Then, I think it hurts more when she gets closer to the sides. Then, Okay, the pain definitely gets worse closer to the wrist.
Riding along in my automobile, sang Chuck Berry through the shop’s speakers, my baby beside me at the wheel…
My phone rang. I silenced it. I couldn’t have a normal conversation with anyone else at that moment.
Jenny laughed. She said, “That sounded like a monkey, your ringtone.”
I let out a small laugh which, I’m pretty sure, sounded like a whimper.
It’s the ringtone of this dance documentary called Pina. It was nominated for an Oscar. Did you watch the Oscars? Ssssshhhe isn’t done with the lines yet.
When she finished the outline, I got a short break as she changed the needle in her machine to a thicker one. To color within those lines. I took another picture of it.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Am I shivering? I couldn’t be. Come on, it’s so warm in here. I wonder if they have blankets. I’m not cold, am I? No. Then why does it feel like my teeth want to chatter? I should say something.
“Cool license plate. You from New York?” It was like I just didn’t have the energy to form full sentences.
“I found it while hiking in the Catskills. It was just lying around. Along with a lot of other junk. Everyone asks about it.” I was looking at her, she was looking at my arm.
“Great souvenir,” I said.
“Yea! I guess you’re right! I have a lot of weird stuff here. The other guys here are into guns and stuff. Not me.” She looked up for a second. I got a moment’s respite from pain.
And then it started again. “‘T’re you into?”
“Kittens? Hence the tattoo on your arm?”
“There’s kittens everywhere on these walls,” she said looking around.
I looked around too. Couldn’t see much because of the angle.
“I have two cats. I want to get a big picture of them, a huge one, and put it up here in my little space. I love them so much. When I was leaving today, I was just watching them clean themselves…I almost didn’t want to leave.”
“I just got a little dog, a Maltese puppy, and I think I left him too many treats today. But they’re stuffed in toys, scattered among the folds of an old t-shirt, you know…so I hope it keeps him busy.”
“I’m not a dog person. It takes so much responsibility!”
“You’re right. Cats appear to be more self-sufficient. Dogs usually need a lot of attention.” I struggled to make those last words sound less like a groan.
I’m going to look at the needle again. Maybe this time it’ll work, because it’s a different needle. I looked at it. Nope. Then I can’t distract myself anymore. At least if I’m not looking at it, I can drift away into another world, stare at the ceiling, close my eyes, daydream a little, think about Dolce, think about calling my parents later in the evening, think about calling my brother and telling him it’s finally done, think about the weekend, make imaginary plans for it. I’ve got to respond to Caryn’s email A-S-A-P so I can take Dolce to that training class on Sunday. Cousin A hasn’t texted me her number yet. How do I call back? I guess Dolce’s definitely sleeping in his crate tonight. Can’t let him get near this thing. Wonder if my little brother’s received…uh…that thing I…ordered.
My eyes are closed. I wonder if she thinks I’m asleep. I guess she knows no one could fall asleep while getting tattooed. I mean, this pain…is draining me. Didn’t I read somewhere that after the first few minutes the body begins to pump adrenaline so the pain reduces? Well, if that could kick in right about now I probably wouldn’t complain. In fact, I’d be really, really grateful.
“Do you have people asking you to stop without finishing the tattoo?”
“Mm…not as much anymore. In the beginning I did. But now I can sort of tell who’s all talk and who’s really serious. And if someone wants to wimp out halfway through I know how to tell them to keep sitting and not move until I’m done,” she laughed.
Is this thing I’m lying on…is this thing shaking? My feet are moving. Oh, it’s just me. I don’t think that’s good. Do I tell her to stop? And then what? She stops and then we have to start again after a few minutes. I’m sure that’ll feel worse. Let’s just keep going. I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it.
The other ones did not hurt as much. No way. No freakin’ way. I didn’t feel this kind of weakness with them. Did I skip lunch? Oh God, I think I skipped lunch.
“I’m gonna take another picture,” I said. She stopped. “Oh, keep going.” I wonder if she knows that it’s an ambigram which spells Miracle both ways. Should I tell her that? I don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t want to know. Or maybe she can tell. I don’t know. I can’t very well ask her, “Hey, by the way, do you know what it is that you’re tattooing on me?” Or maybe I can just say, “I’m getting this because my name means miracle.” Why do I think she even cares?
“Almost done,” she chirruped.
I moved. I felt light-headed. “Done?”
“Almost done,” she repeated. “I just have to fill in some spots, make sure it’s perfect.”
“Thank you…” That hurts. I guess it hurts a little more if you go over a spot that’s already been scratched by a needle, with a needle.
This is it. This is the last one. No more. I don’t think I have it in me to get any more.
“Okay, I think it’s done.”
“I don’t think I could’ve taken any more of that.”
“You did good. You didn’t move once. Not at all.”
“Look at it carefully and let me know if you think anything needs going over. If you find something when you’re at home, just come back, touch-ups are free. If it doesn’t heal properly, come back, free touch-ups. I’m going to cover it up. Keep that on for at least 6 hours. Then wash it thoroughly with a mild, fragrance-free soap. If it bothers you when it starts peeling, use a little bit of lotion. But just a little. Like, just a little dab. To stop the itching.”
Oh, now I remember the itching…“I feel so light-headed.”
“Are you okay? I don’t want you passing out as soon as you step outta here.”
“No, I’ll be fine. I’m going to take a cab home.”
“Okay. And don’t let your dog get too close to it.”
“Yes. Of course.” I examined it, touching a corner of it.
“No! No! Don’t touch!” she said lightly. “Gimme your finger.”
I obliged. She wiped it with rubbing alcohol. “Sorry,” I said.
“No blood anywhere in the shop, y’see.”
“Do you want to take a picture before I cover it up?”
“Yes, please. Thanks for being so thoughtful.”
I paid, gave her a generous tip, hailed a cab, and came home. My arm stung every now and then. I winced every time. Dolce was waiting. He was happy to see me. “I should go away more often,” I cooed at him. He whined a little. He needed to go outside. I’d been gone for more than 4 hours and I wasn’t sure if he’d have held it. But he was learning well. I guess I’m not doing a completely awful job. As I petted him, he moved towards the tattooed arm, sniffing. I offered him my other arm. He didn’t seem to mind. But he’s still going to sleep in his crate tonight.
P.S. If this post has any errors, I’ll fix them later, I promise. I have to go get a bite now. I’m ravenous.