06 September 2005


Last week, I didn't have internet access, which meant that I either had to work, or find new ways to procrastinate. One of them was to read through old story fragments, which was mostly a horrifying exercise. But there were a few that I thought were decent enough to take out for an airing. Here's one. Remember, it's only the first day of school.

The Undoing

He was moving tomorrow. Today, he was having his tattoos removed.

The comorant wrapped around his left ankle would be the first to go. It wasn't his first tattoo, but it had been the most painful. On their first wedding anniversary, his wife insisted that they do something fun to commemorate the day. She'd gotten a commorant wrapped around her left wrist. It looked cool. They'd seen a comorant, sitting on a mooring in the bay, on their honeymoon on Cape Cod.

He would get the same drawing as hers, on his right ankle. Symmetrical, she'd said. Like us.

The tattoo artist glanced away for a millisecond – later, he said a piece of dust blew into his eye – just as he put the first needle in. It scraped against his ankle bone. A little blood dipped out. His wife shrieked, then laughed. The tattoo artist said, "sorry man," and "good thing that was your ankle and not your neck." His wife laughed again. The tattoo artist kept going.

After the comorant, he'd have the two abstract pastels removed from his back and chest. He had gotten those in college. His friend Lena had designed them. They had a lot of light orange in them, and no black. The colors were so pale that when he had a tan, you could hardly see them. He particularly hated the one on his chest, just above his left nipple. He hadn't had any chest hair in college, but now, a few strands poked through the bottom of the tattoo. It was ugly and he didn’t like having to explain it whenever he undressed in front of a new woman.

He and Lena had been good friends in college, never romantically linked. They didn't keep up now. She had divorced her first husband after she'd had an affair with her graduate school advisor, and moved away.

The celtic cross at the small of his back, the three dots in a triangle on each of his buttocks, the red easy chair on the inside of his right arm – all of these would be gone by tomorrow. Souvenirs of failed relationships, minor milestones, drunken evenings in his 20s with nowhere better to go. Declarations of independence. They weren't important now.

It was going to be harder to part with the CARPE VITAE across his knuckles. That had come to him in a dream one night, and lasted past the next morning, which seemed significant at the time. Not just a day, but a whole life, CARPE VITAE marked a turning point for him. He started playing guitar seriously, put up a few flyers in downtown clubs, got a band together. He started dating a lot, fun women, silly women, women with jobs that paid by the hour. He took his day job less seriously. He took up zen meditation. He listened to public radio and found an accountant who specialised in working with artists. He stopped taking white drugs altogether, and only did the brown ones on weekends.

After six months of CARPE VITAE he met his future wife at an outdoor concert downtown. His band was on the bill. She and a friend organized the poetry slam on the second stage.

Their first tattoo together had not been the comorant. On their second date, they had sex for the first time. She asked about the dots on his buttocks. She laughed when he told her what they represented.

"We should do that," she said.

"Do what?" he said. There was a tiny red birthmark on her left breast. No, two.

The next night, on their third date, she brought him to her tattoo parlour. Except for the abstract pastels he'd gotten in college, he always went to the same guy, on the east side, for all his tattoos. How would he explain a new tattoo to his guy? He couldn't. If he got a new tattoo at her place – it was on the west side – his guy would know he'd betrayed him. He couldn't do that to his guy.

"Oh, come on," she said. "Don’t be such a baby."

She leaned close to him, standing on her toes, and whispered in his ear, "come on. I want to do this."

They walked out two hours later with typewriters on their left hips. Hers was an Olivetti, his a Smith Corona. To be honest, he didn’t know what the difference was, or whether it was significant. He wasn't a word guy. But she seemed pleased. It was hard to make love that night, their stinging hips knocking into each other, a little blood escaping from beneath his bandage, but they'd managed.

He was almost sorry that he had to get rid of the Smith Corona.

She had yelled at him the night he came home with the yin yang on his left shoulder blade.

"I hate that mystical shit," she’d said.

"What are you talking about?" he said.

"All that mystical, quasi-religious, misappropriation of third world religious symbols shit. It's so pretentious."

"You're calling me pretentious now?"

"Also, it's ugly. You didn't go to my guy, did you? Because my guy would never draw something that ugly."

"I went to my guy."


"What’s that supposed to mean?"


Maybe he should get rid of the yin yang first. Would that make her happy?

She'd left a month ago. He had only spoken to her once since then, when she came back for her books. She had mailed the keys to their apartment to him at work. He'd recognized the handwriting, and torn the package open. Gray fluff floated to the floor. Just the keys. No note. No further explanation

There hadn't been a return address, but the postmark was from Benton, MA. She must have gone to her grandmother's house. He would have taken the bus up that night, but he had to deal with the apartment by the end of the week. He couldn't afford to pay another month's rent on his own.

"I can’t be here anymore," she’d said. "This isn’t who I am."


Blogger PG said...

Good stuff. :)

3:42 PM  
Blogger Stuntmother said...

I think the whole idea of erasing tattoos is very interesting -- we so often would like to rub out bits of life and getting rid of a tattoo could be a very visceral way of doing that. Then there's also the whole, change me, change me back, take me change me love me don't love me I'll change for you -- and then being left. Identity written on the body. Very good stuff, El. And thanks for putting it out there. It is courageous and encouraging.

11:08 PM  
Blogger eacop said...

that was really great, congratulations.

9:03 PM  

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