Only Parents, Children, and Dead People (5)


I meet Xavier late at night, after the shop closes.  It smells of ink and sweat, of blood and latex gloves.  Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” sadly plays from a beat-up boom box.  He begins the outline on my leg as he tells me stories of his divorce, his addiction, the stolen motorcycle he crashed that broke both his legs.  He tells me about the insurance settlement that went up his veins.  The black lines are thick and burn, but he doesn’t notice me wince.  He keeps talking, and I think he’s pushing the needle in too deep, but I stay silent.  He’s doing it for free.

But Adam told me months ago that you always get what you pay for.  Everything has a price, but I don’t believe him, not yet.  I am a model for the first time in my life and though it means nothing now, it might have years ago when I was young and foolish and ashamed of my body.  It might have made me feel special, noticed, like someone gave a shit besides boys at drunken parties who wanted clumsy sex for free.

I try to block out the pain, watch Xavier’s heavy hand grip the tattoo gun, see the sobriety date tattooed on his knuckles as if the permanency of ink will keep him from smoking crack or shooting dope.  He did it last week, the skin still raised and red around the curve of the numbers.  He catches me staring, puts the gun on the table, his fingers crawling towards his lips.  With one gloved hand, he yanks on his lower lip and pulls it down. Inside, a blurry block of letters that is supposed to spell “MOM,” but it only looks like a sore.

He stands and stretches, moves towards the broken-down window held up with a beer bottle.  It’s summer and stifling, air so thick and heavy it threatens to choke you.  He stares out the window at the blinking “WALK / DON’T WALK” sign, alternating sparks of red and white lighting up the empty cross walk on Lyndale Avenue.  He’s speaks as if he’s hypnotized, slow and steady and tells me about sweet Ingrid, his first wife back in New York City.  Seven years ago, on Christmas day, she left him clutching a worn-out garment back stuffed with undergarments and dresses, costume jewelry and make-up.  He watched her walk away from their third story window, her delicate shoe prints like little arrows that pointed North, little arrows that pointed away from him.

He turns towards me with red-rimmed eyes, mouth turned down and picks up the gun.  He shoves his hand against my leg, pushing it down until I think it will snap under the weight.  He yells at me, tells me I need to keep it still or the lines will be messy and ruined.  He presses the gun into my skin all raw and red and the needle whirs and bounces and I swear I smell burned flesh.

I leave his shop feeling ill, memories of Ingrid tipping in satin pumps on a New York, winter sidewalk and his anger echoing in my mind.  My leg is wrapped up with paper towels and tape, but I can feel every line he made, raised and black and bruised that tugs and aches with every step. The cross-walk is blinking red, but I walk anyway, trying to escape Xavier and the string of sad stories that make up his life.  But with every line he carved onto my skin, the fragments of his life remain.


2 Responses to “Only Parents, Children, and Dead People (5)”

  1. “It smells of ink and sweat, of blood and latex gloves. Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” sadly plays from a beat-up boom box.”

    Sheer brilliance.
    Or so I thought. Then I read “But with every line he carved onto my skin, the fragments of his life remain.”

    You have an incredible writing voice that I could get lost in forever.
    And you can’t go wrong with Cohen to set a mood, can you?

    • Agreed. Cohen is a a perfect tone setter.

      Thanks for the feedback. I see you’re busy and scrambling, so it means a lot when you stop a few and pen some comments, read some lines.


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