The Tattoo Artist

In a small town on the eastern coast, the rain fell gently on its inhabitants as the people resumed their lives as they did with each passing day. While all of the storefronts were bleak and almost quiet, one lone store more boastful and colorful than the others. Above its glass doors covered with old posters advertising alternative bands and anti-commercialism, was a perched fluorescent red light that shined the words ‘ The Neon Parlour’.

Inside of the brightly lit store was a lone man, no older than twenty eight, sitting in front of a desk as he worked on an illustration. His hand flowing smoothly along the paper, he is dedicated to his art, stopping only to brush his white colored hair out of his eyes. After a while, he heard the sound of the doorbell opening wide as the metal bell rings loudly.

He turned in his chair to see who had entered the door, his eyes widening as he perked up for his customer. A larger man dressed in a black jacket and jeans stepped towards the counter, wiping the rain from his wide brow. If the young man could have guessed, he was a man in his early forties, one hundred-ninety pounds and has seen his fair share of rough encounters. When he gets to the counter, he leans on the glass surface, putting his full weight onto it as if he was testing how strong it was. He grabs the nearby portfolio and starts browsing through it. With each picture that he examines, he expresses mixed emotions of apathy and impression. The young man approaches the burly man, standing behind the counter as the man begins to speak.

“You do good work. I have been to the other ink jockeys in this town and half of them can’t draw a straight line to save their lives.” The man gruffly said. The young man looks at him with annoyance with his use of the phrase ‘Ink Jockey’ but decided to look past it.

“I appreciate the compliment. Were you looking to get some ink done?” The young man asked.

“Yes I am.” As he said this, he pulled a picture out from his coat, sliding it across the counter towards the young man. Picking it up, he glanced at the photo of what appeared to be a young woman curled up next to a man sitting on a brown leather couch.

“Cute girl. Your girlfriend?”

“Far from it. She is a girl that I was soft for years ago and I always like her face. So, I wanted to get a pin-up girl with her face on my back.” He replied, gesturing towards his back. The young man looked at him with a raised eyebrow, confused by his selection of location.

“You do know that more often pin-up girl tattoos are put on arms and legs than the back right?” The young man asked. Within a moment, the man pulled his sleeves up and revealed the assorted tattoos, both fresh and faded etched into his arms.

“‘fraid there is no more room on my arms. My back is one of the few spots that I have free.” He explained.

“I see…Well, I can work with that. What was the design you were looking to have done?”

“I wanted to get a tattoo of her in a kneeling position with angel wings on emerging from her back.”

“I can easily do that if you want. Do you mind if I make a copy of the photo so I can prepare the design?” The young man asked, holding up the picture.

“Go right ahead.” The young man nodded and stepped to the aside and began to scan the image. “By the way, I’m Ethan.” The larger man said as he extended his burly hand forward.

“Michael. A pleasure.” The young man rebutted, extending his hand to shake Ethan’s. The scanner chimed, notifying them that the picture was uploaded. “Alright, I can have this design finished in a day. When would you like to set up the appointment?”

“Do you have time tomorrow?” Ethan inquired,

“Yes, I have a slot tomorrow free at one pm. Is that alright?”

“Sounds perfect. I will be back tomorrow.” Ethan said as he left the parlour.

The next afternoon, Ethan returned, adorned in a white t-shirt and black jeans, slightly doused from the rain outside. He saw Michael standing at the counter, looking through some paperwork before he glanced up and saw the customer standing before him.

“Hello Ethan. How are you today?” Michael asked.

“I’m fine.” He walked forward to the counter and laid a two hundred dollar bills in front of Michael. “For the deposit.”

“Alright, if you would kindly come back to the seat and remove your shirt.” Michael asked as he gestured for him to head back. Ethan did as he asked, removing the damp shirt and dropping it onto the tile floor. Michael followed him back, walking towards one of the counters and grabbing a pair of polyethylene gloves. He slipped them onto his long fingers and then grabbed one of the nearby razors. He glanced down and saw that there was hardly any hair on Ethan’s pale back. “I need to remove what little hair that’s on your back. Just relax.”

“Okay.” Ethan grunted.

With dexterous movements, Michael made quick work with Ethan’s back, removing the hair without so much of a nick.

“That was quick.” Ethan commented, surprised that Michael was able to work as fast as he could.

“There wasn’t much to it.” Michael sat down in his black leather chair and turned on his tattoo machine. The steady whirring sound of the machine echoed throughout the parlour. “Are you ready?”

“Just do it.”

Within moments, Michael began to tattoo the design into Ethan’s back, just under his broad shoulder blades. The needle moved continuously as it injected the ink into his body. The two of them sat in silence for the next hour, not saying a word or sound. Eventually, Ethan glanced up and saw a photo hung in between two of the mirrors on the wall. It was an older photo of Michael with a young woman, the two of them huddled close.

“Hey, who’s the chick in the photo?” Ethan asked promptly, curious to know who it was. It took a moment for Michael to answer him.

“That is…was my wife.” Ethan quickly picked up in his change of words.

“Was? You get a divorce or something?”

“She died two years ago.” Michael confessed to him.

“Oh shit man, I’m sorry.” Ethan told him.

“It’s alright. Tell me, do are you married?” Michael asked in return.

“No, I had the opportunity several times, but never sealed the deal. It’s just easier to be single and hook up than it is to be married.” Ethan explained.

“I see.” Michael said as he continued to tattoo the design. “You know…despite the time that has gone by, it still hurts.”

“I can’t imagine. You lost your wife in an instant, I don’t think I would be the same afterwards.” Ethan tried to sympathetic to him, though his tone of voice said reluctance.

“Part of me felt that it was somehow my fault and now, she can’t rest in peace.” Michael said solemnly.

“We all make mistakes man. I remember a few years ago, I got blitzed beyond belief and woke up in a ditch a few miles away from the bar i was in. Apparently someone stole my truck in the meantime and took it for a joyride. I loved that truck, it had gotten me through some hard times.”

“I see…”

Over the next four hours, the two of them talked about their lives from their work to the people in their lives.

After five hours has passed, Michael put down the tattoo machine and sighed. He reached over to the nearby stand and grabbed a red camera, immediately taking a photo of the tattoo as Ethan stood up from the seat. Michael handed him the camera and walked over to the far counter along the wall. Ethan’s reaction to the tattoo on his back was that of shock, seeing that the face of the woman on his back was not who he wanted.

“What in the hell did you do you little piece of shit?!? This is not who I wanted tattooed on my back!” Ethan shouted in an intense rage as he threw the camera to the ground, smashing into several pieces. Michael turned to face him, calmed and composed despite the situation at hand.

“Do you remember when I told you that my wife died? Her name was Samantha McQuinn and you killed her Ethan Douglas.” Michael told him sternly. Ethan looked at him in shock, questioning what he was talking about.

“What in the hell are you talking about?”

“Two years ago, you had a little too much to drink and decided to go for a drive. Samantha was driving down the I-76 when your pickup truck struck her. She died on impact, but I watched you abandon your car and run away from the scene. I waited two years for this opportunity.” Michael explained. Ethan’s hands balled up into fists as he approached Michael with the intent to kill him.

“I am going to…” Before Ethan could finish his sentence, he began to stagger before falling to the floor. “What in the fu…”

“Black Mamba venom mixed in with the ink, coursing through your body as I worked. Samantha used to be a Ophiologist and it gave me access to the tool of your destruction. You are going to die soon Ethan.” As Michael talked, Ethan’s breath became heavier, he was unable to keep his eyes open. He tried to reach towards Michael, but he finally collapsed on the floor. After a while, Michael, stepped towards Ethan’s body and crouched down, rubbing his hand against the freshly made tattoo. “You can finally rest Samantha…”

Michael stood up from the floor and walked towards the entrance of the parlour, turning off the lights before leaving. The bright light above the door slowly died, leaving the shop in darkness.

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