This week’s flash fiction challenge comes courtesy of Chuck Wendig, and he did something rather clever: last week we submitted some combination of words that could be considered a title. Many writers submitted, and Chuck picked ten to be the finalists. One of those has to be the title for this week’s story.
And no, my title was not one of the ten. But to satisfy the curiosity I know is burning all of you, I submitted: Your Onion Breath Was Destiny
I think it has potential. Maybe I’ll write an epic romantic comedy later.
In any case, I chose The Blind Tattooist. I don’t really know where it’s gonna go as I type this, so this should be fun for everyone.
The Blind Tattooist
Morgan grabs my arm and pulls me towards the door. “Come on, Bri! It’ll be fun. Promise.”
“What’s so fun about permanently scarring your body?” I eye the art in the window of the tattoo parlor. Sure, these look nice hanging in frames and sitting in a window, but on skin? “I don’t know how you got me this far.”
“Yes you do. I heard you talking to Joey about getting some ink. I’m just nudging you.” She opens the door and holds her arm out, allowing me to enter in grand fashion.
I roll my eyes and trudge past her.
The place feels dark in spite of the sunlight coming through the windows. More paintings similar to those on display hang on every inch of the wall – a fairy with a zombie head catches my attention. I recoil. Who would want that on their body forever?
Morgan plops onto the couch in the front waiting area and flips through pages of a large scrapbook, each page displaying a photograph of a finished tattoo. But they don’t look like the designs featured in the paintings.
Sitting next to her to get a closer look, I analyze the pieces: a bridge covering someone’s back, a robin so realistic it could be a photograph, and a ’67 Chevy, among many other tame designs. “Where are the infinity signs and Chinese characters and fiery skulls? Aren’t dragons a big deal?” I turn the page, revealing a tattooed baseball.
This must be the work of a different artist. The designs are too unlike those in the paintings. As I scan the room for another scrapbook, a bald man with puzzle piece tattoos covering every visible inch of skin – and likely every invisible inch as well – enters through a door leading to the back of the parlor and approaches us. “How can I help you, ladies?”
Morgan bounces on the couch. “We both want to get some work done. I’m thinking a dream catcher, right here-”
“I need to stop you.” He holds up a hand. “This place is a little different. Our tattooists are…insightful. You can offer ideas, but I recommend letting them take control of the pieces.”
I sit back and cross my arms. “That sounds like a bad idea.”
“It isn’t. We’ve never had an unhappy customer.”
“Never?” I raise my eyebrows. “That’s unlikely. No drunken naked lady tats? No misspelled inspirational quotes?”
He laughs. “Never. And to prove it, we don’t require payment until after the work is complete, and we only ask for what you think the piece is worth.”
Morgan faces me and bites her lip. “I’m doing it. Are you coming?”
Sighing, I stand. “All right. But if I think mine is worth ten bucks, that’s all you’re getting.”
He smiles and shakes his head. “You will not be disappointed. Follow me.”
Leading us through the back door and into a short hallway, he turns and gestures to a room on the left, eyeing Morgan. “You can take this room. Mariana will be your artist.”
She eagerly enters the room, looking back at me before someone shuts the door behind her.
My stomach knots. I thought we would get to be together.
The man leads me further down the hall, holding his arm out to the next room on the left. “You will be with Frederick. He has been with us the longest. I believe you will be most satisfied.” He holds a wide smile as I inch past him.
I enter a brightly-lit room that holds only a tattoo chair, a rolling chair, and a metal cart. An overweight, old man sits in the rolling chair, holding a tattoo gun and wearing a smile.
Seeming to look past me, he says, “Please, take a seat.” He pats the head of the tattoo chair. “I believe we’ll be working on your chest, just beneath the collar bone.”
“Wait.” I step back. “I should have some say in this.”
His smile grows wider, and he turns to the cart, where he starts pulling containers of ink in different colors. “Of course, miss. Now, take a seat.”
The colors he’s choosing – white, black, and brown – draw me to the chair. I’ve told him nothing about the orchid design Morgan heard me casually discussing with my boyfriend, yet all the colors are right.
I lower myself to the chair as he holds up an alcohol wipe, which he uses to clean the skin beneath my right collarbone.
I lean away. “I don’t think I want it there.”
“Please sit quietly. And you should close your eyes.”
“How do you know-”
Before I can argue further, he’s drawing a black outline on my skin with the tattoo gun. It doesn’t hurt as badly as I thought it would. In fact, it barely hurts at all.
He hums as he works, not quieting when he stops the gun to change colors. He tells me to close my eyes again the one time I open them, and I find his process calming. By the time he finishes, I’ve nearly fallen asleep.
“Okay, you are done.”
I jerk my eyes open and crane my neck to see the final product – a piece of art that nearly stops my heart.
My fingers trace the outline of the worn teddy bear – an image of the same bear Petey was carrying the day he died. The day I killed him.
“He was your brother, yes?” The old man’s voice pulls me from my disbelief.
“Y…yes. How could you…”
Gripping the arm of the tattoo chair, he stands, using his hands to guide himself as he cleans the room.
“Wait. You’re blind?”
“I do not see what you see. I see other things.” He gathers the bottles and feels for the drawer, dropping them inside. “I see it was not your fault.”
“It was. If I hadn’t kicked the ball into the street-”
“Not your fault. You were a child.” He reaches for my new tattoo. “This, you must remember.”
A lump forms in my throat, and my ability to speak escapes me. So instead of asking one of the millions of questions bouncing through my head, I stand and walk out of the room.
The bald man is waiting for me in the hall. “How did you do, miss? Are you pleased?”
I mindlessly nod.
“And how much do you think it is worth? More than ten dollars, I suspect.”
“I…” I stand before him, mouth agape. “I don’t have enough. There isn’t enough.”
He smiles and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Your reaction is quite common. If it pleases you, all we ask for payment is a photograph to add to our collection.”
So before leaving the parlor with my friend, the man photographs our new tattoos and adds them to his album, and I leave with my gifts from the blind tattooist.