**This piece was written for the Write On The River annual writer's competition where it received an Honorable Mention for non-fiction writing.**
Her grandmother called it a sin.
Her grandmother called it a sin.
March got her first tattoo when she was twenty-one. A Christmas gift from the Wolf (her lover), it was a modest self-drawn snowflake inked into place by a shaky-handed apprentice to the great Wanda H. of Peoria, Illinois. They had driven 7 hours along flat, featureless winter roads to fill a weekend with wake-n-bakes, hard music, heavy drinking, long-standing friendship, unspeakable love and some virgin ink. The needle offered a new sensation to her life and her brain felt in tune with the rhythm of its sounds and the heat from its sting. Later, standing in the filthy bathroom with her shirt pulled up over her head, March carefully removed the bandages from her shoulder, examined the art she had acquired and smiled. It was as if someone had opened the door to an invisible cage and allowed her to walk out, free.
Thinking back, March remembered the first time she had entered this room. Flash Art encased in protective acrylic sleeves filled the walls as her high school girlfriend flipped through the pages of each plastic-bound book of images. It was a neon-filled parlor in a Wisconsin tourist trap of a town. Overweight moms and Harley dads and newly turned eighteen-year-olds exploring their freedom and not much else. She couldn’t even remember the symbol that had finally been chosen since it was meaningless. Art didn’t live here. This was more like a dare. This way, was without love.....
Her next visit to a parlor happened within the year but, again, it was not she who sat the chair. Standing alongside her enigmatic friend, March watched as the artist tried to make sense of the sinuous space left behind from the scoliosis along Little Bird’s spine. Little Bird had been a gymnast as a child and the rigors of training and poor genetics left her twisted but strong. The final piece followed the center of Little Bird’s back, but not the bones beneath. It was a list of carefully chosen symbols in black and flesh, set with an overly-heavy hand. The art healed dark and scarred and beautiful like Little Bird herself.
At a party that winter, someone pulled out a home tattooing kit and began working the soft skin inside Kiah’s lower lip. Small stabs of blueish ink began to form out the word that would remain there forever. On the perpetrator’s wrist lived a bolt of lightning and on her partner’s hand a crescent moon. Eventually, March would watch those two people grow older together, separate, remain friends and finally dissolve into obscurity. But still, the bolt and the moon remained alongside the memory of that night.
In the spring, March got home late from class and had to ride her bike as fast as the wind to reach the shop in time. He was already in the chair and the work was nearly complete. The Wolf had chosen an ancient script that wrapped gracefully around his muscular calf. The needle began to bounce as it passed over the bone in his shin and he drew in his breath deeply to compensate. The size and scope of the art was larger this time, the session lasting hours. In the end, the Wolf was tired and drawn and shivering with adrenaline. March followed him home and kissed his watery eyes.
The fall was crisp and golden. Always happy, Cat decided that her time had come and asked if March would sit with her while the ink work was done. Cat’s skin turned red and blotchy beneath the needle and small droplets of blood exuded themselves from the damaged tissue. A cacophony of musical notes spread gracefully across her supple back; a symphony to play on forever….
And then, nothing. For years, there was nothing. No needles. No Art….at least not for March. She wandered into a small shop at some point during the hot summer and had almost conceded to a meaningless piece of work if only to have some connection again to the transcendence, focus and love that the ink offered. She made an appointment; but never showed up.
Then quite suddenly and unexpectedly March’s heart was again moved. Captivated, for 10 years she carried a photograph tucked carefully inside the creased and dirty pages of a CrimethInc. novella. Occasionally, she would pull out the aging paper and wonder if she would ever commit to fulfilling her desires. Once, she thought the image to be lost and nearly panicked; so encircled was her soul around its subtle meanings for her life. A mustang ensnared by a pair of griffins. In the face of certain death the steed remained poised and strong, meeting its fate boldly and without fear.
It was her 37th birthday. The Wolf had arranged for her to meet Little Bird in a back-alley parlor amidst the chaos and beauty of Capitol Hill. The room had tall tin ceilings and walls the color of new blood. The vertical surfaces were adorned with mounted animal heads (boar and coyote)and the gilded frames of petit paintings in oils and acrylics. The windows were large open panes of glass and as the needle worked, March watched a man walk past dressed in tube socks, underwear and nothing more. Over the course of four hours, the soft skin of her belly became transformed into the gruesomeness of a truth only she could really understand. The wings of each beast spread out toward the bones of her hips with the head of the wild horse dipping gently below her navel. As the ink flowed, March did not cry out. Indeed, she barely moved. Her thoughts remained quiet and her breathing came in long flowing sighs as she explored the calmness of the world inside her mind. After all this time, March had again found peace….. At last.