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Tattoo

by RoseMarie London

Mask, by Yoju
"Love Priestess" by George Simov

Pain has no memory, I'm told by my tattoo artist lover. He says this to me for the first time holding me aloft by the rope of my hair.

When I was a little girl it was wavy and long and had a tendency toward a tangled mess that my mother had limited patience for. My grandmother used to buy hot pink bottles of No More Tangles hoping to save us both from an ordeal. My toilette was always a scene. This lasted into my twenties, the vanity scarred from the results of all my hysterical javelin-like hairbrush launches. The easiest thing for my mother to do was to every morning pull the front portions of my hair away from my face and fasten them to the top of my head with a clip. I would go all day vaguely aware of the apparatus always slightly tugging. And I was sometimes sent off to sleep this way so that the concert of waking and preparing for kindergarten was a gentler melody for us. I remember how my hair would hurt like a sunburn when that clip finally came loose. I'd walk around with phantom barrette syndrome.

Only what Jeff has coiled around his fingers and the inside of me seem to touch him. It's for a long moment that I register an arguing sensation. But then I see that it is like two voices shouting over one another but in an agreement each is too noisy to realize. I decide to listen.

When he lets me look his face is quiet. He is the ink that will re-write me. I don't know how I know this. I have known him for only a few hours. It is by way of a successful dinner that I find myself on a hard floor without clothes or objection.

The room is flooded in cigarette smoke; tender wisps colored green by the glow of a restaurant's neon suspended just outside his window one story above the street. It feels like being under water. Apparently I am a pretty good swimmer.

I've no one to answer to. My car's outside. No one knows I'm here, or where here is for that matter. But I'm notorious for leaving a trail; stealth in planning, sloppy in practice, or so I've been accused. I've felt unprotected for so long that when he grips my throat I am able without any particular fear or hesitation to lean into the loss. His hold is like a lullaby. What is your definition of freedom?

I got my tattoo five days after my husband finally moved out. Mostly I wanted to mark the occasion of my hard won freedom. A reminder that I'd so willingly given it away and had to scratch and claw to repossess it. I wanted definition. I wanted an outward scar. I was tired of being the only one who could see them.

I was put into Jeff's chair. He worked behind me. I felt his hands on my hips even after the stencil had been applied and then adjusted. I apologized for the size ten view--marriage had provided six years of large portions. "Nothin' wrong with a size ten," he said. I heard his chair squeak and felt the air expand between us. Sweet talker.

As with most services, once they are paid for, business is generally concluded. It was a Visa transaction this tattoo. A little exchange of ink and I was on my way. It's maybe an inch squared. In my bathroom mirror I watched the smudge at the base of my spine go through its transformations. I applied the salve at regular intervals. I followed instructions, for the first time in my life, to the letter without deviation. Permanence hasn't always frightened me into such compliance. I liked the way it felt. Like a rug burn, frankly. I liked feeling it, suddenly and for no other reason than it was there. It didn't disappoint me, it was the reminder I'd wished for.

It wasn't long before I realized that it wasn't just the vibration of this small plot of physical real estate that I was feeling but something larger; there was still the ghost of his fingers lifting me out of the chair. "Careful, your legs might be asleep." I'd been sitting for 11 minutes.

I saw him months later, by accident in a New Jersey bar. He was not in the mood for conversation and was not the kind, I found, who was easily seduced. I offered to buy him a round. He said, "I don't drink." He tilted his head, lit a Kool with a Zippo he opened and closed with just a thumb. He didn't notice when I left. Going home I got lost, or rather, the tangle of local routes, interstates and turnpikes were not running east that night. It took me two hours to cross one river. I was never, I swore with the lights of New York City in sight, going back...regardless of his dexterity.

I couldn't sleep. One night, then two. I called the store. A day later Jeff called me back. I learned he wasn't indigenous, but curious. His side of the conversation was all about some underground sex clubs on my side of the water that he'd heard about. I wasn't fazed. I thought I'd seen everything, some things more than once. The next night we had a meal instead. It was filled with his out-of town phrases that drew new pictures for me. He listened when I wasn't speaking and heard me when I was.

In the morning he smoked cigarettes and gave the audio version of his theories on violence, control and sex. He persuaded me into the shower. For once, the erratic splashing did not immediately evoke the summer-time swimming pool injustices I'd endured as a child which had shaped my long standing dysfunctional reaction to being wet uneccesarily. Agreeable to any number of his suggestions, I stood still while he buried his soapy fingers in my ears and cupped my eyes from the shampoo. All over me were signs of where he'd been--raised skin and the promise of bruises.

In front of his building he took me by my arm, halting my march to the car, and asked, "Do you trust me?" I had a limited range of motion and simply looked sideways at him in reply.

"Give me your keys."

He had a controlled recklessness to his driving. Jeff was someone who knew well his abilities and the consequences of his limitations; like a lion tamer and his chair, he negotiated my car through the tight driving spaces. I had to give him directions to Manhattan since he'd only ever seen it on TV. He had me direct us to a porno shop in Alphabet City.

Jeff circled my neck with his thumb and forefinger nudging me down the iron grate staircase. "Like you remember your first lover, you will always remember getting your first tattoo. It's not erasable, the ink or the experience." Inside, he leaned in to speak with the bored clerk who departed his leather studded stool, abandoning us to the center of a room filled with racks of your standard Frederick's of Hollywood fare, boxes of penis shaped pasta and strawberry flavored body paint.

In the thick of patchouli oil, the clerk returned, "We don't have white in her size."

"Red or black?" Jeff turned to asked me. "Pink just doesn't seem you." He had the ends of a supple black leather collar in each hand. Its restraint was immediate. Clearly amused by the look on my face, he gave the subtle D-ring a tug, "Not for nothin', I think it's you."

"I suppose that would depend on what it means."

"Pain has no memory. It's a gentle reminder."

RoseMarie London is a 2000 Fellow of the Ucross Foundation in Clearmont, Wyoming. Her work has appeared in many literary publications. She has just completed a novel tentatively titled JIM.

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