She rolls up her sleeve, and the story it tells is enough to halt my normal question-and-answer portion of the consultation.
I sit back on my stool, placing my hands on my knees, and look back to her face. Her hair is jet black, and not in that over-dyed Emo way, where the hair eventually becomes like dark straw. The hair falls in shimmering ringlets over her shoulders, framing her pale white face. She looks me dead in the eyes, and the bright blue is staggering. When she had walked in, head down in a slouchy zip-up sweatshirt, with exposed shoulders and a grey tank-top, she looked like any other Punk Grrl looking for some ink, but now, her white face is revealed, waiting, and the long raised red scar runs down her wrist.
It’s not a clean scar, surgical.
It looks as though there was anger, intent, behind it. The path begins at the base of her palm and runs three wandering inches down her arm. It’s horrific; the simple beauty of this girl, with the mark of destruction she wears.
“I’m sorry,” I stutter.
Her voice is raspy, like a smoker, but she doesn’t smell like it, the voice older than the body it comes from.
“I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s okay. You’re going to fix it.” She lets out a quick smile.
She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper, which had once been white, but was now worn from excessive and constant handling.
I expect a design, a flower or tribal band, to mask the jagged interruption on her white wrist. Instead, opening the paper reveals a single word, written in all capitals.
“Is this what you want?”
I pause, and she averts her gaze down to the scar.
“Over it, so it’s divided down the middle.”
“I can’t, it won’t look…”
“Good?” Her answer is accompanied by another smirk, and I look away, blushing.
“No, I didn’t mean that. I can’t reproduce this, the ink won’t distribute uniformly.”
“But I can’t guarantee how it will look.”
“That’s fine. That’s okay.”
Her eyes dominate her face, a blue that I wish I could represent in my work, the moving ocean, a sapphire at noon.
“Do you want a different typeface or…”
“No. Just like that. Please.”
I get up, scan the paper, and print the transfer. She waits patiently, looking ahead and flexing the fingers on her wounded arm.
“Like this?” I place the transfer on top of the scar, so that it divides all the letters horizontally, and it crinkles where the former wound doesn’t allow for a flat application.
“Perfect.” The remnant of her smile fades.
“Are you sure? When I get to the scar it won’t look like…”
“Yes. I’m sure.” Her eyes are closed.
I unwrap the sealed packages of needles, and grab a cup, filling it with black ink. I attach the needle to the gun, and lower the tip of the dripping needle to her alabaster arm. I hold her arm with my left hand at the elbow, thumb on her vein, keeping the skin taut despite the raised tissue, and I can feel the blood pumping through her.
I begin with the first letter, filling in as I work, and reach the first intersection. I look up. She nods, and closes her eyes again.
The ink hits the scar, and the mess of flesh scatters the ink into strange patterns under the skin. Intricate and marbled, the paths grow thorns and black spires, against the rest of the letter.
I finish through the mark, and look up. Her eyes are still closed, but a pathway of tears line her cheeks.
“Are you okay?” A whisper.
Her answer is small, a hit dog, a wounded child… but true.
I progress down the scar, trills and tiny vines flowing along the break in the single word, and there is no more talking, only the hum of the gun droning in the back room parlor.
I sit back when I finish, grab a paper towel to dab at the emerging droplets of blood along the black word.
It runs along the scar, only the tips are protruding. Within the mark, the ink has taken on its own path, I could stare at it for hours.
Smiling, I meet her eyes.
“Do you like it?”
She looks down and nods.
I reach for my Polaroid camera, but she puts her hand on my knee, stopping me cold.
“Could you recreate it?”
I can’t. It’s a beautiful accident; without the scar tissue, it would be impossible.
“No,” I say, and put the camera down, understanding.
I finish wrapping her arm, noting the similarities to how this must feel, again, for her to walk the streets bearing a bandage like this.
She stands, placing her thin hands along my jawbone, and kisses me on the forehead, her raven hair falling across my ears.
She leaves the money with the receptionist and walks out the door into the midnight streets, not looking back.
I drop my head, thinking about the swirls and intricacies, so much like the tresses that cascade down her shoulders, and see the open paper on the floor. The creases are years old, wrinkles in the folds, and the single word, centered on the paper, a man’s writing, high school boy or father or teacher, glares up at me in Sharpie black.
I pick it up, debate chasing after her, and her absent response is as clear as the ocean of her eyes.
Grabbing a felt tracing marker from the top of my workstation, I slash a line through the word, negating it. Refolding the paper, I place it in the pocket of my jeans, wondering if tonight, when the shift ends and sleep comes, I will wander through dark growing hedgemazes of ink.
Matt Daly is an 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher in New Jersey. He has an MFA in Creative Writing: Poetry from New England College.