A Tattoo

        John closed his eyes tightly. He could feel water welling up in the corners of each, but his mind refused to recognize them as tears and marked them down as sweat instead.        “Geez it hot in here.”         “Calm down, we’re almost done.”         The tattoo artist’s tone was derisive and insulting in that way you talk to a child when your trying to be polite but you’re really annoyed. John knew the tone well. He heard it all day long from mothers at the end of their ropes who came to his teller window at the bank to deposit a check or turn in a few rolls of coins.         “There we are. That wasn’t so bad now was it?”         John could tell he said this to everyone. You could end the day on the table dead and he would still say it, scrawling his name on a bill and tossing it over his solder as the medics rushed into the room too late to make a difference. John felt like telling him off, but he knew he wouldn’t so he mustered a weak forced smile instead.         “There’s a mirror in the corner. Give it a good look over and then I’ll bandage it up.”         John stood up, and the fresh flush of blood and feeling to his arm sent a new shock of pain up his shoulder and through his neck. He winced, but quickly hid.         He stood up to the mirror and looked over his new addition. At first all he could see was the swollen redness of his battered skin, but as his eyes focused, he began to see the faint ink lines emerge and congeal into shapes and pictures. He continued to stare, at first lazily, but with increasing intent, as if his mind was slowly working out a math puzzle and the final operation just eluded him. Finally things suddenly snapped into focus.         “What is this?”         “Hmm”, mused the artist half listening as he prepared a gauze bandage.         “This, what is this on my arm?”         “It the brogan’s cross, for Brogan State Penn. And two roses. You were in for two years right?”         “Brog…Brogen State Penn? You mean the penitentiary? It’s supposed to be a book. John Brogen’s book ‘An English Rose’! What have you done to me?”         “Na mate, its right here in the invoice. One Brogen…” The artist stopped short as he squinted at his own inscrutable handwriting on the bill of sale.         John’s heart began to race. He looked back in the mirror, examining the new tattoo over and over, forcing his mind to actively identify each element and assure him that he was seeing what he had seen just moments before. Each time the same, a ghoulish gothic style cross, throned with jagged black spines and flanked on each side with a smiling skull holding a rose in its teeth.         “Here,” John’s voice shook as he spoke, “quick, wipe it up before the ink dries.”         “I ah, well, I can’t. It doesn’t work that way.”         “Of course it does, here,” John grabbed a sterile towel from the counter and pressed it hard to his flesh. His skin burned at this further indigence and he winced at the pain. Then, gritting his teeth he began to rub furiously.         “Wait, wait, you’ll tear your skin to shreds and get an infection. Look, the ink’s down deep, under the skin, you can't just soak it up.”         “Well the get your erasing fluid or whatever you use. Just get it, hurry.”         “Look, I’m sorry. Tattoos are permanent. Only way to get them off is with a laser, and the…”         “So get the laser, what are you standing there for.” John was practically in tears now.         “Calm down. Like I was trying to tell you. Only a doctor can do that. And they can't take it off until the skin’s healed up. Look, this happens every once and a while. It’s no big deal.”         “No big deal! I look like a hoodlum.”         The tattoo artist almost started laughing at John’s choice of words. “It’s cool, look, we’ve got a dermatologist we work with. I’ll give them a call and make you an appointment. The shop will cover everything. You’ll have to wait 6 weeks for the skin to heal up and then you can go to the office and have it off. It just takes an hour or so.”         John looked back in the mirror, purposlly blurring his gaze, but his two new osseous companions starred back at him with their wide grins intact.