Between Subtle Shading and the Absence of Light

Submitted into Contest #33 in response to: Write a story about a character making a big change.... view prompt




Most people didn’t react to the three inch scar on her arm; the little white smile. They knew better not to ask, or found sufficient distraction in Edie’s other features – the spiked blonde hair, hazel eyes that shone yellow in the sun, the dimples piercing her cheeks, her throaty laugh. One day, however, a family member in possession of a good many things but tact not being one of them, asked outright during a family dinner.

“So, Edie. I noticed that scar on your arm.”

The bite of hamburger she was swallowing seemed to turn to stone in her throat.

“How did you get it?” her cousin Andy continued.

Edie gulped down her glass of water to encourage the burger down and stall for time.

“Oh, just an accident at work. Years ago. From when I worked in that warehouse?” she said, glancing at her 10-year-old cousin Samantha who fortunately seemed more interested in picking out the entrails of tomato from her own burger.

A waitress came over to ask how everything was and to Edie’s relief, they moved onto how well Samantha was doing with her history project.

A few weeks later, Edie learned the Australian artist known as Buzzkill was coming to Guns Blazing, a tattoo parlour a half hour walk from her flat. Buzzkill had a huge following, fans coming from all over the globe to snatch up her neo-traditional designs. There was only a Sunday afternoon slot left by the time Edie saw the post. She emailed to claim the spot, sending over a photo of a crudely sketched idea. A key, a rose, a door. The first in acknowledgement she held the key to her own happiness. The second, well, just because. Have you ever seen a flower more sensual, so downright bold in its beauty? Plus most tattoo artists can probably draw them in their sleep. And the third to symbolise new beginnings, taking the next step…and because Light My Fire was a ‘choon’ – the highest accolade her older brother Theo could give a song. It would commemorate the many gigs they’d been to together, some of which she would’ve been denied entry if it wasn’t for him and his ‘advanced years’. Which was an expression she loved to use to watch his nostrils flare like a hyperventilating rabbit.

A few days later, a reply landed in her inbox.

Yeah, can do that. Deposit is £100 via paypal to my email address.

Perhaps this curtness was a good sign. Buzzkill was probably tapping them out on her phone in-between hours of drawing up designs and modelling her merch. Yes, that was it, Edie decided, hands hovering in hesitation over replying and adding to the celebrity artist’s burden.

Sunday afternoon rolled around. Edie walked to the shop, peering at her arm as she reached out to push the button at a set of traffic lights. That skin that had held her together for 31 years was about to disappear. No, not disappear. Be given a new coat.

She came to the door of the shop and browsed the flash sheets in the window as she was a while early. She was still too early when she went in, but she noticed the receptionist giving her curious glances.. Edie felt confident she could replicate each one of the designs; that’s how long she’d stared at them while trying to regulate her breathing.

The receptionist greeted her and gave her a form. Edie took it over to a bench to complete, feeling self-conscious over her small, hidden tattoos as though the receptionist, who seemed to have a full body suit and wasn’t afraid to show it also had x-ray vision and was judging her for the zodiac sign design she got on her shoulder when Edie had just turned 18.

Edie could hear an accent with a twang that identified the owner as Buzzkill. Her voice floated out from behind a partition and as Edie glanced up from trying to get her head together long enough to remember where she lived so she could include it on the form, she realised she could see the artist reflected in a long mirror hung at the back of the shop. She saw the broad back more befitting of a ward matron or a chef that enjoyed indulging in her own creations, rather than the slender figure depicted on socials. Tricks of light and angles. Edie hoped she didn’t tweak her tattoo photos as much.

Edie handed back the form, pretty sure her neck betrayed her pulse rate. With an effort, she stopped herself plucking at her cuticles. She’d gone into job interviews with fingers bleeding before from that particular bad habit, which made shaking hands quite the chore. She thumbed through her phone in the pretence of having messages and notifications but she was just checking the time. They were ten minutes into her slot already. Buzzkill charged by the hour. At least there was that deposit she’d already paid. That would be taken out of the cost of the full session.

“Hi…Edie, is it, yeah? Come on through.”

Edie picked up her bag and walked through to the back of the shop. Art adorned every possible surface but the work stations. Buzzkill had her back to Edie, scrolling through images on an electronic device.

“So, this is the design…” She said, swivelling round on her chair. Straight down to business then.

“Wow,” said Edie. She felt choked. “That’s even better than what I imagined. Thank you.”

“I was thinking if we did it this size we could have the stems wrapping round your arm a bit, give it a real nice flow, what do you say?”

The bored receptionist had wandered over. She took a look at the stencil and said “Oh my god, BK. That is so nice.”

Edie, surrounded with salespeople, other artists drilling away in the background, the death metal clattering out of the speakers hung in the corners, the other customers chatting and laughing, felt compelled to nod at the stencil. Buzzkill took Edie’s compliant wrist and laid the stencil against it. “You see what I mean?”

Edie looked down at the beautiful design, glad of the opportunity to break eye contact. It occupied about fifty times the space her scar did. But what was it they said in the industry? Go large or go home.

“Looks good,” she said to the artist’s expectant face.

“Hop up on here then and we’ll get going.”

Edie lifted herself up onto the cling film-wrapped chair. She was about to swing her legs up but wondered if she should remove her shoes. She twisted back down again and started unpicking her laces. The to-ing and fro-ing made her a little dizzy and her field of vision seemed to shrink.

“You alright down there?” Buzzkill said over her shoulder as she filled tiny plastic pots with colour.

“Yeah all good, cheers,” Edie replied, wincing as she heard her voice overcompensate for the lack of conviction she felt.

Back on the table, arms folded across her belly hugging herself, she stared at the designs mounted on the ceiling. She wondered who was wearing them and what they were doing at that precise moment. She decided they were all successful and happy and proud of the artwork they would wear forever, and certainly weren’t disfigured cave-dwelling beings, distraught at their loss of limbs to scribbles that clashed always with whatever outfit they chose.

“Okay, linework time.” Buzzkill turned on the machine and Edie felt the needle pierce her.

They made small talk for a while but then Buzzkill took to shouting across the shop at the receptionist. They were trying to settle on where they were going for drinks after. Edie tried to contribute (“I’ve been to that bar, great cocktails”) but her words felt feeble, as though the artist was drawing out her lifeblood rather than imprinting a scar disguise. She returned to staring at the ceiling but decided that was too busy, so closed her eyes and focussed on her breathing, so as not to focus on the pain.

“Lines down,” Buzzkill announced.

Edie’s eyes fluttered open. She examined her forearm. The rose and the key burst through the door triumphantly. She twisted her arm this way and that, despite initial reservations warming to the size of the piece.

“I’ve got to go to the ladies. Do you wanna go for a smoke or something? I’ll wrap it up.” Buzzkill didn’t wait for an answer as she wrapped up Edie’s arm with film, using white tape to hold it in place. Edie felt like a soldier in hospital. She could use a cigarette, actually.

A few minutes later the session continued. Edie didn’t even bother joining in the conversation this time (they’d moved on to clubs) and went back to her meditation. How good it would be not to see that scar ever again. How grateful she was that she managed to score an appointment with one of Australia’s leading artists.

Buzzkill had told her she was starting on the shading. She sure was going fast. If she didn’t know better she’d say sloppily, even? But she trusted the artist and kept her eyes closed. It helped to distance her body from the trauma it was undergoing. Should she buy aftercare cream from the tattoo shop which would be convenient, or get some from the supermarket, which would be cheaper? She filled her mind with such conundrums while the needle dragged over her skin.

She was wondering whether she should sleep for the first night with it wrapped or not when she felt Buzzkill start on a patch on her inside elbow. She didn’t remember the design stretching up that far. She snuck a peek.

Holy shit.

By ‘shading’, she thought that meant colouring in the key, the rose, the door. Buzzkill’s idea of ‘shading’; however, meant filling in all the gaps between parts of the design.

Edie felt as though all her inner organs had turned to water.

“You okay?” Even Buzzkill had stopped talking about what sounded like it was going to become a three day bender long enough to notice her client drained of any colour that wasn’t inked on.

“Ye–es,” Edie said, her gaze fixed on what was her forearm. She had the crazy idea then that, hey, this was just a bad haircut, she’d grow out of it. Yeah, just grow some extra skin over the top. In seconds she’d gone from suppressing a scream to suppressing manic laughter, and now had to start concentrating on stopping her trembling. Buzzkill picked up on this vibe and just leant into it. Literally leant into it. She pierced her victim with her weapons with new strength, a madwoman pinning down a butterfly to colour in its wings.

Edie figured there was no point in asking her to stop now. To stop sealing in these additions that hadn’t been either on the design on the device or on the stencil. She’d seen heavily shaded designs on Buzzkill’s page, of course, but she’d also seen delicate, lighter work and figured that’s what she’d been getting.

She felt her mind drift away, float through the ceiling, soar through the air and disappear in the clouds as she envisaged fielding the new questions that would surely arise about her body at the next family gathering. 

March 20, 2020 19:56

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