You tattooed me stick and poke while I slept last night. With that small pool of ink you dotted the skin on my back until the dots resembled lines and the lines resembled shapes. From there, you took a cool cloth and ran it over the image and then you leaned in and kissed the red skin.
The image was one of a lighthouse. You had shaded in with smaller dots the thick lines that would be red if we were seeing it in real life. The sun cast a nondescript shadow to the left of the tower, at such an angle to suggest the picture was taken moments after sunrise.
You walked into my bathroom and cleaned the needle; flicked a lighter and rinsed flame over the metal. The metal turned a pale yellow and then a charred black before you lifted your thumb from the lighter’s head. You carefully set the needle on a paper towel beside the sink and turned off the light and in the darkness navigated back to my bed. I was in a dreamless sleep, paralyzed and, for all but my soft breathing, lifeless.
You covered up my exposed skin with the bed sheets. The cloth felt chilly between your fingers. A window opposite my bed was open, and you climbed outside into the cold night.
I woke up with my body warm under the sheets with a burning sensation permeating from the area left of my spinal column. I could feel the holes in my skin healing, trapping ink in the layers between my skin and muscle. I cursed under my breath as I ran my fingers over the image, tracing lines that became shapes; dots that became shadows.
My bedroom window was broken. The soft hum of outside traffic floated inside in the space between the broken pieces of glass left in the frame. I carefully picked up the other pieces from the floor. I didn’t think much about who broke in. I knew.
I found a black needle lying beside my bathroom sink. Drops of ink were dried on the paper towel, your finger prints traced faintly in ink.
Most times you spend the night and when I wake up I am sleeping on my side and I feel you behind me, your body close to mine. When I reach my arm back to touch you I hear that familiar gasp of you sinking into the depths of the bed. I roll over and there is no one there. Was there ever?
You grew tired of the violent rush of sinking into the mattress and out of existence and so you’ve started being careful. Times when I am walking the streets of the city I see you hiding behind light posts, perched atop tall buildings, in the train with eyes behind a newspaper sneaking glances.
There is a familiarity we are all chasing. We are haunted by it. Sometimes it chases us.
Once the glass was cleaned the day turned into one like any other. I thought of the darkness of falling into death during my afternoon coffee. There were children during lunch that refused to eat vegetables. I wondered if I would have kids someday.
Tonight I wake up in the darkness to a woman crying. I can’t see her but I assess she is at the foot of my bed facing away. I sit up and put my arms around her shoulders from behind, hugged her and hold her close. A salty tear, warm and formless, falls onto my left arm.
After a moment you take a few deep breaths and whisper, “What happened?”
“Life?” I say, unsure.
“It doesn’t feel like that. Not at all.”
“Yeah.” I release with an exhale.
“Did she see the tattoo?” You ask.
“No, I’ve tried to cover it as best I can.”
“And what about when you two are having sex?”
I answer, “it’s with the lights off.”
“You can’t hide it forever.”
I turn on my bedside lamp and a warmth of light enters the room. Basking in the soft glow is you, eyes bloodshot, ponytail slightly messy.
I sigh and say, “I didn’t ask you to tattoo me.”
“You didn’t but while you were sleeping you whispered between breaths what you wanted when I asked you.”
“That’s not fair, is it? My unconscious bleeding onto my physical body.”
“I thought this is what you wanted.”
I sigh again. “It is.”
“Yeah, just not like this.”
“Well how, then?” You were getting upset.
“I don’t fucking know, alright? I just need more time.”
“More time? How much fucking time do you need? You know I’m leaving soon, right? Want to wait until after then?”
“You don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t, but you got this tattoo and now you need to live with it. It can’t be erased, god damn it. It means something, and you wanted this, not just the tattoo but what it means, what the ink in your skin reminds you of.
“Of course I did.”
You take off your shirt.
A tattoo of a hummingbird on her neck, the bird suckling from a flower whose stem winds and twists down her arm.
“I can’t fucking erase this. Alright? You did this to me. And every year when the stick and poke starts to fade you jump back into my life with another needle and pool of ink. And sometimes that’s all I want. You can’t pretend you don’t want it too.”
You’re upset but not mad at me. Your tone is more sad, yearning?
I am caught staring at the beautiful ink glistening in the yellow light.
It is quiet for a moment. All we hear is our breathing.
“How did you get in here?” I ask.
“You found the key I left you?”
“That window was a bitch to replace.”
“It’s okay. It’s just a window,” and then I lean in close to you, “I’m happy you’re here. When I’m with you things feel like they make sense. My feelings are naked when I’m around you. I don’t have to dress them up in doubt or anxiety.”
“You shouldn’t have to do that with anyone.”
“Yeah, well…” I trail off.
You lean your head back and nestle it into my shoulder. I kiss your neck and smell your coconut shampoo hair. Your skin is soft and warm on my lips. Later on I find other tattoos painted onto your body, all fading and distant. One on your lower back, left, is new, I can tell. You notice me notice it, a sunflower with a bee resting on one of the yellow petals. I take note of the color.
You say, “I don’t really know what to say. You left for a whole year…”
“That’s alright. I can’t really blame you.”
And then I ask, “Are you with him now?”
“Not now. But I still love him.”
I roll over beside you and run my finger down your spine.
And then I say, “What do you dream of, most nights?”
“Well, it’s mostly darkness.”
“But,” you unravel thoughts into the silence, “a few nights ago I dreamed I was a bird. It was late fall, and the leaves were all turning different colors like the forest was catching on fire in slow motion…I felt a real peace being that bird, flying from branch to branch and singing words that seemed to come to me at once but felt familiar, as if the words were somewhere deep in my DNA. Soaring over the trees I felt like I was being reminded what this was all about.”
“Life. A divorce from the day to day.”
Reader, I want you to read her voice with a slight rasp, a tinge of voice to the whisper that pierces into the heart of silence. Here she goes now:
“Dreams are strange, though…It’s the opposite of normal thoughts…The more you put words and images to what you remember from dreams the more you erase…So as you try to remember, the exact details from the dream are erased but the feeling remains.”
I guide your head close onto my chest.
My heart is beating, and I hear your breathing, feel the fills and collapses. There is a bottomless sea beside my bedside contained by the walls of my room. I smell the saltwater with fills and collapses.
One fill and collapse to the next, we fall asleep.
Image from here