Johnny Heart’s Tattoo

Maude had to wait for ten minutes so Johnny Heart could live forever on her arm.

Johnny had tattoos, he had plenty of them, but then he could: he was with the circus. It was almost required to have them there. Everyone she met at Morris Brother’s Circus had them, even women. Maude started to think about the ones on Johnny’s chest. She remembered the night when she counted twenty, each was in the shape of a heart with ribbons threading through them. Inside the wavy bands a name or a word was written. Her favorite was the rose bud that looked as if it was about to open. Curling from below his right elbow over his left shoulder, a snake twisted, green scaled with a red split tongue extending its length with a small v behind Johnny’s neck. Maude had never seen such a handsome man; his salty smell reminded her of the ocean.

“Okay, girly, it’s been ten minutes. Have you decided?”

“Yes, I’m ready. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Since my friend is here, I’m going to do it now.”

The man stepped back and looked at Jewel, making her feel uncomfortable.

“Do I know you, girly?”

“No, I just have one of those familiar faces.”

“Humph, look at theses stencils. Here are the letters and size I suggest, but if you want to look around and pick out your own be my guest. As you’re coming in here and I’m the expert, these here are what I’d call lady sizes and what I’d recommend. Take em or pick your own.”

Looking around the shop, Maude viewed the stencils hanging all over the walls, pictures of animals, women and almost anything a customer could imagine. Stacked carelessly on a shelf, stained with black circles and drips, pots of colored inks waited. Two swiveling chairs and one lone table, where more complicated work was done, filled the floor space. Maude thumbed through the tablet, agreeing to go with what was offered.

“The one you’ve picked is the best. Let’s do it now. I’m ready.”

She sat in the chair next to the sailor who let out a small moan. Jewel sat next to her. Holding out her hand, she waited for Maude to grab it.

“Just squeeze it as hard as you want to, Maude. That’s what I’m here for.”

She didn’t want Jewel to leave. Besides her sisters, Maude had never made room for women friends. The men in her life were always demanding, jealous of any form of affection she shared. Maude needed Jewel’s hand to squeeze more than she would ever admit. The man cleaned the skin area with some awful-smelling liquid and traced the letters where he had measured them to fall.

“So far so good. This is the outline, are you sure you’re ready for me to needle in the color? Just close your eyes and think of something, anything so as you won’t be thinkin about what I’m doing.”

That would have been too easy for Maude. Shutting her eyes brought on the bad dreams, so she turned her head and bit her lip for twenty minutes waiting for the black marks to be made permanent.

“OK, Maude, take a look.”

Jewel was giggling; the beer had finally gotten to her.

“Now it will be red and swollen for a couple of days and maybe it will hurt,”  the man said.

“Maybe, it hurts now.”

“Well, it will be like that, as I was saying, keep it covered and you can take off the bandage Wednesday.”

She got up, swayed and then straightened up.

“Thanks, Ralph. I’ll be sending all the girls here from my office,” she laughed.

“I won’t be holden my breath. I really don’t like doing girls. They always change their minds the next morning and then there are tears, always lots of tears. Good luck Maude and may you and TEX be very happy for the rest of your life.”

Somehow Maude knew he was talking about the tattoo, and not Johnny Heart.

Draft From The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light


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