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Fun fact: a tarantula spider can survive for more than two years without food. I read that on the lid of a Snapple bottle once. I’ve always found it funny how some species can go long periods of time without food, because I sure as hell cannot.

Take right now, for example. I’ve been sitting in the same chair for six hours now, listening to the droning buzz of the tattoo machine. Last time I had a break was two hours ago. I’m determined to sit my ass in this chair until the damn thing is finished. Except now, I’ve gotta pee. And I’m hungry.

I was an idiot this morning and forgot to eat. I did that once before when I got my nipples pierced. That was a horrible experience I hope to never go through again. My vision got blurry, I saw black spots, got dizzy, and started dry heaving into a garbage can my sympathetic piercer had thrust into my face. I should know better by now. Luckily for me, I haven’t gotten nauseous yet or passed out on Joe, my tattoo artist. He’d be pretty upset if I did.

The buzzing in this corner of the parlor stops as Joe puts down the machine.

“There. All done.”

He takes a bottle of green soap and wipes down the fresh ink, also picking up the pinpricks of blood that have settled on my skin. The skin he rubs down is sore from the deep tissue massage I just finished receiving. Joe finishes wiping me down before he helps me sit up and turn towards the mirror.

I crane my neck and see the gorgeous black and grey skull before I notice anything else. Realistic tentacles envelope the human skull, one pouring out of an eye socket, another wrapping itself around a rusty anchor. Joe’s really outdone himself this time. I’m completely fucking floored. I even feel little tiny tears pricking the corners of my eyes.

“This is so effin’ beautiful Joe. I think I’m in love right now. Can I be in love with a tattoo?”

“That might belong to a specific fetish group,” he says as a shit eating grin plasters his face.

I reach my arms out for a hug, not really caring that my boobs are out for the whole world to see. He reaches down for the embrace, careful not to touch my back. It ends up being an awkward air hug on his part.

Joe Moretti has been my best friend ever since he accidently kicked me in the head swinging from the monkey bars in first grade. He was showing off to a group of second and third grade girls when I ran underneath, thinking I had time to dodge his foot on my way to the teeter totters. My frizzy red curls had softened the blow, but not much. I howled in pain and clutched my head as he dropped from the bars to see if I was okay. In my agony, I punched him in the face. Even as a little kid I’ve always had a hell of a temper. Both of our stunts landed us a ten minute time out on the chain link fence. By the time it was done, recess was over. At lunch time, he sat down next to me and pushed me a Swiss Roll, Capri Sun, and a note saying he was sorry.

We’ve been thick as thieves ever since, even though he had a shiner for the better part of a week.

Blowing up Barbie dolls and GI Joes in the microwave, planting a Baby Ruth in the neighborhood pool, putting a drop of Visine in his big brother Tony’s pop, we’ve done it all. Joe and I weren’t terrible kids; we just liked to stir the pot once in a while.

When not causing a shit storm in the Moretti or Rivers household, we were down at the local library sketching with Crayola markers or Rose Art pencils. Joe’d always bring the markers, I'd always forget the pencils, so Joe brought those too. We sat sketching for hours, drawing everything we could think of. Sometimes Joe would start what we called the Sketch Squabble.

“Cj, draw a dog sitting on a buffalo chasing the moon,” or “Joe, I bet you can’t draw a turkey playing a banjo.” Stupid shit like that.

After each of us was instructed by the other in five different scribbles each, we’d take our sheets to the front desk to be judged by Mrs. Black.

Mrs. Black was the stereotypical old lady librarian, complete with cat rimmed glasses and a moth ball smelling sweater. White hair, wrinkly skin, and a love of reading and helping children kept her there way past retirement. She’d pick out her favorite sketches from the pile of ten messily placed on her desk. Whoever got the most picked won a piece of candy out of the glass Wexford dish on her desk. As we got older, Joe’s were picked more and more frequently. Which is why he’s now a tattoo artist, and not me.

I wince as the fabric of my sweatshirt touches my bare back, reminding me that I haven’t been properly wrapped up and bandaged yet. Joe rolls his eyes and shakes his head at me. I’d probably forget my head if it wasn’t attached.

After the proper bandages are put in place, Joe hands me a bottle of orange juice and a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I bite into it greedily before sucking down some of the juice. Joe watches me solemnly, his blonde hair falling in front of his blue eyes.

“What number is that now?

“I don’t know. I have so much ink I’ve lost count. I think I’m in the thirties now.”

He grins before he swipes the bottle of juice from my hand. “They’re like chips. You can’t just have one.”

“What? Tattoos or peanut butter banana sandwiches?”

"Tattoos, dipshit. God, you’re fucking dense sometimes.” He rolls his eyes again as he takes a swig. I really hope he didn’t backwash.

“Beauty before brains. You’re making me beautiful and dumbing me down, one tattoo and PBB at a time.”

This time he actually laughs, and I join in. Before I know it, my bladder reawakens and it’s all I can do not to piss myself in Joe’s chair.

Seeing me cross my legs, Joe grabs my chair and puts it at an angle for easier access. I hoist myself up and into it in lightning fast time. I unlock it and start rolling for the bathroom immediately. Usually I’m pretty good about getting there myself. However, the dam is about to break. I finally get situated just in time and let nature run its course. In the meantime, I read the band posters and various bumper stickers that are peeling off the ugly yellow wallpaper. I’m a fan of “I’m not speeding, I’m qualifying” and “Caution! Baby in the trunk” stickers.

After I maneuver myself out of the bathroom and back into the studio, Joe pushes me outside for a cigarette while he’s got a break in between clients. I light up my Camel, the flame flickering violently in the strong wind and almost starting a stray thread of my sweatshirt on fire. The smoke feels wonderful in my throat. Joe and I watch silently as traffic crawls by against the dusky sunset. The sliver of moon peeking out glimmers in the hundreds of tiny pieces of a Bud Light bottle on the sidewalk. I didn’t realize until now how late it’s gotten.

“You gonna be able to make it home okay?”

The question from Joe startles me. Enough to the point I drop my smoke. I watch as it rolls down the sidewalk.

“Shit.”

He leans over and plucks it off the ground, handing it back to me. Shaking my head, I light up another one instead. I see Joe raising his eyebrows as he stomps on it, extinguishing it by dragging his foot back and forth. The butt ends up being a tiny crumpled ball on the ground.

“What? You don’t know what’s been on the sidewalk. Probably crack pipes and heroin needles. 

He snorts and takes another drag of his Marb menthol before flicking the butt towards the empty street. A car passing by runs it over.

“You didn’t answer my question. You good, or do you wanna crash at my place?”

I think it over for a few seconds. On one hand, my nice warm bed calls to me, as do the pepperoni Pizza Rolls sitting in my freezer. I could smoke a bowl, pig out, and be off to bed. However, it’s already almost nine o’clock at night and getting chilly fast. I still have to load myself and my chair into my GMC Sierra and then make a forty five minute drive back to my place. On the other hand, Joe’s apartment is right down the block. We could hang out, order pizza or Chinese (or both) and watch the Die Hard series like we used to do in high school. Yippee kiyay motherfucker.

The only problem is his place isn’t wheelchair accessible. He’d have to carry me or help me limp through the building, unlock his door, and get me on a couch before he could go back and retrieve my wheelchair at a later time.

“Ya know, I think I’m just gonna head for home. It’s been a long day. Thanks for offering though, dude.” I take a final drag of my cigarette before rolling and crushing the cherry between my fingers.

Joe bends down to give me a final hug and kiss on the cheek before he heads back in. I start rolling towards my truck before I remember something important.

“Hey, do you let all of your clients roll out of here without paying you, or is it just me? Am I that special?”

Joe stops and turns back around. I can almost see him mentally kick himself.

“Yeah. Special Ed.” Ouch. At least his fuck up is covered pretty quickly with a moderate burn.

He starts walking back towards me as I pull my wallet out of a side pocket attached to the chair. I count out ten one hundred dollar bills and silently hand them to him. He takes the cash and hands me back six bills. I smack his leg and hand him back two bills. Staring at me for a moment, he finally deposits the six hundred dollars into the pocket of his jeans. We’ve been playing this game for way too long. Three or four years, at least. He knows I’ll find a way to plant the money if he doesn’t outright accept it. It pisses him off, but at least he’s come to terms with it.

“See ya Cj. Text me when you get home. Love you.”

“Scout’s honor. Love you too.”

The drive home is always relaxing. Almost always. The city melts away into the mellow countryside, asphalt and concrete fading into Douglas firs and tamaracks. The gravel underneath the tires is a comforting sound as it pings off the undercarriage and frame of the truck. Lighting up another cigarette, I let the smoke roll off of my lips, pushing down the windows to breathe the night air rushing through the cab. The stars are out tonight, blinking coldly against inky black sky.

The clock on the dash reads 9:53 pm when I eventually pull in the driveway. Floodlights turn on as I make my way up the ramp, moths and mosquitoes swarming the bright lights. At least I can see. It would suck if I couldn’t. I pause as I take out my phone to text Joe that I made it home alright. All around me, wind softly rustles the leaves and needles of the forest, crickets and bullfrogs joining the growing symphony of my backyard. The bright screen of my phone is an abhorrent and unwelcome beacon of light in the otherwise peaceful boonies. I shut it off and proceed into the cabin.

Inside, one of the lamps lights up a pile of books that I left laying on an end table. I must have forgot to shut it off before I left for town. Stewie, my fat orange tabby, is dozing on the couch, tail flickering back and forth. I look over to my four bookshelves, noticing that some of the novels have been knocked to the floor. It’s pretty annoying, because they’re arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name. Books that I have read, the pages face towards me. I see the spines of those that I haven’t gotten to yet. Everything has a place. Stewie’s just the kind of asshole that enjoys messing my shit up.

Glancing towards my desk, all of my colored pencils have been knocked either onto the desk or on the floor. Mud’s been tracked across one of my future tattoo designs. I’m pretty sure there’s a dead mouse also sitting on top of it. Stewie’s on a roll today. It was so nice of him to leave me a present too.

I shut the lamp off and reverse my way back to the hallway from memory. Nudging open my bedroom door with a wheel, I glide into the room and clap my hands twice. My deer antler lamp flickers on. More bookshelves reside within, housing my “Classics” collection. Everything from the Bronte sisters down to Whitman.

There’s a pile of dirty laundry at the foot of the bed in a mesh clothes hamper. I carefully peel off my hoodie and gently set it on top. Rolling to my bed, I position the wheelchair and lock it, grabbing the slide board leaning against the wall and putting it under my right ass cheek. From there I scooch myself onto the edge of the bed and swing my legs in. Normally I’d just stand and pivot onto the bed, but tonight I’m just too fucking tired. I start the process of undressing my bottom half, rolling back and forth to get my jeans and underwear down my thighs. After finally pushing them off, I crumple them in a ball and fling them in the direction of the hamper. They sail through the air and land on the lip of it before collapsing the whole thing and sending all the clothes sprawling on the floor. Great.

Laying on my back isn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it would be, but then again, the overnight bandage is pretty thick. I’ll have to peel it off in the morning before I hop in the shower. I look up at the ceiling and see my reflection staring back at me. When I first moved into the cabin, my mom (who’s an eccentric crafty person) thought it’d be a wonderful idea to put mirrors on the ceiling. She fashioned them herself from two old mirrors and a gigantic Victorian picture frame. They were originally gold, but she brushed them with white paint to give them a more “dated” look.

I look into the mirror again. Frizzy, curly, uncontrollable auburn hair, ivory skin, freckles galore, and covered in a shit ton of tattoos. Full sleeves, a right thigh piece, a left rib piece, and now a massive back piece. Small boobs, huge ass, hip bones sharp enough to cut a bitch. A huge twisted scar runs from underneath where my kneecap should have started and ends just below my left butt cheek. I watch myself as I touch the scar and trace it up and down what’s left of my leg, which admittedly isn’t much. Jesus Christ, I look like a fucking deformed biker Weasley.

I close my eyes as I feel the lump form in my throat. I force it back down and turn to the side, grabbing my pipe and weed stash by feel. The only reason why I finally open my eyes again is because I don’t want to accidentally light my hair on fire while toking.

As I feel the high slowly begin to creep into my body, I gently set my paraphernalia back on the night stand and clap twice to shut the lamp off. But not before I catch a glimpse of the prosthetic leg and sleeve in the corner, wedged partly behind my dresser.

 


Submitted: June 27, 2018

© Copyright 2023 A. R. Currson. All rights reserved.

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