For those who knew about the short story contest I submitted to several months back, here is the completed project, all 2496 words of it (had to be less than 2500 words to submit).
Also, the picture to the left here is the picture that inspired this entire short story.
He hadn’t left the house during the day in months, not since his company had allowed him to begin working from the comfort of his apartment. When he really thought about it, there was only one coworker that he missed physically interacting with; Tommy. His given name was Thomas, but most folks around the office had referred to him in whispers as “Tattoo Tommy”, due to the extensive amount of ink covering his body. Tommy had been the only guy who was friendly to him in the office, constantly ribbing him about needing a tattoo and arriving nearly every Monday with a story of his crazy previous weekend.
The only substantial body modification he had ever done was cutting his arms as an anxiety-ridden teenager. He had explained this to Tommy and Tommy had responded that tattoos told a story of one’s life. Scars could tell a story too, but they usually came from a darker place. Tattoos could be fun and celebratory, where scars were usually the result of something horrible.
Logging off his computer, he prepared for another solitary night in his apartment.
As he prepared his dinner, he lost himself in thought once again. His inability to maintain relationships was frustrating. He had not considered a woman a romantic interest in several years. Even before he began working from home, he had been awkward. It wasn’t that he didn’t like women. He did. Women confused him, had always confused him, even when the relationships had been there in the past. There was an emotional level he couldn’t bring himself to and each girl he had dated eventually felt his disassociation. He wanted to be normal, to maintain a relationship, but he had gotten to the point where he just wasn’t sure how to anymore. He was missing that thing, that facet of the personality that made one appealing.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the opaque reflection of the microwave and stopped. He could feel the mixture of anger and sadness welling up. The heat in his stomach rose, slowly, until it felt like he would spew fire from his mouth. When it reached his throat, he let it out with a mumbling of “Something must change”. He mumbled it again. “Something must change”. As the machine beeped, notifying him that it was time to remove his food, he once again looked at his reflection.
Retrieving his food, he walked back into the living room and fumbled for the television remote. He fell into the couch cushions and began changing channels. As the numbers in the top corner of the television climbed, he unconsciously nodded his head from side to side, as if someone next to him needed his disapproval of the programming. None of these shows were to his liking. Finally he found something. A beautiful blonde giggling flirtatiously, reveling in the attention of a well-dressed gentleman; It was Marilyn Monroe. As he did just about every time he saw her, he sighed. During the first commercial break, the station announced that tonight was a Marilyn movie marathon. They would continue playing a selection of her movies for the next several hours.
He slumped on the couch for only a little while longer before it hit him. He sat up in the couch abruptly, with enough force to knock his dish to the floor. As it collided with the tile of his living room, it shattered into small enough pieces to invalidate any hope of picking up by hand. A muted yell arrived from downstairs; his neighbor griping again about his level of noise.
As another scene of Marilyn interacting with a man who desired her played out on the small screen, he realized that it was time for a tattoo. If he was to get one, though, it would have to be now, before he could change his mind, and it would have to involve Marilyn.
Leaving the broken dish on the floor, he grabbed his car keys. Pulling the door shut behind him quietly, he quickly he walked down the stairs to his car.
He pulled into the parking garage, slowly creeping along until he saw an opening. The reverse lights of the departing vehicle flared up and he reached with his left hand to flip his turn signal. As soon as the car pulled out of the stall, he raised his foot ever so slightly off the brake pedal. As he slowly moved towards the vacated spot, another vehicle pulled in before him. The vehicle, full of high school kids, quickly emptied. As they walked past his still idling car, a couple of the guys chuckled amongst themselves and nodded their heads his way. He felt the heat begin to rise in his chest but what would he actually do about it? He knew the answer to that; there was nothing he would do. He would just keep driving and find another spot.
Once the car was situated, he got out and walked the long walk down the ramp to the street. Even though he tried to walk lightly, it felt like every step echoed through the entire parking garage.
As he walked into the tattoo shop, he was taken aback. He wasn’t sure how any of this worked. He looked around the room at the pictures of prior tattoos and, for a brief moment, his heart sank with the realization that he didn’t belong in this place. Why had he come? All the rest of these people looked at home here. He would just go home again. There was no judgment to be had from his couch, his television, and his beers. He turned on the balls of his feet and began to retreat before stopping abruptly. He had driven down here and although he was terrified, he knew he should stay.
He felt that every eye in the room was coming to rest on him as he shuffled back and forth on his feet. It took him a good, solid twenty seconds before he thrust his right foot out several inches in front of him. His walk to the front counter, and the girl standing behind it, felt like an eternity. The only sound he heard was his own heart beating and each step seemed, to him, to echo loud enough to be mistaken as distant gunfire. Past the pictures on the wall of design ideas and various pieces of artwork he walked. When he reached the front counter, he realized he had no voice and when he tried to answer the girl’s “how-may-I-help-you” greeting all that came out was a whisper. Standing there, looking at the girl behind the counter, he felt that familiar fear begin to poke at him. It told him that he was in the wrong place, that he had no business in here, that he was trying to be something other than what he had always been. He glanced around the room and was surprised to see that no one was actually looking at him.
“Hey man, are you alright?”
He was still so nervous that the words wouldn’t come. He cursed himself. Here he had made the gamble to leave his apartment and drive all the way here, only to choke AGAIN. This was enough. He leaned forward.
“I am here to get my first tattoo please”.
She smiled at his odd politeness and asked what exactly he had in mind.
A single word reply. “Marilyn”, he said.
With a knowing nod, she thrust a single sheet of paper towards him and responded with “OK then, you need to sign this waiver paperwork first. Grab a seat over there and I’ll come get you when we’re ready.”
Sitting in the corner, watching the goings-on there in the tattoo shop, he began to get excited. His breathing increased and an overwhelming feeling of excitement began to spread through his body, akin to how he had felt when cutting his arms.
He turned to see a woman about his own age standing there. He rose from the chair and thrust his hand out in greeting. Without shaking the hand, the woman said “Yeah, uh I’m Regina”, nodded her head in the direction of her chair, and abruptly spun on her heels in that direction. He followed behind, quietly staring at the floor.
“Marilyn Monroe, huh? What exactly do you have in mind for Marilyn?”
He told her that he wanted Marilyn’s face across his upper chest. Without batting an eye, Regina began searching through the images appearing on her computer screen. He slowly turned his head around, looking at the walls of this little room. The twitching in his head continued to let him know that he didn’t belong here. He fought with all his willpower to stay seated in the chair. His thoughts drifted but he was brought back by Regina’s voice.
“Look, you need to give me some input here. I can come up with plenty of Marilyn ideas but this is YOUR tattoo and you need to be a bit more involved. Now look at some of these pictures I’ve found.”
He felt sheepish for having drifted away. He saw countless pictures of Marilyn on the laptop screen, a good majority of them the most famous shots that everyone knew, but one particular one resonated with him. It was haunting. He had seen so many pictures of her before but none like this one. Set against the solitary backdrop of the mountains, the usual sparkle in her eyes was gone, replaced by a disconsolate off-camera stare. She was no less beautiful than always, but something was different. Her hair, more white than blonde, hung just barely above her shoulders in two loosely organized pigtails. Twirling one pigtail with her right hand, it almost appeared that she hadn’t a care in the world. Those eyes said different though. There was no smile there. There was a subtle sadness that he couldn’t shake. Although the picture had been posed for, it almost appeared to be a candid taken during a time when she wasn’t prepared to showcase her smile to all. This was the Marilyn that he hadn’t seen before. Looking at the picture, he knew it was the one he wanted. He felt like he knew this particular Marilyn.
“That’s it. That’s the one I want.”
“OK, then. Let’s get going. Sit tight and I’ll get the stencil worked up for you.”
Several minutes later Regina came back with a stencil of the picture he had chosen. She took a cheap razor and ran it back and forth across his chest. With multiple passes back and forth, she filled the blades with the thick hair from his upper body. When he was shaved smooth, she lifted the stencil up to where she had just shaved. As she placed it across his chest, he watched her. Tongue slightly out as she concentrated on her task, she pressed only hard enough to make it stick. After the design had settled in, she lifted up the stencil paper and nodded her head in the direction of the full length mirror.
“What do you think? Everything matches up the way you like it?”
He tried to tell her it was fine but ended up just nodding his head. She lined up her inks and sanitized her area as he stood and continued to stare around the room. He adjusted himself in the seat and laid back, closing his eyes.
“I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the final result. My tattoos have a very life-like quality to them.”
Unsure of how long his eyes had been closed, the buzzing of the tattoo machine brought him back. Slowly opening his eyes, he wasn’t nervous any longer. He was relaxed. As the needle touched his skin, he flinched; but only for a second and only the tiniest bit. The feeling was indescribable; there was pain but an odd sense of pleasure. It was akin to the rush he had received when, during his teenage angst period, he had sliced into his arms with any knife he could find around the house. The symbiotic relationship between the two sensations was not quite as alien as he would have imagined.
He wanted so badly to see how his Marilyn was turning out but the angle didn’t allow him a good view. The longer the sound of Regina’s tattoo machine continued, the more the feeling of pain abated to a mere annoyance. As his eyes closed again, he concentrated on the classic rock playing in the background.
Arriving back at his apartment, his chest felt raw. The previous feeling he had compared it to didn’t apply any longer. The scars left on his arms from years ago only covered single lines; this tattoo felt like his skin had been scraped off in one large patch. His chest was tender to the touch but as he fumbled in his pocket for the instructions that Regina had given him, he smiled to himself. He had finally done it; he had a tattoo.
Pulling his shoes off, he removed the checklist from his pocket. First on the list was the necessity of removing the bandage in order to let his Marilyn breathe. Reaching under his shirt, he pulled the edges of the tape off as he walked into the kitchen for his broom, carefully avoiding the miniscule shards of his dish all over the floor. In his haste to leave earlier, he had left the television on. There was now a film starring an older Clark Gable, but Marilyn didn’t look like her usual self. Although still beautiful, she was out of her usual dress and into jeans and a button-up shirt.
As he swept up the dish pieces into the dustpan, his chest began to throb. He shook his head and tried to sweep through the sensation but it eventually reached a fever pitch.
“YOU NEVER FELT ANYTHING FOR ANYBODY IN YOUR LIFE. ALL YOU KNOW IS THE SAD WORDS.”
The words carried through the air as a haunting melody and he couldn’t tell if they were on the television or inside his head. Sounding so full of her famous sultriness, he was taken aback. He started towards his bedroom where his full length mirror stood. His first step connected with a piece of his broken dish and he uttered a guttural yelp. Flaring his elbows out and colliding with the walls as he walked, he tried to pull his shirt up and over his head. Arriving at his bedroom door, he looked into the mirror across the room. Reaching the mirror, he came to a halt when he saw those sad eyes staring back at him. He couldn’t be entirely sure, but it almost looked like she was twirling a single pigtail, in her left hand. There appeared to be a slight upward curvature to the corners of her mouth, lending itself to what could be construed a smile.