I ate an egg and cheese biscuit while I walked. The yolk spilled out with my first bite, a hot splash on my forearm, shockingly yellow. There was something obscene about it, like a tiny miscarriage. It was one hundred degrees out and the street was sizzling, people were leaning into the shade, barely moving. I licked the yolk off and then looked around, embarrassed.
I was on my way to the tattoo shop and knew I was supposed to eat, but I was nervous and the dough felt thick in my mouth. Halfway through I discarded it, then felt bad about the waste.
That was the point. I was always feeling bad.
When I got the idea to get a tattoo, it was my secret. I turned the phrase over in my head and nodded in covert agreement with myself. Yes. That would be it. Weeks later I told Billy about it on Canal Street, ducking my head and letting my voice get high and squeaky like a child. He couldn’t hear me and asked me to repeat myself, twice. When I finally blurted it out he shrugged, nodding. Yeah, he said, that’d be cool.
Except there wouldn’t be anything cool about it, because it was painfully earnest – a David Foster Wallace quote on the MFA student’s ribcage. The imagined eye rolls stung like a string of canker sores. I prodded them with my metaphoric tongue, tasting the iron.
I still wanted it. That was the thing. Weeks turned into months and I was still tooling around on type blogs, testing different fonts, so fine, fuck it, I decided to do it. Then I obsessed over tattoo artists, finding the very best, the perfect, the predestined. Which didn’t exist, of course. There was something imperfect in all of them.
The one I ended up choosing bullshitted with her friends while she set up her station, filling a cup with ink and fiddling with her gun. I was alarmed. I looked from her friends to her and back to her friends, neck to ankles in ink talking about an Edwardian jewelry store in Red Hook, and considered bolting. I glowered at the one closest to me, willing him to leave, but he didn’t notice.
This was not the spiritually enlightening experience I had crafted in my mind. We had not discussed the deep meaning of my phrase and my reasons for choosing the font I’d brought with me, and she’d shrugged when I asked if she thought we’d picked the best spot for it.
I think it looks good, she’d said, but what do you think?
Her friends were not leaving and so I asked if we could have some privacy once she was ready to start working. I’m kind of nervous, I said. That was all it took, and she hopped up to grab a screen, shaping it around her station. They left and the only noises after that were Led Zeppelin and the buzz of her gun.
It didn’t hurt, if you’re wondering. It stung a little bit and I felt dazed and wobbly afterward, and that was pretty much it.
I have a tattoo.
I have a tattoo, I told Billy when I walked in the door. I shimmied around the bedroom, doing a funny hop-step. I do, I do, I have a tattoo. He laughed and nodded. Meggie, he said, it looks good.
I felt happy and then later I felt sad, taking the bandage off and washing with soap. Little curls of ink fell away and there it was, black and bright on my skin. My skin! I wandered into the bedroom shirtless and bloated from the Chinese food I’d ordered in celebration and stood in front of the mirror. Maybe this was stupid, I said. Maybe this was better as an idea.
It’s just a change, Billy said.
I said that’s true, and then we took a walk.