A MAN AND woman left the front door screaming for help. There was a clue there somewhere, for me to turn around and leave but I didn’t like missing appointments. Old habits and all.
The tattoo removal service represented a long standing battle between what lay written in skin deep inky permanence and my ability to let go of the past. Her name was why I never went shirtless in summer.
The windows either side of the shop door were blacked out, the glass door covered in stickers and a sign advertising the fact they accepted cash only, the writing unnerving, higgledy piggledy black marker pen that I hoped did not reflect the tattooists artistic merit.
I hesitated, the aluminium bar handle gripped, unable to see inside. But it had been too long, she had to go. Pulling first, then pushing, I entered the dimly lit front of shop, just enough space for a few customers to stand. Tattoo folders hinged on the wall to my left, while shelves and nooks were decorated – a word used loosely – with demonic figures, shrunken heads, exotic hash pipes and small antiquities of which I had no idea of their function. All of it was cast in an Amsterdam-red glow.
The tattoo removal terminology still rattled about in my mind. Laser removal was too expensive. Tattoo replacement or a cover up was the name for what people like me could afford.
There was no bell to ring. Like a poacher I waited until something appeared from the back-shop through a curtain of rainbow that acted as a door. Absolute silence reigned. No chatter, no buzzing needle until a flushing noise preceded a door opening and shutting with a click. Ten seconds later a woman appeared, no more than five feet, bars through her nose and eyebrows, hair dyed jet black twisted into tight braids. Black lipstick was to be expected. Her ears were gaping holes you could use to measure spaghetti servings. But no tattoos – none visible.
She walked behind the counter and looked up, her black eyes like terrible fiction, unreadable.
“You have an appointment?” Her voice was raspy, 40 a day, no filter.
“Yes, I called a few weeks back. I’m Ralph Laurence.” I could tell she was dithering on whether to remark on my name and the phonetic similarity with the fashion brand. In adulthood I reassured myself there were people out there christened Hugo Bosch, Calvin Kind and Tommy Dilfdinger.
She didn’t consult a book or notes, just a monotone, “Yeah, ok, follow me.”
The parlour was more of a dank messy room with one cracked leather (or plastic?) chair and various pieces of equipment in boxes or on the floor. I should have left. To my credit I scanned the walls for hygiene certificates, or anything official for that matter, finding only old band posters, tattoo convention ads, and bizarrely a whole wall dedicated to missing pets with all the tabs still attached; dogs, cats, horses, llamas, even pigs.
She sat down picking up the gun. “What you want done?”
My attention broke away from Snuffles the pig. I began pulling up my shirt, the ex was scrawled across my right flank. “I want that gone,” I said twisting so she could see. “I was hoping you could suggest something.”
Her eyes bulged. A grin stretched out that black lipstick, revealing a wide smile made up of – of, tattooed teeth? “You’ve come to the right place. Shirt off and lie down.”
PART 2 – Tomorrow