“I think my new tattoo is haunted.”
Steff frowned, stare peeling away from her phone. “And you say this because?”
Nell tilted her head, mouth perched upwards by her nose as her brows scrunched down. “It’s like it wants to escape.”
“Okay. No.” Steff pushed her phone aside on the formica table and took Nell’s arm in her grip. “Tattoos always look gross while they heal, you’re just not used to it. Is it smudgy along one edge? It might be blowout–” She rotated Nell’s arm to see the inside, the soft skin by her elbow, and stopped midword at the risen black letters.
Nell had gotten a blackwork tattoo of primroses two days prior.
Trying to climb her bicep were the words F*** OFF GOATS, written as if scrawled on a lecture hall desk.
“That’s….” Steff licked her thumb and rubbed at the skin; maybe it was just angry ballpoint. That wouldn’t answer why it was there, but it would at least….her thumb swiped back and forth, pulling Nell’s skin ruddy, but the lettering remained, soft and blurry before it coalesced into sharp font. “Huh.”
“I don’t mind that much, but it’s making the flowers fade.” Nell rubbed a finger over the taut thin scab of her primroses, far more grey than the black they’d been initially. “I wonder who it is?”
“How are you okay with this?” Steff wished they weren’t in a taco joint, stumbling into weirdness in a miasma of old ground beef. Sentient tattoos couldn’t lead them anywhere good.
Nell hummed, tracing the letters with a nail; under her touch they wriggled a bit, shrinking back towards the primroses. “Well, what’s done is done right? That’s the whole point of tattoos.”
“Yeah, the point’s to have ‘em stay in one place, not go writing hate messages to hooved animals.” Steff considered the options, “Should we go back to the shop?”
“Probably, maybe I did something wrong the first time I cleaned it.”
“I–” Steff huffed but let the comment go, “Yeah, maybe that’s it.”
“Wait, what happened?”
While Clarence sat at his station finishing a design, Nell and Steff hung by the front desk, listening to the overwhelming hum of rigs as the other three artists worked on clients. Behind the buzz the speakers poured out rolling double bass. He squeaked his chair over and looked Nell up and down.
“She seems fine for someone haunted. What do you mean it’s the tattoo?”
“Show him,” Steff said. Nell stripped off her sweater. For whatever reason, her arm now read MY SH****NG BEGONIAS.
“Ah…f***. Yeah, that shouldn’t be there.” Clarence grabbed a glove from the box on the desk to feel Nell’s skin.
“Oh, really? I would have never guessed.” Steff watched him roll Nell’s skin gently, checking the primroses as well.
Nell flinched only a little as he prodded her. “I don’t really mind, but the primroses are fading.”
“I’ll touch those up for you once they heal.” Clarence sat back in his chair, “Man, I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to use that ink on you. It must have gotten mixed in with my regular stock.”
“What do you mean that ink?” Steff asked.
“Steff, don’t be mean to him.” Nell wrapped her sweater over her shoulders.
“Your arm is yelling expletives, I think he owes us an explanation.” Steff cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Well my buddy Dave, he’s our shop assistant, his grandma died a few years ago,” Clarence started.
Steff’s mouth pinched, “Don’t say what I think you’re gonna.”
“And he wanted to commemorate her, so after she was cremated–”
Steff groaned, fingertips coming up to push into her eye socket; why did Nell always seem to find this sort of ridiculous trouble?
“–we had a special ink made up. To remember her. He wanted a memorial piece.”
“So you literally put grandma in it?” Nell asked.
Clarence’s face cocked sideways in a grimace as he nodded. “I’ve never used it on anyone other than Dave though, your piece was a mistake.”
Steff glowered, “What is she supposed to do then?”
With a gusty breath, Clarence shrugged, “I don’t know. It might just be in there now.”
“So she’s just what, got someone’s pissy granny in her bicep for all eternity?”
“Maybe?” Clarence turned, yelling at another artist, “Skinny Jack, you know where Dave’s at?”
“Still on a food run!” called back a shirtless man tattooing a large livid eagle across the thigh of a woman.
When Clarence faced the girls again, Nell gave him a smile, “We can wait.”
Dave was built like a house, albeit one that had been condemned and seen some abuse from local teenagers. He loomed over them all, big bearded face wide with glee at Nell’s insulting arm.
“Oh s**t, Clarence, I should be mad as f*** at you but this is too f****** cool.” He dropped the bags of take-out on the front desk, shrugging out of his flannel to cuff up his t-shirt sleeve. Smiling from his bicep was a portrait of a little old lady, wearing broad bejeweled eyeglasses, her hair in a cloud of a coiffure. “This is Nana.”
“Why is she haunting my girlfriend’s arm with swear words about goats?” Steff asked bluntly.
“I don’t know. She hated her neighbors goats, they used to eat her flowers. Maybe she just liked your primroses enough to come along for the ride.” Dave laughed and Nell smiled but Steff let out another disgruntled huff.
“Oh, hey, it changed again.” Nell peeked at her arm, before lifting it so they could all see.
IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A PINUP.
For a moment none of them spoke, then Steff barked a laugh and began to cackle.
“Looks like Nana wants a new memorial.” Nell hummed.
“Well. I’ve still got a bottle of the ink.” Clarence looked up at Dave. “But I have to say, it’s gonna be a little weird tattooing you with your grandma’s breasts.”