47.2 - Spring 2018

Page 94

I’m not left waiting long. Thad is prompt. He calls me back behind the wooden counter, back to the corner of the studio where he sits at a drafting table, then pulls up the image of my cypress on his desktop. We don’t know each other well, and every time he laughs—loud, wideopen mouth, all teeth—I struggle to take him seriously. But watching him work, I notice different things. How tall he is, for instance. Eyes big and dark; rich brown hair; thick beard. Italian, perhaps, or Greek, the way his skin is always golden brown. A sometimes brand of handsome. I notice the arsenal of chemicals as he sets them out: gentian violet, Dettol, green soap, ink. The smooth-cold feeling as he rubs my forearm clean, then presses down the final stencil: a tribranched cypress, roughly four inches long, roots aligned with the ulnar side of my wrist, branches reaching from my elbow-crease [that sensitive and vein-rich nexus that tattooers call “the ditch”] towards my flexor tendon. When he isn’t working at the tattoo shop, Thad draws portraits and pinups: Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth. He works in charcoal, pencil, and pastel. The Mr. Spock portrait, I learn, is one of his—the cardboard medium, a signature. Now he’s pulling on bright blue latex gloves, and I’m nervous-talking, asking questions about art school as he lines up tiny cups like thimbles, each brimming with black or gray ink, a scoop of Vaseline swathed out with a tongue depressor, a stack three inches deep of torn-off paper towels. I tell him about my parents’ love of early Star Trek episodes, about how much my mom would love the portrait. We laugh. He takes up the electric needle; removes the sterile plastic cap. When it comes to wounds, I’m curious. About the cost. About the different routes we take to sturdiness. Tattoos and immunity rely on one another. The minute a needle touches flesh, armies of 86


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