Tattoo Memorial


It was the day after I was 18. I walked up to the dark, little parlour, sandwiched between a take-away and a Thai Massage Parlour (probably a knocking shop) and stared for a moment, bewitched by the overwhelming number of images in the window and a little over-awed by the enormity of what I was finally going to do. But it was a memorial I’d committed to several years earlier.

I gathered together the threads of my courage and marched in, asking the burly, skin-headed, leather-clad guy behind the counter for a tattoo and a job as an apprentice artist.

He laughed, but nicely, and invited me to show him what I wanted. I asked him for a piece of paper and a pen, swiftly devising in red biro the image I’d been working on for so long. He looked at the boldness of the design, understood how much I’d practiced, and gave me a considered stare.

I sat in the chair and held my breath as he traced the picture onto the place I’d long planned and reserved for it – right over my heart. My skin goosebumped with cold, and the anxiety made me shift uncomfortably against the vinyl chair. Then that awful buzz started up and I knew that this was it – my silent promise made years ago was about to be fulfilled.

It hurt bad. It bled, but I kept my face impassive and treasured the pain, after all, the cycle was going to be complete and I could begin to move on – moving the memory from my mind to my skin, to hold it forever without needing to constantly revisit the feelings and images which flashed before my eyes each time I thought of it.

When I was 11, a new boy started at my school – Willen. He had a funny name, odd clothes and wild eyes. His hair was always messy, but he had such charisma that he was instantly the most popular kid in the playground. He’d do stunts and show off, often getting hurt in the process, but never crying – instead a strange, dark smile would cross his face along with the fleeting pain as the crowds around him gasped in awe at his bravery. 

I used to watch him in class out of the corner of my eye. He would doodle small nothings on his book and do no work at all, yet if he was asked a question, would instantly offer the right answer in a bored, sarcastic tone that drove all the teachers crazy. He caught me watching him once and winked at me, grinning as I turned bright red and tried to pretend I was concentrating on a poster on the wall beyond him.

I never plucked up the courage to speak to him, but gradually saw more of his weirdness – he’d stick needles into his arms in sewing class and wait to get sent out, looking like a silvered porcupine. At break time he’d catch flies and pull off their wings, making them race and taking bets in the form of biscuits and crisps from the other kids. He was somehow magnetic – repellent, yet fascinating.

After school, he’d perform for his followers until the last ones left. I began to trail behind him at a distance to see where he went. I couldn’t imagine what kind of life this charismatic, strange boy must lead. I usually lost him when he ducked into an abandoned factory I’d long suspected was haunted (that was the legend – that it was abandoned because someone long ago had been sucked into a machine and killed, and their angry spirit haunted the place until the workers all left in terror) but realised was probably just unsafe and dilapidated. 

One night I screwed up my courage and followed him in.

It was disgusting. There was litter, dirt, small animal carcasses, animal crap, broken down machinery and half-crumbled walls all around. He walked through, seeming to stop every so often in dark corners to check something low down. Once he grinned and suddenly stamped down hard on something. I ran away.

I returned in the morning and looked in the corner he’d stopped in. A small, grey loop of fishing line hung down between two large bricks. On the floor was a brown mess that seethed and buzzed with flies. I was baffled.

I managed to follow him all the way home, to an estate on the outskirts of town. After that first success I grew bolder and trailed behind him repeatedly. The lights were never on in the house he entered, and once he was indoors, there was no point waiting – he didn’t come back out.

A few weeks after the puzzling brown mess, I was following him again, watching him poke into his (now usual) corners of the factory, when he stopped short. I froze behind a wall, peering round.

He reached down, then suddenly withdrew, as if hurt, shaking his hand and cursing with rich swear words I’d never heard of. Then he delivered a swift, vicious punch to whatever was down there, fiddled with something for a moment. And dragged it out, small, struggling and bedraggled. I could see even from this distance that it was a tiny kitten.

He held it at arms length and shook it, then tossed it high into the air and caught it a few times. My heart flew into my mouth as the small creature was flung higher and higher each time, then I let out an involuntary squeak and jammed my hands to my mouth in horror as he intentionally missed the catch, his eyes fierce wells as he watched the kitten struggle back to its feet.

He picked it up and threw it at a wall. I was frozen to the spot. I wanted to scream at him to stop, to run as fast as I could and get a grown-up to help. But the concentration and fascination in his face were compelling, and I knew that I’d never be able to dissuade him or get help in time. 

I watched, appalled, as he threw the kitten again, this time straight into a wall, where it hit with a soft thud and fell to the floor, mewling pitifully. 

He poked it with his toe a few times and then skidded it along the floor towards a pile of bricks. It rolled pathetically, its pink mouth opening and closing with each mew.

It lay still, barely struggling as he took a brick and placed it none too gently on top of the kitten, then added another and another and another. Tears started pouring down my face and the inside of my head grew white hot as I realised what he was doing. The kitten was struggling now, as hard as it could, its tiny legs scrabbling against the concrete but finding no purchase. I slid down the wall, holding on for support, unable to look away. 

Then, without warning, Willen left. Just abandoned the kitten and walked away.

It seemed to be looking at me.

I crept forward, scared that he might return, terrified of being close to that small, beaten bundle of fur, yet transfixed and unable to leave it.

On closer inspection I could see the extent of the damage, even from under the bricks. It had deep wounds on its body, and I could see the muscles and a grey thing pulsing in the shadows which might’ve been its guts hanging out. One of its front legs was broken and the ends of the bone were poking through, the red smear on the floor showing where it had been thrashing around. It hissed in terror and pain, a tiny, angry, protest. Its eyes were wide, but fixed on me. It was shivering, presumably with pain. 

I tried moving the bricks off it, so carefully, to try not to hurt it further, making a pile next to it, so intent on my task that I didn’t see the blur which came charging back out of nowhere, landing a storm of blows on my head, sides and bent back, with a voice screaming wildly, those terrible swear words, over and over. 

Dizzied and in pain myself, I crouched, trying to protect my head, trying to stop him stepping on the kitten. My hand on the floor, he stood on it as hard as he could, trapping me, ignoring my yelps of pain. He held a brick in his hand, and pressed it into my free one, holding it there with the iron grip of a boy possessed. My heart quaked as I guessed what was coming next.

Up went the brick, stretching my bruised body further than it could manage, and down with every bit of force in his furious body, in spite of my resistance – a relentless, crushing force, pounding down again and again, splashing his legs and my whole body with a mixture of dust, flecks of red, and pieces of black fur, which began to float, getting into my eyes and up my nose. 

He finally stopped, spent, and kicked me hard, winding me, then running off, leaving me face down next to a vile, red-and-pink, crunchy mess, already being investigated by those ever-present buzzing flies.

I lay there until I got my breath back. Then I stood up rapidly, vomited ingloriously all over the mess I’d just helped to make of a once-living creature and scrambled away on shaking legs, crying all the way home. 

But not before I mentally promised the mashed pile that was the kitten, that I’d never forget it.

When I got home and explained, I felt like I was a hundred years old, my childish innocence forever lost. 
My parents made phonecalls and I never saw Willen at school, or out, again. I learned how to draw though, making thousands of tiny black kitten memorials on every available scrap of paper, losing as many as I drew.

I learned the value of being able to create an image which would last forever and as I grew, decided on a way to make this come true for me, for the kitten, and to be able to help others keep their most precious memories ever present.

The buzzing drilled into my mind and I was brought back into the present in time to see the tattooist make a last couple of careful marks, a quick wipe, and a dressing, and I was done.

Finally we were done. And after a brief chat I walked away with a lighter soul, an empty mind, a job and a small, black kitten perched over my heart.
Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the making of this post. 

The ‘Making You Feel‘ series has been a varied thing to write for so far, and appears to have been a resounding success, but I feel that this time (given the content) I’d like to offer a little clarity into the thinking behind publishing it (and believe me, it wasn’t done lightly). The point of the exercise is to test and expand my ability as a writer to elicit an emotional response from my audience. I tend to take a word or two and build around them deliberately in order to provoke. In this case, the word I began with was ‘revulsion’. 

At some point I’d love to get into the subtleties of emotion, maybe even a few positives – as yet I don’t think I’ve sufficient talent to write them well, so I’m working up to it, posting ‘blunt tools’ rather than ‘precision instruments’. 

If you can bear to, I’d love to hear your feedback.
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40 thoughts on “Tattoo Memorial

  1. Yes, I figured as much or you would've probably been less smiley about it and mighta tried to rip me a new one. I thought that you and Emma would be the two who'd probably be most bothered by this, and sorry. This is the limit. Promise.

    But thank you for the compliments.

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  2. I hadn't read this yet when your story came up for discussion at the video brunch this morning. NOW I know what everyone was talking about!

    Cat lover that I am, it bothered me to read about the abuse to the kitten, but I couldn't tear myself away from the story, either. Very well written, my friend!

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  3. Stephanie, I will try to make this one the 'darkest' I go. I wanted to see how far I could push this thing, and I think I've found the outer limit of acceptable before I start losing friends and getting the men in white coats sent round.

    Thank you for telling me about the goose bumps though.

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  4. Omg, I was riveted, couldn't wait to get to the end yet not wanting to miss one word.

    I cried, am still crying, at the end, and will probably have nightmares. As a person, I hope you feel bad about that (kidding of course), but as a writer, you should be ecstatic.

    xo

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  5. WOW! You certainly got emotions out of *this* reader. I was all over the place. At first I wondered if Willen was alone and abandoned…but then I was scared…and ultimately shockedn and revolted by what happened. What I couldn't have done, though, was to stop reading! That was mesmerizing. You really drew me in. I loved the detail you put into it all. (and BOY I'm glad that's fiction!!) –Lisa

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  6. That was sneaky of you! I'm glad it still compelled you and elicited a response – thank you for telling me. I know sometimes fiction can be tough to read (which is slightly hypocritical of me, I admit) so I hope I'm repeatedly forgiven my little ruse of putting the warning at the end.

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  7. Ahhhh now that's a whole other story, but I'm not sure I want to get too autobiographical about it 🙂

    Thanks for such awesome feedback – I'm also relieved it was fiction because I know things like this do go on, and they're always disturbing.

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  8. You did a wonderful job capturing “revulsion,” Lizzi. I was reading the scenes in the factory with exactly that, but also with a urgent need to find out what happened next. Even though I knew it was fiction before I started reading it (I cheated and looked for your disclaimer first), that did not lessen my emotional response. Willen is a compelling character even though we know little about him, although from his actions I suppose we know plenty. Well don, my friend.

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  9. You completely got me and I was so, so happy to see that this was in fact the fiction I hoped it was. You drew me in and created the scene beautifully. I wanted to know why the girl felt compelled to follow him, what was in her past that made him so attractive to her. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. While reading, I kept checking my own healthy, happy kitten sitting beside me; if your brief was to elicit emotion with this piece, you succeeded wildly!
    As much as I felt revulsion, I couldn't stop reading till you brought the story to its conclusion.
    W.

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  11. A serial killer in the making. I am glad you confirmed it was fiction at the end, that was so well written I thought it was a real memory. A successful experiment, but very creepy in the brain there Lizzie!

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  12. Thank you for your feedback Katy. The character is based on someone I knew as a child (though I've made him a lot more extreme). He was a fascinating, charismatic boy, but bizarre in some of the ways I wrote about.

    I always wondered what was going on below the surface – what would make someone behave that way.

    Then as I learned more, through my profession, I began to understand more about the cycle of abuse and how it can sometimes manifest. It's a scary subject to get into.

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  13. A powerful, and extremely emotive, subject, Lizzi – and not so far from fiction as we'd all like 😦
    I think we all knew, or heard of, someone back when we were kids, who'd delight in pulling the wings from a fly, and who might go as far as your character, Willen 😦

    You certainly got your reaction of revulsion from me, Lizzi! 🙂

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  14. Dreary? I hope this wasn't too dreary! Not what I was going for, but thanks for the feedback. I'm glad you're happy to bear with me in my little experiments with fiction writing – thanks 🙂

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  15. Wow, I was definitely not expecting this and must agree you really do have a wonderful imagination, because seriously not sure I could ever quite come up with anything like this. But I do enjoy seeing this creative side of you whether it on the lighter side or dark and even dreary, too.

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  16. That Willen he's a psycho. This imagination of yours Lizzi it scares me and sees me in equal measure..

    From the perspective of the experiment this is a roaring success.

    From my perspective its a lot creepy…Revulsions good…

    As usual awesome writing.

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