“What does it feel like? Could you maybe compare it to anything you’ve felt before? Anything? Please?”
“It feels like getting raped. By a dragon.”
One of the guys buzzing away in the back chimed in, “male or female?”
“Okayokay… what’s the ink made of?”
“Dead bugs. Mushed-up dead bugs.”
I asked him if he’d ever tattooed behind somebody’s ear.
“Sweetheart, I’ve done everything but the eyelids.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah.”
I promised him this would be my one and only.
“I don’t know anyone with just one tattoo.” After he jabbed the side of my skull with tiny needles, which tickled and left me feeling high in the aftermath, he said something unexpected; “welcome to the club.”
Did I even want a membership?
“She’s one tough woman. If she can cook, you’d better give her a ring.”
The boy at my side confirmed that I could, indeed cook. I smirked at the black ink-swirl-covered grown man, praising me for fortitude in the shape of a tiny parallelogram behind my right ear.
While he had worked at the lines, I closed my eyes and focused intently on the pain. It crept from around corners and bit me at random. They were really nibbles, though, and the vibrations warmed my neck and face. I cherished the pain. Not as a masochist might, but rather in the way that a mother cherishes the pains that bring her a child.
In the cab ride to the airport to drop him off, he inspected the still-numb area.
“You’re bleeding a bit.”
I blotted a thin line of blood onto my notebook, dated it, and sketched the shape beside the date. Still bathing in the unflappable high after the process, I realized that nobody in the world knew our secret. Nobody has known it until now. I uploaded no photos. I projected nothing to my friends and loose acquaintances. We drove to Newark from Chelsea with legs knotted together.
The space behind my ear radiated heat. I immediately felt a tender loss; the moment when I decided to draw geometry onto my skull had passed. Now I have it forever, along with the splinters of conversation and scent of rubbing alcohol and the taxi trip that followed. Ink only carries those moments and sensations deep into the skin, to the blood, to the organs, where they’re filtered and distilled and bottled and savored until they’re spent.