Overlooking the fact that he was already ignoring the “No Smoking” sign posted clearly on the tattoo parlor door, Roger took a couple puffs of his cigarette, told Joel, “Just give me a minute,” and took a long drag.
“Aw, forget it,” Joel replied. “Go ahead and bring it over here. I won’t report you.”
“Really? Awesome.” He walked over to Joel, who handed him a computer print-out. On the top half of the page was a drawing of a menacing-looking, grinning skull surrounded by multicolored flames. The bottom half displayed a picture of a previous customer sporting that same tattoo on his back. Roger nodded and grinned. “Yeah, that’s nice!”
“I have all the ink right here and ready if you’re ready,” Joel informed him.
“Yeah, let’s do it.” He went over to the bench, took off his shirt, and lay down on his abdomen.
Joel prepared the tattooing needle. “You know, back in college, when I studied art, there was a term for these kinds of things.” Taking on an overly dramatic tone, he continued, “‘Memento mori’ – ‘Remember that you must die’.”
Roger chuckled. “That’s actually the name? ‘Hey, you know what would make this painting better? A "remember that you must die".’”
“Yeah, things sound better in Latin, don’t they? It’s anything – a skull, a burnt-out candle, whatever, that’s meant to be a reminder of death.”
“Yeah, well, for me it’s going to be a reminder that I am one tough dude! How awesome is this going to be?”
Joel started on his work. Roger enjoyed enduring the bite and sting of the tattoo needle. It was a display of how tough he was. He would engage in chit-chat with Joel while he injected the ink under his skin.
“You know, I have a pest that I’ve trying to get rid of,” Joel told him. “Luckily, I found a guy that was able to get me some stuff.”
“He got you some stuff, huh? What, you got some kind of military-grade mole poison or something? You gonna squirt anthrax or uranium down at ‘im?” He finished the rest of the cigarette he had entered with.
Joel laughed. “Naw, but that sure is tempting!”
Minutes passed as the two conversed. As Joel continued applying the tattoo, a sick feeling gradually came over Roger. First there was a sensation of nausea that started out as a mere queasy feeling and then grew more intense with each passing minute. Jabs of pain shot through his abdomen as the sick feeling expanded and began radiating through his system. At the same time his mouth felt dry and he began to feel lightheaded.
Roger’s uncharacteristic quietness caused Joel to pause his work. “What’s the matter, buddy?”
“I don’t know. I just feel sick all of a sudden.”
“You’re starting to look pale. What’s up with that? Are you suddenly afraid of a creepy tattoo? I thought you were a tough guy.”
“Man, screw you!”
Joel teased, “Hey, when you come into a tattoo parlor, don’t you expect some needling?”
Roger rolled his eyes. “Funny. Just keep going.”
“Fine by me. The customer is always right.”
“Yeah, and don’t you forget it, smart guy.”
Joel continued applying the tattoo. Roger continued to feel worse and worse. He felt weak, though at the same time his heart rate increased until it felt like his heart was trying to pound out of his chest. His head also started pounding, and a sensation of dizziness was rapidly enveloping him. His nausea and abdominal pains grew more unbearable, and now he had started drooling. He began to wonder how much longer he could keep from vomiting. His skin grew paler and began sweating freely, necessitating Joel to get an extra cloth. His muscles started feeling sore. Without any warning a tremor ran through his body.
Joel stopped. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“I-I don’t know! I’m feeling sicker.”
“You don’t look so good. I’m serious. Maybe I should call a doctor.”
“No! No way! I don’t need some stinkin’ doctor! I don’t need anybody! You know me.”
“Well, maybe you should get some fresh air. Here, I’ll help you up.”
Roger rudely waved him away. He slowly got up, his stomach tensing in pain and his head reeling as he did so. He stifled a fit of retching before slowly staggering to the door. He opened it and stood in the doorway for several minutes, breathing in the crisp air and trying to regain his composure.
Joel watched him intently. “Well?” he finally asked.
“It’s not working.”
“Maybe you caught that bug that’s going around. Let me tell you what, why don’t you go home and rest? I was almost finished. You can come back tomorrow for any touch-ups, no extra charge.”
“Yeah, okay.” He went back to the bench, retrieved his shirt, and gingerly put it back on. “I’ll be back tonight.”
“Okay. Drive safely.”
Roger paid the cashier and made his way to his car. As he watched Roger drive away, Joel thought of that night that Roger had come in for a tattoo months ago. He had been there a couple times before, but that night he had been drinking heavily prior to entering. At one point he had lit up a cigarette. When one of the female artists politely told him that smoking indoors was now prohibited by law, he brusquely cursed her out and made rude comments, as though she were insulting his manhood by stating the facts. Then he held out the lit end of the cigarette toward her and shouted, “I have ways of dealing with broads who won’t shut up!”
Joel had stopped tattooing. “What are you saying, man!?”
“If a chick mouths off, you need to deal with her!” He repeatedly drove the cigarette into an imaginary victim to drive the point home. “Deal with her hard! That’s how you need to do it!”
Joel worked in near silence for the rest of the session. It was a wonder that he could tattoo straight. He kept thinking about that night Leah brought Jessie, their older sister, home after she revealed the abuse she had suffered. Nervous and ashamed, she showed them her scars. Her back bore several welts and lash marks, and in addition there were several bruises and cigarette burns dotting the flesh of her limbs. They convinced her to testify against her abuser and get him thrown in jail where he belonged. Though Jessie had largely recovered from her ordeal, she still bore some psychological scars. Now this drunken creep came in and all but admitted to treating women the same way. At the very least he thought it was a perfectly acceptable way of treating women. Joel seethed in anger the rest of the day. It was a wonder that he was able to drive home safely that night.
A couple days later Roger returned. He said he wanted to apologize for causing a scene, and that he had said some things he didn’t really mean. There was no apology at all for the advocating of abuse or the mistreatment of Joel’s co-worker, just a pat excuse that he had said things he didn’t mean. Joel didn’t buy it. He knew that drunk people always mean what they say. He also knew that Roger wasn’t sorry at all for the abuse, just sorry that he had embarrassed himself in public. As long as he wasn’t sorry, he would never stop. Joel didn’t show the hate he felt in his heart. Instead he told Roger not to worry about it, and feel free to come back anytime. As the weeks passed he swallowed his revulsion and put on a friendly face to gain Roger’s confidence. He acted like he was his good friend and got to know him – his habits, his attitude, and whatnot. All that time he formed a plan and then worked to bring it to fruition.
Tattoos are made by injecting pigment under the skin. However, the pigment Joel had used on Roger today was a special mixture he had created – a combination of ordinary tattooing ink and the stuff he had obtained. The stuff was a little hard to get, as it had been illegal to sell for a few years. It had been determined some time ago that nicotine-based insecticide was no longer safe for use. Nicotine readily passes into the bloodstream following skin contact. The tattoo needle strikes the skin three thousand times each minute. It was no wonder that Roger had become so ill.
Joel had read that most people suffering from nicotine poisoning had good recovery rates if they were treated properly, and that if someone survived nicotine poisoning during the first four hours, they were likely to make a complete recovery. However, he knew that Roger would never go to the hospital to have his symptoms checked out. No, his machismo and his pride in how “tough” he was wouldn’t allow it. He would try to “tough it out”. Refusing to admit that he couldn’t handle this on his own, he would get sicker and sicker until the end. He might not even survive the four hour window. In fact, he might not even make it home. He might have a seizure, experience respiratory failure, or suffer some other kind of attack and lose control of his car. A sick sense of satisfaction enveloped Joel as he thought on all of this. In a matter of hours there would be one less unrepentant abuser in the world.
Written by Raidra
This pasta has received a rating of 6/10 or higher and has moved on to the finals of the 2015 freestyle pasta challenge.