e blew an extra $2 on gas to drive all the way out beyond the lake, to a roadside tattoo parlor where he’d never been before and he didn’t know anybody. He owed the three shops closer to town money, and all he had was a 20, which he hoped would be just enough to buy him a teeny tiny toad on the inside of his wrist, or hopping right on top of his bicep, somewhere he’d be able to see it and remember that little guy from the woods.
He couldn’t believe there was somebody there already, and not just anybody, but a bodacious babe, and a showcase too, with ink over much of the visible surface of her body, which was to say much of her body. Spring had sprung outside, but it was not what anyone would call hot. However, this honey was wearing cutoffs as brief as a bikini bottom and a torn-up tee shirt that barely covered her impressive though not thoroughly genuine-looking tits. She was half-reclining in the chair, her long slim legs propped up on the footrests, wiggling her knees: apart, together, apart, together.
“I still think it’s going to look hotter on the back,” said the tattoo artist, who had a long scraggly graying beard like Brad Pitt’s and was wearing a camouflage print cap, like at any minute he might drop his irons and snatch up a gun instead, run out into the woods behind the shop and shoot him some hajis.
“I want it on the front,” the girl said in a flat voice. “When someone looks at it, I want to see what’s in their eyes.”
The artist shrugged and lifted the white paper stencil onto the woman’s chest, smoothing it out. Neither of them looked up at Jamie, who wondered, for a moment, whether something with the frog had rendered him invisible. The woman had a teardrop inked on one cheek, a rose with the name Terry on her shoulder, and a swastika arrayed around her belly button. Then the tattoo guy lifted up the stencil and held up a mirror for the woman to see.
The woman, who had straight black hair, nearly Asian looking, lifted her chin and arched her back, twisting her head this way and that as if admiring a new piece of jewelry.
“Bingo,” she said.
The tattoo was of the top half of a woman’s torso: cartoonish breasts even bigger than the woman’s own, seductive shoulders, neck ending in a raggedy edge, right at the hollow at the base of the woman’s own throat.
“All right,” the tattoo guy said, revving his gun. “Lie back.”
Jamie should go. Maybe he wasn’t even here. Maybe they were so high they hadn’t noticed him. Very slowly, very carefully, he began walking backwards, feeling as if he was rewinding time.
“You want something?” the tattoo guy said, at the same moment he inked the curved line of the bottom of one of the figure’s breasts.
“Uh, it’s okay,” Jamie said.
“Sit down. I’ll be done in a while.”
Jamie gestured toward the door. “I’ll be back….”
The guy laughed, looked at the woman. “A B-back,” he said.
“Let him go.”
“Sit down,” the guy said.
There was a green plastic kitchen chair in the front of the place like the kind his grandmother used to have in her kitchen, beside a blond wood table stacked with magazines: Sports Illustrated, Car & Driver, and, improbably, Glamour. Hi sister Cora always read Glamour. No, he couldn’t let himself think about Cora. He could only handle one psychological disaster at a time. Not even one.
“So, has anybody been sniffing around?” the guy asked, over the hum of the gun.
“Nah. They don’t have any clue. They’re never going to figure it out, either. Bunch of morons.”
They both looked up and, as if on a signal, over at Jamie then. Quickly, he trained his eyes down at the Glamour in his lap — 10 Ways To Fix A Bad Day Fast — though he was pretty sure they’d seen him staring. “Throw caution to the wind and actually smile at a stranger,” he read. He looked up at them, smiled.
“So what do you want to do for color here?” the artist said, bending again to his work. “Blue? Any red?”
The girl laughed. “Lots of both.”
Jamie knew what had happened to Tiff. Of course he knew, everybody did. That was one of the reasons he wasn’t going home. 895 Reasons You Can’t Go Home Again!
The tattoo artist was grinding away now, absorbed in his work. The woman lay back, eyes closed, not even breathing hard, and a tat that big right on top of the bones on your chest — that had to hurt.
Jamie could get up now. Push out the door, sprint for the car, gun the motor and be a mile away before they even knew what had happened. He knew cut-offs near here, dirt roads through the woods, they’d never find him. Neither of them recognized him and it could just be like this, like none of it, had ever happened.
He yawned — pretty good acting — stretched out like he was just starting to relax rather than getting ready to spring, lifted the Glamour higher, flipped through it. How to head off a makeup disaster, he read.
This was his moment. He stood up and in one swift movement made for the door. He pushed open the glass into the bright spring day and could see himself flying to his car, hear the engine turn over without a catch, could almost hear those tires squeal away, taking him to freedom.
But there on the steps, blocking his way, stood Donnie, one of Taryn’s friends right behind him.
“Well, fuck me, Jamie McAdams!” he said loudly, his breath foul with coffee and smoke and beer against the fresh air. “Where you going in such a hurry?”