A young boy learns to obey his mother.
|"Aw, come on, mom, I wanna see the Living Tattoo," I wailed as I led her through the crowded midway toward the freak tent.
"No, I won't have a child of mine subjected to such filth."
"It's not filth, it's cool."
"Defacing yourself like some bathroom wall is disgraceful and disgusting."
"Aw, mom ... "
"No, Johnny, and that's the last I'll hear of it."
With that, she tugged me away from the entrance to the freak show. We spent the rest of the day playing games and riding rides. The smell of cotton candy and pizza filled the air. The bells, whistles, and screams of joy emanated from children having the time of their lives. Any other kid would be overjoyed with all the things we did, but not me. I couldn't get the vision out of my head. 'The Living Tattoo'; wherever I went and whatever I did, the sign danced in front of my eyes. It taunted me like a carrot dangling out of a donkey's reach.
I begged and pleaded all day, but mom would hear none of it. I dragged my feet and screamed like I was being tortured whenever we went near the freak's tents. She pulled me along, ignoring the stares of people passing by. Instead of remembering a wonderful day at the fair, we were both miserable as she drove us home.
"But the sign said the fair will be gone after tomorrow," I moaned, as we pulled into our driveway. "All I wanted to see was the Living Tattoo. You're the worst mother, ever!"
"That's it!" she said while opening the front door. "I've had enough! Go straight to your room, and I don't want to see you again until your attitude improves!"
"If it does, will we go to the fair tomorrow?"
She pulled at her hair and screamed as she stormed off to the kitchen and slammed the door.
“Is that a yes?”
The door didn't answer.
I stomped up the stairs as loud as I could and kicked my bedroom door shut.
I threw myself on the bed and crossed my arms.
"I never get anything I want."
I laid there, refusing to move, or even to turn my light on. My TV, stereo, the stack of video games, all held no interest to me. The only thing I could think about was the one thing I couldn't have. Through the window, I could see a glow on the horizon as night fell. The lights from the fair lit the sky.
"Tomorrow's the last day. I'll have to wait for a whole year."
From somewhere inside my mind a voice that had never spoken before said, 'Unless’.
'Unless you sneak out and go by yourself.'
"Should I do that?"
'She said she didn't want to see you again until your attitude changed. Will going to the fair change your attitude?'
'Then there you go. You're doing what mommy wants you to do.'
A smile crept across my face as I slid out through my window.
Twenty minutes later, I snuck in through a hole in the fairground fence and came face-to-face with a carney.
"Whatdya think yer doin', boy?" he asked through his three visible teeth.
"Nothing, " I said and started walking away.
"Wait a minute, I know you."
My blood ran cold.
"Yeah, yer that brat that was whinin' at yer mom today."
"I'm no a brat,” I said.
"Excuse me, Your Highness."
I turned to leave.
"I can get you in to see him."
I froze in place and slowly turned.
"The Living Tattoo."
"You can do that?" I said, my skin tingled with excitement.
He led me down a path that ran behind the tents. It was a different world back here. The people looked worn and ragged. A few lucky ones got to lay on lawn chairs, the rest of them sprawled on the ground. Empty bags of popcorn and discarded tubes for cotton candy were strewn everywhere. Armies of ants crawled all over.
He led me to a large, dark tent with a cigar store Indian outside, as though it was standing sentry duty. There the carney stopped. As I gazed into the wooden Indian’s eyes he seemed to gaze back.
“There’s only one question I need to ask first,” the carney said. “How much do you want to go inside?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“How desperate are you to see him? What would you give to go inside this tent?”
“Anything,” I said, staring hard at him.
He smiled with his three crooked teeth.
“That’s the right answer.”
He pulled back the flap and disappeared inside. I followed and was immediately overwhelmed by darkness. A musty smell hung heavy in the air. I thrust my hands out in front of me, feeling my way as I drowned in the pitch black. As suddenly as the light had left, it reappeared. Torches lit the way to the center of the room. My eyes scoured the inside of the tent. Strange shadow creatures hovered at the edge of the light. Flames danced hungrily in their eyes.
My stomach lurched in panic threatening to evacuate its contents. I paused and turned.
“What’s this?” the carney said, blocking my exit. “You ain’t leavin’ without seein’ him. Not after all the fuss you put up about it.”
“I’m not sure my mom would like me being here alone,” I said.
“No, of course, she wouldn’t. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? You wanted to show her who’s boss.”
His crooked smile was tinged with something I couldn’t place.
“Come on then. Up you go.”
He gave me a little push towards the raised platform in the middle of the room. A large figure sat there motionless, covered by a black cloak. The carney guided me around to the front, where I could see him. The intricate pictures that covered every inch of his face were mesmerizing. A one-eyed pirate being impaled by a sword, a beautiful scantily clad woman, a strange symbol I had never seen before. They all drew me closer.
I found myself a hand's breadth away from him. His eyes were pitch black, yet did not reflect the light of the torches.
“Well there you go,” the carney said. “You wanted to see him, and here he is.”
For the first time, the Living Tattoo's eyes blinked. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I recoiled, but the carney caught me and held me fast.
“He’s heard all about you, of course. You and that little show you put on today. He’s wanted to meet you ever since.”
“W-why?” I stammered.
“He’s never met someone so selfish, so unconcerned about anyone else. He wanted to know how you do it.”
“Ignore every feeling of right and wrong inside you. Ignore the woman who gave you life. Ignore the common sense that God gave even a rat, just so you could have your own way.”
I glanced back at the carney with contempt. When I looked at the tattoos again, the pirate wasn’t staring at the woman anymore; he was staring at me.
“They wanted to see you too.”
The Living Tattoo untied a knot at his neck and the cloak fell away. Nothing covered his body except for a loincloth and tattoos. Artistic masterpieces overflowed from one to the other. Textures so deep no artist could have achieved it. And they were all looking at me. Each mythological creature, human, alien. Even the symbols seemed to stare somehow.
My blood ran cold. I shivered.
He stood, stepped forward, and wrapped his cloak around me. The shivering stopped. I felt warm again. I felt exhilarated. He took my hand, then pulled me close and whispered with a voice that sounded like a thousand together.
“Release me,” the Living Tattoo said.
I tried to let go of his hand, but he still held me in an iron grip.
My mouth refused to open. My mind felt as if every thought had been scooped out. As we stood face-to-face, hands still clasped, one of his tattoos moved.
A tiny horse and chariot, carrying a roman soldier, galloped down to the edge of his finger and disappeared. My eyes became the size of saucers. My mind reeled when the horse and chariot reappeared on my hand. I watched in shock as it rode up my arm and disappeared beneath my sleeve. The floodgates opened, and all the other tattoos followed suit. A sea of green ink flowed up my arm. They disappeared under my clothes until there was no more room. They washed onto my face like ocean waves in a storm.
I was so entranced watching my body invaded by living pictures, I didn’t notice my counterpart still held my hand. He had shrunk several inches while I had grown. His eyes were no longer inky pools of soulless black. They were now green, the same as mine. In fact, his face was the same one I saw in the mirror each morning. His skin was milky white, like mine used to be. Not a mark or a blemish remained. My doppelganger and the carney took my clothes. While he dressed in my jeans and t-shirt, I was re-wrapped in the cloak. It felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. I was dragged down into the chair, unable to move.
My new tattoos laughed and jeered at me as ‘Johnny’ walked back through the torches. He turned only to nod to the carney before walking out of the tent.
Sleep eluded me that night. The figures on my skin moved all night like a colony of ants crawling over every inch of my body. Once, I tried scratching a tattoo on my cheek. The pirate I had caught with my fingernail reared back and stabbed me with his sword. Unbelievable pain shot through my face. The itching threatened to drive me insane, but I never scratched again.
The next day held a fresh hell. Exhaustion clung to me. My torment was to live the nightmare of each tattoo, held down by the weight of my inky damnation. Unable to move or even speak. I could still see the children who passed through wearing looks of shock and admiration. I could also feel the scorn of the mothers who hid their child’s eyes and moved on at the sight of me.
When I thought it couldn’t get any worse, in walked little ‘Johnny’ with my mom holding his hand. She looked at me with the same scorn I had seen on the other mothers’ faces.
“I don’t know why you wanted to see this so badly. You’ll have nightmares for weeks.”
“Don’t worry, mom. I’ll sleep better than I have in a long time,” he told her in my voice.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” She herded him away, repulsed by the sight of me. “You better not have any ideas of getting a tattoo of your own.”
I bowed my head as he turned to leave with my mother. A tear formed in my black eyes when I noticed a new tattoo on my arm. It was a small boy with green eyes.
He glanced back at me, then said to my mother, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”