Tattoos of the Soulbyronde©
“Hello.”….”Oh, Hi, Linda….“….”Yeah, about three this afternoon.”….”Yes, it’s over, for all the good it’ll do me.”….”Well, I got the house and my car, but I have to keep making the payments. I was paying for them anyway, so nothing's much different”….”No, no alimony. His lawyer said I had a good job, and the judge agreed.”….” I feel pretty rotten, really.”….”What do your mean I should feel good? Twenty-two years of my life just went down the tubes. I’m a forty-three-year-old accountant and I’m divorced. I‘m fat and I have stretch marks. Don’t you ever read any of those magazines you keep buying? At our age, there are two single women for every single man, and they’re all looking for young, dumb, skinny girls with tight butts…. Well, I don’t like to think of getting old by myself, that’s what.”….”Sure, I’ll be here, but nothing’s going to cheer me up. Come on over.”
Cassandra opened the door on the second knock.
“Hi, Linda. Come on in. I made some coffee.”
They sat at Cassandra’s kitchen table.
“I guess I’m glad you came over, Linda. I’ve made such a mess out of things. I really need to talk to somebody.”
“Cassandra, honestly, you act like you’re blaming yourself. I saw them go in and out your back door from my kitchen window. For crying out loud, he was fucking the woman right in your own bed. You probably laid right in their -. Gawd, I don’t even want to think about it.”
“Please don’t say that word in my house.”
“What …, oh, you mean the f-word.” Linda shrugged. “OK, but it’s the only word that means what he was doing to her.”
“It’s just so crude sounding.”
“Not any cruder than sleeping with that little slut while you were at work.”
“Well, maybe he did it because I wasn’t giving him something he needed.”
“You know, Honey, I used to think that, after Dick left me, but you know what? I finally realized nothing I could have done would have stopped him. He just couldn’t let himself be happy with one woman. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was me or not.” Linda rolled her eyes. “Dick just had to see if there was something different out there.”
“Brian wasn’t like that.”
“So you say. What’d he ever ask for that you didn’t do for him? I don’t remember you telling me anything.”
“I couldn’t tell you. It was too dirty.”
“Cassandra, how long have we been neighbors? Fifteen years, right? Who watched your kids when they were little? Who trusted her kids with you? Remember your New Year’s Eve party, last year? Who was it took your drunk little ass and put you to bed while Brian was still in your living room groping all the other women?”
“You, but I wasn’t drunk. I was just tired, and the champagne got to me quicker than I thought it would.”
“Tired hell. I damn near had to carry you up the stairs. And by the way, you’ve been running three days a week for ten years. How could you possibly be fat? Your butt’s littler than mine, and your stretch marks aren’t all that bad. Just don’t wear low-rise pants and nobody’ll ever see ‘em.”
“What was I supposed to do, blindfold myself? It’d be pretty hard to take your clothes off and not look, now wouldn’t it? Besides, it’s good to know what the competition has to offer. It’s not like I’m a lesbian or anything. Cassandra, I’m your best friend. If you can’t tell me, who can you tell? Now, what evil deed did Brian ask you to do that you think caused all this?”
“Well, he wanted me to sleep in the nude.”
Linda choked on her coffee and burst out laughing.
“You think that’s dirty? Girl, we gotta get you out more. Did you do it?”
“Yes, but that’s not the dirty part.”
“OK, tell me then. I promise I won’t laugh again.”
“He…, well, Brian bought this book once, when he was in Chicago on business. It was about men doing these things to women. They…, they licked them…,down there.”
“And he wanted to do that to you, huh?”
“Well, I hate to blow your nice little guilt trip, but that didn’t cause him to start banging that broad. You missed about half your life, but you didn’t cause him to do anything he wouldn’t have done anyway.”
“I just couldn’t. Don’t you see? I mean, that’s where…, where…”
“I know. That’s why they make bath tubs, Cassandra.”
“Doesn’t matter much anyway. He’s gone. On the way home from the courthouse, I was trying to think of what I want to do now. Before, I was always Brian’s wife, or Lacy and Jack’s mother, and I always had something to do. Now, I’m just me, and I don’t know who that is anymore.”
“At least Lacy and Jack are on their own. Remember how Dick left me with Karen? I wanted her, and all that, but it was hard working and raising a teenage girl. It made us closer, but it was hard. I felt the same way then, Cassandra. I moped around pitying myself until it was pathetic. Then one day, I read this thing in a magazine. It said women give up a lot of themselves to take care of a family and when that family’s gone, sometimes they have trouble getting it back. Well, that fit me, so I kept reading. They said you need to change something in your life, do something really big, or something outrageous, to get you thinking about yourself again.
“So what did you do?”
Linda grinned and giggled. “Karen had been bugging me about getting a tattoo. She said it’d make her sexy. I didn’t think a fifteen-year-old girl needed to be all that sexy, but I went out and got one for myself.”
“No! You didn’t. I never knew. Where?”
“On my butt. Left cheek. A little red rose, and I’ve never been sorry.”
“Didn’t it hurt?”
“Hurt like hell while he was doing it, but having a man’s hands on my ass again was pretty nice, I’ll tell ya.”
“Linda! You let a strange man touch your hips!”
“Not hips, dear. One hip, and yes, but he wasn’t strange. Well, maybe he was, a little. He had a lot of tattoos and a ring in his nose. Still felt good. He was only in his twenties. I was thirty-three at the time, and he said I had a nice ass. Wanna see it?”
“Your butt or the tattoo?”
Linda stuck out her tongue, unzipped her jeans and pulled the left side over her hip. A tiny red rose on a green stem sat just below the waistband of her thong panties
“Well, I guess it’s kind of pretty, in a way.”
“I think so too, but that wasn’t the point. The point was I did something I’d never have done while I was married to Dick. See, I decided to do something really different, all on my own, and then I went out and really did it. It’s not what you do as much as the fact that you do it. Every time I look in the mirror, now, I can say, ‘There Linda. There’s something you did all by yourself, and you did it good girl.’ Still makes me proud when I see it, and it really did change my life. I guess it showed me I can do things by myself instead of relying on Dick or some other man.”
Cassandra would have missed the sign if she hadn’t stopped for a cup of coffee. She’d found several tattoo shops in the phone book, and had spent Saturday morning locating them. Just to be safe, she’d driven past each one and looked in the window. The windows were always covered so there wasn’t much to see inside most of them, but she still passed them by. The kids standing outside were enough. Girls with short spiked hair and tattoos on their necks and arms, boys with mohawk haircuts and pierced eyebrows; they made her cringe and also made her a little afraid. She was old enough to be a mother to most of them. What would they think of a forty-three-year-old woman going into a tattoo parlor? What would the tattooer, or tattooist, or what ever you called them, think of that?
The steps led up to the second story of the coffee shop. “Tattoos by Thomas” wasn’t on her list, but Cassandra rallied her resolve and went up. A sign on the door said, “Come In”.
The woman who walked into his shop that afternoon looked so out of place Thomas had to blink and look again. He sometimes got women as old as she, but few were dressed in heels, a plaid skirt, and a cashmere sweater. Most of his clients also looked a lot more confidant. There was something else, something from a long time ago.
“Hi, I’m Thomas. What can I do for you?”
He was sitting in a chair like her dentist used and watching television. The black, intricately designed tattoos on his arms were a little intimidating, but not so much as were his eyes. Their blue-grey color seemed warm enough, but she felt as if they saw right through her clothing. She shivered at the thought. He seemed friendly and there was no one else in the shop. Cassandra decided it was this place or none.
“I – I’m Cassandra. Ca - Cassandra Winters, and I’d like to get a tattoo.”
“That’s what we do here, so you’re in the right place for it. What you got in mind.”
Cassandra felt a slight feeling of panic.
“You said we. There’s somebody else here?”
“Just a figure of speech. It’s just me and Hector over there.”
Cassandra saw a very fat, very asleep, black cat on the couch.
“Well, I really don’t know what I want. Linda said she felt good after she got hers, so I just decided I’d try one.”
“I don’t want to turn down your business, but if you’re getting a tattoo just because your friend has one, maybe you shouldn’t. Tattoos are pretty personal. If you’re not sure, you’ll probably regret it, and it costs a lot to have them removed.”
“No…, no, I’m – I’m going to get one. I think what she said is true. I just don’t know what, yet.”
“Well, look at my flash and see if you find something you like. There’s no hurry. Some people take weeks or months to decide. Like I said, they’re hard to change once they’re in.”
“Drawings of tattoos.” Thomas pointed. “Over there…, in those binders on the table.”
Thomas went back to his movie and Cassandra spent an hour looking through page after page of drawings. The skulls made her cringe. So did the snakes and spiders. The naked women - well, she, herself, was a woman, after all. It didn’t seem right for a woman to have a tattoo of a woman. After looking at the last page of one binder, she saw a thin, spiral bound notebook on the bottom of the stack.
The designs leaped from the page at her. Ropes entwined into delicate patterns, vines with leaves winding in spirals, stars with different numbers of points, animals, fairies, they all seemed vibrant and alive.
“Mister…., uh…, Thomas, what are these? They’re beautiful.”
He turned off the sound and looked at the notebook she held up.
“Livingston. My last name is Livingston, and they’re Celtic designs, like these.” He held up one arm. “Must have left that there, somehow. I usually keep that back unless somebody asks. They’re um, a little more than most people are ready for.”
Cassandra turned every page and absorbed the intricate detail and beauty of each drawing.
“Here, what’s this one?”
Thomas eased from the chair and walked to the table.
“Ah, I remember drawing that one. Copied it from an old, bronze brooch. It is nice.”
“You drew these?”
“Yeah. Went to Scotland once, about twenty years ago, and prowled around the museums. I always liked the Celtic stuff, so I bought this notebook and started drawing. Each one had special meaning for the Celts.”
“What’s this one mean?”
“That uh…, let’s see…, should be written beside it, but I can tell you. Yeah, here it is. It’s a lover’s knot. See how the two heart patterns are entwined, and there’s no end to the ropes? It means they’d always be together and there’d be no end to their love. That’s how the Celt marriage ceremony worked. They tied the bride and groom’s wrists together with a rope. Pretty much like today, except we use little gold rings on our fingers. Probably did more to keep them together than our rings do.”
“Tell me about it. Mine’s at home in my dresser. Brian probably already sold his.”
“I take it you’re divorced? Me too. Fifteen years now.”
“A little over a month for me.”
“Well, I wouldn’t recommend this then. Not unless you’ve got somebody else in mind to take his place. The Celts thought all this stuff was connected to the Gods.” Thomas shrugged. “I’m not saying I believe all that, but ….”
“How about this one, then? It’s really nice. What’s it mean?”
“That’s a knotwork and spiral pattern from a monolith – that’s a big stone pillar they have on the old roads over there. Nobody really knows the original meanings for sure. Most people think the Celtic knots represent the interplay of good and evil, heaven and earth, stuff like that. Spirals meant a lot of things - life, health, the sun. They used them a lot. It’s a really old symbol. They’ve found it as far back as they’ve found artifacts.”
“I find that people pick a particular design because it touches them somehow. Maybe it’s some instinctive meaning that comes through, I don’t know. Some get them just because they think they’re cool, but most will have a story about what led them to pick a particular design.
“For me, this knot means the path of life. It winds over and under it’s own strands and eventually comes back to its beginning. The vines…, well, vines are a symbol of eternal life. They look like they die every winter, but then come to life in the spring and grow again. The spirals mean the same thing to me– the cycle of life.” Thomas chuckled. “Pretty deep, huh?”
“I think it’s interesting and pretty. It sounds a lot like I feel. It felt like I died after my divorce. Now, I’m coming to life again, or trying to anyway. I like it, I like it a lot.”
“That’d be a good choice for you then, I think.”
Cassandra chuckled nervously. “OK, I choose this one. How long will it take?”
Thomas shook his head. “It’s not that easy. I can’t just copy that drawing. If you want that, you’ll have to go to one of the other shops. Jake on Sixth is pretty good. Celtic’s pretty popular. They’ll probably have something almost identical.”
“But I like this one.”
“If I do it, you’ll get that design, but I’ll do it to fit who you are. In spite of what you might think about tattoo parlors, some of us are really artists. You’ll be my canvas, but it goes deeper than that for me. My tattoo work kind of bonds us, in a way, so I want each one to be special. After I do your tattoo, I’ll take your picture for my wall. I’ll also remember you and how I felt when I did the work. That part of you stays with me, and some of me, my design and technique, goes away with you.”
“That’s why you aren’t in the phone book, and why there aren’t a bunch of people here, isn’t it?”
“The other places mostly do the same popular designs over and over. Your friend gets a cute little bunny, you go get a cute little bunny. They’re cheaper and faster. Doesn’t take much to get a tattoo if you don’t have to wait. Just pick it out, sit still for a while, and remember not to scratch for a couple weeks. My customers are pretty selective, and I like it that way so I don’t advertise. Now, you still interested? Your choice.”
“Yes, I think so, depending on what you make up. How do we start?”
“Where would you like the tattoo? Arm, breast, hip, back, leg?”
“I think on my hip.” Cassandra grinned. “That way, I don’t have to show it to anybody unless I want to.”
“OK, I need you to unzip your skirt and -. Don’t look shocked. I’m not a pervert. I have to see what I have to work with, don’t I? Just pull it down a few inches and raise up your sweater about the same.”
Cassandra did as he asked. She felt ridiculuous standing there with both arms behind her back and baring her bottom. His silence was also making her nervous.
“Bet you’re thinking you’ve got a lot of me to work with, aren’t you?”
“Actually, I’m thinking of where the knot and spirals fit right.”
Cassandra heard his pencil softly scratching at the paper. Unconsciously, she kept bringing her hands together and covering herself. Thomas said nothing. She would just feel his fingers gently guiding her hands apart.
“OK, wanna look at this and see what you think?”
Cassandra started to pull her clothing back together as she turned, but stopped and caught her breath. She could only stare at the picture.
The drawing was her, the same woman she saw in her bedroom mirror every morning. Her back, her waist, her hips, it was almost a photograph in black and white.
The design was captivating and beautiful. Delicate vines wove themselves into a complicated knot just above the little dimple at the top of her hips. At the edges of the knot, other slender, leafed tendrils wound their way over her skin, up her flanks, and down to curl around the hollow of each hip. Above the knot was a delicately rendered, brightly colored butterfly composed of spiral patterns.
“I put the butterfly in because of what you said. Butterflies are a symbol of rebirth, and you’re trying to be reborn. Well, at least that’s what it sounded like to me. Whadda you think?”
“It’s beautiful…, and a lot bigger than I thought I would be getting.”
“It’s what I see when I look at you. If you don’t like it, I’ll understand. Like I said, most people aren’t ready for something like this.”
“No, no. I love it, but…, won’t that cost a lot? Looks like it would hurt a lot too.”
“We can work out how you pay. As for the pain, it depends on you. I like to do about two hours at a time. I’m thinking about ten hours to do it all. Some people take pain better than others. If two hours is too much for you, we can split it up into shorter sessions. Pain is part of the cost of the tattoo. That’s another reason they’re very personal.”
“Do I have to say yes right now?”
“Of course not. Like I said, some people take weeks or even months to make up their mind. It’s not something you do on the spur of the moment. Tell you what I’ll do, though. I’ll draw it on with my markers. It won’t be as detailed, but you can see about how it’s going to look.”
The next morning, after she poured their coffee, she sat down and grinned at Linda.
“Guess where I went yesterday?”
“I don’t know. The adult book store? That male stripper place over on West Main?”
“No, silly.” Cassandra lifted her chest and stuck out her chin, “I went to a tattoo parlor.”
“You didn’t. Really?”
“Um-hm. I really did.”
“Where’d you get it. Let me see.”
“You have to come in the bedroom. Somebody might see through the windows in the kitchen.”
Cassandra faced Linda and slipped down the waistband of her jeans. As she turned around, Linda gasped.
“Damn, Cassandra. That’s not a tattoo. That’s an entire painting.”
Cassandra giggled. “I know. Isn’t it beautiful? Oh, it goes up higher too.”
She lifted her T-shirt.
“How’d you get that much done so fast?”
“It’s just done with markers. Thomas said it would last for a week or so and I could see if I still want it.”
“It’s…, it’s a whole lot of tattoo. Are you sure about this? I mean, my little rose is easy to hide. That…, well, no more backless dresses for you after you get that. By the way, who’s Thomas?”
“He’s my tattoo artist. He drew this just for me. He says it’s what he saw when he looked at me. Thomas is, well he’s nice, and I think he’s a sensitive and creative man. He’s a real artist, not just a tattoo guy.”
“I think this Thomas is getting to a lot more than some of your money. It is pretty, but be careful, OK. It’s been a while since you had to deal with single men.”
“Well, you said do something big and outrageous. This is about as big and outrageous as I can get. And, yes, I suppose I like him. He’d so different than Brian.”
Every morning through the week, Cassandra looked in the full-length mirror on her closet door. The more she looked at the fake tattoo, the more she liked it, but there were questions that kept coming to mind. If she got married again, what would her husband think? What would her kids think if they ever saw it? How would she explain to her grandchildren why she’d done it? Was she really sure, like Thomas said she should be? For that matter, what did he think of her? Surely, most of his clients were a lot younger.