Hyka rubbed the last of the excess ink away to reveal a clear image; a song bird in a wisp of ivy vines. The young lady got up from the table she was laying flat on and ran to the mirror squealing. She tried her best to be polite, but Hyka’s ribs inched and hurt under her shirt as her own skin rose in the same fashion as the girls tattoo. The girl gave her a generous tip and left the shop. Hyka retreated to the bathroom like she did after every tattoo she completed. On her ribs, an identical image of the song bird and vines appeared. It was surrounded by a collection of other pieces that began to fade. For every tattoo she created on someone else, it showed on the same place on her own body but disappeared over a span of a year, allowing for more space. For this reason she never did art on faces and always stayed completely covered in clothing.
She was popular in her profession. Her art was recognizable and sought after for being near perfection in design and technical skill. She shared the shop with three other artists of great caliber but none could come close to her talent. She kept to herself, hated small talk, and paid her booth rent every month. She did not even complain when they raised her rent to a percent of her commission. Tattooing was not a job to her. It was an addiction. Her body was a revolving canvas and because of her reputation she could pick and chose what, where, and who she tattooed. She often passed clients to other artists. This helped to maintain a positive work environment.
She swept her short hair out of her face, pulled her shirt down, and left the bathroom. She passed all three artist’s rooms before returning to her own. It was a window booth and often attracted on lookers. On the weekends, a group of regulars would watch her through the glass. Up and coming artists would watch and take notes of her technique. Journalists and photographers would harass the shop manager for an interview, which she always denied. He no longer bothered asking her, because the answer never changed. Tourists were easy to spot, snapping pictures with their smart phones or oversized tablets. She brought in a lot of business, but rarely kept any for herself. She was running out of room and it would be another month before she had any to spare. She had a small space on the back of her shoulder blade only three inches in diameter.
It was rounding out midnight. She has diverted a Bible scripture, a pirate ship, and a viper eating a rat onto her counter parts. Her booth had been clean for hours and she had almost given up on the night. The opening of the store front door activated a bell signaling a potential client had entered the shop. She must not have been paying attention because she did not see anyone walk by. A tall man stood in the lobby. Though he wore a suit, a few dark lines were visible around his neck and wrists. His eyes walked over hers as well. From her own wrists, to her flat stomach that shown from her low cut jeans revealing her work. As his gaze worked its way over, she pulled her shirt to cover her stomach.
“We close in an hour.” She stated firmly and annoyed.
“Mine won’t take long. It’s just this.” He said and held up a glass tile that held a drawing of a symbol. The paper it was written on looked ancient, preserved by the glass casing. It was a simple drawing. A square with dissecting lines creating smaller squares and triangles inside. I looked like something a student would doodle on notebook paper. It required no skill or effort.
“I’m closed up for the night and the guys already have clients. Come back tomorrow, I’m sure one of them can fit you in.” She said to the man. She went to turn away, but he grabbed her firmly by the arm. He was stronger than what his suit revealed. Despite her own strength, he turned her around with little effort. Instinctively with her free hand, she reached to the back of her belt and pulled her knife loose. He grabbed her by her swinging wrist and pulled her close into him. His chest was hard under his shirt, and it almost knocked the breath out of her.
“You will do this tattoo. It will be exactly like it is in the drawing. And you will do it now.” He pressed ten thousand dollars cash into the hand not holding the knife.
She placed the tattoo on the only space she had left, the only bare space on his skin as well. She was angry at the man, but the more she dug into his skin, the more it dug into hers. She did exactly as he asked. Not because he did, but because she would also wear the scar for twelve months. No one knew of her affliction and she could have passed it off as another artist’s shotty drawing, but her pride would not allow it. When she finished, he did not look in the mirror as the squealing girl had. The tattoo was minor and simple compared to the work he carried on his body. He silently buttoned his shirt, took his coat and left. She let out her breath at the sound of the bell.
She quickly cleaned her booth and grabbed the day’s trash. The front door was locked and her peers had already left for the night. She was never nervous about locking up on her own, but something about the man had shaken her. The ten thousand dollars burned in her bag like huge secret. It made her uneasy to carry around that much money. She stepped out and looked up and down the ally where her motorcycle was parked. Empty. She set down the trash and locked the door.
While she still faced the door, someone pushed her hard, pinning her there with a forearm. She struggled against the weight to no avail. Another pulled at her collar to reveal the new piece that appeared on her shoulder.
“That’s it. Bag her.”
Everything was dark. She could here the vehicle door slide open. Her hands were bound but she did not struggle. It could have been hours. Or just minutes. They took her somewhere enclosed. A building of some sort. They took her clothes. All of them. She heard the snap and draw of a camera work its way around her. They redressed her, but in different clothing. She was instructed to sit. Her hands were untied, the door shut, lock slammed. She removed the black clothe from over her face. She was in a cell with one way in and one way out. There were no windows, just a bench, a tiny water faucet with a simple lever and a drain in the floor.
Three meals a day. She counted the time by the fading of her marks. The last of which, the square on her shoulder, she could not see.
One day the door opened. It was so bright she could not see the faces of the people that bond her hands and covered her face. In a vehicle for seconds compared to the time spent alone. Hands unbound, cover lifted, they drove away and left her in the dark, in the alley behind her shop. Her bag at her feet. Ten thousand dollars inside. She took the bag, walked away, and never tattooed again.