Ink, p.1
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           Chad Inglis
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Ink
Ink (A Newt Run Module)

  By Chad Inglis

  Copyright 2012 Chad Inglis

  For Jenna Inglis

  Aside from her brother, her grandfather was her only living relative. She had a father somewhere, maybe, who had run out on them when they were both still children and hadn't been heard from since. When she was in high-school her mother died of breast cancer. She was in the hospital room to witness it, along with her brother and her grandfather. She stood beside the bed and watched life leech from her mother's pale features. The sound of a heart monitor filled the room, striking her as a horrible cliché, an absurdity that everyone did their best to ignore. Her grandfather approached her and placed his hand on her shoulder, meaning to be kind, but to her it felt like a dead animal or slab of meat, and it was all she could do not to slap it away. Her brother stared at her from across the room, his eyes shaded, and distant. The eyes of a mannequin, she thought, or the hollowed-out gaze of a drug addict. A part of her wished he would say something, but he didn't, and neither did she.

  They moved in with their grandfather the following week. He had been a miner, working for twenty years in the deep pits until he was transferred to the docks, and he was still a large man. His arms were powerful, and covered with coarse hair, but his shoulders had been bent by age and by the time his two teenage grandchildren moved in with him, arthritis had settled so deeply into his joints that he had trouble moving from one floor to another.

  "Lauren," he told her more than once. "Don't get old."

  Living together, the three of them comprised the remnants of a family. None of them spoke much, and the old house on Clearing Street took on the air of a library or mortuary. Silence, like dust, settled into the corners and along the mantel above the fireplace. When they did speak, they preferred to do so in brief, terse exchanges, questions from her grandfather about where Lauren was going or what she'd done that were like ritual formulas and which she ritually lied to in response.

  Her grandfather spent his days on the chair in the living room, sitting in front of a television that was almost never in use. Otherwise he read the newspaper or dozed, waking up fitfully, confusion sweeping like a swift breeze across his features. Her brother Jared bought a set of weights and spent his time using them, until the room he took on the 2nd floor was filled with the pungent scent of adolescent sweat and unwashed clothing. Lauren filled notebooks with bad poetry that she knew to be bad and others with sketches that she wasn't sure how she felt about; her mother had been an artist, but Lauren was nothing yet, a young girl with a rock of sadness and rage in her chest that at times threatened to overwhelm her and at others rose up like a mist in front of her eyes.

  A month after her mother's funeral she got her first tattoo. That evening, she and her brother had split a bottle of rice alcohol they'd found collecting dust on a shelf beneath the sink. They had both been drunk before, and the small bottle didn't go very far. They began exploring the cabinets and shelves in search of something else to drink, but aside from a single can of beer in the back of the fridge they came up empty. A wave of frustration passed through her, and she bit down on her lip in an effort to quell it.

  "We could get tattoos," she said suddenly. Her brother raised an eyebrow, but he told her that he'd go with her to watch. They left the house and walked the short distance into Northside. Lauren had a place in mind, a large shop on the second floor of a converted warehouse that she'd passed by several times on her way to buy groceries.

  The shop, even on a weekday evening, was busy, and the receptionist, a bored-looking girl with a bull ring through her nose, told them to take a seat.

  "We have some books with designs," she said.

  "I've got my own," Lauren replied.

  The receptionist shrugged and left them alone. Jared took one of the books from the shelf by the counter and spent some time flipping through its pages, most of which consisted of designs for stylized flowers, or brilliantly coloured animals. Eventually one of the artists freed up, a short woman with wide shoulders and hips, and a thick braid of brown hair that stretched halfway down the length of her back. She regarded Lauren blandly.

  "What have you brought for me?" she asked. Lauren handed her a notebook.

  "It was my mother's," she explained. The woman spent some time examining the dog-eared pages.

  "This is interesting work," she said at last, but there was no interest in her voice; only resignation, as if the comment had been forced from her. "What are we doing?"

  Lauren turned to a page filled with a dense pattern of inter-locking shapes, something like a stained-glass window or mosaic in green monochrome. The artist raised one heavily touched-up eyebrow.

  "You want the whole page?"

  Lauren shook her head.

  "Just what will fit here," she said, sketching a vague rectangle on the inside of her right forearm.

  "Which part of the design?"

  Lauren shrugged.

  "It doesn't matter."

  The artist led Lauren to an open chair. It was made of soft, well-worn leather, and had a base long enough for her to stretch her legs out. A lamp on a brass arm had been fastened to the back of the chair, and sitting down on a stool beside her, the artist swung it into place. The light fell on Lauren's arm, causing her skin to appear brilliantly, luminously white. The artist told Lauren to straighten her arm out, using a razor to clear the skin of any hair before disinfecting it with rubbing alcohol. She made a photocopy of Lauren's design and transferred it to a special paper which she laid out on Lauren's arm. When she removed the paper, its outline was left on her skin in vibrant, purple ink.

  "That look about right?" she asked. Lauren took her time examining it from several angles, stretching and twisting her arm to make sure that it was placed exactly where she wanted it. Frowning, she apologized and asked the artist to move it a little closer to her wrist. The artist said nothing as she wiped the skin clean and reapplied another tracing paper. Satisfied, Lauren laid back and waited for the needled to fall. She caught her brother's eye from across the room. He nodded at her, smiling. She thought it was the first time she'd seen him smile in weeks.

  "This might sting," said the artist.

  Her grandfather never mentioned the tattoo. Lauren wasn't even sure he'd noticed it or not, but after she got her second one, an image of a hummingbird she had drawn on her shoulder, he stopped her in the hallway to examine it. He took his time, lightly holding her arm in his powerful hands and breathing through his teeth.

  "It's your mother's work," he said at last. Lauren nodded.

  "I found her notebook."

  He let go of her arm.

  "How many of those are you planning to get?" he asked.

  "I don't know," she replied. "I still have a lot of arm."

  Her grandfather snorted.

  She found herself going in for a new tattoo every few months. She always insisted on seeing the same artist, and the two of them became friends, or at least grew friendly, stopping to talk if they saw each other at a shop or on the street, and once when they ran into each other at a party. The longest she ever went between sessions was half a year. Sometimes she made use of her mother's bird sketches, and at other times the more abstract designs she'd discovered in the first notebook. After two years her right arm was covered from her shoulder to her wrist. She thought it looked like a matrix of an aviary as viewed in four dimensions, a description that caused her brother to laugh, but which she was very pleased with. She wasn't sure how her mother would have felt about this, and she told herself that she didn't care; she enjoyed the pain of the needle, which felt to her like a strong, persistent scratching, and after a time caused her to break out into a light sweat, the type she might experience while walking on a summer day or after having sex in a closed room. But mostl
y she liked the thought that what she was doing could never be erased, and that the images and designs the needled caused to erupt on her skin would stay with her until the day she died.

  It wasn't long after she started on her left arm that her grandfather fell ill. He was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and hospitalized for a week, but after the initial bout of sickness he seemed to be getting stronger. Then his cough returned, worse than before, streaked with blood and wracking his large body as if he was a child. He was transferred to a different ward, and placed in a bed next to another man, who was said to be dying of pancreatic cancer. When Lauren came to visit she found him propped up on a number of pillows, an IV inserted into his forearm. It was raining, and the light from the window next to the bed fell dully on his gray, grief-lined face. His eyes were sunken, and his cheeks were covered with a few days' worth of stubble.

  He did his best to smile at her, but she couldn't make her own muscles respond. She stared at him blankly, picturing herself as if she was a doll cast from molded plastic. The sound of the heart monitor sent a chill along her spine.

  Only after he died did she find out that he'd left his house to her and Jared. Her brother had no interest in staying there, and suggested that they sell it, but she told him that she needed time.
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