The Tattoo
                                                                                        Sarah McMahon
 
 
Reprehensible, sickening, indefensible – that’s what they had said about his brother, about his crimes. Declaring him lacking in any moral fibre, they had sentenced him to lethal injection.
 
Being his twin, his identical twin, he simply could not accept that his brother, the little boy he had built toy armies with, played mock battles against and created secret twin codes with, was as completely devoid of feeling, as corrupt, as they painted him. He felt he needed to honour his twin in some way and after much thought decided upon a tattoo. It would be a portrait of his deceased brother to sit proudly on the muscle to the top of his right arm. The work must encapsulate his brother’s true spirit, not that portrayed to the masses. It would need to be a genuine representation of his lost half.
 
As a result he searched out an old-timer, a vanguard of the tattoo world. A man whose name was passed on by word of mouth only, well practised in his art. Clutching the address, he found himself at a down-at-heel end of a shabby housing estate. A gang of young men were jostling each other and posturing on the corner nearby and he was relieved to be allowed admittance to the dilapidated house.
 
Ushered into the back room he found it to be clean
and presentable, and the tattooist wizened but firm
of handshake. The tattooist fixed him with an intense
stare. Holding the man’s gaze, he felt his stomach
cramp with nerves. Just excitement, he thought.
 
Just one question was put to him: ‘Are you sure?’
 
He nodded his affirmation, his mouth suddenly dry,
unspoken words clinging stubbornly to the back of his
throat. The tattooist nodded and with minimal further
conversation the venerable skin artist set to work
creating a lifelike image of flesh on flesh.
 
The piece took what seemed like a full day to be worked into his skin and he found himself becoming increasingly mentally distanced from the drone of the gun and the burning drag of the needle as he fought the urge to physically pull away from the process. When it was complete there was his own face staring back at him, albeit with the hair worn pushed back, as his brother had worn his, and the pink of a scar line inked down the left cheek of the tattooed face.
 
His first thought was that people would think that in some narcissistic fit he had had his own visage inked onto his body. But then he reminded himself why he had done it – it was about paying tribute to his twin, and the opinions of others mattered not.
 
Over the coming days the tattoo calmed and bedded into his skin. He felt almost proud of himself for remembering his brother this way when so many others had castigated him as some unforgivable demon.
 
It was not unusual for him to dream of his twin, in fact he had done so all his life; however, his dreams now took on a new twist. In his reverie the ink in his arm started to itch and whisper to him. It spoke the secret code only he and his brother were party to, but with words and sentences just out of reach to him, such that his fevered dreaming mind made its own interpretation of the messages presented. He would wake gasping and clutching the balled up sheets, and then shake his head to clear the images, telling himself over and over that it had only been a dream.
 
                                                                        However, as the weeks passed the intensity of these sleepy meetings with the                                                                           tattooed face of his sibling intensified. At night the tattoo seemed to pull and                                                                             stretch at his skin. The inked mouth would shape to form words and grimace at                                                                         him. It felt like the tattoo was pulling his arm round, twisting the flesh to allow                                                                           it to look him in the face to, allow it ,he felt, to savour his reactions to the                                                                                     terrible words it mouthed of his brother’s hideous deeds. The face showed no                                                                           remorse, indeed there appeared to be a devious pleasure taken in seeing him                                                                           squirm in his sleep with such despair and displeasure.
 
                                                                        He would wake feeling exhausted and despondent. No longer did he wish to                                                                              display the face of his brother printed into his skin. Instead he took pains to                                                                                conceal it from the world, now knowing that the others had been right all                                                                                    along.
 
                                                                        Sleep became his enemy, bedtime was when ‘it’ would appear and he felt                                                                                   powerless to resist. He tried so hard to stay awake, drank cup after cup of                                                                                   strong black coffee, listened to loud music, watched late night movies one after                                                                         another, but in the end his body simply succumbed to that inherent need for                                                                             rest and he fell into a deep slumber.
 
This time if felt as though the tattoo was gnawing and chewing, trying to free itself from the fibre of his flesh. He dreamt he could feel his twin’s teeth against his bones, the scent of his own blood filled his nostrils, its sweetness sickening him. Forcibly he managed to drag himself from the thrall of this nightmare and, violently shaking, he awoke. His chest heavy, wild-eyed and bathed in his own sweat, he staggered to the bathroom. Only a dream! It was only another damn dream!
 
Rubbing his eyes he peered into the bathroom mirror trying to get his bearings. He could see the tattoo still in its correct place on his arm. With a sigh he pushed his hair back out of his eyes and lightly ran his fingers down the long scar that ran down from under his left eye. With a broad grin and a glint in his eye he whispered, “Thank you, brother, so good to be back…”

 

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