Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Continued from "Breathe Me"

Anna Staal has been fascinated by the macabre all her life.  Ever since she went ferreting with her uncle and watched him skin rabbits with one deft stroke. It made her cry but once the fear dissipated she was enthralled. Or perhaps it was when her ageing aunt showed her pictures of a long dead relative, smiling in his Sunday best with all the family. Whether Victorian death portraits or simply the wonders of human anatomy, she’s been obsessed with the art of the odd, the weird. And she’s made a career of sourcing and procuring such wonderful things for the Wellcome Collection over the years.

Fascinated by the work of Henry Wellcome and his medical research laboratories she had found herself in a position of some seniority as curator of the museum. Many of her ilk not wishing to pursue the ‘believe it or not’ collections that Anna found so fascinating. Interestingly, so did the general public, and her curatorship of such travelling exhibitions as Gunther von Hagens, Bodyworks, had gained her some notoriety and oddly, respect. Anna had recently acquired a number of exhibits from the now failed Amsterdam Tattoo Museum but still wanted the ultimate prize. A complete Japanese Tattoo. All she needed was a donor.

A delicate subject approaching the likes of Yakuza thugs or 'bovver boys' about ‘donating’ their bodies to science. The act of donating was not what perturbed them, but the thought of being flayed made their skin literally crawl, even if their egos were flattered about the prospect of being on ‘display’ ad infinitum.

It was then she had a small brainwave, or rather her assistant had a huge brainwave and suggested sourcing some of the world’s tattoo masters about approaching their clients.
“Gemma, that’s actually spamming you know.” Anna’s faux chastisement understood by her new intern.

“Well not literally, I mean we’re ‘asking’ for permission to contact people. Only those who perhaps have already signed up for newsletters or mailouts. We could approach them, make an offer and get them to sign a contract.”

“Ah my dear, if it were that easy. We’d have families to contend with, legal complications. Whoever was willing would have to make it perfectly clear, perfectly water tight. But it is worth consideration. Give legal a call, let’s see what we can do.”

The simple idea now seeded in Anna’s psyche, surely one of Michi Hiko or Horyoshi’s clients would come on board.

His first attempt at drafting his Will was difficult, not in terms of beneficiaries but because of the caveat that had to be worded so carefully. Hiko had never married, having come to this country with little more than a rough bag and his bamboo tools. Urged by persistent ex-militia and spurred by the fact that he would have an endless supply of clients, he’d made a success of himself and was famous in such circles. They offered an attractive proposition when in his own country, even today, body art is rarely shown and deemed in poor taste. Tattoos being purely the province of the Yakuza and those lower down the economic ladder, despite the huge expense. Yes, Japan today had given way to pop culture, Manga and Gyaru girls.

The brief resurgence of the Japanese tattoo had taken a back step in recent times with public servants having to declare their ‘tainted’ skin and tattoos still remaining largely hidden in the name of respectability. Yes, the move had been worth it. but his life until Colin came along, had been hard and lonely. He’s squirrelled enough away to continue the lease on the Ink Shop and plan for his retirement. All moot now that he’s aware he’s on a short leash; borrowed time. He knows, as his eyesight fades and the headaches become more debilitating, that time is fleeting, his life has been short and he wants someone to remember him.

He bequeaths it all to Colin, the man who only a few years ago was a lithe lad peering through his doorway, now an accomplished artist and recognised among the inked community. Yes, his ‘son’ had made a name for himself at such events as far away as London and Lapland. His designs appeared in reputable publications. He’d even begun a web series presenting tattoos as high art rather than  subculture and the tiny parlour has been renovated to attract a higher calibre of client. Melissa’s contribution hadn’t gone unnoticed, and now instead of rough necks, their patrons were more celebrities. Despite success, Colin would carry on his mentor’s legacy of pure and clean body art and maintain the Japanese tradition in which he had been taught, Hiko knew it. Michi Hiko loved him for it.

“Good morning Mr Hiko,” 

Russell Kennedy had a voice that matched his name. Sophisticated and suave. Dressed in Armani to suit the marbled surroundings of his Solicitor’s office. Hiko is ushered into the ‘big man’s’ domain by an equally elegant receptionist, well quaffed and formal, wearing a grey suit so tight he wonders how she manages to sit in it all day.

“Ah…Mr Kennedy. Good of you to see me at such short notice.”

Kennedy gestures for the small Japanese man to sit.
“I believe you have an unusual caveat to add to your Will. Do you have any other beneficiaries than Mr Weckwerth?”

Hiko shakes his head. “Only Colin so there should be no problem?” Yet again an answer completed with a question. Some habits die hard.

Hiko rubs his chin in thought, “I have no-one other than Colin who will object. But I do know who would do this. I have a letter. Someone who might help.’

He hands the crumpled letter, held for many years, to his solicitor. It’s on official Wellcome letterhead and signed by an Anna Staal, Curator of the Wellcome Museum.

Kennedy presses a small button on his intercom phone. “Gemma, get me Ms Staal, should be about 5 in the afternoon over there.” He repeats the number written on the letterhead, “Don’t forget the international dialling code.” He looks toward Hiko, “She’s attractive but can be rather forgetful.” The lawyer’s flippancy not appreciated in a moment of such gravity, Hiko rises to leave.

“Leave it with me Mr Hiko. I’ll call you when I’ve spoken to Ms Staal. In the interim, I suggest you inform your beneficiary of your intentions. This is the kind of surprise that relatives tend to baulk at. Rather like organ donation, it’s a difficult thing to address when in the throes of grief.”

The two men shake hands, “Please call me soon Mr Kennedy,” Hiko is looking drawn and frail, “I may not have long.”

“You’re kidding!” Colin’s look is incredulous. “You’re fucking out of your mind! Are you serious? That thing on your brain's affecting your judgement. Crazy Jap.” 

The harsh words hurt Hiko’s feelings. He thought of all people, Colin would understand.

“I have no-one but you. I have no legacy. I have just my art.”

“Art fart, old man, you’ve lost your fuckin’ marbles. No, no I won’t sign any fucking consent! I don't want your money, not if it means this!”

Now the apprentice becomes the master and leaves the back room with a slam of the door.

“Do you know what he wants to do?” Colin rages into the parlour.

Melissa is sitting in one of the reception chairs flicking through a Vogue magazine, smiling at an article on her partner.

“Look, you’re tattooist to the Stars!” She flips the double page spread towards Col baring a well known celebrity’s latest inked acquisition.

“Jesus Mel! I swear he’s gone crazy.”

“Colin, he’s an old man.” The soft voice of reason kicks in, “It’s his body, he can do what he wants with it. Yes it’s weird but in a way, it’s rather sweet. People will appreciate it. The right people will appreciate it. Let him do it. Sign what needs to be signed and make his transition easier.”

He hates it when she makes sense. 

It’s been a long flight and they’re exhausted. Long hauls always take it out of Col while Melissa sleeps like a baby. Probably the Panquil, knocks her cold when taken with a glass of champagne. They retrieve their luggage from the carousel and hail a taxi.

“I need to sleep love.” It's more of a plea than a statement. An attempt to postpone the inevitable and the rings beneath Colin’s eyes belie a longer period of insomnia. He hasn’t slept well for weeks.

“You can sleep when you die Col. We’re going this minute, it’s only 7am. Have a stiff coffee. You’ll be fine. We owe him this much.”

Again, Colin is reminded who is the master and who was the apprentice. He knows it’s a mark of respect, he knows Hiko would appreciate it. “Yeh, you’re right. Let’s go.”


The room is dimly lit and professionally decorated. They’re welcomed personally by Anna Staal.
“Thank you Colin for allowing this to happen. Mr Hiko was thrilled when you gave your consent and I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the outcome.”

This is a private ‘showing’ before the main exhibit is opened to the public. The quiet melody of a hichiri accompanies them as they walk past beautifully framed photographs of Yakuza tatooed by Michi Hiko's Tiburi, bathouses and other Japanese tattoo masters. At the end of the corridor, a photograph of Hiko at work at the Ink Shop, a gaunt young boy watching in the background, and a man enduring the pain of tiburi tattoo, face down into folded arms while the master fashions Kintaro, the Golden Boy grappling with a feisty carp upon his back. Colin smiles, he remembers those days.

“Here….” Anna’s voice is as soft as an undertaker’s at a viewing.

Colin feels the tiny hairs upon his neck bristle and a drop in temperature, a reassuring touch upon his shoulder, even though Melissa is a metre behind him and Anna a metre in front ushering them into the display.

A large oak door swings open and the sunlight beams through old windows, particles of dust dancing like diamonds suspended in mid air. Shards of light bouncing in illuminated stripes upon a polished wooden floor.  In the centre of this theatre of light, within a glass case mounted on a plinth, draped over a mannikin's torso... is Hiko's full Tattoo.  

Colin’s eyes are misty as he turns to Melissa now by his side. The sadness overwhelming, she takes him in her arms.  He buries himself.

“It’s beautiful.” He whispers, “I miss him.”

A grown man cries. A woman does not speak. She let’s the ghost of the past dance amid the daylight rather than corrupt the moment with words.

Posted for the Tenth Daughter of Memory, River of Mnemosyne Challenge "Ghosts In Daylight"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Breathe Me

Continued from “The Heaviness of Being"

She did come. Hiko left early complaining of headaches and the sleeve boys, well pleased with their tatts had left. Colin scooping up bed liners and inserting them into the dryer presented a picture of domesticity as Melissa cautiously knocked at the front door.

“Just a sec,” He’s a little embarrassed being caught loading a washing machine. Burley bloke that he is, but she’s impressed that he even knows how to operate one. 

She looks amazing. Not knowing where the night will take them, she’s understated in a little black dress. Appropriately clinging but not too short. Her wonderful tanned shoulders almost hidden by slit sleeves. She chose kitten heels in case a walk was required. It’s Darlinghurst after all and the pavements are rough. Besides, she doesn’t like the crooked way women walk in heels too high to handle.  He bundles linen into the front loader and starts the cycle before removing the bolt on the door. The moment, much to his surprise, is comfortable to say the least. She leans forward and kisses him on the cheek leaving light glossed lips upon his skin.

“Hey…so sorry about not being able to meet you earlier. Hiko isn’t well.”

She isn’t perturbed. He looks even more handsome in the low light.

“That’s fine. I always wondered what all these things were.” 

She walks behind him from the door, tinkering with items laid neatly in preparation for the next day’s work. Smooths the white linen on the backs of chairs and raises her eyes to the ceiling.

“Not sure what you’ll find up there,” he says. He notices things about her. She’s observant, curious and gorgeous. “You look amazing. Let me go change and we’ll work out where to go.”

“I’m happy staying here.” She removes a bottle of wine and two glasses from an oversized shoulder bag.

 “It’s cold.” She shouts toward the now steaming bathroom.

He smiles as he undresses to shower. “Back in a few. Put the CD player on if you like.”

She can hear the rush of the shower and sees the steam emanating beneath the back room door. She doesn’t see him scrub the grime of the day from his body, shaving in the shower, washing his hair with fruit essence shampoo. Deliberating in front of the mirror.

She plugs her iPod into the sound system and fills the parlour with “Sia – Breathe Me” on repeat. Not his taste in music but he likes it. It gives him an insight into her possible fragility but in all seriousness, she just likes the song.

She opens the wine and pours, not too much, not too little and ventures into the third cubicle on the right. Sits cross-legged and provocatively until he emerges from the bathroom. Clean jeans and a lithe body. He’s shirtless.

“Oops, left it hanging in the locker,” he walks to retrieve it. He honestly want’s to cover up the tattoo on his pectoral.

“Don’t…” she coos, “Come have a drink.”

They clink, they sip, they small talk. He traces his fingers across her d├ęcolletage. “What do you see in someone like me?”

“Someone I’ve never known. Someone different, exciting. Rough on the outside but gentle on the inside. Col, you’re fine. You’re perfect.”

Lips meet and glasses are blindly laid on the utility table beside the massage bed.He’s hesitant. It’s now or never, but he’s not one to take advantage on the first date. Although technically, they’ve been talking and in touch for over a week now. Just never….

He’s not a sporting man but he knows the term ‘Drop back and punt’. His inner devil is telling him to go for it. His inner angel to wait. In the end, it’s Melissa who makes the decision, unbuttoning his jeans as his hand slides inside a willing thigh. 

It’s been a long time since he’s been with a woman but she’s reassuring, soft. Her skin is olive and responsive. He loves the feel of goosebumps as she reclines. He loves the feel of her as her fingers gently dress him with protection. He loves pretty much everything about her, the sound of her zip descending, her breath shortening, her moans letting him know that he’s doing things right.
The bed is tight and narrow as she slides the dress over her head. His jeans already lie in a sad discarded heap on the newly polished boards. She manoeuvres above him, her legs outside his and kisses the tattoo above his pectoral muscle. 

“You really are an artist.” She whispers as his hand touches between her thighs and elicits a willing sigh. 

She raises her head, blonde curls retreat and lay soft upon the nape of her neck as she bites the left side of her lip and lowers herself onto him. Both exude the smallest of sounds but the greatest of pleasure. She looks wonderful, she tastes wonderful, she feels wonderful. He wonders what he did to deserve this.

The first time they had sex wasn’t quite the way he’d planned it but he couldn’t have planned it so beautifully. 

Colin continued to turn up at the veterinary clinic as fill-in for the vacationing resident tattooist. Each welcome from Mel more physical, closer. At one point she pulled him into the drug cupboard before he’d barely crossed the threshold between reception and surgery. 

“Do you love me?” Almost a demand from the woman he’s increasingly adoring.
“Yes of course,” Always the precursor to her giving him fellatio.

The question came before the sex and he wondered if that’s what drove his emotions but he did, he does. She’s sweet and exciting and fearless and beautiful and yes, he loves her. But….does she love him.? She never said it. He’d never pushed it.

They partied late. She introduced him to her friends. He’d even spent Thanksgiving with her family. A new experience for an orphaned boy and jilted lover. It was nice. Her family were nice. Friendly, open, funny. Yes he loved her. He told her he loved her. He’d drawn back, then taken the punt and scored a goal but did she love him? He wasn’t sure.

“Why do you have such doubts?” Hiko quizzes on a regular basis.

“Because I’m unlovable” 

“Bullsheeet” Hiko is emphatic, “You a good man Colin Weckwerth, a good man, a good son. Why would this woman not love you?”

Colin’s insecurities have long laboured on his mind. He’s from the wrong side, the dark side and despite this he rises like a phoenix to each challenge. He needs reassurance, he needs to hear the words but she never said, “I love you.”

“You great artist,” Hiko, rarely forthcoming with compliments wants to bolster the lad, “You great psychologist. I hear you talk to clients. I hear you reason with them. I hear you encourage them. I hear you make them feel easy when they are scared. I hear you be funny with ladies, be strong with dickheads. You are worthy man. She loves you.”

As doubt gives way to being convinced, affirmation arrives.

 “Mr Weckwerth?” The delivery boy looks directly at the Caucasian.

“Yes...” Hiko exercises a rare moment of humour.

“I’m Colin Weckwerth, what’s this?” The big man relieves the tiny delivery boy of his leviathan gift.
“For you sir, sign please.”

It’s a large brown cardboard carton. Very large. Colin rips the packing tape from its circumference to reveal a hamper of wine, cheese, pate and a note.

“You are amazing. I love you….Mel”

“What does it say?” There go the questions again. Hiko pushes the man away and tears the note from his hand. “See! I right. Sometimes you are a very stupid man. Very stupid man. She loves you.”
“She does….yep, I guess she does…” 

Colin hits the iPod still linked into the Parlour’s sound system. 

ExNow “You Make My Dreams” is exactly how he feels.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory “Drop Back and Punt”

The Heaviness of Being

Continued from:  "Keeping it Simple"

The patrons of this part of town are there for nightlife and there’s little more than garbage trucks and delivery vans patrolling the streets before midday. The odd coffee shop provides outside seating and free newspapers to those who have an early start or haven’t quite decided to go to bed. The aroma of Brazilian blend pervasive. Col, stops at his favourite coffee vendor, a small van with a smiling barista.

“Hi Col, flat white with one?” 

A sleepy apprentice smiles and nods as he fumbles for small change in his pocket.

“One of those pastries too mate. The blueberry one thanks. Make it two, Hiko will only ask for half of mine if I turn up with just one.”

He walks towards the Ink Shop, dodging the spray from the gutter brush of a street cleaning truck. Jaywalks the lights and puts his hand on the door knob. The door is locked.

There’s been no call, no advance warning and Michi Hiko is not there to open the shop. It’s usually his practice to open up at 9am. Colin wonders in from 10 since their first clients are rarely barging through the door until well after Midday. He has keys but only once has he ever opened up before Hiko, who’s usually busying himself with setting up. He fumbles again in his pocket and rests the cup and pastry bag on the stone step.  Once in, he deactivates the alarm. There’s always someone keen to pilfer the till or steal equipment, then he wonders back to pick up his breakfast from the step. He switches the lights on as he takes a sip of the too-hot brew and winces as the papillae on his tongue object to the heat.

“Hiko?....Michi?” He’s not sure why he’s calling his mentor’s name. The shop was clearly locked and alarmed. “Weird.” He thinks to himself. 

The shop comprises a small reception desk on the inside left of the door. A few comfortable chairs and reading material on a coffee table to the left. Further in, there are three bay’s with upright chairs for those having smaller tattoos or upper arm, chest and shoulder work. On the right, three cubicles with massage tables for those wanting full back or legs and a little privacy. Clients are strange like that. Some like to be seen, some prefer a more intimate experience. Beyond these is a small back office where Hiko attends to the accounts and a tiny kitchenette for those moments when sustenance must be had, then a bathroom on the left, complete with built-in shower, toilet and washbasin. Client toilets are shared with the barber shop next door.

Col sits on Hiko’s ergonomic chair and shuffles papers on the desk. No note, just a neat pile of paid bills, a ledger and appointment book. He thumbs through the appointment book. One second Tuesday of every week there is an appointment. “Private”. Just for an hour and scheduled during the lunch break. 

He’s become so accustomed to Hiko yelling , “Going to stretch my legs…” at midday that he never thought anything of it. Neatly wedged between this Tuesday and last is a card. “Kowit Bahnathavin – Opthalmology Specialist.” 

At that very moment, he hears the familiar bell of the door opening and the sound of keys being thrown across the reception desk.

“I’m sorry son. I should have told you.” Colin is caught red-handed with the card between his thumb and forefinger and a ‘well, explain!’ expression on his face.

“What’s wrong with you? Why are you late?” The words sound harsh and mask the concern the apprentice really feels.

“I had to see a doctor. Not that one, a different doctor.  The news is not good. Sit, listen. You learn much when you listen.

I have been giving you more and more complex work for a reason. One evening last year, I rose from sleep to get a glass of water. I felt strange and could not focus in the dark. I put on the light and could not focus in the light. My head was splitting and my memory …..”  

Hiko pulls up a chair and puts his head in his hands. “…my memory was not there. I could not remember where to find a glass. I could not remember where the kitchen was, I cold not remember my name. I just fell to my knees and spoke gibberish aloud.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?”

The question is ignored as the story continues.

“My neighbour heard me shouting for help. My words were all back to front and upside down. I had suffered a stroke. This was during your absence at your mother’s funeral last June. I closed the shop for a week and was taken to hospital. I recovered quickly with no noticeable side effects but at the beginning of this year, I could not see the detail in my work. My hands shake more than they should. I had headaches. I went to see my doctor and there is damage behind my eyes. I will soon be blind.”

The news is crushing. Hiko still works it’s true, and the quality of his ink is almost perfect. Colin begins to realise it has been executed more from memory than visual acuity. Hiko’s masked his symptoms well. He’s worn glasses for the past 18 months, his apprentice oblivious to constant upgrades in his prescription. 

“I cannot keep tattooing. It’s just a matter of time. My vision is deteriorating quickly. One day it will be gone. I was going to tell you soon, very soon. But there is more.”

“What more could there be for fuck’s sake! You’re going blind, that’ll kill you. You live for the shop, the tattoos, the clients. You’ll go insane not being able to see.”

“Hush my son. My eyes are a small part of the problem. I have another clot in my brain. It is inoperable and …”

Never has Colin Weckwerth seen his mentor fold, crumble, fall or falter but now he is lost for words. The big man takes his mentor’s hands in his own. 

“Michi Hiko, don’t you talk like that man. We’ll get through this. You’ve been a father to me, a teacher and a friend. I’m here. I’ll help. What do we have to do?”

Hiko slumps back in the chair.

“There’s nothing to be done. I could die any moment. I could go blind any week. I have taught you all I know and you are a fine craftsman. I want you to take over the shop. I’ll be around, what else is a useless blind time bomb to do but I cannot tattoo any more. I am a liability. Today, tonight, is the last time. Now it is your time. Put what you have learned in the past to good use. You have practised long and hard, now is the time to become the artist you are and shine. I will now stand in your shadow, son.”

The heaviness of the moment is temporarily lifted as the first client comes through the door and both men glance sideways at the entering client.

“You take this one." Hiko commands, "I need to gather my thoughts. Now go…GO!”

Col knows the stoic man is about to break and leaves him respectfully to the privacy he’s earned.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory, River of Mnemosyne Challenge: “The Past is Practice”