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"


  1. Ah, happy/sad endings. What can be better? Nice story, terrific Baino style intact...bravo!

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  3. Question: Why would Hiko need Colin's consent? Is the body considered "estate?"

    All in all, this is a really good story that moves too quickly and is a little too shallow to truly work. I'm guessing the word count is somewhere between 12k and 15k. It needs to be double that.

  4. The master gets a final art show, the apprentice gets the shop and the girl, what a happy ending!

    I've always wanted to see a real show of a inked skin collection, I've only seen a fake show skin collection!