Ron Cavanagh is a walking skeleton these days. A life lived, but once full of regret. He sits waiting for Colin Weckwerth who's busily doing an infill on a thug's arm, hiding the name "Cindy" with a swathe of intricately drawn vine leaves. Ron has never had the courage have a tattoo in the past but today he has nothing to lose. He doesn't fit on the seedy side of Oxford Street, but there he sits. Well groomed and suited, he's a slight man in his 60's, clean shaven and smelling of Calvin Klein cologne. Smooth hands, smooth skin, the absence of eyebrows or hair, a sign of recent chemotherapy. .Ron is a man playing catch-up against the clock. A man with an internal ticking time-bomb and the past few months have been spent doing all the things he should have done in his past 50 years. Now in his twilight years time is running out. He's a dead man walking as he reflects on the regrets of his life.
"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
As a young man, he was filled with wonder, desires, dreams and wants but as the son of a right wing Christian father and a dedicated Church-going mother, the guilt of "God's" punishment had prevented him from doing the things that other teenagers did. He never smoked, not even a puff. Never kissed a girl behind the football stands, never took a risk. He attended Church every Sunday and hung on every word, attended Bible school, even became 'saved' and was baptised again as an adult in a muddy stream, but always in his mind were questions. How could he have faith in something so intangible? If God was benevolent, how could he let awful things happen? Why does the Bible contradict everything that science has to say. His life had been one of purity, religion and the fulfillment of expectation. A job he hated, a wife that bored him, no children. Only now had he finally mustered the courage to take the plunge, his diagnosis was complete. No hope. No future. Once confronted with the imminence of his own mortality, he began to address regret.
"Have you ever seen a nebula in all it's glory?"
The question takes the focused tattooist by surprise and momentarily he lifts the gun from his stoic client and glances towards the pallid man sitting with a magazine on his lap.
"I began questioning my beliefs only a couple of months ago while I was out observing the cosmos with my telescope. This one particular night had the best viewing conditions I had ever encountered. Dark horizon, clear night skies. It was incredible.
"I dunno what to say to that man? Are you having a hard time of it lately?" Col turns to continue the infill as his client grumbles about the interruption to the pending obliteration of his ex-girlfriend's name.
"Not really, just thinking about what I would have done, if I could live my life over." The man is calmly contemplating life, the universe and everything with a peace that's slightly unnerving.
"Always time to change," mutters the tattoist.
Col doesn't see the man's wry smile. 'Time'. That's one thing he no longer has.
"I wish I didn't work so hard"
Ron had been so career focused that he neglected friends and family over the years. Apart from Sunday service, he'd travelled with his job as a buyer for a large hardware chain. Sure, it had taken him to far flung places such as China and India but he'd never seen the sights, tasted the culture. It was a life of airports and hotels, business meetings and hectic schedules. It was all work and no play and that made Ron a dull boy. Never had time for children although had Mrs Cavanagh been more cooperative, he might have worked on that. Then Mrs Cavanagh was gallavanting in the arms of another during his absence. Yes, Ron regretted spending so much of his life on the treadmill of a work existence.
"I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings"
He gazes upward at the skill of the man gently puncturing and wiping what is developing into a fantastic three-dimensional vine. He smiles at the stoicism of the tattooist's victim, calmly sitting upright, his hands placed firmly on his knees with absolutely no expression. It must hurt, Ron's sure, but this man show's no emotion, no feeling. It reminds him too that he's suppressed so many of his feelings in order to keep the peace, remain out of contention of argument. So many times he wanted to tell his boss to take a hike, say that he'd been taken advantage of. So many times he wanted to fold his wife in his arms and tell her that she was beautiful and sexy and should be more athletic in bed...but no...he'd put up with boring sex, her inhibitions, her nagging and complaints...if only they'd talked it over. He had wanted children, it was her who wouldn't spoil her looks with stretch marks, she who didn't have a maternal bone in her body. If only he'd had the courage to tell her he wanted a family. That would have kept him home, maybe even change jobs. If the truth be known, he deliberately launched himself into work to avoid her carping and complaining. If only he hadn't settled for a mediocre existence, a mediocre wife.
"I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends"
There had been a time when Ron was close to his school mates, particularly Gino Morello. He loved going to Gino's house, vibrant with laughter and shouting and Italian gesticulations. The Morellos had a huge family, five children all under the age of 15, it was a madhouse. Nobody cared about mess or clutter. Nobody cared about appearances or what the neighbours would think. His father had even 'banned' him from going over there and mixing with the Catholics across the road.
"It's all iconography and worship of a woman," he'd cautioned, "Your saviour is Jesus. Remember that Ronald."
Of course the two boys defied Ron's father and got up to mischief. Nothing that any 'normal' person would call high jinks but they were friends, good friends. He'd lost touch with Gino after they graduated. He disappeared for a gap year to travel, Ron, too reserved to go with him took the 'safe' option of a sales internship. They'd written briefly but the last he'd heard, Gino had married and owned a small restaurant in Trieste. Too far away to continue the friendship. Too far away to make time. Ron was far too busy building a life back home. As the memories flood back, he regrets not having stayed in touch with many of his friends or potential friends that could have flooded his life with joy. His will be a lonely funeral, not even Doris will make an appearance, she'd long left him for another. Then what does he care? He won't be there to see the empty chapel.
I wish that I had let myself be happier
So stuck in old patterns and habits and the faux 'comfort' of familiarity Ron now realises that he's never felt true happiness. Sure he's had moments that pleased, breaks from the boredom and apathy but he can't remember feeling elated, exhilarated. He'd never allowed himself to fly or fall. Never taken a risk. For that matter, he'd never felt true sadness. Even when Doris left, it was a kind of relief. He'd become used to his own company, pottering in the yard,watching sports on TV without recrimination. Playing with his telescope and admiring the heavens (and Mrs Flannery across the road). To the outside he looked well-adjusted, normal, ,but fear of change or taking the plunge convinced him that he was content, when he actually longed to laugh and enjoy some silliness and excitement in his life.
"Thanks man," The thug is well pleased with the now obliterated name of his ex. "You did a good job, you'd never know I'd been out with that fuckin' bitch,"
Col nods as he takes the man's money. "Have a think next time bro, she'd better be a keeper if you're gonna ink her again."
"No fear of that man, learned a lesson here." The man dons a leather jacket, still no sign of emotion despite the large tattoo now flushed and red-lined on his shoulder. "See ya man, thanks again."
As the guttural rumble of a Harley momentarily invades the Ink Shop and the last client departs, Colin approaches the man with the magazine.
"So mate,what can we do for you?"
"Isn't it obvious," Ron retorts, "I want a tattoo."
"Ever had one before?" Col's a little wary since the man is well dressed in business attire with a crisp white shirt and 'old boy's' tie. He doesn't look like the type who's ever been in a tattoo parlour, let alone have ink done.
"No." Ron admits, "I'm splashing out, taking the plunge, doing something I've never done. Last week I went sky diving, this week, I want a tattoo. Next week...well who knows, there may not be a next week."
"Why's that?" Col admits to himself that the man doesn't look in the best of health. He is thin and his skin is sallow, even the whites of his eyes have a yellow tinge. "Could be hepatitis," he thinks to himself. "...not tattooing anyone with that."
"I'm dying, and soon. My liver's given up so I'm taking the risks I never took. I don't want to die with regrets, I want to pack in as much as I can before I shed my mortal coil, before I'm little more than fertiliser."
"Hepatitis?" Col's nervous about asking the question but he'd knocked back clients before if they've been HIV positive or have Hep. "I can't ink you if you've got it."
"No. Liver cancer. Don't worry. It's not contagious." Ron pulls a Dr's Certificate from his inside jacket pocket.
"I thought you might have reservations when you saw my colour. Here, I'm safe."
Col examines the certificate. It looks legit but decides he'll dispose of the needle afterwards anyway. Who's he to deny a dying man's request?
"Sorry to hear it man. OK I'll do it for you, what do you want?"
"This...." Ron pulls a neatly folded piece of paper from the same pocket, unfolds it with great deliberation and hands it to Colin.
The colour drains from the big man's face. He feels a sadness at the man's plight and unrealised potential and his desperate attempt to die with no regrets, yet what he wants tattooed across his back tugs at his heart. To die with no faith, no hope, he thinks a sad and lonely thing even though he's not religious, he has a 'feeling' that there's more to life than this. But not his client; his client is resigned, a hint of a smile on a sallow face as he watches his tattoist read his choice:
Posted for the Tenth Daughter of Memory, River of Mnemosyne Challenge: "A Chill When a Dead Man Smiles"