The second in a two-part installment, Xpress offers two more winning entries from our Indie 500 flash fiction contest. This week brings stories by runners up Mare Carmody Borgelt and Dan Damerville. Read the winning entry, “Finding Astrid” by Felice Bell, in last week’s issue or online.
“Ink” by Mare Carmody Borgelt
“So what kind of tattoo?”
“Something different. Kind of dramatic.”
“Like a sleeve tattoo? Please tell me it won’t be on your leg. Or your neck.”
My daughter sighs, moves her coffee spoon around on the table, not looking at me. We have had this kind of conversation before, except it was about an eyebrow piercing that never happened. She already has multiple small tattoos, is old enough to do whatever the hell she wants, yet somehow needs my complicity.
“I don’t know why you need to ask me. You know how I feel. Have you thought about what your tattoos will look like when you’re 75? How they’ll look with wrinkles?”
I gave birth to Leelah when I was 19. Now she is 23 and I’m 42, and we could not be further apart, in every sense of the word. Or at least it seems that way to her. To me, my daughter is a walking, talking duplicate of me at that age — brash, opinionated, stubborn. Back then, though, we weren’t getting tattoos.
“Really? That’s all you can think about it?” Leelah jabs her Ray-Bans onto her nose and rises from the table. I notice she makes no effort to take the check, which the waitress just brought us, so I guess this date’s on me. “Everything with you is a cautionary tale. If I tell you about a new kind of car, you’ll have a story for me about someone who died in a horrible, fiery crash.”
“I guess I want to you to be aware.”
I pay for our lunch: Two Sunny Point Mighty Good Breakfasts, two large coffees, a habit we definitely share. “Leelah,” I call to her. “Do what you want.”
“Don’t worry about that.”
When did we start needing to illustrate ourselves? Ink documents of life events, dreams, yearnings? Now the technicolor quality of skin art makes our daddies’ mermaids, eagles and sweethearts’ names look primitive.
Leelah and I reconnect two months later at a Hendersonville brewery. I’ve taken my two small nondescript mutts with me to the brewery courtyard. It’s that portion of the day when the air is still warm, yet softened, the sun not down yet, but the promise of a cool spring night ahead, cigarette smoke and bursts of laughter off somewhere to the side.
Leelah comes through the gate with a coterie of her friends, some of whom I recognize. My daughter is laughing, full-on, at something she’s being told, raking her hair back from her face, eyes closed. It could be a still-shot for a fashion advertisement.
For the briefest of moments, I am jealous.
As she draws nearer, I see on her bare upper arm the beginnings of the tattoo she’s having done: A leopard, green vines, a coral orchid.
We haven’t spoken yet. Soon I will show her my ink: A small blue rose, petals unfurling tentatively. Its place is the inside of my elbow, where the skin is tender and unwrinkled.
“Hitters” by Dan Damerville
Back then, the Swannanoa High School principal’s word was law. So, when Mr. Williams told me to bend over and grip the edge of his office desk, I bent and gripped. He tapped his paddle, a sawed off boat oar, against his thick thigh and said something about hard cases having to learn the hard way.
Then I heard a loud whomp and a boy crying out, “Ohhhhh! Ohhhhh!” I was hopping up and down uncontrollably and holding my butt cheeks, tears and snot flowing down my face.
I had been hit before, frequently, regularly, with belt and switch, fist and open hand. I had been kicked by feet both booted and bare.
“Don’t take it as anything personal,” my mother explained. “He’s just a hitter.”
Although I had grown accustomed to beatings from my father, Mr. Williams had introduced me to something different, something new. Rather than abating, the pain that shot up and down my legs like electric fire seemed to grow more intense. My legs seem to have a life of their own. Why couldn’t I stop hopping?
My older brother, Petey, still loves to tell the story: “Robbie was such a fighter back then. On the first day of ninth grade, he got paddled by the principal for punching a kid out.”
The punch-out part wasn’t quite true. Mike McClenny had hit me several times, good shots to the head and neck, before I tagged him square on the nose. Even when his face exploded with blood, he kept on swinging blindly until Coach Stevens waddled out of his office to break us up.
“Here — clean yourself up.” Through a blur I looked up to see Mr. Williams holding out a handkerchief. “I’m going to check on Mr. McClenny.”
Mr. Williams gestured toward a chair, “When you can stand to sit — that’s a joke, son — I want you to think about what you have against Mike and whether it’s worth a paddling.”
As he walked out, he hung the paddle on the wall, and I could see it had a dozen or so holes drilled through it.
I can’t remember what I thought about back then. Probably how to avoid getting clobbered by my father for getting paddled by Mr. Williams for fighting with Mike.
Now, I think I didn’t have anything against Mike, not really. It was true that we had fought twice before in elementary school. As seniors we would be arrested by the Buncombe County Deputy Sheriff after a wrench-enhanced brawl in the high school parking lot. But there didn’t seem to be much personal about our fighting.
Similarly, I don’t think I had anything personal against the other boys and men I would fight in the years to come. I certainly didn’t hate them. They were just guys. Guys looking for something. Hitters, like my father. Like Mr. Williams. Like me.