There weren’t many that would call him an artist. His parents only spoke of the career as ‘temporary’, labeling it as a sort of hobby in a low, saccharine tone among distinguished friends. No amount of skill or conviction in his work would convince them otherwise, and his irregular visits home would pass by without a single mention of it. Perhaps it was with good intent, perhaps they saw a greater potential in their son, but stuffy classrooms and withered voices were no guidance for him. He left with a more raucous determination; the kind forged in youth and placed somewhere between passion and delusion. Work wouldn’t come to him on paper, so he settled on a different canvas.
His studio was small, but had a strong voice. Every day the smell of the ink would hit him with a new burst of inspiration, confirming his decision even before that first mouthful of coffee. Leather couches, chaotic walls and often the surprisingly muted strains of some acoustic instrumental would greet clients before he did, setting an altogether clustered tone. It was entirely his intent, there weren’t any constants in his profession. Today, he might have expected someone seven foot tall to explain in great detail a piece that would take up their entire torso, or a slew of drunken tourists, collecting a ‘permanent’ souvenir that would just as soon be put under a laser. What he got, midway through a ceremonial cleaning of the needles, was a more familiar face.
She had visited before in bursts of ten, fifteen, forty minutes; her curiosity building and building into this final appearance. Swept in with more bravery than ever before, she was ready to become his subject, to give him the brief section of skin just beneath her wrist. The gesture was not taken lightly, it never was. He cradled her arm, bringing it out for that one last discussion of intent. ”Something to help me remember him..” she had said on her most recent visit,and echoed again that day. It was a common request, a sort of personal tombstone to be carried with whoever is left behind. There was a sense of trust to the art; a shared goal, that was vital. And so as his thin, nimble fingers mapped out the surface of her skin, they shared a silence normally reserved for lovers. No music played, no outside voices, just breath and heartbeats. ”Alright, I’ve got you.” Even their language was mystified, that sense of touch accelerated by an inherent electricity. The man never asked who it was for, not until she would tell him herself, but he had earned trust in mere hours where others had waited for years. He was entirely aware of the part he played here, his role in determining her transition, providing an inked gateway to a different mindset. He knew what he was doing, even with a muddied reputation as an ‘artist’. It was an entire relationship built on those hours, leading up to this moment of completion. Straw-coloured hair contrasted with his dark, her voice was a light whisper while his was a low hum, and her bare arm paled against the streaked colour of his own. They were strangers, opposites, and yet she allowed him to inflict art upon her, open and shamelessly bare.
The pain of it was distracted by the first real conversation they had ever had. His words and lengthy stories pulled her from the immediacy of the needle in her flesh and set her down somewhere much more serene. The man learned about her in between the gulps of air she took and the heightened courage of gritted teeth. His eyes would sometimes flick up to hers, lingering for just a moment before moving back towards his work. He listened to every word though, every small and colossal anecdote. There were times of course where they didn’t speak, but they rarely lasted. Symbols and colours, primal and elegant. Her wrist became a memory, a mantra. By the end, he found it difficult to believe the girl had come into his studio without it. As his instrument quietened, the two strangers bit down on their smiles. It looked good. Very good. They wouldn’t have to speak any longer, for surely that was the end of their fleeting relationship. He left her with a piece of paper in her jacket pocket, and a tattoo.