January Flash Fiction Draw: The Artist

So, flash fiction seems to be something I’m getting into. In addition to the Friday Flash Fiction courtesy of the Facebook group I belong to, my friend ’Nathan is also doing a monthly flash fiction draw challenge. The parameters are determined by a random selection of playing cards. Check out this post on his website to get the details about January’s challenge, but the guidelines are:

A fairy tale, involving a tattoo machine, set in a prison.

I wrote this yesterday in my notebook while sitting in one of my favorite hangouts in St. Louis. So, I don’t know how long it is until I type it in here. Also, I took liberties with the guidelines. I think we all reserve the right to do that.

So, without further ado:

January Flash Fiction Draw: The Artist

Once upon a time, there was an artist. He worked in ink, but his canvas was the human body. With his tattoo machine, he engraved in people’s skin their greatest wishes and their deepest desires. And seeing these wishes made visible, the Artist’s clients realized the true purpose of their lives, their short time on this world. His gift to them was clarity.

Until one day, a man came to him, one with a hardened expression and an even harder heart and a body that had already served as the canvas for many other artists, but none of them with the skill and empathy the Artist brought to his work.

And yet, despite the man’s hard exterior, the Artist could see something within him, though it was well hidden.

When he entered the Artist’s studio, he rolled up his sleeve and jabbed a finger at his shoulder.

“Cover this up,” he grumbled.

The Artist took the man’s arm in his hands, his touch gentle as his turned the man’s shoulder toward him. It was a name, this tattoo: Jacob. The man flinched under the Artist’s fingers.

“What would you like to cover it with?” the Artist asked.

“I don’t fucking care.” The man practically flung himself into the Artist’s chair. “Just get rid of it.”

The Artist stared at the man’s profile for a long time, at the hard set of his jaw, the proud angle of his nose, and for a moment he felt something stir in himself. The Artist’s first instinct was to push that feeling down, bury it deep, but…

Wasn’t that exactly what the man in front of him had done?

Picking up the machine, which he often thought of as his brush, the Artist got to work, wiping away rivulets of blood as he etched into the man’s skin his truest desires. He worked tirelessly, an hour flying past, then another. Black ink gave way to color, and his design spread beyond the name the man claimed he wanted to obliterate.

The Artist knew better, though, even if he couldn’t say how he knew. But after two hours, he shut off his machine and rolled his stool away from the man.

All the time the Artist was working, the man had stared straight ahead. Now, though, he looked down at his arm, and his face twisted in anger.

“I told you to cover up that damn name. How come I can still see it?”

The Artist gripped the edge of his stool, bracing for a physical confrontation but praying the man would see first.

“You asked me to cover it up, and I’ve done that. You didn’t ask me to make it invisible.” The man started to protest, but the Artist pressed on. “No one can conceal what’s in your heart, not even me.” Carefully, he lifted up the man’s arm. “But maybe, if you’ll look again…”

As the man looked and the Artist raised his arm higher, the tattoo seemed to shift, though it was clearly the same design as it had been when the Artist finished it. Only now, it became a spray of sunflowers surrounding another name that wasn’t Jacob’s but was woven within it. The man’s own name.

“Who was Jacob to you, Lazlo?” the Artist asked, his voice gentle, and the hard angle’s of the man’s profile softened.

“He died.”

“I’m sorry.”

The man started to say something else, but his voice caught, a gasping choke cutting off words. The artist steadied him with both hands.

“I can’t—”

“You don’t have to,” the Artist said. “Not until you’re ready.”

Happily ever after would come to the man eventually, but that was still a ways off. For now, as Lazlo gave in to his grief, the Artist held him steady with the hope that time would soften the scars.