by Michael Loveday
The local walk-in parlour might be risky: the toilets stink, and Steve can see a crack sharking one of the walls from floor to ceiling. But this week, he suddenly feels like trusting.
Ahead lies a mirror surrounded by photographs: a thigh recreating the cover of Madonna’s Like A Virgin, a broad back with a yin-yang design of two men’s hands holding pens in the act of drawing each other.
Next thing he knows, Steve is sitting in the chair, tucking an image into one corner of the mirror frame: the red circle of a ‘no’ sign, its axis slanted upwards, a chubby, white ghost trapped inside.
Hold still, the tattooist insists, while the radio blasts nostalgia, and his fat fingers grasp the flesh of Steve’s right arm more firmly. Steve feels the needle buzzing, tunnelling. What’s his lover’s mantra? The cure for suffering is distraction. He sidesteps his own stare, and gazes at the wall in the mirror, where exotic plants wilt in the alcoves.
Dig a little deeper, he doesn’t say to the tattooist now busy ripping Steve’s wife’s name into his skin: DEBORAH, tiny black capitals squeezed into the rising red band at the sign’s axis. The flourish of the AH is a Grand Canyon of pain.
Steve looks at the pale ghost facing him – its expression startled, as if it’s just glimpsed its nemesis. He hands his cash to the tattooist’s assistant.
You want your change? she asks.
He resists a yes. Chimes jingle as he opens the door, muttering a backwards thank you, and returns to the street. And he knows, when he sees him, his lover will ask: just who is the ghost around here now?
Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash ‘Three Men on the Edge’, is published by V. Press (2018). His stories have appeared in Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine; the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology; and Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief. He helps to co-ordinate the annual Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, UK.