The day was one of those crisp autumn days and the wind blew at me, making my cheeks rosy as I walked down St. Mark’s Place. The street wasn’t busy, but there were still a fair amount of people milling about in front of stalls and wandering in and out of shops. Many of them clutched packages to their chests against the wind. I checked my bearings and then walked through a bright red door with no markings. A small, lithe man looked up from a drafting desk questioningly. Wordlessly I unrolled a piece of paper and handed it to him.
His eyes scanned the paper and after a few minutes, he asked only one question, “Where?”
Without making any noise, I slowly undid my shirt and showed him the expanse of my back. Once I knew he had gotten a good look at his canvas, I started to speak the details.
“The wings should follow the lines of my shoulder blades; the head should come to just below where the collar of my shirt is. The tail should travel down my spine and end in the aurobouras. I want the outline to be subtle and the colors to match the ones in my already existing tattoos. Perhaps varying shades of blues and purples, but all in the same family.”
He looked between the picture and my back. Absent-mindedly, he motioned me to sit on the table as he started to grab his measuring instruments. He muttered to himself as he measured and marked me. I lie there silently and let him work. He put his instruments away and positioned me as I laid face down on the table. He looked me in the eye and asked if I was ready. As soon as I nodded, he began. I closed my eyes and floated away, lulled by the constant droning of the needle.
* * * *
I once again approached the red door, but the weather was no longer the swift winds of fall, but was now the biting winds of winter. Flurries of snow flew in my face and coated my scarf and coat. I opened the door and stomped the ice and snow off of my boots. The old man had everything laid out, and he waited patiently while I shed my layers of clothing and lay down on the table.
His hands wandered over my back, checking on the healing of the outline.
“This looks good.” He said gruffly. “Your body seems made to take the ink. I should be able to complete most of the color today and then we’ll finish with the shading in a few weeks.”
With no more words, he began to apply his needle to my back. Because the color was more concentrated than the outline, the blood flowed freely down my sides and onto the towels spread across the table. It felt more and more comforting, as comforting as the sound of the needle droning in my ear. I drowsed under the veil of safety that enveloped me.
* * * *
The color had taken longer to heal, despite what he thought about my body being made to take ink. It was approaching spring by the time I was ready for my final session. We were still having our fair share of wintry days, but today was warm and the sun shone brightly. For the third time I approached the red door, to complete, well, to complete me.
I paused for a moment, suddenly unsure if I wanted this all to be over. I took a deep breath and turned the handle. He was there and waiting, as he always was. I again shed my layers of clothing and lay down on the table. He propped the picture up next to his tools and smiled slightly as he nestled his glasses onto his nose and bent over my back. This was the final stage. What were only lines and coloring suddenly came to life under his hand.
Hours later when I was finished, he led me in front of the threefold mirror and let me see what he had done. The dragon seemed ready to leap off of my back and get ready to soar into the air above. It was perfect. I turned to him and embraced him in a hug, much to his embarrassment. As I drew away though to look again in the mirror, I caught a glimmer of a smile on his face. I was entranced, and I felt complete.
As I walked again down St. Mark’s Place, tracing my steps backward from where I had been headed all those months ago. As I walked my life in reverse, I felt lighter, more complete, stronger, but most of all, more myself. Finally.
The needle shoving repeatedly into the skin. The waves of pain thundering over me. The flashes of euphoria that follows like aftershocks. The smell of alcohol and Dial, cleansing, purifying. The small pain of wiping the spot down. The shear act of cleaning away the old, shedding blood as sacrifice towards the cause.
In the end, the half-drunk ecstasy as your stagger home, awakening in the morning to a new beginning, a new scar, a new piece in the puzzle completed.