Edinburgh. A scorching day. The man is stripped to the waist, his decorated torso worn as a garment.
‘Olá,’ he says. And she falls in love.
In his studio, a skeleton wearing a suit jacket, a top hat and a saxophone stands next to an open piano.
‘Follow me,’ the beautiful man says.
‘Anywhere,’ she thinks.
In the back, orange and black walls display certificates, masks, an Eiffel tower with a thermometer, designs of roses, faces, fire, fantastical creatures, mandalas. There’s a mirror, a violin, a clock – 1:23, photographs. She watches as the man mixes inks in small plastic containers.
She lies front down on the couch, head resting on her arms, hears the steady vibrating drone from the machine, anticipates the man’s touch. He carves into her shoulder. As he works, he talks of Brazil, jazz, family. She’s quiet, needing to concentrate, like giving birth. He’s recently back from a tattoo convention in Paris. He has an ex-wife, an angry landlord, a German Shepherd. His words become distant white noise.
As a young child her imaginary friend was a chicken. Her brother chased her with chickens from the butcher’s. When she was too old for toys, her mother gave her a mechanical bird in a cage. It would shake its head, wings and tail and sing a song. She never replaced the batteries.
She hums a tune in her head to the vibrations of the machine.
At a friend’s, ‘You’re nervous,’ a first year psychology undergraduate, ‘People hum when they’re nervous.’
‘Idiot.’ She didn’t have sex with him.
‘Du bist so schlau wie die Eule.’ A lover’s whispered words woven into a kiss, a caress, bliss. Words later hidden in a tiny, black owl, his parting gift, now lost.
‘OK?’ the tattooist asks.
‘OK,’ she replies.
He works his magic, inscribing, shading, colouring. A brief respite as he wipes the wash of blood covering the emerging image.
At a dinner party, ‘I thought it was you chirruping in the corner,’ the man said.
‘Hello, Max,’ she said and walked away.
‘OK?’ the tattooist asks again.
‘Mmm.’ She hovers in the intensity of the heat, the vibration of the machine a visceral sound resonating in her sternum, an internal humming – hypnotic, erotic. Time disappears into the sound.
‘Feito!’ the beautiful man says.
She sits up.
‘Perfeito!’ he says.
That’s right, she thinks.