She tries it on, like a dress.
She decides it doesn’t fit,
And starts to take it off.
Her skin comes, too.
– “Love” by Lola Haskins
Nervously, I stood before him, a long table between us, and slowly lifted my shirt. He beckoned for me to come closer. For a moment, he stared at my bare flesh, contemplating me as a carver would a block of intricate sandstone. I flushed under his scrutinizing gaze.
At first, I made sure to leave the t-shirt bunched up around my neck, tucking it carefully under the right cup of my bra in a halfhearted attempt at modesty. Shyly, I unzipped my skirt, sliding it a few inches below my navel, holding my breath as I looked back at him.
He paid no attention to me. Wordlessly, he slipped on one latex glove, then another, and looked over his array of tools on the small stand next to his chair. I inhaled deeply and removed my top. My skin tingled.
He turned to face me again, grabbing my hips and pulling me closer still. Leaning back in his chair, he coolly swabbed, cleaned and meticulously shaved my exposed flesh. And though I stood under bright lamps that warmed my face and neck, I shivered.
“Hold still,” he said.
Steadying me, he sketched elaborate lines and swirls of purple and red on my torso. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, listening to the blaring noise and wail of 1980’s hair band love songs from the shop’s overhead stereo speakers.
Heaven isn’t too far awaaay… ahhh… Closer to it every daaay… oh-oh… No matter what your friends say, I know we’re gonna find a way—yeah, heaven!
I shut my eyes, focusing on the feathery touch of his marker flitting over my skin, his hands gently turning me this way, then that. He was so intent on his creation I could feel the warmth and rhythm of his breathing. I began to meld into the design, imagining myself taking the shape of its jagged waves and turbulent tides. My body began to sway.
“I feel dizzy,” I said.
He guided me to the table just before I passed out. I came to, in what seemed like mere seconds later, as the piercing blue of his concerned, bemused and peering eyes met mine.
“Uh, sorry,” I said, embarrassed. He smiled, looking sideways at me and exhaling the last of his cigarette.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
He instructed me to lie on my side, with my back towards him and my head resting on the thin leather pillow that I gripped in anticipation. At the initial whir of his gun, my senses quickened. I tensed.
“Breathe,” he said.
I inhaled deeply, as a slow burning penetrated my skin. The burn quickly turned into a scorching fire, an unyielding pain gliding over my flesh, then disappearing. My mind exploded in quiet panic: What am I doing? Can I handle this?
“It’s best if you face the pain head on,” I heard a voice say.
And then, it began again. Only this time, it was more intense. My tender skin boiled under the pressure, then teased with fermata. He changed positions, deftly covering my hips with his chest, his fingers splayed against the curve of my waist, digging deeper, stoically following lines up to my breast, engorged with ink and blood, pulsing with determination. At each sustained pause, my entire body shuddered uncontrollably.
A different curve now, trailed with care like a shard of glass across the belly of a betraying lover. Another point was flourished with a jarring sting, an abrupt pinching of nerve endings and cells.
At last, a disturbing calm enveloped me, as I sank further into the stringent pain, no longer clutching onto any mental vision of relief. I focused only on the sound of buzzing, my body intensely alive, and the vague feeling of fans cooling the flames that surrounded me.
There was no fanfare when he finished. The room was now quiet. He simply turned off his instrument, wiped my flesh, removed his gloves and walked away. I lay still for a moment, feeling what could only be the pulsating waves and violently quivering layer of my new skin.
A dark and stormy sea where once was soft and uncertain.
Samantha Campos would like to thank Circle at Evolved Art Tattoo (1942 Main St., Wailuku, 808-242-2444) for masterfully indulging in her fantasies of exquisite skin ink torture. MTW