Indelible (part three)
Matthew returned at dusk. His stomach rolled as he opened the door and he immediately became irritated at the filthy state of the flat. For a moment, he just stood there wondering whether to turn around and walk out again. He knew that he could keep walking and leave it all behind once and for all. It had been an option he had run through his mind many times. He put his bag down in the hallway. As he passed the bathroom, he saw that it was still in the same state that he had left it this morning. A fleeting panic raced through his mind.
Matthew quickly walked into the lounge and over to the sideboard where he wiped a dirty glass with his t-shirt before pouring himself a large vodka – downing it straight and then pouring himself another. He walked into the hallway and along to her door.
He stood cupping his glass with his right hand. His left hand was clenched and balled into a fist so tight that he could feel his fingernails digging into his palm. Matthew raised his arm and hammered four sharp raps against the door. Another panic caused him to tense his whole body when there was no reply. He lifted his hand again but this time knocked on the door more gently.
Her reply was instant this time. ‘Is that you, baby?’ she said sweetly. ‘Come in.’ He pushed open the door and walked in with his head bowed, keeping his eyes down on the bare floorboards. ‘I’ve missed you today, Matthew,’ she said quietly. He looked at her feet. The cherub that he had done for her last week looked as though it was becoming infected. He put his glass on the bedside table. ‘I’m going to have to clean that up,’ he said and quickly left the room. He went through to the kitcen and returned with a bowl of warm water and a towel. He gently cleaned the tattoo, before washing his hands in the soapy water. Matthew removed the bandage on the arm that he had tattooed last night and saw that the skin of the leopard hadn’t even begun to scab. Many others were healing slower than they should. He applied some ointment to them, patting it in gently with the palm of his hand. ‘Are you in pain?’ he asked her quietly. The question made him nervous but, even so, he asked her the same thing every day. She stayed quiet, which irritated him further. ‘Answer me,’ he shouted. ‘No, Matty. I’m fine,’ she replied. He nodded once and stood up. ‘I’ll get my bag.’ He heard her sob as he left the room and so he waited outside for a few moments so that she could compose herself.
When he returned, his eyes darted to her face. She was lying on the bed, her head propped up on a pillow. She was smiling at him. He dropped his head again and walked over to the bed. ‘What do you want? Around your neck?’ he said, trying not to sound so angry with her. He looked at her chest. There was already a tattoo there of angels wings, the feathers curling up and meeting at the top to make a heart shape just below the nape of her neck.
‘I want you, Matthew. I want your name. I want you to sign your work so that I will always belong to you.’
His words were low, emphatic, ‘No, I won’t do that.’
‘Make my neck look pretty, Matthew. Let the world see what you’ve done.’
Matthew looked at her neck. He knew that he would have to concentrate, take care with the delicate skin.
‘Show them Matty. Sign your work,’ she whispered.
to be continued… (final part next)