Writing Prompt: Matching Tattoos

Tony was surprised at how quickly he’d become used to the place. He could recall the terror he’d felt when he’d first attended the clinic for radiation treatment, his head full of images of instruments of torture. The reality was a bright room with reclining chairs and plants scattered about. The radio was playing, and the staff made an effort to make everyone feel welcome.

After a couple of sessions, he found himself providing guidance to first-timers, letting them know it wasn’t as bad as they’d imagined. It was while he was sitting next to Simon, a newbie who looked as anxious as Tony had felt initially, that he noticed the tattoo sneaking out from under Simon’s shirt sleeve.

‘Where did you serve, mate?’

Simon looked at him, distracted as the nurse rolled his sleeve up a little higher.

Tony nodded at the tattoo and gave him a grin. ‘I’ve got one of those.’ He held up his free arm and the mermaid’s tail came into view. Tony nudged his sleeve up to reveal her in all her inked glory, fading though it was.

Simon relaxed a little and smiled back. ‘I was in the merchant navy.’

Tony winked. ‘Cargo and crowds.’

‘That was it. More cargo than anything. But an amazing way to see the world.’

They chatted about some of the ports they’d visited, quickly finding common ground. The nurses and support staff moved around them, sometimes chiming in with questions and reminiscing about a time when travel really meant freedom.

‘Not really,’ Tony replied. ‘Both of us had to go where we were sent, and there were months at sea with only occasional stops in exotic ports, and then they were short stays.’

Tony was getting ready to leave when Simon asked the question.

’Is the mermaid for your missus?’

Tony laughed out loud. ‘No, mate. I was still a kid when I joined up. I picked this out at the first port in Singapore. What about you?’

Simon smiled. ‘This is Ella. Well, she doesn’t look quite the same now and she was never that thrilled that I had her shown as a mermaid. I told her it was tradition but for years she insisted that I keep it covered.’

’Funny how that’s all changed now. Tattoos used to be like a code, not necessarily secret but they marked you out. Now it’s a form of self-expression. Our mermaids are mild compared to some of today’s creations.’

‘I know what you mean. All three of my kids have them, and my youngest girl was the first. What do you think she chose for her first tattoo?’

Tony scratched at his chin. ‘Aren’t butterflies popular?’

Simon shook his head. ‘Nah, she went for a mermaid. Just like her old man. Though I think it meant something different for her.’

Tony chuckled and said his farewells, pulling his shirtsleeve down over his mermaid, which seemed to shimmer as he stepped out into the sunshine.

This piece was written to a prompt on the Writer’s Digest website. Matching Tattoos: two characters realize that they have matching tattoos.

There’s an interesting article on traditional sailor tattoos here.

Photo: mural spotted at a cafe in Gladesville, NSW

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