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Decisions, Decisions. Promises, Promises.

(c) Linda Hutchison November 2017

Teg knew the guy as soon as he stepped into Teg’s tattoo parlour. The dyed blonde hair, cleft chin and insipid blue eyes were certainly memorable. The ugly dragon tattoo not quite centred at the base of his throat completed the picture. Teg’s stomach sank and a strong sense of nausea rose as he faced his sister’s attacker.
“Hey mate, I’m Marty. I hear you’re the best,” opened Martin as he strode confidently up to the counter. Teg morphed his features from a shadowy expression of extreme distaste into one of vague interest as he looked up from his sketching.
“What can I do for you?”
“I’m after another tattoo – but one that will really knock over the ladies, if you know what I mean.” He’d drawn out the word ‘ladies’ in a slow, dreadful imitation of an American actor, and then followed it with a sleazy wink.
Teg cringed inwardly, and he could feel his hands clenching. His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, but he continued with the conversation.
“What did you have in mind?” Teg handed Marty a book of drawings.
Marty flipped through, looking at various combinations of skulls, crosses, roses, and a selection of Celtic knots. Teg preferred to do finely-detailed tribal tattoos, or Japanese, but he had a selection of New School, Traditional and Realism works that his clients had asked for.
“Hmmm, decisions, decisions…” mulled Marty.
“These have been our most popular,” Teg assured him, without enthusiasm.
Marty snorted dismissively and said, “I’m after something killer. I want a tattoo that the chicks will drool over and the blokes will all want. I’m after a reaction!”
Teg thought he’d give him a reaction, something like a solid smack across the face, but he breathed deeply to gain some calm and offered a suggestion.
“Would you like me to design something for you?” A tiny gleam entered the corner of Teg’s eye.
“Of course,” lapped up Marty. “Something that will leave no one in doubt about who I am. No messing with Marty!”
“And where did you want the artwork?”
“A full back piece, I thought. A true statement.” Marty nodded to himself, as he imagined a glorious full colour piece across his back, like an impervious shield of perfection.
Teg, by now almost smiling – the gleam in his eye clearly noticeable – nodded to himself as well.
“How about I make you a deal. After the artwork’s complete, you go into the bar down the road and if the blokes and the ‘ladies’ there respond the way you want them to, I’ll give you the work for free. If you don’t, I’ll change it, but you’ll have to pay for my time.”
“Sure thing,” Marty replied, now thinking that Teg must be a few sandwiches short of a picnic – a great tattoo artist, but as thick as a brick. “What’s the catch?”
“You can’t look at it until after you’ve got the reaction you wanted.”
Marty thought for a second, but couldn’t see how he could lose.
“Done!” Marty shook Teg’s hand before he could change his mind.
“It’ll take all day, so we’ll start at 10am sharp next Tuesday.”
“See you then,” tossed Marty over his shoulder as he strode out, wondering why everyone had been talking Teg up. His expertise must massively outweigh his brains, he thought.
Teg got to work drawing. He had to get the dimensions and flow exactly right. Tuesday would be a big day, in more ways than one.
Tuesday dawned, and Teg was up watching – the early morning being one of his favourite things. Apart from the distant roar of traffic, it was fairly peaceful, and the blues, mauves and corals of today’s dawn were particularly satisfying. Truth be told, he’d had a massive inward battle since Marty had strode into the shop the other day. Teg had instantly known his sister’s attacker from the Facebook photos she’d shown him. Three months ago, Megan had gone to a party with some new friends from the gym, and Marty been there. Unaccustomed to the ease with which some people lie, she’d fallen for his suggestion to go for a walk by the river. It had seemed harmless enough at the time. But his offer had been a throwaway ruse. He’d pushed her down into the grass on the edge of the river.
“You promised we’d only go for a walk,” she’d objected, gasping for breath.
“Oh promises, promises. We both know we wanted other things,” he’d snarled down at her.
The distorted, scowling face of the dragon on his chest was the last thing Megan saw before she came to later – alone, bruised and bloody on the bank. She’d grabbed her strewn clothes to her chest and called her brother – her phone hidden in a pocket of her jacket. Her unusually quiet voice had told him more than he’d wanted to know.
The shame and guilt of falling for Marty’s lies had prevented Megan from going to the police. Teg had sighed deeply at the time, but he knew that he didn’t want to put his kid sister through any further trauma. He was devoted to her. After the doctor had given Megan the all clear, Teg had taken her away for a week down the beach and they’d spent some quality time together.
“I think I can do this now,” she’d said, looking up at him as they’d waded through the shallows.
“Back to Melbourne?”
“Yes, back home. Back to work. I’ll just have to be more careful in the future.”
“There is another way, you know.”
“I’m not ready for that. The doctor has the evidence. We can access later if we need to.”
“He didn’t believe your story.”
“I know. But he didn’t press me on it. Thank God he’s new to the practice.”
They’d returned to work and their ‘normal’ lives – permanently different, but not defeated.
And so here was Teg, about to face his sister’s attacker, armed only with a set of inked needles. It had definitely been a weekend of ‘decisions, decisions’ as he tossed around ideas of what he could include in this artwork. Quite a few options, in massive script, had come to mind, such as ‘Evil Rapist’, ‘Useless Scumbag’, and ‘Heartless User’, but he hadn’t been nicknamed ‘Teg’ for nothing, and he’d made the guy a promise. Either his tattoo got the reaction he wanted, or Teg would have to fix it. Teg by name, integrity by nature.
At 10:20am, Marty strode into the shop, as full of himself as before.
“Well mate, let’s go. I’m ready for anything.”
Cocksure was the word that sprung into Teg’s mind. Maybe by the end of the day this cock wouldn’t be crowing quite as loudly. Teg gestured to the chair. As Marty removed his shirt, and the ugly dragon came into view, Teg nearly lost all his resolve and felt his hand tighten to a point of pain on his ink gun. Everything in him wanted to scar this bloke rather than embellish him. Teg shook himself and relaxed his grip. He drew on all his inner strength to get himself back into the right headspace.
“Remember – no looking at your tattoo until you’ve got the reaction you’ve asked for.”
“No problem.”
“And you’ll have to keep it covered for a couple of hours before you can show anyone. You can’t afford to get it infected. The ladies at the local will keep you entertained until then.”
“Promises, promises,” winked Marty.
Resisting the rising urge to throw up, Teg nodded and set to work.
Four hours later, the tattoo was taking shape nicely and Teg had to admire his handiwork. Marty had winced often enough for Teg to feel a little vindication, but Teg knew that no permanent damage had been done. True, he’d adjusted his design to include more white ink, which was known to be painful, but on the whole, he’d done his best to minimise the pain. His artistic reputation was on the line. And pain can come in many forms, he thought to himself.
By 6:00pm the tattoo was finished and wrapped. Teg shook hands with Marty and pointed him down the road to the Carpenters Arms.
“I’ll meet you there in a couple of hours and we’ll take off the wrap and see what they say.”
Marty walked into the Carpenters Arms and warmed immediately to the cosy atmosphere and friendly vibe. The original dark wood booths were still in place, upholstered in red leather, and the gold taps on the bar gleamed in the subdued light. Small groups of people were scattered around, chatting happily and clinking glasses. Unfamiliar, but catchy, music was playing softly in the background. He sat at the bar and ordered a beer.
Not long after the beer arrived, a trio of people joined him and introduced themselves.
“Hi – we’re Gina, Jenna and Henry,” said Gina, pointing to the others as she spoke. “You’re new here?”
“Hi, yes, Marty,” he nodded, somewhat perplexed, as these girls weren’t really what he’d been expecting. A bit more classy than his usual type. Perhaps a few more drinks were needed to loosen everyone up. He wondered which one of the girls Henry was with. “I’ve spent the day getting a tattoo – I’m just waiting to unveil it.”
“Wow!” The girls looked at each other then back at Marty.
“At Teg’s?” questioned the blonde one called Jenna.
“Yeah – you know him?”
“Oh sure, he’s here all the time. A good friend of ours. Your tattoo will be amazing.”
“I haven’t seen it yet -  he asked me to wait.”
The girls looked at each other again, and exchanged the tiniest of knowing smiles.
“It will be amazing,” they reassured him. “We’ll wait with you.”
The group settled into conversation about jobs and living and working abroad and finally Teg walked into the bar and up to them.
“So, Marty, are you ready for the great reveal?” he challenged him.
“It’s now or never. Let’s see if your decision paid off.”
“Our decisions always have consequences, Marty,” Teg responded as he removed the wrapping. Gina, Jenna and Henry moved around to see.
“Amazing – truly amazing,” said Gina, looking around into Marty’s face. “You are one brave dude.”
Marty started to nod, thinking this sounded promising.
“Teg, you’ve totally nailed it,” gushed Jenna. “Marty, you are going to absolutely love it. SO impressed.”
Two chicks, now the bloke, thought Marty. Perhaps Teg had tattooed a floppy-eared bunny or a giant fairy princess that only the girls would love. “So Henry, you’ve seen a few tatts in your travels, what do you think?”
“Mate, that is one sick tatt. It takes massive guts to wear something like that. Kudos, man! And Teg, the flow, the shading, the script. All world class.” Henry nodded at both of them.
Teg walked around and faced Marty.
“So, Marty, are you satisfied? Do we have a deal? You’ll keep the tatt as it is?”
“Sounds good to me,” affirmed Marty, who by now was starting to revel in his new status as a mobile work of art. He shook hands with Teg to confirm it.
“Now I need to see what you’ve done.”
Teg and Marty walked together towards the bar mirror, and Marty positioned himself so that he could glance over his shoulder. He started, and stared, and stood dumbfounded. He looked at Teg.
Teg said slowly, “Megan, that chick by the river? Last month? She’s my sister.”
Marty turned away, growing slowly redder and redder with anger and confusion. He flung his shirt on and rushed out of the building.
Teg joined the others who were looking mystified.
“He didn’t ask for that?”
“Nope,” said Teg, “but I figured he needed it.”
Back home, Marty stood looking at his back in the mirror, remembering Megan and the night on the riverbank, along with all the other ‘ladies’ he’d misused. He stared at the graphic and the writing, perfectly proportioned, placed and executed. There was a moonlight image of himself, leaning against a tree, a smoking gun in hand, staring across a river. Looking higher, the tree became a cross, draped with a bloodied, linen cloth and emblazoned with the text, “Forgiven, but not forgotten.”

Decisions, Decisions. Promises, Promises.: Work
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