This flash fiction originally appeared in the print magazine Please Xerox.
I feel bad for not picking Nicki because she is so desperate for appointments. I have been here for two hours and her chair has stayed empty, and as Dave whispered to me, this is like a barbershop. If the chair is empty, they aren’t making money.
Nicki is in the corner drawing while Dave adds color to my skin. At first he penned the lines he wanted to follow, but now he knows how he wants it to look. He’s free-handing purple and green across my thigh and I trust him because Dave is the same age as my hairdresser and they start the same conversations. How’s your mom? Tell me about that girl you like at work. Have I told you why I hate my sister’s new girlfriend?
“I overheard these women talking about their kids getting tattoos,” I say, “and the comparisons they make are so weird.”
“I used to hear it’s like wearing the same shirt for the rest of your life,” Dave says.
“These women were saying it’s like wearing the same hairstyle forever.”
Dave smiles, his eyes never leaving his work. “Like they’ve changed their hair in the last twenty years.”
Blood is pooling on my leg that he wipes away before continuing to cut me open with a needle. “I wanted to tell them it’s more than that. It’s deeper than a shirt or a haircut.”
“I don’t think they would find that comforting,” Dave says.
Nicki finishes her drawing and pins it on the bulletin board by her chair. She says, “I love this. I hope someone picks it.”
It’s a character from an adult cartoon, a mad scientist with bugged out eyes. “Put it on yourself,” Dave tells her. “That way it’s yours.”
Nicki doesn’t comment on his suggestion. She goes back to drawing and the store remains quiet except for the buzzing of the needle.
“People get so afraid of changing their minds,” Dave says, almost whispering. “But we don’t change nearly as much as we think we do.”
“So why do you make such a good business on cover-ups?” I ask.
Dave draws a line at the top of my thigh and my skin jumps. “Almost done,” he says. He adds white to my body and I think he’s forgotten my question but he sighs as he finishes the last line, rubs my leg with the wipe one last time.
“Sometimes people get what they think they’re supposed to get,” Dave says. “And then they decide to get what they wanted in the first place.”
“Are they hard to do?” I ask. I get up, look at myself in the mirror.
“Yes,” Nicki says. I didn’t know she’d been listening.
Dave shrugs. “It’s all about understanding how colors work together. You just have to know how to layer them.”
I look at Nicki in the mirror, curious to see if she’s still listening, what she thinks about Dave’s assessment. But she’s looking at the drawing she made, chewing on her lip. She takes it off the bulletin board and drops it into the trashcan by her chair. She looks up then, sees me watching. She looks back down at the trashcan. I think maybe she’s going to rescue the drawing, but she doesn’t. She just stares down at it.
When I step out the door, she’s still looking down.