The tattoo studio smells of disinfectant and bravado. Annie makes small talk with her client, on autopilot. All she thinks about is blood. She thinks about the blood in her veins, the blood under the knife at home. She just wants to see her insides outside, to pay homage to the gore. Her clients smile and bleed, laugh and flinch under her needles. She smiles back at them, as she wounds them, scarring them for life. Everyone is bleeding, deep down.
Hours pass without touching the edges of Annie’s consciousness. She is in deep focus. Viscera feel heavy within her. She feels overwhelmed by the mechanics of life, the pumping and filtering, the never ending growth and regrowth. It is a charade, a game of chess, feints and parries against the advance of death. She is tired of waiting. She will try again.
She finishes her client’s tattoo, wipes co-mingled ink and blood from his skin and smiles brightly at him. As he admires the work in the mirror she wonders if he feels the same need, the desire to bleed. The skin she has adorned looks paper-thin, the blood weeps through, softly, as though shy. She slicks it with cream and wraps it in plastic that immediately sticks and wrinkles. It goes deeper than that, she knows. It is surprisingly hard to destroy life. Surprisingly messy.
She gets off the bus outside the hospice as the shadows grow long. She will visit quickly. She doesn’t like to go. The hospice is too much like the winding down of ancient clockwork. No-one is willing to give the key another turn. She kisses her grandma on the forehead without saying hello.
Grandma hasn’t spoken to anyone in months. No more stories about the Catholic school she attended in the 1920s, no more tall tales about the time The Beatles came to town. Grandma’s house, sold now, was always a hive of memories, overlapping each other, souvenirs from decades and travels collaged together, from small town Ireland, through Europe, to India, and back again. In time, Grandma’s mind was the same, jumbled recollections existing in a never-ending now. Annie sits by her silent bedside, and wonders if the old woman just has nothing left to say. She lies in bed wearing a face as blank and white as the sheets around her, thin lips pressed grimly together, eyes unfocused. Her blood seems to have drained away. She is in a cosmic waiting room now. Waiting for her number to be called.
Annie too waits for her cue to exit. She spends an hour with Grandma and catches the bus home. There, the knife is waiting for her. It still has a little blood across it, dried to red tannin, stale and lifeless. Annie runs it under a hot tap, uses her fingers to prise the last of her DNA off the blade. More where that came from. But perhaps not for long.
She pours a glass of wine, deep violet red of the Cabernet slicks the inside of the glass, hangs dry and dense in her mouth. She leaves the bath water running, steam rising in clouds, and gives the apartment one last tidy. She is not the kind of woman who would leave dirty dishes piled on the sink in full view of the paramedics. Everything in its place, she sighs, fingertips savouring the skin of the wooden door frame as she readies to leave her kitchen for the last time.
Her muscles recoil as the phone rings, piercing the silence. She won’t pick up, she’s just on her way out. But it rings insistence, its vibration on the kitchen bench rattles through her sinew. Irritated, she answers. Grandma. That number was finally called.
An hour passes. The bathwater grows cold. Annie sits on the tiles, gripping the fleece robe to her, holding herself. The chill from the bathroom floor bleeds through her robe, icing her skin. She barely notices. Grandma. No more grief about the day Elvis died. No more cups of strong tea, one spoon per cup and one for the pot. Annie feels she has bled enough tonight, in her heart, her mind. She stands, lifts the plug and lets the water drain, disappearing with an organic suck to wherever dirt and urine, blood and shit is sent. Some blood is only skin deep. Annie boils the kettle as grandma’s blood runs right through her.
Rachel Watts is a writer and avid reader from Perth, Western Australia. She writes book reviews and assorted commentary at http://www.leatherboundpounds.com.