"Jesus" by Robert Sorensen

 

The Taboos of Tattoos
by Ed Lynskey

 

Miss Grinderswitch, principal at the Montross Reformatory School for Boys, had insisted that tattoos were a filthy abomination fit only for sailors, pugilists, and bartenders. No self-respecting gentleman, what all the boys aspired to become someday, would sport a lurid mermaid or fire-breathing bull on his forearm. Though sophisticated in mien, Miss Grinderswitch was a sadistic woman used to enforcing her say with the steel yardstick she brandished for cracking young and impressionable skulls and knuckles.

Mr. Weaver, the janitor who on the sly once referred to Miss Grinderswitch as "the harridan", every morning rolled up his sleeves before mopping the corridor to unveil a black rose tattoo. Glowering, she’d make him unroll his sleeves. This same contest of wills had gone on for years.

No boy at Montross was more smitten by tattoos than was Isaac Clay. Small for his age, he was equipped with big, round glasses and a pigeon-toed walk the other boys thought almost effeminate. Though he was certainly a ripe target, Isaac, however, was rarely if ever teased. Currently trudging along the cinder path from dodge ball, Isaac spoke to his best friend, Nathan.

"This morning I read ‘Shredni Vashtar’ penned by the author Saki," he remarked.

Dejected, Nathan looked over at him. "Boy, I hate reading. And I hate writing. I hate everything about this damn prison."

"To what do you attribute the chief source of your woes?" quizzed Isaac. "Perhaps I can be of some assistance."

Nathan gestured with his head at Miss Grinderswitch, who now stood scowling out the second-story window of her office. "The harridan canes me every morning before breakfast. Hard, too. Bah, what can you do, your head is always buried in a book?"

Isaac’s smile curled in the corners of his mouth like an asp. "Shredni Vashtar welded a mystical power over his keeper’s enemies, you see."

Snorting in disbelief, Nathan undid his reformatory school necktie. "I don’t know about you, Isaac," he admitted. "You’re growing weirder and weirder."

That evening Mr. Weaver cooked his habitual sausage in a souvenir ashtray held over a beeswax candle. His cramped quarters were under the front stairwell, though unlike the boys, he enjoyed a door and lock for privacy. Before he could take a bite, a scratching at the brass knob drew his attention.

"Hang fire, who’s there?" he grunted.

The door opened a crack and Isaac slithered inside, a picture book gripped to his chest. "Sir, I need your aid," he whispered. "I desire a tattoo like this." Isaac pointed to a color diagram of a heart with a dagger piercing it. A sawbuck danced before Mr. Weaver’s eyes. Breaking out his gaudy dyes and hot needles, he did a dandy, albeit miniature, version on the heel of Isaac’s foot. The boy never once flinched.

The next morning, the sheriff’s squad car shambled up to the school, but instead of discharging another J.D., Isaac overheard him speaking to the Vice-Principal.

"Yep, her maid phoned it in," the sheriff solemnly muttered. "A butcher knife planted squarely in her ticker. Strange as the dickens. I’m starved for clues, too."

The news soon swept through the reformatory school that Miss Grinderswitch had been brutally slain. There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole institute from the sheer joy of it all.

A few nights later, Mr. Weaver hung up his brooms and wrung out the mops. Tonight "Quincy" was on the little TV. After he retired to his private nook, a familiar scratching sounded at the knob. Angry, he swung open the door to confront the adolescent mischief-maker.

Isaac Clay stood blinking up at him like a barn owl. "I need another tattoo," he declared.

Mr. Weaver almost grinned. "Okay, what did you have in mind, kid?"

Riffling through the picture book’s pages, Isaac stopped and pointed. It was a cauldron overflowing with gleaming gold coins.



Story copyright 2001 by Ed Lynskey e_lynskey@yahoo.com

Illustration copyright 2001 by Robert Sorensen quantexz@earthlink.net



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