by Lori Sublett
I inked my pain into my skin. Or, rather, the tattoo artist did. It looked remarkably like a blackbird when he was through, perched high up on my shoulder. The artist, Derrick, I think his name was, though I can’t be sure, wrapped my shoulder in plastic and handed me the take-home care instructions.
“Make sure you follow the directions so you don’t mess up your new tat,” he told me. I knew the drill; this wasn’t my first. I already had scars that were edged in black and agony.
“Sure.” I took the paper and folded it into a complicated origami square before shoving it in my pocket. I handed him $200. My pain was expensive. “Thanks, man.”
I walked through the shop that also sold t-shirts, bongs, piercing materials, and bumper stickers and headed out to my car. I ignored the plastic that crinkled every time I moved, didn’t even look down. I put on some Three Days Grace and drove around for a couple hours, singing loud enough to leave my throat scratchy and sore. “The scar is sinking in, and now your trip begins, but it’s all over for, it’s all over for you.”
I hopped on the highway, the freeway, the turnpike. I drove around in circles, in squares, in rhombuses and parabolas, in mathematical equations that you would understand but I did not.
I drove by the building where we used to work together. The one where I almost didn’t notice you, didn’t see the spark that you kept buried under your polo shirts and goatee and I’m-a-professional attitude.
I drove by the lake where we almost didn’t have our first kiss, but when we did it was magic. The kind of magic that probably traumatized the little kids that were walking on the wharf. The kind where we learned how a 6’4” frame and a 5’3” fit together.
I drove by the movie theater where you told me I didn’t have to do anything alone anymore. The same theater where I told you that I loved you. Even if I said it in French because I was too chicken to say it in English. You knew what I meant.
I drove by a gas station that was just like the one where I bought the condoms I showed you how to use. I didn’t take your virginity; you offered it to me on a silver platter. Or maybe it was a brown futon. Either way, I got to stare into your eyes while we both experienced something new.
I drove by the pool hall where you said that you would remember me forever. Where you laughed at me for being so bad at pool that you always won by default. Where you kissed me to show me that it didn’t matter, there were other, better, things to win.
I drove by the hotel that we stayed in when the city was overrun with tornados and you were scared to go home and I was scared to let you. Where I laid my head on your shoulder and we held each other and we simply slept, content that we were safe. Where we woke up and I kissed you good morning and we went to work together, wearing the same clothes we had worn the day before. The hotel that was badly damaged a week later by another tornado.
I drove by the apartment that was ours and is not. The one where we blended our lives and our stuff together and mine overwhelmed yours. Where we fit into a routine and I felt at peace, at home, for the first time in my life. Where you decided that it was over, and where you left me alone, even when we were right next to each other. When I left, there was nothing much there: a desk, a TV, a bookshelf and the brown futon.
The night was a dark, dark blue by the time I drove home, to the place that was not mine, where I simply wandered and waited until I could find somewhere to belong again. I went into the room where my stuff was still stored and stacked in boxes that fit around the spare bed and a TV tray that held my computer.
I threw my keys and wallet and the origami square of after-care instructions on the bed. There were bottles of liquor lining every available surface. Most empty, some not. I’ve never been a drinker, but my hand itched to grab one and drink it down, to drown the emotions that stuck in my throat and threatened to choke me.
I grabbed a towel instead and headed to the bathroom. I stripped off my shirt and carefully removed the plastic wrap that covered my shoulder. It crinkled and stuck to enflamed skin. I lathered up my hands with soap and started cleaning the tattoo, washing away ink and plasma and healing goo, before patting it dry with the towel.
I stare at myself in the mirror, shirtless, my right shoulder full of new and interesting patterns in the shape of a blackbird, mouth open, singing in the night. I trace the raised lines that feel foreign on skin that should have been smooth. Getting the tattoo didn’t hurt, it doesn’t hurt now as I touch it, and still it wavers as my eyes fill with tears that I can’t stop. Behind the liquid curtain, it looks like the blackbird is moving, singing to me.
It sings to me of us, who became you and I, of the pain I still feel at cutting my soul in half once again. It sings to me of who I was and who I am and who I can be, of lessons learned and those that still need learning. It sings to me of you, over and over, it comes back to you.
It sings to me of your skin, your voice, your eyes, your body, the way you laugh at my crazy sense of humor, and the way you always need to be right. It sings to me of your hands and the way they fit my body, the way they feel in mine, the way they are huge and make me feel safe. It sings to me of the way you snore, the way you steal the covers and the way that you always make sure I get out of bed on time when I never want to leave. It sings to me of the way that you talk to yourself, all the time, and how you get surprised if someone answers. It sings to me of your love of animated films, and card games, and the way that you have to show off the magic tricks that you learn. It sings to me of you in a suit and tie, in jeans and a tee-shirt, in boxers, in nothing at all. Over and over, it comes back to you.
In the dark, dark blue of the night, it sings to me of the smell of chili and beer, the dimness of an apartment that was never quiet but suddenly was, the feel of heat on skin abruptly chilled and apprehensive. It sings to me of lying in a half-empty bed, listening to the wall-muffled yet familiar rustles of a big body moving in a room that was not used to such noises. It sings to me of the sight of your back, big and strong, now hunched over and away. It sings to me of the sound of your voice, that you’ve locked in a box and put up high on a shelf that you know I can’t reach. It sings to me of a bathroom search-and-find puzzle – where is the manly shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, razor that should have lived alongside mine? It sings to me of the sound of glass on tile when I get the answer right, of skin torn and gaping. It sings to me of salt-covered lips and dried tributaries as I sit in the patio chair that was yours and is not, in the dark, dark blue and wait.
It sings to me of you and I, who are no longer us. It sings to me of love. And loss.
It sings to me of hope, of thread and needle, of glue, of time. It sings to me of cages with open doors and the feel of tailwinds in flight, and soaring, and freedom. I look at it, this little blackbird that sits high on my shoulder, close enough to sing to me of my truths and I whisper back, “No, Blackbird, you will never again be free.”
Lori Sublett is a graduate of the M.A. Creative Writing program at Oklahoma City University. She has had writings published in The Scarab, as well as SugarMule, Conclave: A Journal of Character, The Oklahoma Review, (em): A Review of Text and Image, the IWriteBecause.com creative project as well as the print anthology Ain’t Nobody That Can Sing Like Me: New Oklahoma Writing.