'The Tattoo Whisperer' by Faye Brinsmead

The gecko peeps over a steroid-pumped shoulder. It’s neo-tribal, geometrically patterned. The clever thing is the shading, which pops it into three dimensions. The tail curl hovers above the shadow curl traced on the skin.

I meet its bulging diamond eyes. I beckon, so subtly it might be a finger twitch. Come, my lips whisper. Take up your ink, and walk.

It blinks. Thinks. My waggling finger warns it not to chirrup. Vanishing beneath the singlet, it reappears on the Levi’s label, toe-pads testing the unfamiliar texture.

No one notices the monochrome pattern pattering across the floor, dodging the waiters’ red-and-white gym boots. I open my black leather satchel. My high-pitched squeaks are beyond the range of human hearing. There’s a noiseless leap, a soft-scuffle landing. Snap! go the brass buckles. We leave the bar and melt into the pre-dispersed night.

I’ve been liberating tattoos for more than 20 years now. The mottoes, swords and anchors didn’t disturb me unduly. Were the roses happier, blooming forever on a gently withering arm? On balance, I felt they were.

It was the creatures, which turned me into a tatt-tivist. I was on the Sydney-Brisbane train on a close November day. At Maitland, a bony young woman slid into the aisle seat beside me. She flicked me a polite-enough smile, rustled through a purple packet of salt and vinegar chips, noodled on Instagram. Then she folded forward onto the tray table and fell asleep.

Six monarch butterflies swarmed up her spine. Freshly inked, from the look of them. The orange and black filigree was perfectly executed. A photographic reproduction, which - twitched. As though all 24 wingtips sneezed. Imploringly, I felt.

Action galloped ahead of thought. I tipped my sandwiches out of their snaplock bag, enticed the butterflies in, tucked $200 beneath the girl’s sleeping elbow. Alighting at Dungog, I tried to release the butterflies into the municipal park. They wouldn’t go.

Of course, how dense of me, I said aloud into the ochre afternoon. That’s not where they’re from. I checked into a cheap motel and went straight to bed.

It took me a while to perfect the method. I’m pretty sure all the creatures, including those butterflies, reached their destination. Which is also their point of origin. But there are quicker and slower channels. The most direct route is a circle.

As the gecko watches curiously, I get out my crayolas and A3 art pad. I undergo, to borrow an ungainly Deleuzism, a becoming-gecko. The gecko mandala draws itself. Shimmering emerald, sulphuric yellow. When it’s done, I coax the gecko into its centre, slip the mandala beneath my pillow, and dive off the cliff of consciousness into the ocean of dreams.

In the morning, the gecko has gone. Whistling, I boil the kettle, water the aspidistras, potter around. When the first stars burst through the sky’s Prussian blue ink, I sling the satchel over my shoulder and leave quietly by the back door.


Faye Brinsmead lives in Canberra, Australia. Her passionate curiosity feeds her short fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in typishly, formercactus, Colloquy, Tangent and Honi Soit. She was shortlisted for this year's Elizabeth Jolley Prize.

Twitter: Faye Brinsmead @ContesdeFaye

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