Every Saturday I visit you, but first I shower. Hot water washes away the dull ache of Friday as I scrub the week from my skin. My fingers brush my hidden folds. There’s no part of me that you have not explored.
I leave at 9am to get to you, I always do. I was never a fan of commitment until I met you, my happy ending.
The door clangs behind me as I enter and you raise your head. Your smile is liquid summer and I wear my flimsiest dress. You lay me down on the red leather chair and lean towards me. We are gloriously alone and my name is velvet upon your tongue. You peel my dress up to reveal my right breast and brush against it with your fingers. My body tightens. I close my eyes and become your canvas. I am the flick of a mermaid’s tail and the heat of a dragon’s breath. I am all the things I thought impossible. The cast of your eyes trace my flesh and I will my body to be calm.
Too soon it is over and I rise on shaky legs. I adjust my dress carefully whilst you look the other way. The clouds between us blot the sun for another seven days.
‘That’ll be seventy quid,’ you say, as if it matters, because really, we both know that this is not about the money.
‘See you next week then,’ I say lightly, waiting for you to smile. Last time you did.
‘Maybe you should take a break from this,’ you say, ‘I mean, it doesn’t feel ethical.’ I start to laugh but you’re not joking. You look at me then, from head to toe, before you cup my elbow with your hand and lead me to the back of the room. I’m thinking, this is it, this is really going to happen.
You stop in the front of the mirror and stand behind me. ‘Look,’ you say. You’re taller than me, and wider. In the reflection you are my outline. ‘No’, you say, ‘Really look.’ My legs and arms are bare and you are standing so close behind me that I am waiting for your hands to find the hem of my dress and ruffle it up around my hips. I know how this works and I reach for your hands behind me. They clamp down onto my wrists. ‘You’re such a pretty girl, it’s just not right,’ you are saying and now when you say my name it is small and hard and sticks in your throat. I look at the symbols and the drawings that adorn my skin and other peoples’ fairytales that etch their way across my neck; the dragons on my legs and the mermaid tail that flicks out from where my breasts rise from my dress. Before your cloak of ink the world was frightening. I am safer tucked behind your shield. Your artistry of tattooed armour.
‘What do you mean?’ I ask at last. ‘This is your art, I am your page. You drew me.’
The bell clangs to signal a customer. ‘There’s no space left on you,’ you say, shaking your head, ‘It’s hard to know when to call it a day. I was going to ask you out for a drink when you first came in but it didn’t feel right, as my customer. I should have stopped you before this…’ you gesture at me with a look of disgust. ‘You were such a joy to work on with your pale translucent skin, the perfect muse. But now you’re obsolete beneath all the tattoos. I’ve ruined you.’
You are already turning away towards the door. ‘We can still do that, the drink I mean,’ I say. You don’t even look up from your next customer.
On the way home I figure it out. I’ll just have to persuade you to fill the tattoos in, buy myself some time.
Writer. Represented by Laura Macdougall of United Agents. Winner Fresher Prize 2017. Runner Up InkTears 2016/2017. Published in numerous places. @HPersaud / hannahpersaud.com
Image: Gabriel Nunes