Tattooed by Adam Lock

On the tailgate of the black pickup truck in front is a silver badge of a snorting bull. The truck is waiting for the red lights to change, its exhaust pipe vibrating.

‘For Christ’s sake,’ Gail says, reading her phone. ‘Kieren can’t have Jude this weekend.’

‘We’re out Saturday.’

‘Not anymore.’ She drops the phone into her bag.

The lights turn green but the driver in the pickup hasn’t noticed.

‘What’s his problem?’ Gail says. She reaches across and sounds the horn.

The driver looks in his rear-view. The lights turn red.

‘What did you do that for?’

‘We’re going to be late.’

The man in front opens his door.

‘Brilliant,’ I say.

Gail shifts in her seat.

The man, broad-shouldered, strolls to my side of the car, and taps the window with a knuckle. I open it. He leans over, one hand resting on the roof, the other on the open window frame.

‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘Didn’t mean to do that.’

He looks at Gail. She stiffens, arranges her skirt, closes her handbag at her feet. Her movement reveals the tattoo of silhouetted birds on her calf.

The man coughs; his breath smells of coffee and cigarettes. ‘Your tyre, passenger side.’ He grips my arm and his knuckles whiten. ‘Needs air, pal.’ Along the length of his forearm is the tattoo of a sword.

‘Thought it was pulling to one side,’ I say.

He nods, lets go of my arm.

‘Again, sorry about the horn.’

He winks at Gail, his eyes lingering on her legs, and then slaps the roof, making her flinch. He walks to his truck and opens the door, the sword on his arm turning in the sunlight.

The lights turn green.

I glance at Gail. ‘You OK?’

Her throat is speckled, her cheeks flushed, her breathing heavy. She’s looking at the three red marks on my arm.

‘Fine,’ she says, not looking at me. ‘You did the right thing. Men like that…’

The man’s pickup growls and snorts, before pulling away.

Gail’s phone pings with a message but she ignores it. She told me once how Kieren head-butted a man for staring at her arse.

She turns to the window, arranges her skirt and strokes her legs. When she massages her calf, the tattooed birds move beneath her fingers, their wings flapping, their bodies headed skywards.

Adam writes in the Black Country, in the UK. He recently won the TSS Summer Quarterly Flash Competition 2018 and the STORGY Flash Fiction Competition 2018. He was placed third in the Cambridge Short Story Prize 2017, and has been shortlisted twice for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2018. He’s had stories appear in Ellipsis Zine before, as well as other publications such as MoonPark Review, Former Cactus, Fictive Dream, Spelk, Reflex, Retreat West, Fiction Pool, Syntax & Salt, Occulum, and many others. Website: Twitter: @dazedcharacter.

Image: Tanja Heffner