Fiction · 04/27/2011

Tattoo

Merrill thinks about milk. “I was just a boy yesterday,” he says. “I feel like Tom Hanks. That movie can’t be just a movie. Life is so short.” Youth is a phantom limb, he thinks. “I can’t remember ever being this young.”

Rosa says, “You’re not Tom Hanks.”

I want to do everything all at once. This is why I’m alive. There is no time. Everything is happening now, always. In the shower, hot water feels good on Merrill’s neck. Rosa forgets to brush her teeth before bed.

What if there was no such thing as a hypothetical situation, Merrill thinks lying in bed beside Rosa. Why do I exist. No one will ever find closure in anything they do in their lives. Rosa curls up close to Merrill, kisses his cheek. “We’re out of milk,” he says.

Before he meets Rosa, Merrill cries almost a week when his soap is discontinued. Standing in the soap aisle he holds his hand out, trembling.

He decides he might be able to try three other brands of soap. He can’t choose between them. He knocks everything off the shelf. A woman turns and sees him fall on the floor, screaming. She makes a funny face and grabs a jar of peanut butter. He doesn’t see her.

Merrill crawls through the supermarket toward the deli, sobbing, sniffing snot back into his nose. He pulls himself up at the counter. “Lamb,” he tells the butcher, stuttering. The butcher makes a confused face and goes to carve the lamb.

The butcher wraps the lamb up and gives it to Merrill. Merrill reaches over the counter and pulls the butcher close, hugging him. “Thank you so much,” Merrill whispers into the butcher’s ear.

+

At the burlesque show women on stage take their clothes off moving their bodies in watery ways that incite chemical and hormonal reactions in the brains of lonely males watching, biologically reminding them to procreate.

Merrill thinks, It’s silly for people to celebrate their bodies by doing strange things like dancing — to celebrate bodies which are killing them. Merrill leans into the ear of a guy in front of him and says, “Everyone in this room will be dead in the next 51-57 years.”

+

Like all life, the ocean began with the surfboard which grew wheels and rolled up onto land in search of an empty pool. Merrill helps carry the coffin. Everyone watches.

In the coffin is Rosa’s mom. In the coffin is Rosa. In the coffin is Merrill’s father. In the coffin is Merrill. “In the long run, everyone’s basically the same age,” Merrill says to Rosa on the way home. Rosa is driving. She says, “What.”

Everyone goes swimming at some point in their lives, Merrill thinks. He’s scared of the world, too. During the eulogy Rosa cries. Merrill tries to not imagine the priest blessing wine wearing swimming trunks.

Rosa is driving. For the first time in his life Merrill realizes how little he uses the phrase, For the first time in my life.

Every moment is something we’ve come to, something we’ve inadvertently worked toward. We base decisions on decisions we’ve already made that led us to the decisions we’re making right now.

Merrill’s father used to tell him war stories. “Tell me again about your arm, Daddy.”

Everything we choose is an impurity. There’s not a single path we take that isn’t tainted by what we hope to accomplish by distancing ourselves from what we wish had never happened. We reach so many conclusions in such a short amount of time.

For what.

Having coffee with Rosa, Merrill overhears a cell phone conversation. Someone the person talking on the cell phone knows has died. A relative, maybe. Merrill thinks, Why.

Why does life bother. Why does life organize itself into forms efficient enough for temporary survival, forms too frail for immortality. Why does life not live forever. Why is reproduction life’s only purpose. Why does life bother to emerge at all.

What kind of choice is that, Merrill thinks.

Merrill wants to ask the person he overhears. He wants to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” He wants to say, “I’m sorry, but your loss doesn’t really matter.” He wants to hug the person and say, “You don’t matter, and neither do I, and we’re both going to die for no reason. We’ve both been alive this whole time for no reason.”

The words infinitely ephemeral cross his mind.

Merrill wants to say, “If you weren’t alive, you never would’ve answered your cell phone. You never would’ve known anyone else who is alive, never would’ve known that someone you know had died. If the person you know had never lived, they wouldn’t be dead now.”

How hands are speech by making. Where we live is how I love you. You can hold me back, if you want. Hold me.

How hands predict the past, how they’ve already built the rubble. Merrill puts his glasses on. How the world might not exist precisely the way Merrill’s brain perceives it makes him nauseous. For a moment, he feels he should stop using hand gestures when he speaks.

One night, Merrill dreams so hard he wakes up with a nosebleed. Millions and millions of people have died because of metaphor. Please dig my grave with a stop sign, he thinks.

Merrill wakes Rosa up and tells her about a tattoo his father had. “Can you tattoo a phantom limb,” he asks.

+

The dentist sticks the needle into Merrill’s mouth. The needle squirts into Merrill’s gums. Merrill’s heart speeds up, his head gets dizzy. I’m okay, he thinks. I’m taking care of my teeth. The sound of the drill. What is sound, Merrill thinks. He begins to pass out.

How the brain interprets vibrations in the air. What does it mean to interpret. Why is it necessary to interpret. To survive. Is that all.

“What’s wrong with my voice,” Merrill asks.

Rosa says, “I don’t know. You’re always just so — so monotone.”

“I should go through puberty again, maybe,” Merrill says.

Rosa says, “I’m going out.”

“I can hear things,” Merrill says out loud. “I don’t know what that means.”

What does it mean to survive. Survival is only temporary. To survive means to make sound. To survive means to make a sound that only lasts so long.

Rosa asks if Merrill’s seen the garage door opener. She wants to leave. Later, she says she loves him. “I love you, too,” Merrill says. I can’t feel what I’m saying, he thinks.

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Eric Beeny (b. 1981) is the author of The Dying Bloom (Pangur Ban Party, 2009), Snowing Fireflies (Folded Word Press, 2010), Of Creatures (Gold Wake Press, 2010), Pseudo-Masochism (Medulla Publishing, 2011), Milk Like A Melted Ghost (Thumbscrews Press, 2011), and some other things. “Tattoo” is an excerpt from an unfinished novel called Children. He blogs at Dead End on Progressive Ave.