Fear My Thunder
Let's go ahead and roll this year into the boneyard.
You may or may not recall the last issue of this newsletter, in which I recounted a chat with Madame Sunshower, a fine tattooist here in Fort Hook. Our conversation continued late into the evening, but at one point it took a morbid turn, and so, in the interest of not bumming you out, I cut the transcript short. As you know, I strive to bring only delight to your life. Delight and a kind of lusty confusion.
However! Since this issue is going out on 12/25 and your attention is likely elsewhere, for reasons good or bad or both/neither, I figure I’ll recap that discussion now and you can read it whenever you’re “in the mood” for pondering your own mortality. OK great!
The Madame had finished the night’s work and was cleaning her tools with turnip vodka while I sat by the window and watched the snow fall on the dock posts. She seemed to be enjoying the wintry serenity so I decided to say, loudly: “Hey do you think of a year as a man? Like, a guy who gets older with each month and then dies on New Year’s Eve?”
“No,” she said.
“Me either, it’s stupid.”
“Is the idea that the old man is reincarnated in the new year as an infant?”
“Yeah, the baby with the little sash, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Do you mourn the passing of this old man?”
“Usually I’m pretty excited for him to croak so we can start over with the baby.”
Sunshower returned her needles to their little case. “Have you ever watched someone die?”
“Have you ever seen the fear in someone’s eyes right before they close them for the last time?”
This is when I started to regret breaking the silence. “Not ringing any bells.”
She sat next to me by the window, cleared some of the fog away with her sleeve. “The pearl divers around here get coordinates tattooed on their arms. Latitude and longitude. It’s where they want their ashes scattered when the time comes. Usually somewhere far out to sea, someplace inconvenient.”
“Why not just put it in their will.”
“Nobody has a will. Regardless, death catches you unawares, especially in this town.” She started rolling a cigarette. “One night a gent stumbled in here with a knife in his gut. Got blood everywhere.”
“He had minutes to live. And I saw that fear in his eyes. He said he wanted a message carved in his skin, a message for the ferryman who was coming for his soul. He told me what it was, and then he held my hand, and then he died, right over there. Then I got to work.”
“Can you even tattoo a dead body?”
“Sure,” she said, lighting her cigarette. “It’s harder when rigor mortis sets in. And the tattoo doesn’t heal, since the blood isn’t flowing anymore and the body is decaying. But it can be done.”
“Gross. What was the message?”
“A list of all the good things he’d done in his life. It was a very short list so he said I could embellish it, which I did. The message also said he better not be sent to the underworld, that if anyone deserved to go there it’s the bastard who stuck him with the knife. And then he included that person’s name and address.”
“Sounds like a big tattoo.”
“It took up most of his back. Turned out very nice, I wish he could’ve seen it.”
“Maybe I should get one of those. I’d hate to die and have the grim reaper not know how great I was, or who did me in.”
“I like to think it brought him some solace in his final moments,” she said, looking me over. “As for you, I’m envisioning a big bearded centaur tooting a horn. Galloping across your chest.”
“Yes! Can it say FEAR MY THUNDER in cool letters?”
She picked a bit of tobacco from her tongue. “It’d be odd if it didn’t.”