Xanadu to Xena

              After everything else, you’d think this would hurt less. It didn’t. But, that’s what I was here for: the pain. Carving an ash tree into my skin is painful, but not as painful as what brought me here. Danny, my brother, had talked me through the pain of my other tattoos. Emily sat next to me now, unsure of what to do and afraid to leave me alone.

            “Fair skin will show off the green really great, I bet,” she said, shuddering as she looking at my bloody back.

            “Great when it’s finished, I hope,” I told her, “but sometimes it makes the ink run. Sometimes it means I have to get frequent touch-ups. And sometimes it just means it’s going to be painful – Javier will probably have to take more time when shading it because when I bleed the ink runs.”

            Her eyes flicked to the man hunched over the exposed skin of my back. I flinched as the needle dug deeper into my skin, coloring in the bark of the fully-grown ash tree growing along my spine. Javier wiped blood and ink away from his artwork. Knuckles grazed my raw skin as he began to grow the next branch of the ash tree symbolizing sacrifice.

“Love is a funny thing,” Emily said.

My brother used to say that; his eyes would drift to another dimension – as if his body remained here but his soul had gone to visit an old home, somewhere far away from me – and then he’d come back with a joke on his lips that made me forget the seriousness of his words, and life would resume to what it was before; I should have known then that he belonged in that far-off place – he always seemed pained to return from those journeys – but I hadn’t wanted to admit that he’d prefer leave me and the land of the living.. Not that it mattered what I, or he, wanted anymore – he was already dead.

            One of my legs cramped; sitting backwards on the black faux-leather chair made my muscles tense.

            “Please try to sit still,” Javier said.

            Queenly skeletons and pin-up girls glared down at me from the walls of the tattoo shop, judging me for my inability to accept the pain as part of the process. Resolute of my intentions, I glared back at them then turned my gaze back to Emily. Sometimes I forget he had left her too; she was his widow and I was just heartbroken.

            “Tonight we can cry,” I told her, gritting my teeth to the pain. “Until then, I know I don’t have a right, but I really need you to hold it in and talk me through this.”

            “Very nice. You know I’m here because he would be. You think I like this place? You think I want to be here? I was his wife! Hold it in? I should be in a puddle on the floor!”

“What? And I’m supposed to be just fine and handle this alone? He handled it alone and look what happened to him.”

            She transitioned from Xanadu to Xena in .04 seconds.

            “You really need to hold still, ma’am,” Javier said.

            Zest left her, and she left me – stranded in a tattoo shop