by Amanda Forbes Silva
Dan leaned forward, resting his folded arms on the round-top table between us. Heat flushed across my face at the prospect of those arms wrapping around me. Embarrassed by this unexpected desire for someone I knew only on the surface, I avoided his gaze and focused instead on the ink running over his muscles. Flesh claimed.
“I could never get a tattoo,” I said. “No offense.”
He laughed and took a long pull from his glass of whiskey.
“Can’t think of anything worth inking? Or can’t commit?” he asked in the voice of someone who has just quit smoking. The sliver between his front teeth, reminiscent of childhood, belied his exterior and made his rasp more disarming.
Unable to formulate a response as accurate as his question, I sipped my wine and turned my attention to the band.
I hadn’t intended to come into the bar, but, upon returning from work, discovered a car in my parking space. I circled the lot for a few minutes, all the while keeping one eye on the back door of the bar below my apartment, hoping that Dan, the bar manager, would emerge and suggest a spot where I could park in the meantime. Unlike me, Dan had grown up in this city and seemed to know just about everybody.
Remembering that he had quit smoking and so likely wouldn’t step outside, I parked my car in an empty space, hoping that whoever’s space I borrowed wouldn’t be home for a while. That is how I came to be at the bar, sitting across from him, unable to qualify my stance against tattoos.
Tattoo is defined as a signal on a drum, bugle, or trumpet at night, for soldiers or sailors to go to their quarters. I recalled a friend explaining the tattoos on the tops of his feet: a caged pig on the left, a caged rooster on the right. Long ago, he said, pigs and chickens, transported in crates below deck, were often the only survivors of shipwrecks. The currents slipped between the cracks, buoying the crates, keeping the animals afloat and alive. Though his fear of drowning made him an unlikely Naval officer, his tattoos made sense. He was marked to make it home.
I’m neither a soldier nor a sailor, but have traveled like one, and would like such a signal. Though it has been offered once or twice, the terms were never right and I knew the deal would result in a temporary happiness. So I’ve ignored the call, waiting for a tone with a clearer pitch and volume.
Abandoning the topic of tattoos, Dan and I focused on the band, composed of four older men playing covers of hit songs from the sixties across the soul, blues, and jazz genres.
When they took a break, Dan got up to check on his last few customers and I chatted with the musicians about the movie, The Commitments, in which an Irish band revitalizes the music of Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, and Wilson Pickett for a young, uninitiated generation of Dubliners. I recalled watching it. I was ten and my family was living in England at the time. The movie bridged the music my parents played in our house with the accents that were becoming just as familiar along our relocations and travels.
After Dan closed the restaurant, we checked on my car, still in someone else’s spot, someone else’s still in mine. Tipsy and hungry, but not ready for the night to end, I invited Dan upstairs where we cooked late night “peasant food”—cheap but comforting garlic in oil tossed over pasta, washed down with a superfluous glass of red wine.
I fell asleep soon after, but stirred at the tap of a glass against the coffee table.
“Are you leaving?” I asked him, already reaching for the water he had set in front of me.
“It’s late,” he said.
We hugged at the door and with his tattoos surrounding me, I said, “Thanks for taking care of me tonight.” The embrace began to last and I pulled away.
“Thanks for cooking with me,” he said.
I took a step back. “It was nothing special.”
He nodded and turned. I counted his descent, each footstep reverberating off the wooden staircase as he moved farther away.
Sliding into the center of my bed, I thought about his earlier question, aware that I had known the answer all along. It wasn’t the pain—pain for the existence of something—which kept my skin bare. It was the permanence. Impermanence I understand, and so choose. Maybe it’s not that I have ignored the signal, but am simply deaf to it. I lie awake and wait. Holding my breath, but hearing only silence.