Anyone who’s ever had a tattoo knows that there are many reasons behind the decision. Love or the marking of life change are just a couple of catalysts for a trip to the tattoo shop; grief and the desire to carry a permanent memorial with us are others. In Wings, a story from the new collection, Your Father Sends His Love, from British author Stuart Evers, Maria steps outside of her life and into a tattoo shop on her dead sister, Gwen’s 40th birthday. She wants a tattoo–a pair of wings as a memorial; the sisters had planned to get tattoos together when they turned forty, so in a way, Maria is keeping a promise to the dead.
‘My sister died,’ she says as he points out a pair of wings that cover the entirety of a man’s back. ‘It’s her birthday today.’
‘A tattoo is a good way to remember someone,’ he says. ‘The earliest of all tattoos were for remembrance, you know?’
Tattoo virgins often imagine the experience as they gather up courage, and the imagined experience is ultimately different from reality:
It is nothing like she imagined. There are over sixty different pairs of wings in the portfolio and the tattooist is all-too helpful picking out a design. Many come with a little background, a summary of how long they take to ink, whether he feels it is a good design for her. It reminds her of looking at carpet swatches and kitchen counter tops, salesmen pitching the longevity, the luxury of their products. Like those men, the tattooist repeats that at the end of the day the choice is hers.
While Wings just grants us a brief glimpse into the lives of its characters, we clearly see the impact of grief on one sister whose life must go on even as the life of another has faded. The scant information that we are given allows us to fill in the blanks as we see Maria coping with grief and an emotional absence from her own life. Poignant and deeply melancholic, the story opens a window into Maria’s understandable grief, but is there something more going on here? This is a life that should be considered successful, but there’s been a detour, a freezing of time.
In the mirror, the wings look as though they have always been there. She thinks of Gwen, unillustrated, and begins what she understands is a kind of not crying, a sort of anti-crying, a physical process undertaken by those who have grieved enough and need no longer to grieve. She sits down on the edge of the bed and puts her head in her hands and imagines her sister laughing. The intensity of it spangles, makes constellations inside her limbs and torso. The wings beat and she can see her sister standing in the mirror, staring at her, eyes fixed and dilated.
I’m a believer in discovering new authors through short stories. If I like their style, their themes and their characters, then I’ll dig deeper. I liked Wings enough to buy the author’s novel, If This is Home. I’ll be reading it soon…so watch this space….