From the Archive: “Indelible Ink” by Elizabeth McCracken

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“Indelible Ink,” by Elizabeth McCracken, appeared in MQR’s Winter 1991 issue.


Maybe you wonder how a Jewish girl from Des Moines got Jesus Christ tattooed on her three times: ascending on one thigh, crucified on the other, and conducting a miniature apocalypse beneath the right shoulder. It wasn’t religion that put them there; it was Tiny, my husband. I have a buddha round back, too. He was going to give me Moses parting the Red Sea, but I was running out of space. Besides, I told him, I was beginning to feel like a Great Figures in Religion comic book.

He got dreamy-eyed when he heard that. “Brigham Young,” he said. “And some wives.”

I told him: “Tiny, I’ve got no room for a polygamist.”

Tiny himself had been married three times before he met me, one wife right after the other. I only had him, the one, and he’s been dead six months now.


I met Tiny the summer I graduated high school, 1965, when I was eighteen and he was forty-nine. My cousin Babs, who was a little wild, had a crazy boyfriend (the whole family was worried about it) and he and some buddies dared her to get tattooed. She called me up and told me she needed me there, and that I was not to judge, squawk, or faint at the sight of blood. She knew none of that was my style, anyhow.

We drove to Tiny’s shop over on East 14th because that’s where Steve, the crazy boy, had got the panther that had a toe-hold on his shoulder. The shop was clean and smelled of antiseptic, and Babs and I were disappointed. Sheets of heavy paper in black dimestore frames hung on the walls–flash sheets–arranged by theme: one had Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker; another, a nurse in a red cross cap and a geisha offering a drink on a tray. A big flash by the door had more ambitious designs: King Kong and Cleopatra on the opposite sides of one page, looking absent-mindedly into each other’s eyes.

Tiny was set up on a stool in back, smoking a cigarette, an itty-bit of a man next to the Japanese screen. He was wearing a blue dress shirt with the cuffs turned back, and his hands and arms were covered with blue-black lines: stars across the knuckles, snakes winding up under the sleeves. The wide flowered tie that spread out over his chest and stomach might’ve been right on a big man, but on Tiny it looked like an out-of-control garden. His pants were white and wrinkled, and there was a bit of blue ink at the knee; a suit jacket, just as wrinkled, hung on the coat rack in back.

He eyed our group, scowled at Steve and his two friends, and solemnly winked at me and Babs.

“So,” he said. “Who’s the one?”

[Continue reading…]


Image via LA Weekly.

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