27: Catastrophe

27: Catastrophe

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom


Life is either a great adventure or nothing.

~Helen Keller

If I were a betting woman, I would have said the odds were overwhelmingly against my mother going to a tattoo parlor, but there she was. Growing up, my mother taught me many things, mostly by example, and today was proving no different.

Today’s lesson was about ingenuity, a trait she cherished. When she first told me her plan, calling it her last option, I decided I’d better go with her. That’s how we both came to be standing on the threshold of Wicked Ink.

A cheery bell signaled our arrival. The clerk behind the counter greeted us with a wave and asked for a moment while he finished rolling what looked like a poster for a customer. I’m not sure who I expected to be working in this shop, but his welcoming eyes and nice smile were not only a pleasant surprise but also a comfort. I mean, this was my mother we were talking about.

While we waited, Mom pretended to admire the samples that covered the walls in dizzying rows, everything from fierce dragons to colorful butterflies. And skulls. I saw her eyes go wide.

“You still think this is a good idea, right?” I asked her. “Because we can leave.”

“We’re here, let’s see it through.” She fumbled in her purse for a Tums. “I’m at my wit’s end.”

The shopper left and we couldn’t delay any longer. I put a firm hand on her back and propelled her forward. She tightened the scarf that covered the lower half of her face, mortified that anyone might see her, and made her way over to the clerk on shaky legs.

“Hello, how can I help you?”

“I’d like to speak to someone about—” she hesitated, “a problem,” she finished in almost a whisper.

“You’d like to get a tattoo?”

“No. Definitely no,” Mom said quickly. “I’m a kindergarten aide,” she added, as though that explained everything.

“I see,” he said, but of course he really didn’t. “And?”

I could tell that she was fighting the urge to bolt. “I figured you guys were ink experts, so you’d be able to help me.”

He leaned his elbows on the counter. “That’s true. About the ink. So, do you want to tell me about it?” When she didn’t respond, he pointed to a curtained-off section and added, “We could go in the back if you’d like.”

Mom let out a grateful breath. “Yes, please.”

We followed him to the area and she settled herself in an artist’s chair. She didn’t seem to know whether she should put her legs up on the recliner part or not. She tried it both ways, and settled for sitting sideways and ramrod straight. He seemed to sense her fish-out-of-water moment and waited patiently. She slowly lowered her scarf, a simple act that I knew took all her strength.

I had to give him credit. His eyes widened but he didn’t gasp or say anything. I was sure he’d seen worse. He snapped on a light and stepped closer. “That is impressive,” he finally said.

Mom could tell from the look on his face that he was holding in his laughter. “Don’t you dare laugh at me,” she said in her best teacher voice.

His eyes twinkled. “I’m more of a dog man myself, but those are great cat whiskers. May I?” he asked, as he lifted a hand. At Mom’s nod, he gently examined her face. “Let me guess, indelible ink?”

“Yes.” She flashed him an embarrassed smile.

“Your cheeks are quite red. What have you been doing?”

“My daughter went online and looked up ways to remove ink. We’ve tried everything: hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, even hair spray. They’re not as dark as they were, but even make-up won’t cover them.”

“How did this happen, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Today my class was doing face painting, and we were having a great time. The kids wanted to do my face, so I let them. I shut my eyes so I wouldn’t get anything in them, and when I opened them… well, as you can see, I’m now a cat. I didn’t even know there was a marker in the box of paints.” Mom tucked a loose strand of gray-streaked hair behind her ear. “I’ve washed it and creamed it. It won’t come off.”

“Don’t worry; it will wear off in a week or so,” he said.

“Oh, no,” she wailed. “I can’t be a cat for a week. Open house is tomorrow night.”

He snapped his fingers and his face lit up. “You’re Mrs. Somers. My nephew is in your class. Jacob Murphy?”

“Yes, we’ve got Jacob this year. He’s a great kid.”

The thought of her class made my mom’s face light up despite her situation. When my daughter started kindergarten, my mom wanted to be a part of it so she signed up to help. She read books, helped with the arts and crafts programs, and generally assisted the teacher. She loved it and had been in that classroom for three years.

He leaned back against the supply counter and crossed his arms. “I don’t think I can help you.”

At the look on her face he quickly added, “No, I mean I can’t help you because I don’t work here.”

I suddenly realized he didn’t have a single tattoo himself.

“Len, my uncle, owns this shop.” He held out his hand. “I’m Ethan. I come in and do his books. He’ll be right back. He ran to the bank. I’m sure he’ll know what to do.”

“You think so?” Relief flooded her face and for the first time since it happened she began to relax. “It is a little funny,” she admitted.

Just then the doorbell dinged. It was Len, who proved to be as charming as his nephew. I noticed when they were introduced and shook hands that he held mom’s a few beats longer than necessary. Sure enough he had a remedy. As he applied the remover with gentle dabs of soaked cotton, he flirted shamelessly. It made me smile to see Mom laugh and even get a bit flustered at his attention. Fifteen minutes later, Mom was appreciative and whisker-free. Len insisted on walking us out to the car, opening the doors for both of us. Mom settled herself in the passenger seat and turned to thank him once again.

“If you’re free this Saturday night, I’m playing guitar at the art café around the corner,” he said. “Any interest in coming with me?”

She was very interested.

“Make sure they don’t ink stamp your hand to get in,” I teased.

“Don’t you worry about it,” she said as we pulled away. “If they do, I know a man.”

~Jody Lebel

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