Tattoos Live


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Smitty was a sailor. He was a Boatswains Mate and he had learned when he first got to the USS Puddlefish that it’s pronounced bō’sun not boat-swain. He was assigned to the Seaman’s Division and spent his days swabbing decks, chipping paint off the hull and repainting, where he had chipped earlier. The Puddlefish spent most of her time at sea, pulling in only for stores and diesel fuel. That suited Smitty just fine. He liked life at sea. For the most part it was peaceful. He would lash up a Boatswain’s chair and lower himself over the side to work on the hull. He was also fond of the “Battleship Grey” colour of paint that was all he ever worked with.

When he was hanging halfway between the scuppers and the waterline people tended to leave him alone and let him continue with what he was doing. As long as he looked busy, he seldom had to deal with LPO’s, Division Officers, or Department Heads. The Captain had no idea what he looked like and that suited him just fine. He could daydream and sing to himself. He was almost anonymous. He was happy.

Another benefit of a seafaring life was foreign ports. There was a lot to do and see in a foreign port. He was fond of beer, topless bars, and bordellos. Those things were always close to the waterfront. That’s why when they tied up at the Navy Pier in the small South Pacific Island Nation of Boga Barbonata he knew he wouldn’t have to go far to find things that would make him happy. He had drawn his pay so he was flush with cash. He was whistling as he walked through the gates that separated the sailors from the locals.

He met a girl, with a name he couldn’t remember, in a topless bar. She was beautiful and he took her to a tattoo parlor where she served as a model and he had her likeness inked on his left pec, right above his heart. The artist portrayed her topless, leaning forward, with her lips pursed and her empty hands spread wide to the sides. She wore a grass skirt and a garland of plumeria around her head. It was uncanny how much the tattoo looked like her. That night she took Smitty home with her, to a trailer parked beneath a coconut palm. The Formica was worn, the carpets threadbare, and the upholstery torn and tattered.

The next morning when he woke in his bunk; mid rack, bow compartment, frame 14, starboard side, he could barely remember the girl. He thought it might have been a dream. He looked down at his chest and peeled off the napkin that was taped there. He knew then, that he had not imagined her. In fact he thought that he may have said things and made promises that he never should have. He figured he should avoid that girl for the next two days while they were in port. He knew she could not get past the gates. She could not come to him.

Smitty spent the day nursing a hangover and sitting as still as he possibly could on his Boatswain’s chair, close to the waterline. At the end of the workday he went out again but steered clear of the topless bar where he had met the girl the night before. He met some of his mates, Digs and Boomer. They had a couple of beers and enjoyed the company of some bar girls but never left the bar and Smitty was back on board and tucked into his rack before 2200. He didn’t want to meet that girl again.

The next morning after quarters Boomer found Smitty, “Hey Boats,” he began, “You know those girls we were with last night?”

“Yeah, what about them.”

“They’re dead. All three of them were hacked to pieces right outside the gates. The guard says he never saw anything. They found what was left of them at first light.”

Smitty shuddered as he thought about the close call but didn’t worry about it too much. What could those girls have been involved in that earned them such a gruesome death? Chances were that he would never know.

He dropped below to change into the coveralls he would wear that day and looked at his new tattoo. The grass skirted Polynesian beauty was still there, still topless and crowned with plumeria blossoms. Her hands were still spread out to the sides as she leaned in towards the viewer, but in her right hand she was now clutching a sword. Her lips were no longer pursed, she was smiling.

Smitty stayed on board that night. No bars, no girls, just a dumb movie shown on the projector in the crews mess. He was scared.

The next morning they got underway. It was an eight day transit to their next port o’ call and during that time the sword faded from the hand of the tattoo girl. When they made land he figured he was safe. There was no way that girl could have followed him here. He was shed of her. They were only in port for one night so he and Digs decided to make the best of it. They went to a strip club and he tucked a lot of bills into the g-string of one of the girls there. He had a great time.

The next morning when he showered Smitty saw that his new tattoo girl had nunchucks dangling from her hand. He knew that the stripper was dead.

So, Smitty spent the rest of his enlistment on board the Puddlefish, never setting foot on dry land. When his rotation came up he took an honorable discharge. His Chief and Division Officer tried to talk him into re-upping but wouldn’t do it. He walked off the ship, took a cab to the airport and bought a one way ticket to Boga Barbonata. It took him almost two weeks to get there and when he did, he made his way to that titty bar where he had met her the first time. When he walked through the door he paused to let his eyes adjust to the low lights, she was on stage. She was topless, wearing a grass skirt and plumeria blossoms in her hair. She was beautiful. When she saw Smitty standing just inside the door she stopped her dance, spread her arms wide, palms up showing him that her hands were empty. She pursed her lips and then she smiled. Jumping off the stage, she ran across the bar laughing and jumped into his arms. He held her tight. He never wanted to let her go but finally she whispered in his ear.

“Hang on a minute; I have to go quit my job.”

He let her go; she went over to the bar and had some words with the bartender before she ducked through a door to the back that Smitty hadn’t noticed before. Seconds later she ran back out wearing shorts and a tee shirt. She gave him a peck on the cheek, put her arm around his waist and led him out the door.

“Let’s go baby,” she said, “What took you so long? By the way, my name’s Kinipela, it means ‘wave’. Try to remember it this time.”