"What are you doing down there?" I asked in the eerie stillness of the room. We lay across the bed like discarded dolls after some little girl had finished undressing us, all disjointed limbs, shallow breathing, spent. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon near the end of summer, and a persistent rain hissed just beyond the window. His head was between my legs and I toyed with and wrapped my fingers in his jet-black hair. I loved touching his hair, it reminded me of the soft feathery breasts of doves, a ruffle causing a cascading shudder.
He raised his head to look up at me, grinning. "I'm picking a spot." He replied, and lowered his head again to continue his task of kissing, biting and licking my inner thigh, pausing only occasionally in his endeavour to wipe at my increasing wetness with a quick sharp tongue.
"What spot?" I asked between gasps.
"The spot for the tattoo," came his reply, muffled against my hipbone.
I jerked myself upright suddenly, staring at him with wide unbelieving eyes. I wanted to pull the sheets up around me, to protect myself, but realized we had long discarded them to the floor.
"Don't worry," he murmured soothingly as he crawled up towards me, "it will be very small, just our initials twisted together in thorns, and it will be somewhere no one will ever see it. Except for me." His blue eyes locked on mine, I felt like he had me under a spell, and his words started to make such perfect beautiful sense.
"Why?" I managed to ask meekly, my resistance slipping away like steam rising from my skin.
"Because," he breathed against the shivering skin between my breasts, "I want to brand you. I want to think of you with that little sign on the most secret part of you, and be the only one who knows it's there, and why it's there." Again he lifted his face to mine and stared into my eyes. His crystalline eyes that made me thirsty because they always reminded me of ice. I could barely breathe. "And," he said as he continued to dig into my mind through my eyes, slicing his way with those shards of ice, "I want to be able to put my hands on your legs...like this...force open your thighs...like this, and find it there. My brand. A little piece of me on the most delicious and tender part of you...forever." And saying so, he once again laid his head between my thighs, now trembling beyond control, and dropped a soft and gentle kiss on the spot he had chosen.
That night as I lay tightly wrapped in his arms, the whir of the fan droning and lulling me to sleep, I dreamt of our first meeting. I was riding in the elevator of my building up to my office, he entered on the fifth floor and punched the button for the twentieth. I couldn't help myself. I stared uncontrollably at the Chinese character on his neck, wondering what it meant, wondering what it had felt like, what it tasted like, this permanent ink on the soft skin, the vein gently thrumming just beneath it. "It means Warrior," he had said, seeming to read my mind, but he had noticed I was staring. I remember I blushed furiously, caught. "It's lovely...I was curious..." I stammered, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare." I felt the burning flush travelling from my breastbone to hairline. "It's alright," he assured me, smiling warmly, expansively. "People are always curious." I remember I had smiled back. "I've always wanted one, but never went through with it." I volunteered, laughing. I glanced at his other markings, whatever I could see on any exposed skin not covered by his grey t-shirt. He had a moon and stars, dice and gothic lettering I could not read on his left forearm and a woman's face on his right arm. The edges of a Maori tribal design peeked out from just under the edge of the sleeve. I was overcome with the sudden impulse to trace the design and before I knew it I was, my finger tracing the dark black ink, pushing under the sleeve to reach for more. I woke from that dream several times, and each time went back to it when I was able finally to fall back to sleep.
The next evening we walked in silence from the bright steel and glass of buildings I knew to the dark and crumbling part of the city I had never seen, nor ever before had reason to see. It made me sad, and fearful, seeing the graffiti, the hopeless faces, the stench of desperation in the area of the city where people came to get lost in anonymity, to stain themselves with spreading darkening designs as beautiful and gruesome as the ink on the walls of the abandoned and derelict storefronts. He took me to his shop in the dead of night, and once inside he flicked on the switch to the lights that flooded the room in almost painful fluorescent brightness. Every square inch of the walls bore the elaborate draughtsmanship of his trade. I stared at the pictures, both tiny and intricate and massive and garish, while he sketched his idea on a piece of transfer paper. Once he was satisfied with his design he instructed me to sit into what looked like a dentist's chair with stirrups, and to spread my legs.
"I'm afraid." I whispered. I don't where my voice came from, it's hoarse and breathless sound was shocking to me, but he smiled up at me tenderly.
"I promise it won't hurt...much." He joked. But seeing the real terror in my face he made an offer. "What if I blindfold you? You won't expect the pain, which in itself is half the pain, really?" Before I could rationalize the words, he pulled and tied a bandana across my eyes, plunging me into suspenseful darkness.
I strained to hear every sound. I heard the slight tinker of stainless steel tools as he calibrated his instruments, the crinkle of plastic wrap as he opened packages of sterilized needles. I heard him hum softly along with the music in the background, Nine Inch Nails, his favourite. I winced at the jarring scrape of his steel chair on the ancient floor and the sudden insect-like whir of the tattooing machine.
"Ready?" he asked, and I could feel the breath that carried the word softly against the skin of my thigh. I swallowed dryly and nodded. He dropped one last kiss on my knee and placed the vibrating needle to my skin.
I jerked a bit at the initial touch, so foreign, yet strangely familiar. It felt at times like the soft caress of a butterfly wing, and other times like the sharp sting of an angry and vengeful wasp. He frequently wiped at the etching with a cloth or paper towel, then immediately rubbed something slick I believed to be lotion or petroleum jelly before applying the needle again and again. As the time passed, the real pain came from the uncomfortable position I was in more than the actual tattooing. I tried to shift slightly to reposition myself, and I heard him click his tongue.
"Stop that," he scolded me, "or else." Something in that moment made me feel brazen, whether it was the tone he used with me, as though I were little girl, or the transgression of getting a tattoo to begin with, or the lewd position I was in, or even the idea that we were essentially alone and no one would be able to hear us, but I asked quite distinctly "Or else what?"
I heard him click off the machine and push his chair away. In my blindfolded darkness, I struggled to place him in the room based on sound, but I heard nothing. Minutes passed and I started to feel a creeping terror along my spine. Then I heard footsteps, and a rooting through a desk drawer. It never occurred to me to remove the blindfold. I felt rather than heard him return to his place, and I was quietly relieved. "You are being very unfocussed here, I'll have to help you with that," he said and I felt him pull at the crotch of my panties and cut through them with, I realized, the scissor he found in the desk. He then turned the machine on again and continued to work on the tattoo.
I desperately tried to remember if there was a window to the street from where I was sitting. I felt a crimson flush of humiliation creep along my body, emanating from between my legs right up to my face. I could feel the occasional brush of his arm against my pubic hair, or his breath cooling a patch of warm wet skin. I struggled to even out my breathing, but the combination of arousal and indignation made me gasp for air. And tremble. "Please stop shaking," he said casually, almost clinically. I whimpered softly and bit my lip. Waves of shame and excitement stung stronger than the mechanized pin-pricking ever could. He shut off the machine again, and I waited, agitated and pulsing. I felt him gently trace over his work with one finger, slowly, caressing the new scar sensually. I heard a plastic crinkle, and the stripping of tape, then felt a bandage placed over the area still freshly burning. "There," his voice wavered somewhere above me, "not so bad, was it?"
I raised my hands to my face to remove the blindfold, but before I could answer he grasped my wrists above my head with one hand and pushed his other hand deep into me. The sudden violent motion made me want to scream, but he silenced me with his mouth and tongue. I tried to move my mouth away from his, to try to scream, but he kept crushing my mouth. I felt his fingers enter me, tearing in, relentless. I could feel the rough fabric of his jeans against my thigh, the pressure agonizing against the fresh scar of the tattoo. I couldn't decide which was worse: the pain of the inflamed and stinging wound or the pain of his fingers pushing mercilessly into me. He pushed two fingers, then three, and when I thought he could not do any worse, he slipped all his fingers in, and his thumb circled and rubbed at my clitoris. But it was too painful to be pleasurable, too raw. I was in agony, and I was terrified of this sudden unforeseen cruelty. My tears soaked the blindfold, cheeks no doubt as wet as his fingers.
Suddenly I was sickened by a thought: what if it wasn't him? The roughness of the touch, the brutality of the kiss was so foreign. I wanted to scream, but the tongue in my mouth was gagging me, stealing my breath. Was he capable of such a thing, to switch with another tattooist, to watch from the sidelines, detached, unfeeling? I struggled to remember the telltale signs that would assure me this man forcing his way into me was my beloved...but realized I knew so little of him, so short was our relationship thus far that I had not yet memorized his scent, his taste or his touch. I could only lay pinned and stretched, in a cold sweat, horrified.
The hand that pinned me by the wrists slowly moved down my arm and toward my face, the other hand still plummeting and sliding in and out of me. He lifted his mouth and sighed deeply, and I gasped. I started to collect my senses and breath, preparing to scream even though I knew no one would hear me and, worse still, no one would care. He removed the blindfold in a single quick movement. I screwed shut my eyes, I didn't want my worst fears confirmed, but then his familiar voice whispered in my ear "Open your eyes, baby. Open them."
I let out a sob when I saw those perfect blue eyes above me. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. His fingers slowed their movement, a gentler and purposed slither, and he licked at the tears on my cheeks. I could feel myself ease, opening for him, breath and heart quickening. I dug my fingers through his hair and finally climaxed, shuddering against him. But when he helped me to my unsteady feet, I managed to whisper levelly: "Never do that again."
In the following weeks once the bandage came off, he would bathe the area and apply the lotion to heal the scarring. The familiar gentleness had returned, but I always could feel the savagery just under the surface, gnawing and clawing to come out. He spoke softly to me, fed me and dressed me, applied the healing salve to the tattoo every morning before I left for work and every evening before we went to bed. What had I become? His possession? His property? The mark so hidden that I even occasionally forgot about its existence had conferred on him some kind of ownership of me, not just of my body which already was more than his. Sometimes I would wake in the middle of the night to the sensation of soft furling, a tiny licking at that mark on my inner thigh. I would wake to discover him there, lips and tongue pressed to the eternal brand, whispering over and over, "Mine....Mine...Mine."