(1st Place in the Stringybark Publishing Erotic Short Story Competition 2023)
I’ve come to the Blue Dragon for a back tattoo before turning twenty-five. Those inky paw prints you see running up my inside thigh are simply a practice run before the major piece. The Blue Dragon was picked, hoping he still works here and that I could walk straight up to find out what the hell’s happened all these years.
He doesn’t recognise me, though.
I thought he’d remember the skinny girl who kept her eyes to the floor while Joe talked to the boys about biz. Instead, getting treated now like a total stranger is a serious turn on and I pretend to be interested in the drawings on the walls while he smokes and tries to not get caught checking me out. Because in the summer, I never wear underwear. When the angle is right, you can see all of me through the material.
Tonight, it’s beautifully warm in the Blue Dragon. Tobacco and burnt cloves hang in the air like the day after an Indonesian festival. It’s coming from his cigarette, that smells like a Gudang Garam only it’s filter-less and cigar sized. Light streams from a gap in the curtains on the roadside windows and as I move between him and the curtain so he can see through my cotton blouse, I ask if he has any patterns for koi. It’s a back piece I’m chasing; with a golden female swimming up the left and an orange male swimming down my right. He grins as he talks about Sailor Jerry outlines and oriental shading like Yamaguchi-gumi gangsters. God no, I tell him they must be lifelike. No scary yakuza monster fish fighting angry samurais.
Even when I say Joe sent me, he still doesn’t get the connection.
He stops prattling when I pull off my blouse. With his attention fixed on my boobs, I watch his hands and imagine the strong fingers with short nails seizing me if I tried to escape. My nipples are changing as he looks at me.
I climb onto his tattoo table, which looks like it’s meant for reiki, and put my hands above my head so he can tell I’m ready. He says something about pulling my dress down over my bum so he can start at the best end. Maybe he’s getting the signals, but just to be sure I slide the dress off entirely. Now that I’m naked, the room feels tropical. He’s taking a long time to prepare his inks, so that means he’s delaying and thinking about what he wants to do to me, and when he finally presses the tattoo stencil against my bum, I push back. The pressure against me increases, making my womb flip and heat flow into my sex.
He asks me whether I want to keep going. All I can say is—I trust you.
When mum moved to Melbourne, I stayed behind to apprentice at the Blue Dragon in Sydney’s King’s Cross, under the balanced hand and lazy eye of Vic Talent. Vic was a staunch Archangels MC boy, and when he died in ’09 from an overdose, the club president, a vicious bastard called One Percent Joe, handed the place over to me. Caught between the Velvet Cat strip joint and a 24-hour chemist, the Blue Dragon sometimes services drunk teenagers wanting tribals on their deltoids, but mostly it does club work. I get paid whether or not I ink. Just make sure I’m here for the dope drop-offs and pick-ups. Which is why, until tonight, the Blue Dragon hasn’t attracted pretty girls in thin cotton dresses. Unlucky me, you say? Damn straight, I’m unlucky.
A siren is heading east on William Street, its pitch rising as the girl comes closer to where I’m straddling my saddle stool. With the light now beside her, I see unmistakable peaks at the ends of her heavy breasts. Her feet are wrapped in Egyptian sandals lined with gold rhinestones.
Bold as day, she strips off in front of me. Her nipples are overly large and dark against her pale skin. From the corner of my eye, I can tell she’s proud of them. There’s a vinyl squeak as she climbs onto the cushioned table and stretches out on her belly, and as I watch her breasts flatten on the plastic surface, I draw the curtain between her and the rest of the studio. Then stuff gets moved around my table to make it sound like shit’s getting done, when really all I’m doing is looking at the rise of her bare arse and the dimples at the small of her back.
She can tell I’m stalling.
The tips of my fingers press into her harder than necessary when I finally align the stencil. The resistance of young fat and deep muscle makes me want to bite her. Then I run my palms the length of her back, leaving a faint skeleton of fish scales, while I hear myself tell her that Joe owns the place. It’s not surprising she already knows, as anyone who’s been around the Cross knows the legend of One Percent Joe skinning a guy’s back with a pocketknife after he caught the rival gang member screwing his wife. I knew the poor bastard called Two Hand, and he wouldn’t do anything unless he thought it was okay. Joe’s missus came after him as a club payback, because she knew Joe would take it personally. Everyone knows Joe’s family is off bounds.
I dropped the tattoo stencil on the floor. It’d never feel right reusing the pattern after tonight. The fork of the koi’s tail finishes two inches from her shoulder, and it’s positioned with enough room to put one on her left side another time. I imagine taking her from behind, holding her waist with my thumbs pressed into those back dimples, as she rubs herself in rhythm with my thrusts. When she’d be close, I’d bend to kiss the back of her neck and grip her hair until she came.
As though reading my mind, her legs wriggle apart until her dark hair shows.
I ask whether she wants to see the pattern before I begin. She says that she trusts me, and claims to have never been inked, which I can see is a lie from the girly cat prints on her soft inside thigh that I dream of running my tongue along until I reach the spot where they stop.
My smoke has gone out.
For ten minutes, there’s nothing but the whine of the needle puncturing her skin. I’ve risked not wearing gloves so I can feel her. I dip and draw, dip and draw more, until the scaly mouth and frowning eyes of the koi are set forever inside her skin. With a new colour, I trace a whisker down into the crease of her bum and as I do; she parts her legs further, so I take the whisker further than it needs to go. As I rest my free hand against her, she lifts just enough for me to sense. My jeans tighten at the thought of her enjoying the pain. I look at the path of the new whisker turning red, and I tell her I don’t usually have girls like her visit the Blue Dragon. Then I suddenly feel awkward and stupid and tell her what I meant was pretty girls who should be at the beach showing off in a bikini. Because most nights I’m shaving blokes before I get down to business.
She tenses like she’s thinking. Then asks whether I’ve ever shaved a woman.
My jeans are now uncomfortable from the added memory of the first time I tattooed yellow daisies on a freshly shaved pussy. As I look at the back of her blonde head, I tell her it’s easy to keep it professional when there’s latex between me and a girl’s skin. I’m about to start a line of fish scales when her hand brushes my thigh. She tells me I don’t have gloves on. Before I’ve time to think that I’ve gone too far, she lifts her arse off the table and grabs my leg.
The tattoo gun rattles onto my worktable.
I stand up and as I place my right hand gently on her neck; I ask how the hell she knows a dipshit like Joe. Before she can answer, my finger traces from the end of the new whisker down into her curly hair. One of us sighs as I reach the heat between her legs and press against her.
In a flash, she rolls onto her back and lifts her knees. Her nipples have darkened, and I squeeze one as my other hand cups her mound. She grabs my belt. I can undo it faster and in a single movement I’m pushing my pants down before my swelling gets in the way. My t-shirt comes off just as quickly. Now naked as well, I move closer to her face while with my left-hand parts the hair between her legs.
Her hand wraps around the base of my penis and as she leans forward to take me in her mouth, she whispers—One Percent Joe is my uncle.