This disease brings me to my knees
This disease kills me by degrees
(I heard a voice in the back of my head)
Everybody gets what they deserve
But I could be wrong
Cause I could never live
with me before you came
--The Churchills, “Everybody Gets What They Deserve”
When Holder pushes up his sleeve to keep it out of the soy sauce, Linden hawk-eyes the bandage like it’s a rabbit spotted from 300 feet. “Hurt yourself?”
“Nah. S’nothin’,” he says, but the worry creasing her brow is so plain that he surrenders. “Relax, Linden, I didn’t try to Sylvia Plath myself or nothin’,” he says, picking at a corner of the tape.
“Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven,” Linden points out, but then Holder peels back the square gauze pad and Linden draws in a breath, goes silent.
The tat gleams a little under a layer of Bacitracin, still red around the edges and just starting to scab over but legible: the winged heart, FAITH in blocky print. Not exactly how she would have drawn it, but close. Close enough.
“Stephen,” Linden says. His given name in her mouth makes him shiver, her voice small and tender in the way it rarely ever is. Not unlike the voice she’d used to try to call him to her, when they’d found Bullet. When she’d begged him not to look. Holder crumples the gauze and stands up to drop it in the trash, tugs his sleeve back down.
Linden’s winding a paper chopstick wrapper into a tight little scroll, weaving it around her fingers. “She told me,” she says. “Bullet. Why she, uh. Why she wrote that on herself. Faith.” Holder leans against the counter, waiting. “She said she was the only person who had any faith in herself.” Holder absorbs that, rocks his skull back on his neck a little like he’s taken a punch, a quick blow stinging in his sinuses. It takes him a couple minutes, before he sighs and folds himself back onto the flimsy kitchen chair.
Linden raises her eyes to his. “She told me what she’d draw on me, too.” Holder raises his eyebrows, intrigued. “The North Star. Said it was how to find your way home, if you were lost on the ocean. Follow the North Star.” Her mouth curls up at the corners, remembering, before she shrugs and pulls a face, a helpless fuck-if-I-know glance in his direction.
“You got any tats, Linden?” Holder clears his throat, angling for another smile. “Butterfly tramp stamp, right above that bony ass?” She snorts, but a grin flickers back across her face, steadies.
“Nope. No tats.” She pokes at a plastic-wrapped fortune cookie between them, but doesn’t take it. Holder leans across the table towards her, suddenly serious.
“You want one?” he asks.
* * * * *
The tattoo shop’s loud, Cookie Monster-voiced rock thundering from the speakers overhead, cut through with the pulsing buzz of the guns. Holder wanders around, examining the flash on the walls, the autoclave, the vials the artist’s setting up, until Linden stretches out her leg, prods his thigh with the toe of her boot.
“Quit hovering.” She settles back into the tattoo chair. Holder turns another chair around backwards and drapes himself over it, chin resting on folded arms. Out from under a three-inch layer of nappy Nordic sweater, Linden’s arm is milk-pale and slender, her wrist delicate, knobby-boned. Holder pulls his eyeballs back in his head, taps her other hand.
“No.” Her face is calm, bemused. Holder jostles her again.
“Better watch yourself, Sarah, this shit’s addictive. You get one, pretty soon you’re running away to join the sideshow.” When she indulges him with a smirk, Holder tangles his fingers with hers for a minute.
“Next time Jack’s in town, maybe we can bring him here,” he says. “Get him a big ol’ Mike Tyson Maori swirl.” Linden rolls her eyes. “No, wait. A ship,” Holder continues. “Or an eagle.” He frames the breadth of his chest with his hands. “With the Constitution in his talons! Oh, and crying a single tear.”
“Shut up, Holder,” Linden says, but she’s smiling, bright and clear as a spring dawn. When Holder takes her free hand again and squeezes, she squeezes back, then relaces her fingers through his. The tattoo artist wheels her own chair over.
“Ready?” she asks. When they both nod, she presses the pedal.
They’d worked out the design together, imagining what Bullet might have drawn: a multi-pointed star like a compass rose, jewel-faceted, burning light. Linden had surprised him by choosing colors, though: gradated, searing blues, vivid as a gas-jet flame on her white skin. She doesn’t flinch now, as the needle hums against her flesh. The tattoo artist daubs away blood and ink and bends back to her work, the star appearing on Linden’s wrist like it’s always been there, like something emerging from within.