Flash fiction / Writing

Art restoration

Image: Annie Spratt

Divorce is ugly. They tell you that, when they warn you off marriage.

They don’t tell you how funny divorce can be. How ridiculously petty your ex-love-muffin becomes in the face of rejection.

He claimed ‘expenses’ on the gifts he had got me while we were married. Not only were half the gifts on his list terrible and cheap (novelty cushion covers with his face on them and naked lady fridge magnets from his holidays with the lads) but the other half, which took up most of the expense bill, were all items he kept… like the 50 inch television and PlayStation (which, oddly enough, he spent the rest of my 30th birthday playing on).

But this time really got me. Derrin’s lawyer came back with ‘Art restoration fees’. Derrin was asking for me to pay for the ‘restoration’ of the three back tattoos I gave him during our time together.

Funny thing is, he came to my new tattoo parlor to get it done.

I was away for his consultation, so it was only when I saw him walk in ready to be inked, and I ducked into the back, that I realised what an opportunity I had.

Image: Clem Onojeghuo

Even though Derrin loves tattoos, and has several regrettable choices, like a crack pipe above his crack (I kid you not) and eyes on the back of his head (he’s grown his hair out now), he never liked my fine-line blackwork style. He refused my offers to tattoo him for years until one of my designs went viral. Suddenly his friends were asking if I could ink them and he was sheepishly buying me presents (more PlayStation games I would never play) and asking for free tattoos. Trouble was… colour.

He wanted a tiger. He wanted it free, and ‘in my style’ but with colour. I refused, and he realised he couldn’t get his shoulder blade tiger for free unless I did it my way, so he conceded. Then he asked for… his car. A green Mazda MX-5 roadster which he drove like a drunk Schumacher and treated like a palace on wheels. He wanted it red. I refused, but did use my artistic license to pimp her up with a streamlined bonnet and sleek racer lines. Just above the crack pipe.

Then he asked for Megan Fox. As Jessica Rabbit. With the orange hair, red dress and purple gloves ‘or it just wouldn’t make sense’. Again, he only got my work, my way. So, no colour for Megan Rabbit.

I overheard my colleague Suan-Li talking to him about the colours he wanted for the restoration work. He also wanted to change the style of all three into manga. To match the lurid coloured manga illustrations on his sleeves.

“You get it, right? ‘Cos you’re Chinese, right? You like my Chinese tattoos?”

Suan-Li came into the back then, to hide her laughter. She told me, with tears in her eyes, her idiot client had the words ‘tortoise egg’ and ‘male pubic hair’ in Mandarin on his wrists. I started making her a coffee, and when she went back out to Derrin I had an idea.

I really wanted to do the ‘art restoration’. Not just because he’d tried to get me to pay for it, or because he stole everything from my moisturiser to my toe clippers when I kicked him out, or using my card to pay for a gift for his mistress (you guessed it, a PlayStation)… But for using me for free, beautiful tattoos when he obviously hated my style.

I crushed up some caffeine tablets into the coffee machine for Suan-Li’s coffee. I’m not proud of it. But it worked. She came into the back ten minutes later saying her hands were shaking too much to do the tattoos, but the customer was adamant he wanted it finished today.

“Is he lying down?” I asked. She nodded. “I’ll do it. Just let’s not say anything.”

“What? No!” We broke into a whispered argument where I tried to explain to her that this was my ex, who had used me for free tattoos, then cheated, stole and lied to me. Before she could stop me, I went out and picked up the tattoo gun. Derrin was lying face down. As the gun touched him, he squealed.

I started with the tiger. He wanted colour? He got colour. His intricately illustrated tigress became a Disney caricature with neon frills radiating from her feline face.

Then… his car. His darling sports car. I modified her sleek lines and gave her a rusty makeover reminiscent of Mater from the ‘Cars’ movie (eyes, mouth, and wonky teeth included), then coloured her green, true to the car but not his Ferrari dream.

Suan-Li finally interjected when her hands returned to normal. She pulled me out and demanded to finish the job. When he felt her start on Megan Rabbit, he asked whether she could give Megan a boob job.

“So her tits look like yours, darlin’.”

I was watching through a crack in the door. I saw her raise an eyebrow, and her resolve shifted. He squeaked when the needle touched his skin.

When she finally stepped away, Megan Rabbit had become… Jafar. The plunging neckline, the cheekbones, the eyebrows… it was artfully done. But he was really going to love the goatee, shoulder pads and turban.

Finally, he stood up and Suan-Li held a mirror for him so he could see his back in the tattoo mirror. She was smirking, and just as I saw realisation dawn on his face, I stepped into the light behind him.

“You!” He gasped.

I shrugged. “That’s what you get, for asking me to pay for it.”

He struggled for a comeback. Finally, he tapped his chest, where a new tattoo below his collarbone spelled the word JENNY in bold, block letters in the mirror.

He turned to face me. “You’re just jealous,” he sneered.

I looked back at his chest.


A first love is a short story written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2020, with the writing prompts: Comedy / A tattoo parlor / A coffee maker. I’ve never written comedy before and didn’t take to it easily (as you might be able to tell!).

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