I step outside of the building and I don’t see Martha Jo parked outside. Just as I’m looking around I see a white two door sedan pull up and I see Ruby in the driver seat. I go to the car with the excitement of a child. I hadn’t seen Ruby since the night at the bar.
“It’s very busy at the shop and Martha Jo asked me if I could get you. Sorry about being late.” Ruby said.
I get into the car without saying a word, once in I have to adjust the seat in all its ways. I look over to Ruby and see their feature for the first time. I’ve never seen Ruby without make-up even still it isn’t possible for me to know Ruby’s gender.
The radio is on just for mood Closer by Nine Inch Nails plays.
“I’m moving away Elwin.”
“I thought this would be coming. Tomorrow, and far away am I right?”
“This Saturday, Martha Jo is going to drive me to Guillermo Texas, there is a LGBTQ commune there. I can’t be out in this world safely, the world isn’t ready for me.”
“You’re going to hide from it? You’re going to let them chase you away?”
“No, they aren’t chasing me away. I want to live, I want to go out in public without fear. Even you look at me in a way sometimes.”
“Because I’m trying to find out how you do it. How you’re able to face the world. Ruby, how long have you know I am illiterate?”
“I never thought you were illiterate, maybe not a strong reader but not illiterate. What’s that have to do with anything?”
“We both live in a world against us..-”
“Save it, you have Martha Jo and you’ve been able to navigate life with the trouble you brought on yourself. When you were dealing that came with risk, when you opened the shop that came with risk. Wanting to be myself shouldn’t come with risk, dressing how I want to dress shouldn’t come with risk.”
Ruby pulls in behind the shop. Closer had finished a few minutes ago and radio ads went unheard during our conversation.
“What are you going to be doing down there?” I asked.
“Tattooing.” Ruby says with glee. “There is already a line for me when I get down there. My hand is healing just fine.”
“Get out of the car so I can get a real hug.”
Ruby and I get out of the car in unison and go around to the trunk and I put my arms above Ruby’s shoulders and Ruby puts their arms under my hands resting on my shoulder blades.
“Martha Jo will come back with my contact information.”
We separate and I watch Ruby pull out of the parking lot and merge with traffic before I go into the shop.
“Joseph John Ruckle, the owner of The Crystal Needle franchise will be making a store-tour to promote the safety of the Iron Press. He said that he’ll be getting an Iron Press tattoo in his top four stores, St. Paul, Omaha, Denver, and Chicago.”
“What? From a business stand point what would you do?” Sally asks.
I’m staring at her stereo in every attempt to turn it off she stopped me. I didn’t want to hear anything, I just wanted a quiet ride to work but instead I have to hear bullshit coming out of the radio and Sally.
“Sally, just think about it.”
“We would hold an event ourselves?”
“How? They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue, right?”
“That’s how it works when you are in the same business with someone.”
“We do tattoos, and they do tattoos. What am I missing?”
“They are a corporation, and we are a small business, they are not are competition. They exist in a different market than we do all together. They get their ink in bulk while we order ours when we need it. They bank with a national bank, we bank locally, and they’re fixed priced and we’re flexible.”
“When would we do something?” Sally asked.
“Whenever you feel like it.”
She parks in the back and I unlock the door to the shop. We get the shop ready together, I wipe down the chairs and the rolling trays, and Sally counts the money and turns on the computers and the open sign. Sally sits at the front desk while I seat on a rolling chair just two arms lengths away from her.
“What is this court ordered thing you have to go to?”
“A Literacy class. The judge sentenced me to these classes instead of jail time.”
“You don’t know how to read? Is that why you don’t know how to drive? Or..” It was like watching her put every piece together. Her eyes connecting the dots. “How did you open and run a business without being able to read?”
“A lawyer and Martha Jo.”
“That’s why she does inventory and the paperwork. I thought it was just traditional chauvinist bullshit. You can’t read Elwin?”
“No I can’t.”
“Why did you lie to me?”
“I didn’t lie to you. You just didn’t know I couldn’t read?”
“What else don’t I know about you?”
“Just that I think.”
“How do you do word tattoos?”
“I’ve always had one of you check my trance and the word before I do the work. ”
“Is that why the trances are organized that way?”
“I want to be mad at you but I can’t. I just don’t know how to deal with this kind of information.”
“What are you upset about?”
“I’m more upset at myself. I held myself back with so many useless things and here you are, running a business, doing what you love, and the kicker is you can’t read. I’m worried about working too much and to find out that I’m not working hard enough. It just tears me down.”
“It’s not that I’m working harder than you I just have help around me. Martha Jo is the one who put this place afloat and keeps it afloat, I’m just the good idea. You are way too hard on yourself Sally. There is a time and place for everything. While you are chasing something, something is chasing you. Whatever you what will find you, don’t worry about getting it or being ready for it, just hope you will know to acknowledge it when it arrives.”
A customer walks into the shop.
“Welcome to Permanent, what do you want to talk about?” Sally says.
Sally and I are sitting in my driveway. Work was fine, the day was fine. She keeps staring at me. Just as I go for the handle she speaks.
“You’re like my dad you know. It was always my Mom and me, I never had a boyfriend, never really had a male in my life. I look up to you and it’s not that you’ve gone down a peg because that’s not possible, it’s just that if I consider you to be so important to me why couldn’t I see what was in front of me?”
“I did my best to hide it, don’t feel bad. Sally, there is nothing in the world you can be ready for. You just have to take it all as is. Have a good night and drive safe.”
“I will. Good night Elwin.”
I get to the door of my home and unlock it and walk in. All of the lights are off but the television is on. I creep closer and closer to the couch. I peer over and see the profile, just by the arm tattoos alone I can tell its Fingers and when I get to his neck it is confirmed. He doesn’t look at me when he speaks.
“Elwin, the beer you have is shit.”
“What in the fuck are you doing in my house?”
“Can’t a friend stop by and visit?”
“They do all the time, but you ain’t one. How long you been out?”
“A full thirty days. Outside those walls is a strange life. So much has gone on since I’ve been gone. Have you heard about this Crystal Needle guy? He’s planning on taking away our livelihood. There won’t be jobs for schmoes like us very soon. Speaking of old friends, have you seen Veronica?”
“You were speaking of old friends and who the fuck is Veronica?”
“You were around when she showed up and stayed around. She was always at my arm. Long black hair, blue eyes. You know she ripped open a guy’s nutsack, you have to remember that.”
“Are you alright?”
Finger finally turned to face me and he had no hair on his body, no eyebrows, maybe no eyelashes, face as smooth as porcelain, cracks and all.
“Fifteen years is a long time.” Fingers stands up. “Thanks for the beer and the couch. Is it just me or is television weird now? What happened to television shows? I like watching something with story, who gives a fuck about the lives of people.”
Fingers takes off as if he was a burglar, he mixes into the night, I chase after him and when I get to my backyard the motion light turns on. I don’t see Fingers anywhere. How did he get out of here without triggering the motion light? I run back into my home and check every room. Nothing is out of place. I check every door and every window, I cannot discover how Fingers made it into and out of my home. We don’t keep a spare key laying around, no doggy door, nothing is broken, maybe I left the door unlocked, I know I’m not dreaming, I can’t wonder about it too much.
Martha Jo called me from Guillermo, Texas, Ruby had settled in easily and Martha Jo is on her way home tomorrow, Sally is going to pick her up from the airport, I’m going to take a taxi to my class and when I need to go home from class. Sally me is picking me up for work thought and just when I think she is going to be late and I peer out of my curtain thinking that would summon her to my home, strangely enough it does.
Sally pulls into my driveway and I quickly exit my home I know that all my doors are locked now. I didn’t tell Martha Jo about Fingers and they’re be no point to do so. I won’t tell anybody, I should tell Veronica, I think I have to tell Veronica.
Sally lets the radio do the talking, the station is a college alternative rock station. The music is shit, but I’m just not that much of a music guy. It’s not that I don’t hate its more to the point that a song is one of the first beautiful things that gets old. A song can be one of your most favorite things but something happens and whenever you hear that song you just don’t. That’s the way I feel about Fingers, I just don’t want to see on hear him, and strangely enough I don’t know why.
We pull into the shop and the routine goes on, Sally does all of the counting and reading, while I clean the place down. Everything is spotless, the glass door to get inside is on shine, the countertops are likewise, the floor is sparkly, and the mats don’t have a speck of dirt, the store is picture-perfect, for now. It one of my favorite things about cleaning, that it’s so similar to life. You can set everything up just fine until other people come along, their intentions may not be in your best interest and some may be, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to fuck your shit up.
Just after I get done wiping down our carts Sally comes up to me. Her face is blank.
“Knuckles is at the door.” She said.
I hop up and rush to the door and when I look through the glass door and I see a man in a suit I don’t connect that it is Knuckles. I increase my stare and sure as shit it’s Knuckles. I unlock the door and let him walk in. Once he gets in he tells me to lock the door again. I do and I wait for him to speak, Sally is sitting at the front desk.
“I’m trying to clean up. I’ve been doing coke going on seven years. My dad has had enough and he put me in a program. I’m on leave to talk to you to let you know. He thinks you had something to do with it and he won’t believe me when I tell him I learned it where I grew up, all my friends do it, how else does someone fit in?”
“So why are you here?” I asked.
“I didn’t want you to have a bad opinion of people and especially me. You can understand the types of assholes you work with and for, and from everything you ever told me about yourself and what I know about your life I don’t understand how you can be such a nice guy. I didn’t want my experience with you to mar someone else experience that comes to work for you. My dad didn’t think you deserved this explanation. You are a great person Elwin.”
“I don’t know what to say.” I say.
“When will you be out?” Sally asked.
“That’s up to how I handle the treatment and my dad. He’s the one who put me in there and me escaping to see you put some time on my clock. Rest assured that once I’m out I’ll be calling you all. None of you are abusers, you’re good folk to surround yourself with. Sorry I had to leave that way.”
“I was mad at you but it’s good to know that you are okay. Is there anything you’d like me to tell Martha Jo?”
“Just tell her about this. I know she took Ruby to the commune, I’ve been talking to Ruby every night since the bar. Sally, thanks for everything. I’ll leave out the back.”
Sally blocks his way.
By this time I had snuck up behind him, Sally and I got Knuckles in the middle of a group hug. Once we released him he laughed. He skipped to the door and when the light came through the door the shine caused his outline to disappear.