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Fall '23


I clean the surface with rubbing alcohol. Shave away hairs—even the microscopic fuzz. You need a clean canvas for tattooing. So I wait a minute for it to dry and then apply the transfer. 


A transfer is basically a temporary tattoo. Most often from your own drawing, but it helps to have an outline because it’s different once you're in skin. When the blood and ink spill out, clouding over everything you've made. Blurring the lines.


I’ve tattooed my own skin. I’ve stretched, jabbed myself with needles. First I did stick-and-poke, then machine years later. In the industry, you don’t call it a tattoo gun. You call it a machine.


My tattoos are mostly cartoon characters. The biggest one I’ve done to date: the tramp stamp I got at 18. Cheshire cat. 


But on the left arm, it runs a bit differently. I’ve got scars crisscrossed with the outline of Ohio sandwiched between ACAB and the one-up mushroom from Mario, 8-bit style.


Down my wrist is a stick-and-poke. Let it Be. I made that one attempting to tame my anxiety, though it doesn’t work that way. Mostly, it reminds me of my father. He died when I was just a teen, but growing up we sometimes spent weekends at his house. Every Sunday morning: Breakfast with The Beatles. 


Once the transfer is dry, I apply A&D ointment. Sometimes it's cheaper in the baby aisle. People use it for diaper rashes—but I don’t tell that to the customers. They’re already feeling sketchy about the whole operation, me running this out of a leaky basement and all. 

Truth is, I overcompensate. I clean the fuck out of this little space. I sanitize the bottle before I spray it. That black table? It’s drying—don’t sit down yet. That sanitizing mix is strong enough to knock you lightheaded. It’s okay, the cold will wake you back up. Take off your shirt. This is the cleanest spot in the whole house. This three feet right here—lay down—make yourself at home. Let’s put on some music. It’s best we don’t talk, yeah, sorry, I need to focus, and I’m very ADHD to be doing this in the first place. And yes, I’ve disappointed many who only came here to hit on me. Oh well, cash spends. Sad truth: most men don’t notice women they aren’t attracted to. But you’ll help out in a heartbeat, won’t you? 


I know a guy who once said women have it easier than men since people will help them more readily. And I think to myself: have you ever known a fat woman? An older woman? Or maybe it’s just me? Is that what a father does? An uncle? A grandpa? A brother?


I’ve got my brother on my shoulder. A chip you might say. It’s a water dragon swallowing its own tail. He drew it for me years before I had it done.


Scotty learned tattooing in prison. He could make a machine out of a fish motor and guitar string. He tattooed other people for money for over a year, both of us operating illegally.


So now I have this mark on my skin, a drawing that says forever. I got it because I was thinking about life and death and reincarnation. Because we all knew he would die young. 


But knowing does not make you ready. Machine might sound safer than gun, but it feels the same when it bites: DNA rising to the surface.


But now I’m thinking. Maybe people can still help you even when they aren’t there. Maybe a ghost is real in a person's remembrance. Maybe I’ll feel stronger for having known them. Maybe I’ll feel the courage to handle a machine from which you cannot erase, cannot take back; if you make a mistake, all you can do is work it in. That’s tattooing. 


And I’ve got this outline to follow. A path, a line. So I can think of Scotty working in a prison; if he could do that, then I can do this. I can trace a shape. I can stretch skin tight, work façade into a smooth canvas. I can raise my needle and dip it in whatever I want. With this ink, I can push through, break through, and puncture the surface. 

Kate E. Lore is a queer, neurodivergent she/they born in poverty to a single widowed mother. Youngest of four, second to graduate high school, first bachelor's degree, first MFA in the family. A jack-of-all-trades, they split their time between fiction and nonfiction, screenplays, flash prose, full-length novels, painting, and comics.

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