Property of Mitch
by Frederick Barrows
“A tattoo, Ms. Wilks, is essentially a scar filled with ink.” The man presented a sympathetic smile.
“Once the ink is removed, the scar remains.”
There was a poster on the wall, before-and-after shots of a woman with a glittery gold dragon covering her right shoulder that had been successfully erased.
“Traditional removal methods are quite invasive. Excision uses a scalpel to slice away the mark. Cryosurgery freezes the targeted area. Dermabrasion sands away both the epidermis and dermis layers.
“A laser solution, on the other hand, is considerably less painful. Though not entirely pain free, of course. One of our Certified Laser Specialists will walk you through the entire process and I can all but guarantee the results will be … nothing short of miraculous.”
“Like it never happened?”
“To the best of our ability.”
“Now, when would you like to schedule a preliminary examination?”
Margie just had to see it. After ordering, we entered the restaurant’s bathroom—waited an excruciatingly long half-minute for someone to leave—and I showed her.
“Suzie. Oh, my God!”
Later, picking at her Cobb Salad, she assaulted with a battery of questions. “How can this creep not be in jail?”
“It’s only been a few days.”
“I mean, the dating service, they must have records, an address, full name, something?”
“Nothing’s checked out, so far.”
“He drugged you?”
“Oh, my God.”
She disinterestedly stabbed at her watercress and romaine, transfixed by the bright red scarf. In hindsight, I really should have chosen a less dramatic color.
“Can it be undone?”
“I think so.”
“Well, I know a plastic surgeon. I mean, this is way beyond your basic lift or tummy tuck, but … God, you poor, poor thing.”
“Don’t worry, Suze. You’ve got plenty of sick time…
“Well, they didn’t reveal your name, so no one knows anything definite, but, yes, people have talked, just stupid gossip, and…
“I hear you. Right. No, you’re absolutely correct. She even went into Mr. Moore’s office and mentioned something about having a backup presentation ready to go if you weren’t able to…
“Yes, absolutely. I know. The lowest. Honestly, though, what did you expect? Apparently, she was just as devious during her time at…
“Hey, listen to me. She’s not you. Mr. Moore values you. Not that anyone’s irreplaceable but...
“So, when do you have the procedure?
“Well, I … no. Honestly, it’s going to be fine. If you can return in a month…
“Shoot. I’ve got an incoming call, so…
“Take care of yourself, dear.
“Uh-huh. Okay. Bye now.”
The reclining table was unnaturally cold. Biggest concern: the antiseptic cream wearing off mid-procedure. The woman controlling the laser cheerfully noted that black absorbed all wavelengths and, thus, was the easiest color to remove.
Mitch apparently didn’t know that or he would have undoubtedly used a more challenging dye. Green or blue would have been much harder to eradicate. Shame he didn’t carve his last name, practically beg to be caught.
Though the process didn’t take long, it nonetheless felt like a million hot pinpricks dancing across my flesh.
“Now, I’m going to apply a dressing. It’s important to keep it clean. You can take a shower but do not scrub around the treated area.”
How many others had he marked?
“Two more sessions remaining. We’ll try to leave as little trace as possible. Still, those cuts are pretty deep.”
Jerry slowly stirred his coffee and gazed out the high-rise’s floor-to-ceiling window. “My ex-wife used to park down there, next to the bank. She’d be with her current boyfriend and the two would make out. I always wondered if the poor sap knew he was being used in such a shamelessly immature fashion. Total high school move. She stopped doing it, eventually. Took up yoga. Found her center.”
“She moved on.”
“We all move on, Susan. Humans have an uncanny ability to overcome adversity of all stripes and…”
“Survive. Thriving takes actual work.”
He turned from the window and placed his personalized sandstone cup down. His office was expansive and stylish, a hundred-and-fifty-an-hour snazzy. Carrie recommended him. Of course, she’d slept with the man. Was she endorsing his physical or mental prowess? Knowing her, it was probably both.
“You live alone?”
“Moved not too long after the incident?”
“And, despite physically distancing yourself from where the assault occurred, how many times have you changed the locks?”
“Read the police blotter more than you did before the attack?”
“Think about getting a roommate?”
“I like my space.”
“Not even a dog?”
“Ever feel like a statistic?”
“Any sexual feelings for your assailant?”
“What? No, I…”
He approached the chaise lounge, hands thrust deep in the pockets of his impeccably tailored, Italian-made trousers.
“I mean, it was a fun date until…”
“Guys like that typically exhibit far worse behavior. Rape, homicide. Please appreciate that fact.”
“I know I’m lucky.”
“You most definitely are. I mean, cosmetically, who’s to say you were ever a victim?”
“Cosmetically, yes … I’m practically good as new.”
Bill’s in the kitchenette, trying to recreate a particularly potent highball a bartender in Provo once made for him. I’m in the bathroom, taking rapid shallow breaths. Bill is smart, considerate, and so incredibly patient.
A modern saint.
And here I am, helpless before the vanity, mesmerized by the ghostly reflection of those five crude letters Mitch carved into my forehead.
Frederick Barrows has published three novels and a collection of stories. He currently resides in New Orleans. His most recent story to find a home was published by Causeway Lit on Groundhog Day.