Nadia Born

The first skin I tattooed was orange peel. Supposedly the texture is similar to humans. I bought a kilo of oranges to practice on before you agreed. You came down for the weekend, watched as I tested the weight of the needle in the nook of my hand. When I cut into the first orange, there was no thread of blood – just juice. I inked uniform lines around it, longitudes and latitudes that crisscrossed the fruit until it was quartered like a globe. Some of the oranges turned black, the ink seeping too deep, souring them.
Ick, you said, rubbing your arm as though I would rot your insides too. Finally, when the last tattooed orange was safe to peel back and pop into my mouth, you rolled up your sleeve. Ready, my guinea pig? I asked and you nodded. You wanted to cover up the scar on your upper arm, where your ex had pinned it against the burner last December. With a rose? A dragon? A mandala? You decided on a clock. I sized the stencil to your scar, then cleaned your skin with baby wipes and shaved away your arm hair. I plugged in the tattoo machine and began, the buzz of the needle making me jittery, reminding me of when my lice-infested hair was sheared off as a boy. Hush, I told myself, the needle shuddering across your skin, my glove oozing dark purple from wiping away the stencil. I focused on the lines, which felt like signing some sort of contract over your skin. Even though we had grown apart in recent years, terrible years – you and your ex, me and my depression – we were still brother and sister. I took no breaks, worried that I would panic at the sight of the half-finished clock. Hours later, sweat darkening my hair to the roots, I let up the foot pedal and looked: your skin now showed the face of a clock. I could tell you liked it, your chin craning over your left side, complaining that you wanted a Cuba libre for the pain. I took a picture on my phone and swathed your upper arm in plastic wrap. Later, after you caught the midnight Megabus and I was alone again, I tapped through the pictures of your tattoo. They made me feel a little more tethered to this world, as if back-up copies of my existence, proof that I was here. I clutched the phone, my fingertips still reeking of oranges.