Healing through story

Month: May 2024

shortfiction24 inking ignites a spark

Brad and Jordan shop for a tattoo to seal their love. The tattoo artist is a speed bump on their road to ink. Are they ready for “permanent?”

Enjoy the story.

Inking Ignites a Spark

Bob Gillen

On the sidewalk outside the tattoo parlor, Brad and Jordan studied the samples in the window.

“I love that you’re doing this for me,” Jordan said, squeezing his arm.

Brad nodded, smiled. “Yeah, pretty cool.”

They stepped into the parlor.

“Hey, dudes,” a heavily inked man in a sleeveless shirt greeted them.

“Hi,” Jordan said. “My boyfriend wants a tattoo.”

“Welcome to my shop.” He gestured to the room. “This is all my work.”

Brad looked around at the samples lining the walls and counters.

“Any thoughts on what design or style you want?”

“He’s thinking of my name…Jordan. Right?” She turned to Brad.

Brad nodded.

“What about color? Black only, black and gray, full color?”

“I guess it depends on what I see,” Brad said.

“Are you guys in high school?”

“Seniors,” Jordan said.

“You have to be eighteen to get inked in this state,” the artist said.

“I turned eighteen a month ago.”

“Okay. We can check ID when we finalize this…Any issues with your folks over getting inked?” the tattoo artist asked Brad.

“I didn’t ask them,” Brad said in a low voice.

The artist nodded, paused, rubbed his tongue across his teeth. “Where do you want the tattoo?”

“My right arm, I guess.”

“Everyone will see it there, okay?” The artist walked them to a display of names and fonts.

Jordan said, “On your bicep. That will work.”

“Will the name run up and down, or across, your bicep?”

Brad frowned.

“Let’s experiment.” The artist reached for a chiseled marker. “I can wipe this off with alcohol when we’re done.”

Brad shoved the sleeve up on his tee.

“The name?”


The artist drew Jordan in simple block letters up and down on Brad’s bicep.

Brad slipped his sleeve back down.

Jordan squinted. “Oh.”

“What?” Brad asked.

The artist held up a mirror for Brad to see the image clearly.

What they all saw was dan. The Jor was covered by Brad’s sleeve.

“Everyone will think you’re in love with a Dan,” Jordan said.

“All right then, we go with your name across the bicep,” the artist said.

He wiped the image off with a tissue and alcohol. He then drew Jordan’s name across Brad’s bicep, below his sleeve.

“I like that,” Jordan said.

“How much do you charge?” Brad asked.

“My prices run from a bottom of about eighty dollars upwards through the hundreds.”

“I saved one hundred.”

The artist nodded. “That would eliminate color.”

Jordan made a face. “No color?”

Brad shrugged. “That’s all I have.”

The artist cleared his throat, said, “I don’t want to throw shade at your project here. I have to ask, How serious are you guys?”

Jordan piped up. “We’re going to the same college. Serious all the way.”

Brad smiled. Weakly.

“And if your parents are not fully on board, you may want to ink yourself where they can’t see it. At least, not till much later.”

“Yeah?” Brad felt unsure. “Where would they not see it? I’m on the swim team. They come to all my meets.”

“Some people get their ink on their butts,” the artist said with a grin.

“Oh, sure,” Jordan squeaked, waving her arms. The artist took a step backwards. “Ink my name on your ass. I don’t think so.”

Jordan continued, “Brad, be more confident. I’m sure they’ll be okay with this.”

The artist watched Brad’s face, hesitation written all over it.

“Let me toss out another question,” the artist said. He stared directly at Brad. “Four years from now, when you’re both college seniors, will you still be together? If not, you’re stuck with Jordan’s name inked somewhere on your body.”

“He won’t be stuck with my name,” Jordan flared. “We’re never breaking up. This is forever.” She hugged Brad’s arm.

Brad closed his eyes. Breathed in the smell of ink. Forever.

The artist sighed. ”Look, guys, I don’t want to turn away any business. But I am proud of my work. I don’t want to see you trying to hide it, or even remove it, in a few years.”

“Brad, you want this, right? Speak up.” She cozied up to his arm.

“I am worried about my parents’ reaction. I didn’t think of that before now.”

“Even if they’re surprised, they’ll get over it quickly. They like me. A tattoo will be so cool.”

Brad stared at the marking on his bicep.

Sensing Brad’s hesitation, the artist suggested, “Why don’t you guys take a week to think this over. I’ll still be here. And to show you my sincerity, when you come back I’ll offer you a 10 percent discount.”

“We don’t need time to think about this,” Jordan said, her voice squeaking. She raised her eyebrows. “Brad, tell him what you want. Let’s pick out a style.”

“I think maybe we should wait, like he says. We can look over some designs before we come back.”

Jordan grew red in the face. “Brad, you’re letting this guy talk you out of the tattoo. We agreed to do this.” She glared at the artist.

“I’m not saying no, Jordan. Let’s just come back. Maybe I should try out the idea on my parents.”

Jordan gave the artist the finger. “You ruined this, you fuck!” She turned and stormed out the door. Brad froze in place.

The artist reached to wipe Jordan’s name off Brad’s arm. He whispered, “Trust me. You’ll thank me in a couple of years. If not sooner.”


shortfiction24 hiding in the light

Millie Haver loves her new life in the lights of the big city. Darkness lurks over her shoulder.

This story is inspired by Edward Hopper’s 1927 painting Automat. Enjoy!

Hiding in the Light

Bob Gillen

Friday night in the city. Coming up on midnight. On the street a taxi’s blaring horn shatters the stillness. Millie Haver sits alone at her usual corner table in the all-night Automat. Rows of ceiling lights in the cafeteria hold back the outside darkness. From the corner of her eye Millie can see pedestrians passing on the surrounding sidewalk. A few pause to stare in for a moment. Several couples walk past arm in arm. Most pass on by, even as they steal a glance at the lone woman in the cafeteria. 

Millie maintains a deadpan expression on her face. She knows what most of the passersby think. A young woman, dumped by her boyfriend. Or an office worker laid off from her job. A woman at odds with the world. Or rather, a world at odds with this one woman.

Millie smiles to herself. 

Only four months ago she sat crosslegged on the beach near her childhood home as the sun rose over the ocean. The day the sun infused her with courage. The day she decided to leave for the city. Life in her home town was over. She had performed in all the area shows. Tap danced till her feet bled. Taken home a shelf full of trophies and ribbons. And now, time to move on.

Millie is a dancer on the big stage. A Broadway dolly. Performing eight shows a week. Getting paid enough to eke out a life in the city. Tonight she had spent three nickels on an egg salad sandwich. Another nickel on a cup of coffee she would nurse for hours.

Millie loves life in the light. She glories in seeing her face in the light of a makeup mirror. Tapping under the hot stage lights. Looking out night after night into the blackness where her audience sits. She is a creature of light, that special theater light that separates performer from audience.

Tonight had been a good house. Standing ovation at the finale. One of the usual, posh, potbellied men had come backstage with roses. For any one of the dancers who smiled at him. Millie had turned away. He only wanted one thing. And she was not about to give it. Not to him. 

Millie shares a tiny apartment with Maxine, another dancer from the show. Every night after their performance, Maxine headed straight for the apartment and bed. Not Millie. The apartment is dimly lit even on the brightest of days. Going home now would mean stumbling in the dark to avoid waking her roommate. Tripping over shoes and clothes. Rubbing her aching feet. Staring at the ceiling, waiting for dawn. For light.

Earlier today Millie and Maxine had taken a long walk to explore the Hudson River. Strolled out on an abandoned pier. Smelled rotten fish, garbage, sewage. Watched the currents carry the dirty water south to the ocean. It was chilly out on the river, with winter closing in. Glove weather. Maxine came up from Florida. She doesn’t know winter. Not yet.

Millie sees the Hudson as movement. Flow. A journey. Of course the river is filthy. But it’s part of the city. The city where stage lights can make even filth disappear. At least for a moment. 

Sitting in the brightly lit cafeteria is a silent role Millie plays for herself, an attempt to continue her performance. This is her second stage. She can feel the audience behind her. Passing on the sidewalk. Illuminated briefly as they pass the large cafeteria windows.

Every night Millie is the lone woman in the window. The mysterious woman. Sitting at a table facing an empty chair. She does not throw her coat or purse on the empty chair. Leave it bare for people to wonder. Casting a shadow of curiosity to the outside world. Tonight she longs to take off her shoes, rub her sore feet. But that would not suit the image she cultivates. 

Millie hears a shout from the front door. A man, hat and coat askew, staggers as he tries to enter the cafeteria. The cafeteria manager blocks his path.

The man turns and vomits on the sidewalk. He slips to the ground, clinging to a bottle in a brown bag.

The manager waves to an assistant. They lift the drunk and push him away. He screams at the manager as he sways down the sidewalk, grabbing for the support of a light pole.

Millie shudders. Trembles. Looks around for someplace to hide. Coffee sloshes from her cup. She squeezes her eyes shut. 

Images flash in her mind. Her drunken father, raging in the dark, swinging a kitchen knife at her mother. Millie hiding behind a living room chair, hands over her ears. Her mother waiting for her husband’s rage to peter out. Taking the knife away from him. Steering him to bed. Millie falling asleep behind the chair.

She blinks. Looks up at the ceiling lights. Glances around the room. Quiet again. She hears nickels dropping in a slot. A small door clicking open to reveal a midnight snack. A few diners eating pie and sipping coffee.

She takes in a deep breath. Opens her eyes wide.


And with the light, peace. 


© 2024 Bob Gillen

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