Part 4 of my “12 Short Stories” – Challenge
Based on a prompt by Mia from deadlinesforwriters.com
Nihil permanet, nec atramentum
Paul stared at the letter. He had not expected to win, especially not the main prize. He had only taken part because the riddle had been entertaining and there had been some interesting gadgets among the other prizes.
He quickly googled “painful areas body”. Not that he was going to actually do it. He had often wondered what it would be like but had never made a decision. Apparently, the face and the soles of the feet were out of the question. He laughed. As if that had been an option. Paul was not very sensitive to pain but also not that keen on it. But there were more green areas than he had expected. He saved the diagram to his phone fur future reference, just in case.
He took off his shirt and went to look at himself in the mirror. He was not unhappy with his body considering his age. His short brown hair was peppered with white and there were wrinkles around his eyes. In general, his skin had changed more noticeably lately. There was a lot more give but a lot less elasticity. Paul wondered if that would be a problem or if maybe it was even an asset that his skin had already matured somewhat.
Helen frequently told him how much she loved the way he looked. Like he had enjoyed life in a good way. Like there had been a lot to smile about. In the same way that he loved every single one of her white hairs, reminding him of all the years that they had spent together. She kept saying that from her natural mix of differently coloured hair, one day there would probably only be red and white left, and if he would love her still when her head was pink?
What would Helen think now? She was not exactly a big fan of his sometimes weird ideas, but would probably consider this particular predicament of his extremely funny. Paul could already see the tears of laughter running down her beautiful face. Not helping, but he could see her point. It was funny.
Apart from the placement, there was the question of which design to choose. Not that he was going to really go through with it. Just theoretically. He remembered that this was the main reason he had always put the idea off. What was so relevant and aesthetically pleasing and so much “him” that he would want it inked into his skin?
Paul went back to his phone to google some quotes. Which turned out to make things even more difficult because there were so many good ones. On the other hand, did he really want to read someone else‘s statement on life, the universe and everything every day? Did he want others to have to read it every day? What if he came to find it boring or lacking after a couple of years? Or find out the author was not a person Paul wanted to be associated with? Or if the quote had been falsely attributed? Or misspelt? Again, he could already hear Helen howling with laughter. He would rather pass on the prize than live through that kind of embarrassment. Even if Helen did not giggle about it, what if what sounded intelligent one day would later become contrived? Paul did not care if it was something exclusive to him, but neither did he want to be forever associated with something totally unoriginal.
Talking about original: He went back to the pain diagram. What if the arm, which was coloured in a friendly green, had already been done much too often over time? He looked for some more inspiration online. There was a range of blog posts and websites offering design ideas, in general and also for men in particular. Small drawings or just a couple of words were suggested as being “discreet”, minimalistic pieces as being “fresh and meaningful at the same time”. He was not going to do this whole thing anyway, but if he was, he would not want to end up with something that was nearly invisible, would he? Skulls, crosses and stars were out of the question as well. And why would anyone want an image of a stack of bank notes? The blog claimed it would help to “remind himself of his ambition to attain his goals”. Paul scrolled on through the article.
Further down, the author recommended portraits for „honouring a loved one or a celebrity”. This was where Paul drew the line. Absolutely not. Not even to honour Helen. Paul liked taking risks, but he had his limits. Maybe the lettering idea had its merits after all, less potential to go catastrophically wrong as compared to images. Then again, the more he thought about it, the more options he saw himself having to go through: Simplistic or elaborate in style and font, colourful or just black, something just nerdy and funny, some timeless wisdom, maybe in Latin? What was ink in Latin? Something musical? Well, that concept might be interesting. He made a mental note to list his favourite song lyrics later. Just theoretically, of course.
He suddenly remembered seeing a collection of hilarious fails where what people had ordered had branched off into an unexpected direction somewhere in the process. Just for fun, he looked for such a list of pictures and immediately regretted clicking the link when he saw a drawing of someone‘s mum looking like the zombified version of Elvis Presley. In his opinion, the first mistake was to pick a portrait of one’s mother to begin with. His own mum had always tried to encourage him to keep his feet on the ground of hard facts. He could still hear her saying: “If you decide to do this, you will have to live with it for the rest of your life! Do you want that? Think it through, Paul!”
Back then, lasers had already been a thing, and Paul had known that nothing was as set in stone as his mum had made it sound. On the contrary, these days he would actually appreciate some solidity in his life. The older he got, the more he thought about his own transience and that he would love to leave something behind. Was that a bit pompous of him? Was it even realistic? And what did “something” even mean? For how long? A decade? A century? Why would people even need to know of his existence a thousand years down the line? How would he even be able to check if they did? He had heard people say that this line of thinking only detracted from living in the moment. Which they thought was most important. Were they right? To him, it felt like wanting to make a lasting impression made him appreciate his limited time here on Earth even more.
He had wanted to write a book for a long time. He felt that he had a lot to say, but he had also always kept this idea theoretical, because he was not sure if he really had something original or meaningful to contribute. He had also never advanced beyond the very general stage of wanting to write “something”. There were so many decisions that followed on from there, that every time he opened this mental box, he quickly shut it again. Only for the time being, mind you. One day he would very definitely sit down and start writing without thinking about it too much.
On the other hand, neither paper nor skin were exactly the lasting kinds of materials anyway. Maybe the way to go really was to be remembered. Leaving an impression in people’s minds. Would that make a difference for him? For the world? Looking at it from another perspective, if he kept holding back needlessly just because he was not sure about the details, what would his legacy be then? Maybe he could just try to leave the world a better place without what he did having to be overly meaningful. Without being too serious. Maybe what he really needed to do was to be happy and see how things developed from there?
Today he had been inspired to accepting that all these doubts were not originally his after all. He did not usually believe it was a great idea to align his actions with what others thought was right or proper. However, he realised that a part of him often did just that. Maybe the point was to notice how he was so often suspended between conflicting beliefs. And then accepting them both as true at the same time as well as neither of them. Maybe this win was his sign to investigate where else he held himself back without good reason.
He was jolted out of his musings by the click of the front door. Paul brightened up and shouted, “Helen, you are back! Guess what!”
He ran down the stairs. “I am going to get a tattoo!”