Mortal Ink (part 2)
Alisha Adkins, 2012
The brothers froze the upper half of one man and the lower half of the other. The following morning, they set to work on the remaining halves; Michael began with an upper body and Matthew started with a lower.
Initially, drawing and inking went smoothly for the brothers. The tattoos they created on that first day were works of rare beauty, for they had found that applying vibrant ink to dead skin created colors that popped brilliantly against grey flesh. However, by that evening, they had already begun to experience some complications due to the deceased nature of their clients.
"The bleed is different." Michael noted with some frustration.
The ink was developing an increasing large spread area when applied to the dead skin, making precision difficult to achieve.
"Compensate. Adjust for it. Adapt to accommodate the media, brother -- it's a dynamic canvas."
Michael sighed. "That's a nice way to say it's getting more and more rotten."
"Mmmhmm." Matthew agreed, scratching his beard. "But there must be suffering for art."
"Absolutely, brother. But nobody said the suffering had to be the artists'." Michael said with a smile.
In all, it took three days for the pair to complete the work on their respective halves. The works of both siblings were beautifully intricate, belying the siblings' artistic maturation. Each had adorned his half in his own unique style. Matthew had tattooed elaborate, interlaced abstract patterns around the legs of his client body. Michael had drawn detailed mythological figures, depicting gods of death and passage to the afterlife.
"You tattooed coins on his eyelids?" Matthew asked, surveying his brother's work.
Michael nodded, unable to conceal a little smile of pride in his work.
"Nice touch!" he said approvingly.
Michael felt that this body, rife with symbolism, could now comfortably pass out of the world of the living. He was very pleased.
"Expression is paramount." he said.
"It's really a shame that we can't display our masterpieces." Matthew lamented, running his fingers over the designs he had etched into his own client body.
"I do feel that this piece is worthy of framing." Michael concurred wistfully.
Struck with an idea, Matthew bounded into the back room and returned with his camera.
"Artist's pride will be our downfall, of course." he said, as he began to frame a shot.
"Oh, that's perfect! " Michael exclaimed, naturally picking up his brother's train of thought. "As long as they are close ups, nobody has to know the tats are on dead people. We can put the photographs all along that wall." he suggested, gesturing.
Matthew was already beginning to shoot details of his own work. "Such a shame. I did some really elaborate patterns there. " he muttered to himself as he adjusted his shot to exclude some areas that were growing off-color.
After he had taken a few dozen photos, he moved over to his brother.
"Photograph the less decayed bits." Michael instructed. "Zoom out as much as you can there -- lose the rotting details. That bit is too green and slimy." he said, pointing.
Once they were done, they set out the other halves to thaw. They were disappointed by the length of time it took for these portions of the bodies to grow malleable. Time was ticking away, delaying their grand opening. The gore had all been cleaned away, the equipment was arranged, the photos of their work were hung, but the doors had to remain closed while there were partial bodies resting in their client chairs. They were determined to finish their flesh masterpieces. It had become a rite of passage.
When the two remaining halves were mostly thawed, they made their next disheartening discovery. Both halves were littered with patches of freezer burn, rendering large portions of skin too unsightly to use. Once they began to work on the bodies, they also found that the consistency of the flesh had been changed by freezing. The skin no longer adhered well to the muscle it cloaked and was more flimsy and fragile. Even gently applying a needle to it invariably was producing tears.
"Damned rancid skin, tearing as I ink..." Michael grumbled as he worked.
"It is delicate work, that's for sure." Matthew said. "It requires a gentle hand. I must say though, we are going to come away from this experience more skilled than any regular old tattoo artists of the living."
Michael chuckled. "We ought to open a tattoo shop just for the dead... We could call it After Images."
" Post-Mortem Ink." Matthew suggested.
"Ah, pipedreams, brother." Matthew sighed.
"If only this were ancient Egypt, I bet we could actually market the idea." Michael said. "I have always loved tattoos as an art form because the art becomes part of self-concept, a piece of the tableau of a person's life journey. But now I'm beginning to think that preparing men for their final journeys may be the highest form of art of all."
"It does indeed take special skill, an artistic vision and a steady, careful hand to send men to their makers adorned with a message."
"Even bloating as they are now -- they may be growing ripe, but they are rife with symbolism." Michael murmured, the eyes of the big man growing wet from emotion.
"And the dead are really ideal clients -- they don't move or whine or complain. " Matthew pointed out.
"Or even bleed."
"Yes. If only there was money in this..."
Then the brothers fell into silence.
They worked carefully upon their masterpieces until they were complete, then photographed for display the areas that looked least necrotic and disposed of the bodies. After spending the next couple of days on efforts to freshen the air in the shop, they opened their doors.
But it was as if inking the dead had tainted their dreams. Matthew and Michael were finally creating their art for a living and working for themselves, but neither brother was able to find joy in achieving his former dream. Each day, they inked the images their clients requested, secretly dissatisfied forevermore with the confines of living flesh.