Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage - Samantha Tonge


One year ago

For every ten thousand clovers with three leaves there is just one with four

Like most Monday mornings, my working week started with a client stripping off. Bill laid his t-shirt on a nearby chair. He’d done a good job of shaving the hair off his chest and I’d already prepared the carbon stencil and tore off a square of kitchen roll to clean the area with Dettol. Wearing latex gloves, I pressed firmly as I applied the design and waited a few moments. Slowly I peeled off the tracing paper to reveal the outline of his new tattoo.

‘Let’s double-check you’re happy with the exact position.’ He stood up from the bench and I guided him over to the wall mirror as we both studied the shape and size of my drawing. It nudged comfortably against the inked guitar that already went across his right pec.

‘It’s exactly where my Sheila’s was.’ Bill’s scratchy voice teamed up with his yellow fingers and signature tobacco scent.

‘I didn’t know she had a tattoo there.’

‘No… her four leaf clover was silver-plated. Towards the end she never took that necklace off. It was my present to her on our twenty-fifth anniversary because marrying her had made me the luckiest man in the world.’ He swept dyed black strands of hair back across the top of his head. ‘She had the hereditary type, you know. It’s just as well we never had kids.’

I reached out and gently squeezed his arm. I always reckoned my job was like being a hairdresser, the way people revealed things they might otherwise keep secret. Someone knocked on the door and Steve’s head poked into view.

‘Someone’s asking for you, Lizzie,’ he said.

‘Cheers, Steve. Can you explain I’ve started? They can either wait or leave a message.’ People were always dropping into the parlour to discuss designs before making an appointment.

Bill lay down and I prepared my machine, fitting the needle into the tube. I secured it and dipped it into the black ink. Normally we’d have joked about me being the only woman he got his kit off for, apart from Sheila. My foot pressed down on the pedal and as the needle moved, he chatted about plans they’d had for the future and how much Sheila had loved running the café opposite that I frequently visited.

Outside the door voices jostled to take centre stage and an impatient one took the lead. I heard my name and a gasp followed.

‘Do you need to go for a minute?’ Bill asked but I shook my head. It was probably a disappointed client who’d turned up unannounced expecting to be fitted in straightaway. Bill and I lapsed back into silence, experience having taught me when a client didn’t want to talk.

‘There. All done,’ I said eventually.

He stood in front of the mirror. ‘Sheila wore her necklace in the coffin. I wished I’d kept it afterwards but at least I’ve got this now.’ His voice wavered.

Like many tattoos, this one’s simplicity represented complex emotions. I taped cling film over my work and Bill sat down again with his takeaway coffee, draining the cold contents. He didn’t need to tell me that it was exactly one year to the day that his wife had died.

Another knock sounded. ‘Are you going to be much longer?’ asked Steve. ‘This woman…’

‘Tell her I’ll be there in a minute.’

Bill stood up, stretched and threw his cup into the bin. ‘You get off, Lizzie. I know the routine by now. I’ll buy a sachet of the aftercare cream when I pay and take the cling film off after a couple of hours, then it’s a matter of washing and creaming around four times a day for two weeks – right?’ His arms wrestled the inside of the black t-shirt.

‘I’ve got you well trained.’

His head appeared out of his top and revealed a smile on his face. I walked around the bench and gave him a sideways hug before opening the door.

The treatment rooms of Kismet Tattoos were white and minimalist – the reception area anything but. As you came in, on the right, there were three black wicker chairs with mustard cushions, circling a low glass table bearing portfolios of our work. The blood red walls in that corner boasted framed copies of our most popular designs, from those inspired by the natural or fantasy world, to meaningful quotes in English, Latin or Aramaic. Music played in the background – my mentor, Katya’s, choice today which meant hip-hop. Three treatment rooms