'Tales' by Daniel Bird
Melanie always looked miserable, except on the rare occasion when she smiled and then she looked stunning. She wore black and worked at the local record shop. I bought vinyl I didn’t need, just to get near her gothic face, to make her laugh and see it change. It was a reward.
One day I casually picked up a Phil Collins’ LP and made a joke referring to the film American Psycho. She smirked. I leaned on the counter and delivered a short anecdote about my father who once accidentally played a Genesis hit mocking televangelism to his mother-in-law on a drive to church. Melanie exhaled and her lip started to quiver into a smile. She looked radiant for that glimpse of a moment. I asked her out for coffee the next day. She said, “Sure, whatever,” and I left.
I waited at a café that had worn leather chairs. Melanie moped in and I kissed her cheeks, like the French do; she didn’t recoil. My friends had told me that if she wasn’t very chatty then to just tell some of my many excellent anecdotes. We ordered our drinks and sat in silence as she picked at her nails. I wanted her to smile. There was a dachshund lying in a patch of sunlight so I told her about my dog, Jimbo, that I’d grown up with. “He used to bring the shopping in from the car, yeah, and we’d reward him only to find out that he’d been stashing microwave meals under the - ” I stopped as Melanie looked downcast.
“Sorry, that’s a sweet story, but can we not talk about dogs, please. I had mine put down last month.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, what happened?” I asked, feeling rather awkward.
“I don’t want to talk about it, sorry”.
Our coffees arrived and she added five sugars but didn’t stir. I smiled at the waitress for her. My eyes settled on a tattoo just visible under Melanie’s sleeve. It was a skull with a jaw wrenched open into a manic scream. I began reminiscing about a school trip to an exhibition of sarcophagi where my friend Paul had hidden in a bin. “I’m really sorry, I don’t like Hide and Seek,” she said, “we played it once as kids and when I came out from the bushes there was an ambulance in the driveway. My uncle had thrown himself from the chimney onto the patio because of a bad credit rating”.
I was already beginning to understand why she never smiled. I reached out and touched her hand. “I’m so sorry,” I said genuinely, “what would you prefer to talk about?” She looked up.
“Tell me about what kind of tattoo you’ll get first.”
I absolutely didn’t want a tattoo and had never thought about it.
“Erm, I’m not too sure about that to be honest. I’m scared of needles.”
Melanie looked disappointed then stared into her cup miserably as it meant liquid death.
“My doctor says I might be diabetic.”
I quickly handed her a pen and my napkin.
“Design me my first tattoo,” I said.
“Really?” she blurted, suddenly beaming and making my spine tingle.
I nodded and she quickly set to work. The sausage dog woke and looked at me, licking his little nose as if he’d dreamed about eating something tasty. Perhaps I could get a tattoo of Jimbo. I had a photo of him somewhere still. I glanced across and saw Melanie scribbling away. My napkin now emblazoned with an enormous eagle dripping with broken hearts and syringes. “For your back!” she said and that gorgeous smile stayed all day.
Copyright. Daniel Bird.
Daniel Bird was born in the UK and is a short-story writer living in Hong Kong. He works in education. You can find him at www.notarealbird.com.