She was a substantial-looking woman.
By that, I mean big. Solid. Not the kind you’d want to cross.
Middle-aged, and dressed in a black leather jacket and low-cut tee that displayed a generous amount of cleavage, she owned the place as soon as she walked in. Her black biker shorts clung to thick, muscular thighs. It was hard not to pay her notice.
I watched her run a stubby hand through short maroon hair, heavy silver rings on each finger disappearing into spiky thickness. After writing her name on the sign-in sheet, she settled her attention on the diminutive Asian girl sitting at the front desk.
“Pedicure,” she said in a gruff voice. “How long?”
“Ten minute,” replied the girl in halting English. “Take seat.”
“Ten minute, ten minute,” aped the woman in cruel singsong. “That’s what you people always say. Probably more like thirty.” Looking around, she saw the one empty chair in the waiting area.
The one next to mine.
She sat down and promptly pulled out her iPhone.
“Hey, Sugar Bear, Mama gettin’ herself pretty for you. I’ll be home in a few hours. Be sweet and have somethin’ tasty waitin’ on the table when I get home…” She paused, and then a bark of lewd laughter escaped. “You be good to Mama and she gonna give you somethin’ tasty, too… You understand me, sweetness?”
While she talked to ‘Sugar Bear,’ I stared at her legs.
They were a panoply of crowded images. From ankle to thigh, the sturdy-looking limbs offered up a smorgasbord of colorful pictures. I couldn’t turn my eyes away, even though I knew it was rude to stare. The images held me.
I heard a light chuckle. “Noticing my tats, huh?”
The iPhone had disappeared and she was looking at me, radiating good humor at my interest. “They’re something else, aren’t they? A story behind each and every one of ‘em.”
“I’ll bet,” I said carefully.
Grinning, she gestured to the image of a silver switchblade, beads of scarlet dripping from its jagged edge. “That one, there – see it? That was a Valentine’s present.”
It seemed a strange Valentine’s gift, but I held my tongue.
“It’s in memory of Sam. He was my first. Goddam man broke my heart. Yeah, he was the first… but not the last. I’m a fool for love. Sometimes I think I should give up on men and do women…”
She shrugged her shoulders and grinned.
“Knives was Sam’s business. One day, he threw one at me. Crazy bastard almost killed me.” Her voice turned mean. “Then it became my business. Goddam man never threw another knife, I don’t mind tellin’ ya.”
I quickly looked up at her, but she was smiling. Her voice became friendly again.
“Look at this.” She turned her leg slightly, and I saw the whiskey bottle with a skull and crossbones on its label. “Got this one to remember my time with Felix.
“Now he was a beauty. Used to tend bar at a place just outside of town… the girls all loved him. Long black hair in a ponytail, sexy brown eyes… the man was hot. He made a specialty cocktail – called it ‘Poison.’ He’d serve you that drink, lookin’ at ya with those bedroom eyes, and he’d whisper, ‘Poison… just like me.’
“Took him a while before he figured out I was poison, too. By then, it was too late.
“At first, me and him had a lotta laughs… ‘Til he started cheatin’. So one night I made him a special cocktail. I called it ‘Poison.’”
I looked around the shop to see if anyone was listening, but there was no one in the waiting area but the two of us – me and my tattooed friend.
Again my eyes gravitated toward her legs. The images beckoned me, begging me to discover their dark secrets: the bloody hatchet; a reaper holding a scythe; the chained box beneath a pond; a smoking pistol; a hangman’s noose; the rose that dripped blood.
“Yep, behind every picture is a story…” she said again.
The left leg featured just one tattoo, more disturbing to me than the others. Encircling the leg from ankle to thigh was the image of a large snake. The serpent’s thick, scaled body appeared to wind itself around her leg until its head rested on her upper thigh. There, its yellow eye with its vertical black slit stared out of a triangular head. A primitive mix of terror and repulsion came over me as I stared into that eye. I watched a single drop of pearly venom shimmer and hang suspended from the tip of an exposed fang.
“Watch this,” said my seatmate, flexing the leg slowly. The snake appeared to undulate, moving higher on her thigh. Sick, I turned away.
She laughed softly. “It’s my newest tat. Savin’ her until needed – what a story she’s gonna tell one day.” Again she laughed.
“My old man keeps a snake, a boa. Long as he’s a good boy, me and him and that boa gonna get along just fine. But if he gets a wondering eye, he’s gonna find out Mama’s gotta snake of her own – and it ain’t no friendly little boa.”
“Pedicure! You go back now,” said the Asian girl, suddenly standing before us, gesturing to my tattooed companion. “You turn now!”
The woman stood up and headed back toward the pedicure station. I stared at her legs as she walked away. That damned snake still seemed to be moving.
The Asian girl looked at me. “You ready? Suzy take you now.”
I cancelled the appointment. “I don’t feel well. I’ll come back another time.”
I stole a quick glance toward the back of the salon.
She was staring at me, grinning.
A chill went through me.
I thought of Sugar Bear as I left the salon.
For his sake, I sure hope he’s got something tasty for Mama when she gets home…