Bewildering Stories

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by Steven Utley

I have wanted for the longest time to get a tattoo, but held off till now because I couldn’t decide what I cared to display on my epidermis, even to my most intimate associates, for the rest of my life. I am not the sort who rushes into things, even foolish things. I recall the numerous occasions afforded me, as a frequenter of the hike-and-bike trail, to admire many a young person’s elaborate and extensive tattoos, and to wonder what they would look like along about that person’s 57th birthday.

With my own 57th birthday glimmering in the middle distance, however, a tattoo struck me as less of a long-term investment and possibly the very thing I needed, next to a big book-and-movie deal, to enhance my image as the “figure of edgy salience” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction makes me out to be.

Not for me, though, the name of a sweetheart, for I have (I confess) been around the block a few times, and dallied at a few of the houses, too, and been thrown out of some of them. If one has a history, better that it should remain veiled in mystery.

A bellicose bald eagle clutching thunderbolts wasn’t my style, either -- I prefer a thoughtful, clear-eyed, even-tempered sort of patriotism to nationalistic rodomontade; an anchor or a hula girl wouldn’t do, because I never joined the Navy or the Merchant Marine and never went to sea except as supercargo; and neither a skull and crossbones, nor a dagger piercing a bleeding heart, nor the words LOVE and HATE inscribed across the knuckles, were quite me, because I have as yet never served time in a maximum-security prison.

Once I’d ruled those out, my only thought was of she who brought me into the world. Show me a man imprinted with a tasteful tribute to Mater, and I’ll take my hat off to him as one dutiful and loving son to another, for I well understand the esteem in which men even less sentimental than I may hold their own mothers.

But my mother does not need or want such a tribute and probably would not really approve of it if I were to spring it on her as a birthday surprise. If I simply must have a tattoo, she would tell me (even as she hoped that I must not), I should get one solely for my own pleasure, and with my own money, and who am I to do other than what my sainted gray-haired mum would tell me to do?

I thought I’d stumped myself with that, but then, in a flash of inspiration, I settled on the one tattoo with which I can pay sly homage to my mother without publicly humiliating her, while at the same time speaking volumes to the effect that I am of a literary bent and a lover of wordplay. And so, first chance I get, I’m heading downtown to get myself etched with a heart enclosing that single exquisite word, MAUGHAM.

Copyright © 2004 by Steven Utley

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