Artichoke Tattoo
by Katarina Hybenova

The wooden taste of cheap whiskey, aluminum kiss with a PBR. They call it the special. As far as I can remember we had at least four specials. You and I are sitting on tall stools in a dive bar somewhere in Williamsburg.

You, tall, skinny, bearded guy with a smile that makes my stomach funny, are using a lot of gesticulation to tell me a crazy story. I like your voice, because it’s surprisingly deep. I rub my cheek, my elbows are touching the steel surface of the bar, the cold of which runs down my spine.  I feel momentarily startled about how relaxed I am. Like I haven’t been in months. You’re telling me I am really pretty, I am telling you, you are cute.

Suddenly, you lift me up from the bar stool and kiss me passionately. I am letting it happen. I’m touching your shirt, exploring the fabric, recognizing your shoulder bone. Like a blind person’s fingertips, mine are running on your spine sending impulses to my imagination. I’m touching your hair. You used too much gel. It moves me. The bartender lives in your building and earlier that night she shared with me a couple of details about your laundry habits. It was a bit inappropriate. And amusing. Right this second I catch a glimpse of her “get a room” look. Gloves, coats, scarves. We’re leaving.

*

My hand is spread on the top of a heavy wooden table. The wooden surface feels so right; I am feeling the life and the rigs of the tree under my palm. Ellen and I are sitting in a cellar pub somewhere in the East Village. The East Village doesn’t belong to me, nor to Ellen. The East Village is a no man’s land. It’s a land without newly developed condos with a view over Hudson, without Coach handbags and girls wearing fuck-me pumps. It’s also a land without garage bands, pretentious hipsters drinking PBRs, tattooed forearms, frantic art shows and the smell of burning weed.

Ellen is looking absent-mindedly right through me, chewing slowly and smiling. I know that smile doesn’t belong to me, it’s only hers. Ellen does it often, spaces out smiling, sometimes looking right at you without realizing it. People get often uneasy when that happens. I used to get uneasy too, but not anymore. I stopped paying attention to this habit and took it as a fact. This is a sweet-corn-baked-with-cedar intermezzo. Ellen is a Sunday child. The only child of her parents, who in love with each other for years now, would often stay up late to slow dance on the rooftops of exclusive hotels.

“I want an artichoke tattoo,” I am telling Ellen causing an end to her daydreaming.

Ellen inhales quickly. The shiny pearls around her neck and the black jacket are spelling out loudly C O N S E R V A T I V E.  Right at this moment, she is completely speechless.

“Why…? Why artichoke?” She comes back to earth and starts the way her mom would: not questioning the seemingly wrong idea her child just came up with, but by a detour shaking up the details only to look at the shattered glass like a winner a couple of minutes later.

“Artichokes are beautiful.” The portion of air I inhale right after this sentence is inhaled in with love and cherish. “I can’t stop thinking about how beautiful were the ones I photographed for that cooking magazine. Just like petals of roses. The most beautiful flowers.”

“But it’s a vegetable. Food. Technically,” she adds with a wrinkle between her eyebrows. It’s a wrinkle of a steak lover, carnivore wearing a Chanel handbag who pays her bills with a golden Visa.

“Exactly. And I am a vegetarian. It will be my life statement.”

“But think of yourself as of a forty year old wealthy woman. What if you decide to eat meat by then?”

“Even if that happens, I will still be able to enjoy a perfectly shaped artichoke cooked in steam with butter and garlic sauce. With my steak. Well done.” I smile.

Ellen firmly closes her lips. “Make sure the tattoo artist uses a clean needle.”

My mom on the other side of the planet wakes up to the annoying sound of an alarm clock to go to work.

*

It’s a Wednesday morning. The pink-flowered wallpaper throws pink intermittent shadow on your naked shoulder.  You’re breathing in a slow regularity allowing me to listen to how the air insensitively brushes your lungs. I am moved by the intimacy you invited me to participate in. “It feels almost as waking up next to Jack,” I think for a second. You open your eyes, swollen eyelids. Last night we drank way too many specials with your artsy friends: a cute girl who just arrived to an art in residency program in New York, the sculptor on a green 3rd Ward bike (you get one for free when you join), a gentle guy with a mustache, who is technically my neighbor, and whom you call your best friend. I was sure he was gay but somewhere between the 9th and 10th special he went to the bathroom and came out handcuffed with a bartender with a lower than a low low-cut.

Your left foot is sticking from the blanket. A little tattooed flag saying “Fun” is supposed to stick out of your sock. You touch my lips with two fingers, playing as if my face was a laptop keyboard, you’re shaping my lips in a sad smiley and right after in a happy smiley.

“Are you still sad?” you’re asking me.

“N-not at all.” I wish my voice didn’t sound so awkward. “I… I am sorry that I cried,” if only my voice was persuasive, if only my voice sounded the way I felt it inside. But instead it sounds like I am just sayin’. Just sayin’ to make you feel better that I cried like a baby last night. You got almost the entire Jack and I story out of me. Or at least the very necessary and raw milestones…  It wasn’t good. I feel like I should say something. Something to make you realize how I feel about you. Something about your smile, about your voice, about your black shirts, how nice you make me feel when I’m with you. That my inside feels like cotton candy when you’re around.  I feel like I should say something I wasn’t able to say to Jack, because I was too scared he’d hurt me in return. I feel like I should tell you something to make you fall in love with me, to make myself your favorite girl, to make you feel like I am the only one, to make you feel proud that you’re holding my hand, not anybody else’s. I want to make you feel something I didn’t manage to make Jack feel. I want to make the two of us happen so bad. I want you to fill my life, I want us to be the perfect match. But instead I am silent. You’re putting on your clothes, you rush into the kitchen, you take a glass that has been drying up at the counter for couple of days now and provide your insides with 3 dcl of Brooklyn tap water. I slide my naked body into a cotton flowery dress that has been too short since I accidentally used heavy dirt program to wash it four months ago. You’re turning the handle of the door of my apartment; you dedicate a hasty kiss to my lips mumbling some words I suspect don’t make too much sense. My chest burns, I want to stop you and tell you I don’t care about Jack anymore. I mean, there is no way you think I still care about Jack, right? Why do I sense that you’re kissing me farewell? You should quit that rush and have breakfast with me instead…like Jack used to. But you’re gone.

*

Bittersweet smell of sweat. It’s my sweat and the sweat of my team fellows. The wooden floor of the little mountain town high school gym, ropes, trampoline leaning on the wall across from where I’m standing. I am sixteen and it’s my turn. I have to do ten laps of a hurdle run. My coach is holding a stopwatch and pressing the button right now. Earlier that week he said I was fat. He said it out loud in front of the entire team. Nobody really cared, it was an established fact that the coach was insane, but yet, I wasn’t able to eat anything but a small bowl of corn flakes drowned in skimmed milk per day ever since. My knees touching and untouching the ground. I jump above the hurdle, my body flies in a flip towards the mat; I stand up again to sprint… First lap, ninth lap. I can’t stop. My team fellows are standing, watching and waiting. They are only a smudge of colors of their faces, shorts and t-shirts. The softest part in the very center of each of my fingertips is vibrating. Suddenly, I reach the point, at which I can’t see my smudged team fellows anymore. Despite my eyes being wide open, I can only see darkness. The darkness is not black, it’s more like…grey. Am I breathing? I can’t tell. I feel the urge to throw up. This feels like I am dying. Dying right at this moment, right now. But this is no death; this is just the Dark Spot. Tenth lap, the coach presses the stopwatch again. I am the fastest on the team.

*

My heart trembles like a little bird in a net, my vision starts fading to grey. The Dark Spot is within the reach of steps now. Running track No. 5 in McCarren Park is never judging me, only wordlessly accepting my confession every day. I cross the finish line, my breath dissolves, my insides are burning, the little bird in my chest just tore the net it was captured in into pieces and is pumping massively; I want to throw up in panic. My legs are still sprinting although my brain sent a command to release the tension 10 meters ago. My brain stops receiving signals of physical pain; or any other pain for that matter. There is nothing on my mind. Powerful nothing. Nirvana nothing. There is no Jack on my mind. I don’t feel any despair or pain anymore. There is quiet, peaceful, grey nothing. The Dark Spot is soothing. In return for the utmost physical pain, I receive a whole 3 seconds of purifying dark nothing on my mind.  My brain stops ever-lasting continuous computation of the equation. No re-processing of why the information following from the “Jack and I formula” resulted into “love” in my brain and into “not love” in Jack’s brain. No ones, no zeros. No questions, no solutions.

My vision brightens up shortly. My lungs desperately scratch in a portion of air. I bend in waist, grimace my face, a cold drop of sweat stinks in my eye. A guy in a blue windstopper jacket scores a goal at the nearby soccer field. A lady behind a window of a pretty loft building drops down the shades. Dogs on a leash are being walked. People on Lorimer Street are rushing to catch the L train headed to Manhattan. It’s a freezing December morning. And Jack is back in my head.

 

Katarina Hybenova is a writer and a photographer based in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She was born in a small mountain town in Slovakia and has lived in Prague, Czech Republic and Leuven, Belgium. She has spent a lot of time traveling the world. She is editor in chief of BushwickDaily.com, an online magazine about the people and art of Bushwick. Her writings and photos can be seen all around the Internet and recently at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn.

Artwork by Margarita Korol.

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