“Shitty Tattoos” by Charlotte Covey

This is a story about boys, which means it’s a story about Zachary.


Sebastian was the lead singer of a band, which thrilled me, as I never grew out of being a sixteen year old girl. He had a Deathly Hallows symbol on one forearm, and the Zelda triforce on the other. His first tattoo was an All Time Low skull, and he had The Used’s album art just below his shoulder. He never blinked his eyes. They were light brown, the kind that looks like honey in natural light. He would climb on top of me and stare, and I would close my own in order to pretend that his were, too. Once, we lay in bed for hours, and when the stare was too much, I would look at his arms (an emo museum of sorts), and I would trace the shitty tattoos encasing him from wrist to shoulder. When I left him, I didn’t tell him about his stare, or how I couldn’t help but judge his choice of ink. I didn’t tell him that it bothered me how much he liked me, or how I pictured blue-gray eyes and a scarred knuckle when I looked at him; I just left.


Jose had an Angry Bird right below his appendix scar. It looked like one of those temporary tattoos, small and sloppily placed. He got it when all his military buddies decided they’d get shitty Angry Bird tattoos together. Just a little inked bird, right on the side of his stomach. I know he didn’t want it, but he’d never been good at standing up for himself. Later, after I started dating Zachary instead of him, he got a shitty chest piece, one with an angel in the middle and a clock that was unfinished at the top, since he wasn’t allowed to show any ink in his uniform. I haven’t seen him since he left the Marines, but I imagine the clock still open, the twelve at the top slightly cut off. Sometimes, when he calls me in the middle of the night, even five years later, I wonder if I’m the angel, ugly in black and white lines and curves, permanently etched across his chest, as frozen in time as the hands on the left-open clock. Sometimes, less frequently, I realize how presumptuous this is. Jose’s never forgiven me, but he hasn’t forgotten me, either.


Jared had so many, all shitty. We’d see each other once or twice a month, and each time, I’d swear he had at least one more than before. The sugar skull with Elvis hair was his newest one, but the most memorable to me was the Raichu with the leg sticking out at an odd angle. I would have been in middle school when he got his Jack Skellington tattoo, and I can imagine how much thirteen-year-old me would have liked it. I was always calling him pretentious, since he only listened to “deep” bands and read The Virgin Suicides for fun, but he was always quick to point out that I was, too. It was hard to argue, since I’d borrow his copy of the book and read it while he traced the matching Brand New tattoos sitting jauntily on either side of my left ankle. On one thumb, he had a tooth and on the other, a nail. I’d watch him slide his hands over my skin and puzzle at the reason for the ink just below his thumbs, wondering what they meant, if they even meant anything at all. But I never asked about them. I’d kiss him and hold those hands in my own, and watch them slip inside me, but never ask him what they meant. It felt like I was learning him through each shitty tattoo, each line inking his story to me, more so than talking to him ever did.


I met Thomas at a show, both of us drunk and slurring. He was in the band, and he held my hand because I asked him to. I traced the huge bass clef on his forearm and pretended to like it. Later, he’d trace the crescent on my neck, the lotus on my thigh. I’d kiss his huge, unabashed Type 1 Diabetes tattoo, colorful and ornate across his wrist, and I would imagine a tattoo on my own and shiver. How nervous it made me, that he could show the world his disease so easily, with such pride, something I couldn’t imagine or understand. How unfairly jealous I was that he could push insulin into his body and immediately avoid catastrophe, while I struggled through therapy before giving up entirely. I stayed with him month after month, an endless back and forth of insults and just this once, only to fall right back in, looking into eyes that were almost the right shade of blue.


I had a crush on Martin, the kind giggly girls in sitcoms have. He had dark hair, tight jeans, and the Nintendo logo on his arm. He had a Charmander inked on the other, and later, when I met Jared, I briefly panicked, thinking I might have a thing for men with shitty Pokémon tattoos. Like with Jared, Martin and I never said very much about anything that mattered. He pierced my nose and kissed me in his red and black bedroom, and I’d chatter about anything just to fill the quiet of the next morning, touching the sugar skull on his shin whenever I’d run out of things to say. He was twenty-five, but his black sheets and red curtains reminded me of older days, of Zachary straightening his hair in my parents’ bathroom, Bullet For My Valentine shirt one size too big. Martin’s brown irises never quite looked directly into my eyes, but I guess it was only fair.


Zachary didn’t have tattoos. This was often an argument, as I had a few, and I was always begging him not to get any. My defense, as always, was that he wouldn’t pick out the right one. Guys are known for shitty tattoos, I’d say, and he would roll his eyes, before telling me (unironically) that he wanted an anchor or some shitty Morrissey quote circa 1984. I would cringe, and soon it would become a battle of which was worse, an overused Beatles quote on his clavicle or the overused Harry Potter quote on my left wrist. We were together five years, and he never got one, even though sometimes he went as far as making an appointment. He would sit with guitar in hand, and I would watch him and imagine an anchor on his shoulder, a quote across his chest, a ring on my left finger. He’d play me a melody until I memorized every note, just as I did every word he ever told me. With him, I never stopped talking. I’d watch his hand, the one with the tooth-shaped scar, and I would think about how it would never really fade, just as the ones on my wrists cannot be completely hidden by ink. I’d watch him and think about his blue-gray eyes and unmarked body, the blank canvas of flesh. He didn’t need tattoos for me to know him.

Charlotte Covey is from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Currently, she is an MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She has poetry published or forthcoming in journals such as The Normal School, Salamander Review, CALYX Journal, the minnesota review, and Sonora Review, among others. In 2015, she was nominated for an AWP Intro Journal Award. She is co-editor-in-chief of Milk Journal and an assistant editor for Natural Bridge.