The bartender was the catalyst. Of course, he was tattooed. Aren’t they all? Our waitresses, waiters, bartenders, don’t they all sport permanent body art?
This bartender’s right arm was branded with a single word spreading down its length. Surrounding it in random patterns were cross hatches, as if he were keeping score; sets of four vertical parallel lines,
each set with one diagonal line crossing over it.
This Saturday night was frantically busy. He never lingered near us long enough for me to make out the word. Nor, as much as I wanted to, could I interrupt his momentum to ask him what he was counting on his body.
So I focused on Ben and launched into a tale.
“Alan, my ex, spent his 45th birthday at a conference in New Orleans. I picked him up at the airport late the next night. Within 20 minutes of getting home, his bags were unpacked and he was in bed.”
I watched Ben’s expression shift as I spoke this last phrase. I knew what he was thinking. “She’s surprised me with what she’s said and done already. Where’s this heading?”
“The night was warm, so he was on top of the sheets, lying on his stomach. He always slept on the outside of the bed, so I had to climb over him to get to my side, next to the wall.
When I was balanced directly over his body, I glanced down. There, staring up at me from the highest, roundest part of his right buttock, was a hideous, distorted, demonic skeleton head topped with two thick, twisted horns.
I jumped out of bed.
I thought, ‘If I ever wondered what would make me leave this man, now I know.’
Alan laughed and said, ‘Don’t like my birthday present to myself, do you? ‘
‘I can’t sleep with that,’ I said.
‘You know I’ve always wanted a tattoo.’
I didn’t say a thing.
‘It’s temporary, Georgia. It’ll be gone in five days.’”
Ben turned away from me, back toward the bar, sipped silently on his beer.
Puzzled by his reaction, I launched into another topic to fill the awkward silence. Five minutes later he turned his head to me. This is where the conversation veered into unexpected territory.
He said, “Back to that tattoo story. Alan must have been naked, right?”
“Did he always sleep like that?”
He swiveled his stool to face me.
“Does that mean that you sleep in the nude?”
His eyes widened. I swear his pupils dilated. He took a deep breath.
“That’s an interesting image,” he said.
“You. Sleeping. In the nude. That’s a new one. Neither of my wives did. I’ve never been with a woman who sleeps in the nude.”
Let’s leave Ben perched on his bar stool with who knows what images dancing in his head. Visions of the brazen vixen divorcee, I suppose. I want to ask you a question: Am I alone in this nude nocturnal habit of mine? (refer to Speaking of Sleep).