“Relax, Marion,” Dr. Edward Lyon said again, and what I last remember were hot tears sliding down my temples.
“Hey, you okay?,” Nate asked, leaning toward me.
“Yes,” I said.
“Are you sure? I think you went out, there for a second,” he said.
“Oh. No, I don’t think so. I’m fine,” I told him. “Really, I am.”
“Well damn, woman, we haven’t even gotten started yet. Breathe from your gut. Don’t hold your breath. I’ve had grown men pass out right in the fuckin’ chair—’scuse me—not from the pain of the needle but from holding their breath in anticipation. You gotta breathe deep, focus on your air. Like yoga or something.”
I nodded to tell him yes, I understood. I would do that.
“This is the real deal, you know,” he said. “You want out, you better tell me now.”
“No. I’m fine, I’m good. Really.”
“Okay,” he said, and then the machine buzzed on, and he brought it to my chest. I noticed a tattoo on the underside of his forearm, a black rectangle probably six inches by two inches, all colored in. I had a hard time assuring myself that it was intentional and wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before. I took a deep breath, like Nate had instructed, hoping he couldn’t feel my heart punching against the wall of my chest, and prayed he didn’t mess me up, too.
I started on her right tit, tightening the skin with my left hand, lining with my right, and every so often wiping the excess ink and blood away. I could hear her breathing over the hum of the machine. Sounded like she was having a goddamn baby.
“You still with me?,” I asked.
I worked inside out. Outlined a primrose where her nipple would have been, starting with the small center and then the five heart-shaped petals blooming out. I began on the orchid that was a little behind the primrose.
“Is that your daughter?” she asked.
I stopped for a second, looked up at her. She was looking at a picture taped to the wall, by the paper towels. “Yes.”
“What’s her name?”
I started again, working around the petals, trying not to think about Grace. Gracie, I used to call her. In that picture, she’s three. It’s my favorite one I have of her. Even not looking at it, I could tell you she’s wearing the yellow-and-purple jumpsuit thing her mother bought her. She’s looking in the mirror, her long blond curls knotted and wet. She’s holding a hairbrush to the side of her head, her oval face screwed up in concentration. The first time she tried brushing her hair. Too damn cute for her own good.
Sheila had taken the picture three months before she moved out and took Grace with her. She’d met some guy who owned a shitty apartment complex the next town over. They were gonna be real I-love-you-no-I-love-you-more happy.
“You don’t have to pay child support,” she told me. Like, okay, take my fucking kid, as long as I don’t have to give you any money for her. Like that was ever the problem. “I think we can manage,” she added. A coded “Please erase yourself entirely from our lives, Nate.” Fuck that. I send her $300 a week. Still, all I get is the leftovers. Wednesday nights and every other weekend. The day after Christmas. Easter.