Wash – David Greaves [Fiction]

first: the sound – “shit.” – then: lines opening behind his eyes like “the hell did you” thread unweaving so the whiteout splits as if doors “slipped I fucking the bone nicked” open in or through light to somewhere past “how the fuck’d you” any visible only instant and “I the whatever that did you not hear that fucking sound” this synonymous apparently with great fathoms of seeping dark “but through to the sodding bone” on through which is

The practice of tattooing has developed in cultures across the planet throughout human history. Yes. The word derives from languages spoken among the Polynesian islands: tatau: to write. Yes. These statements cannot be reconciled. Yes. The practice by which ink is worked under the skin is common to many. Yes. Words accumulate like trace on skin. Yes. Where did he find his skin; where will it be left, with which words invoked. Yes. Yes. No word in any language to be spoken without this: skin. No word ever without power. His trace now to be inflected by the blood from under, muscle tissue, fragments, the puncture and the marrow out. Where does power inhere, if not the deep cells? Then let ink imbue. At the moment of the injury, he becomes physically unable to move, which may be for the best. The shape as intended: a fall down the length of his spine, or in fact a series, or in fact two parallel with bars between, etchings, filigree, carved. The trunk of some great ash. No; lines, and these can be understood as saying. The practice of working ink beneath the skin signifies in many places and times. “The practice” thus defined, skin chosen as the design, to write: yes. A subcutaneous affirmation. A claim. These moments of one’s stretched way anchored in pigment; this will always have been. “The practice” re-claimed, again, again. Power can be understood as rooted, but a better term might be: embedded; inscribed; scarred. It is a misconception that they fade, at least the modern style: what happens, rather, is that the ink, trapped in fibroblasts, the liminal skin, will eventually begin to sink. The image retains the same clarity, the same shape it has had ever since the healing process completed; simply it is further down. As much a forever as one skin can handle, then. Yes. Yes.

first, again: the door creaks as he opens it, a creak that lingers for some time after it finishes moving and that may well have started before it began. In fact he’s pretty certain he heard the creak the moment he saw the house, which really is more of a shack, crooked and slanted on a low ridge slipping down toward the water. The sky beats thick grey and the earth into which the house seems, at best, precariously jammed is all slipping mud, with the occasional stone coursing down. Wooden slats and rusted corrugated iron to keep the weather out. It’s raining, of course, and he’s soaked. The mud sucked at his boots with every step, roughly up to the knee; now, while he’s aware that this is probably his imagination, as he stands in the doorway with the creak still making its way out from the hinges into the warps and knots of the thin wood and the brief webs over and the frayed cord by which the single smeared bulb is hung over the room, pendulous and quivering, he can feel it slithering down his legs, inside the boots, accreting under the soles, swelling. They haven’t yet looked round. They keep their heads down anyway, mostly, and moisture beads down their skin, the extrusion of bones, the hangs, the flaps. Grub-like in their work they knead one another’s flesh before filleting it; what emerges is less blood than grain suspended in fluid, something of the texture of cornflour, not shed or seeping but drawling slowly out. Once their hands are filmed with this substance they rub them together and then press both into the small dish on the table beside them full of powder, oxides, grit. Their clothes hang off them, worn maybe only by habit, likely they’ve forgotten why they began. The designs they push into their skin track and creep and skirl and it is impossible for him to look away from them. And yet it’s impossible, also, for him to focus on them, precisely; whenever he tries his eyes slip upward. In fact they are difficult to look at in many ways: rot-white and bulbous as their skin may be something about it, as well, is faded, as if translucent, or maybe as if obscured by layers of air. Beneath; behind. As they work on it, however, it becomes thicker. Clearer. Their voices are so low he doesn’t hear but feels them in the hollows of his bones. If he were to touch them they would be dense as deep crystal. The smell is bright but thin. Air over damp grass, flat stone washed clean with solvents. Mud is clambering up between the floorboards, now; their feet never lift from it as they step, quite. Neither do his. Outside, the water groans and coils. It’s too early, isn’t it? Surely there should have been a little more time. No, it’s not the door that’s creaking; it’s the house. The rust they use comes from many sources and is largely inert. Look:

Yes, the ink comes from the earth, in that sense. The dye, the pigment, the medium: yes. Then what happened? Where did it go? In its push through the packed red cells, what became of its precise shade, where was the moment at which there was no longer ink but instead. Then did the shape supersede. Usurp. Or was it there all along. Yes – yes; first it was said, but first there was this practice. Or first is entangled, instead, so the stumble and the impact and the fall are at once. First skin, and then the knowledge of skin, and then a claim Of this By. Read: fugitus. The numbers remain although their signification now is unclear, at least in the precise. The lines and shapes remain despite their signification by. The practice outweighs the words “the practice”, extends, through power. To exist, then, in a series of lines. As if grown from the bark. Then when he looks at what’s been imprinted he’ll find channels, but to ask where they lead is wrong, and to ask where they began, as well. First: yes. Elsewhere people gather and mill and yell, some place hands on him, others not, and around them is the linger of some loud noise, and his bones’ blood is rising up through the skin as if determined, or called. It’s brightly-lit, probably; he doesn’t know for certain, because his eyes are closed, but it wouldn’t matter if they weren’t, because he is looking elsewhere. It was only a series of lines, really, but what mattered was that they could be read as saying: yes. As blood rises ink seeps down into the punctured vertebra. It threads among the cells that teem there; a sea.

or first: teem then in the dark past where light can’t, them, deep worms coiling out their lives in fissured earth, invisible, untouchable, immaterial, mephisto. Breathe here where is no breath, eaters at work, small things down past incandescent in far & crushed selving. They feed on small swipes of matter, they seethe and worm, a seep of being under the outer layers of the earth where light is not loved. They are impossible to watch directly. Partly this is because he’s using no illumination of any kind, which makes the cavern roughly absolute dark. Also it’s hard enough simply to keep his lungs working in this crush and this low scalding air. A place against life; then yes was also no, and neither, it was first to say. Or it is simply a place against his life and worms are welcome here, accepted, neutral, inert. They spread. Watch: it’s not possible to watch, but in the dark, they act. Small flakes erode from the rock; to call them splinters would be overstating it, you wouldn’t notice, they are practically the level of dust but the worms claim them; treasure them; clasp in their circle mouths; search out one another’s coils; etch lines. The bacteria on which they feed, which like the worms have, down here, no scent whatsoever, but at surface level would likely stink, leave secretions; these can be gathered into a paste. If the scored cuticle is rubbed in this paste, some transfer is effected, which remains after healing. He can’t see, and won’t see what becomes of this work as they carry it out, and never how vivid they are, the brilliance of their presence in, through the dark. It’s warm here, at least, though, and it’s hard not to feel as if there is still time: the water through which their tails flicker is thousands of years old.
No. Yes; it is a sea, a great mass, the depth of it. No: look close. Currents are within, are through, pools and lakes at various levels, and more: fine structures, tangles, fronds, many shapes, all ink. All texture and density and sheen. Yes. Beyond marrow, the scrape and pulp of raw bone, the silent white space carved and so total it doesn’t even permit, yet, of pain, this in which he sinks, no, in which he loses definition, no, in which the ink overtakes. But utterly clear. Spiral beside him the height of a storm. Names not in words but tangles of sense are rain behind, or the flow off bowed leaves. Immediately in front of his eyes the shapes of creatures, or shapes that could be creatures, nearly, shifting like flame, or like the inner spaces of a patient displayed through bright fluid on a screen, the outlines picked out through their motion, their almost, constantly not-quite. Lines and sweeps and plains. Actually, it’s not silent. It roars, rather, a long cacophony total as the great wash. No: the roar is the ink, it pours and it seeps and it dyes, it is. Yes. Eventually it will notice him; this scrap caught in its bounds, this brevity, and in being seen, then, he will be formed. A word spoken. Not a word. Yes. It’s not possible, realistically, for a tattoo needle to puncture bone; certainly not with a jerk of the hand reflexed out of the artist hearing some noise outside that first shook and then later, days after, remembering it, disquieted her so fully she never quite felt, wherever she was, alone. The only real way the bone could have been cracked is on purpose. Only not necessarily her purpose. If the ink noticed him then. If it chose then to reach. Yes. It’s not that she’ll feel uncomfortable, exactly. And certainly not as if there’s actually someone else in the house, the parlour, wherever. Just not alone, and as such a little on the way one is in any presence: witnessed, regarded. When she drops her eyes, when she closes them, the deep that comes over, the sound in there of things sunken in time but muttering still, of small unrecognisable life in the dark, the cacophony of great tinted fathoms, a word: but he won’t say it; he won’t be able. Nor to move. Lying flat on the table, his back split with ink, mingled, prone. Instead, what is the picture, after all, what is its shape? Yes. Look at the small jars in which the pigment is kept. As they worry over, as they place hands. How the day’s light, which at this time of year is sure, soon enough, to change, picks lines out of the quivering surfaces inside the glass. Invokes them. What is the shape, again? Upon looking at her skin she will begin to see, now, something else, something vast. How is it said, again, the shape?

By David Greaves 

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