Authors: Angie Smibert
Tags: #General Fiction
NOMURA, WINTER, 14
HAMILTON DETENTION CENTER TFC-42
I was in this room. It’s the basement of our old house. Mom’s treadmill was there. So was Dad’s stinky futon from college that our old dog liked to sleep on. And my programmable Legos were scattered all over the floor. It smelled damp. Mom was running on the treadmill, a murder mystery cranked up on her earbuds. All I could hear were her sneakers beating out the time against the cranky whir of the treadmill belt.
Step. Whir. Step. Whir.
Then there was banging upstairs. Men yelling. Mom kept running in place.
Step. Whir. Step. Whir.
I ran into the next room, expecting to find the stairs. It was a closet. I backed out of it into the garage. I opened the door to the backyard, and I was in the attic. Then the guest room. The kitchen. I ran through rooms I didn’t know we had. All the time I could hear her steps, steady like an old-fashioned clock.
Step. Whir. Step. Whir.
And everything smelled musty. The walls closed in on me, and I ran faster through room after room, calling for Mom and Dad in Japanese. A language I never learned.
Step. Whir. Step. Whir.
The sound grew louder, but I was no closer to getting back to her. Or anywhere familiar.
Then my grandfather ran past me and opened a door. It led into a big, white, empty room. He took me by the hand to the center. Then he bowed and disappeared. It was so quiet there, and there were no other doors or rooms; but I could still hear the sound of my mother running in my head. Running and going nowhere. The sound got louder, and I had no place else to go.
I always woke up at that point. Well, 99 percent of the time. Sometimes I dreamed I was filling up the white room with junk. But most of the time I’d wake up, fix a triple espresso, and then go out to my garden or workshop and tinker with my toys.
I know; my shrink told me I’m filling up that big white room in my soul with my creations, always moving, always making sounds to drown out that
in my head. Duh. She wanted me to forget. Or at least to take the chill pills.
But who am I if I’m not that crazy artist girl?
No, if I take the chill pills, I’ll feel like my brain is swimming in pudding. I won’t see things clearly. I won’t think at the speed of light. Sure, the meds will quiet the hummingbirds; but then my ideas won’t buzz around in my head as if they had tiny wings, too.
A hummingbird would be a great tattoo. Grandfather won’t let me get one until I’m eighteen, though. He said he promised Mom long ago.
Anyway, I decided to work on the tattoo machine I’m modding for Jet, Sasuke-san’s best artist in his downtown shop. She’s into real old-school Japanese tats, like koi fish and big back pieces with lots of color. She always dresses in old, turn-of-last-century-style clothes, but like adapted to today—and with a lot of leather—which might look stupid on some people. It looks hot on her.
So I was modifying this tattoo machine—the gunlike thing that pushes the ink into the skin—to look as if it stepped out of the pages of Jules Verne. I used pieces of copper, distressed wood, and a few gratuitous gears here and there to make it look Victorian. I threw some analog dials and gauges on the power supply to complete the effect.
I’ve done some similar mods for Jet’s friends and mine. I’ve added copper pipe and an antique weather dial to Richie’s bass. And I’ve etched a few mobiles to look like scrimshaw—you know, those designs sailors scratched out on whale bones and teeth hundreds of years ago. I’ve also made a few keyboards look like old metal typewriters, the ones with the round keys. Jet’s friends call the style steampunk, which was this literary-pop art style about thirty or forty years ago. It’s all about making today’s technology look like it would if it had been invented hundreds of years ago. I don’t really see the point, but it’s something to do in the wee hours of the morning when I’m too brain-dead to work on my own stuff.
I like things to be what they’re going to be. Not what they were. Or could have been.
So, I finished the mod and wanted to test it out. It wasn’t any good if Jet couldn’t use it. I slipped an ink cartridge into the machine and tatted on the fleshy part of my left hand, between the thumb and the index finger. It stung as the needle jabbed into my skin. But it wasn’t bad. Actually, I kind of got into it. The pain focused me. I just did a simple circle. Sort of calligraphy style, like I’d done it with a brush and not quite closed it.
The tattoo was red and bleeding when I got done; I cleaned it off and bandaged it. It would heal in a day or so. When I was done admiring my work, I noticed that it was already 8:30. I’d be late for school, if I went. So I decided I’d just go to Grandfather’s shop to see Jet.
It doesn’t open until ten; but she’s always there early, cleaning, setting up her station, doing the books, etc.
“Damn, girl. That’s so glossy,” she said as I set down the machine on her table. She was wearing this leather corset thing and jeans. Like I said, she looked hot.
I dutifully groaned. It was a game we played. She knew I hated that word. She grinned.
“Seriously, Winter,” she said. “That is the coolest mod you’ve done yet. Almost as cool as your sculptures.”
“Sculptures?” a female voice asked from behind the dressing screen in the corner. I hadn’t realized Jet had a customer. A woman emerged with a sheet clutched to her chest. She still had on dress pants and heels. Her hair and makeup were sleek and polished. Very corporate. She looked vaguely familiar, like I’d seen her on a ’cast; but I hardly ever watched except for the news. And the news was mostly mind-numbingly irrelevant, corporate-owned crap.
“She does kinetic sculptures. Very nonglossy,” Jet said as she moved the steampunk machine to a side table.
“Extraordinary,” the woman said as she lay down on her stomach across Jet’s client table. There was the black outline of a tiger across her creamy white back. She was looking at the dials on the power supply of my mod. “Does it work?” she asked.
“Yeah, it does,” I answered, holding out my hand.
Jet took my hand and peeled open the gauze. “You did this?” she asked as she led me by the hand to her after-station. She cleaned off the tattoo with alcohol and rubbed something else into it. The black ink popped against my glistening skin. She studied it appraisingly. “That’s really good. It looks simple; but a perfect circle is really hard to do, especially if you’ve never tattooed before.” She put fresh gauze on my hand. “Girl, you can apprentice under me anytime,” she said with a smile.
“Hey, I thought that was my position,” the woman with the half-drawn tiger on her back said.
Jet smacked her on the rear. “And you better remember that, my love,” she said before she pulled on her gloves.
Jet has a girlfriend. I don’t know why I thought she could like me.
I started backing toward the door.
“Did you use a stencil?” Jet asked.
“Stencil?” It hadn’t even occurred to me to use any kind of stencil or even to draw it freehand first. I just did it. Of course, I’d seen Grandfather and Jet work before. They usually drew up the design and then copied it onto a stencil, which they applied to the client’s skin. Then they inked over the lines.
“Don’t tell me you did that freehand.” Jet looked incredulous.
“Show me how to make a stencil,” I said, a new hummingbird flitting around in my brain.
Stencil. Ink. Paper. That just might work.
JAMES, NORA EMILY, 15
HAMILTON DETENTION CENTER TFC-42
Winter sent a message that she had a surprise for Micah and me after school.
Her surprise was set up on the low table in the pagoda at the center of her garden.
“It’s just the guts so far,” Winter explained. “But it works. Later I’ll fix it so you can feed the original into a slot and it’ll all print out.”
One part of the contraption looked like a scanner or copier. It was a wide, low box with a glass top and a slot below. The other part looked like a big tin can with a crank handle.
Winter pulled on some cheap disposable gloves and laid the comic facedown on the glass. She pressed a button, and a light scanned the image from below; nothing unusual, but instead of paper a shiny sheet of goo oozed out of the slot.
“Gelatin,” Winter said. “It’s a stencil.” The stencil had an impression of the comic. Winter lifted the glass and showed us, Micah mostly, how she’d put an old dot matrix printer, a piece of junk from the 1990s, under the hood to cut the stencil. This kind of printer used real pressure rather than ink or light to make an image. A roll of homemade gelatin-backed paper was also under the hood.
Winter held up the stencil to the light. “If you wanted to,” she told Micah, “you could freehand right on this with a stylus.” Then she put the stencil faceup on the tin can thing, clipping it in place with the tiny metal holders that were screwed into the can. She cranked the handle slowly. The contraption printed out a fresh black-and-white copy of
“The ink’s from Grandfather’s shop. He makes it himself. I had to tweak it a little for print.”
Micah snatched up the copy.
“It’s kind of messy,” I said, straining to look over his shoulder. Some of the lines weren’t that crisp, but it still looked good.
“I probably need to put more drying agent in the ink,” Winter said. “Plus, it’ll get better the more we do it.”
Micah held up the paper to the light. “I bet I can touch up the master with a razor blade.” He squinted at the stencil on the drum. “You know, this would be great for T-shirts or posters.”
“It still seems like way too much trouble,” I said.
“People used this kind of printing for underground magazines and comics way before copiers and the Internet,” Winter said. She went off about something called a mimeograph machine and the history of antiestablishment magazines.
“Did your grandpa tell you this, too?” I asked, a little tired of her knowing everything.
“No,” she said, surprised. “Jet did. She runs Grand-father’s tattoo shop down the block. And her girlfriend, the reporter. She knew about the magazines. The shop has an old thermofax machine that Jet let me look at. It makes stencils that you press on the skin and then tattoo over. Same idea.”
“Now, that’s glossy,” Micah said with a low whistle. He started to examine his forearm for optimum tattoo placement.
“You didn’t tell her what you were doing, did you?” I asked.
“Now who’s being paranoid?” Winter laughed.
I turned red.
“Don’t worry. I told her it was for an art history project.”
I had to laugh at that.
We printed about two hundred copies of the first ever issue of
. And Winter was right. It did get better looking the more we printed.
“We should’ve used colored paper,” I said. It was all I could think to add.
The next morning I stood in line at the security checkpoint at school with a stack of freshly inked paper tucked into my bag. Winter and Micah were doing the same. My heart raced as my bag passed through the scanner; but the cop assigned to the school, a big, sandy-haired guy, just stood there watching the rent-a-cops work the machine. They all seemed bored out of their minds.
Micah, Winter, and I visited the bathrooms—separately, of course—and stealthily placed a handful of
s on the toilet in each stall, careful to appear as if we were just using the facilities. The school has cameras everywhere—except in the stalls. Micah thought that wasn’t so much to preserve our privacy as to keep the pervs and pedophiles on the security staff to a minimum. It wasn’t an elegant solution to the distribution problem, but it was the best we could come up with.