The Tattooed Baby ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
“Banjo sure is a pretty baby,” Willem said.
“He’s the most beautiful baby in the world,” Delores said.
“Why does he have such fuzzy hair?”
“He has hair like his daddy.”
“Who’s his daddy?”
“My husband, of course! Alvin Wilfred Seagast.”
“Oh, yeah,” Willem said. “I forgot about him.”
Willem had seen Alvin, of course, but never gave him much thought. He carried a briefcase and drove a black car. He didn’t say much; kept his head down most of the time and didn’t look at people. At family dinners he was polite but would go off by himself the first chance he got. Willem’s mother said he was odd, came from an odd family.
“You’re not just going to ask me questions all day, are you?” Delores asked.
“Is Banjo the only baby you have?”
Delores huffed out a big breath. “Do you see any other babies around?”
“Do you want to play a game with me? How about Parcheesi?”
“I have too much to do to play games. Why don’t you see if Rosie is home? Maybe she’ll play with you.”
“I don’t like playing with Rosie. She cheats.”
“I’ll bet she doesn’t. She’s probably just a better player than you are.”
“Ever since she got a Ouija board for her birthday she doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
“I’m sure that’s just your imagination. I don’t know what difference a Ouija board could make.”
“She thinks she’s a hot patootie.”
“Where do you hear expressions like that?”
“I hear it all the time.”
“Well, it sounds vulgar and I don’t want you saying things like that around Banjo.”
“Why not? He doesn’t know what words mean yet.”
They both looked at Banjo’s tiny face. He wrinkled his brow and pushed an air bubble out between his lips.
“What does it mean when he does that?” Willem asked.
“I don’t think it means anything in particular.”
“Since you’re my cousin, does that mean Banjo is my cousin, too?”
“Yes, he’s your cousin, too.”
“If you had another baby, would it be my cousin, too?”
“Why do you keep talking about ‘other babies’?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you’re bored. Why don’t you go outside and play. It’s almost time for Banjo’s nap. I don’t want you making noise and keeping him awake.”
The phone rang. She set Banjo down in the playpen and went into the kitchen to answer it. In a minute she came back smiling.
“Willem, darling,” she said, “I’m going out for a few minutes. Will you keep an eye on Banjo for me?”
“I won’t be gone more than ten, but don’t leave him alone until I get back. If he cries, give him his pacifier.”
She checked herself in the mirror and then was gone. Willem ran to the window for a peek. He saw her get into a pretty yellow car that a man was driving. The car sped away.
“Who was that?” Willem asked but, of course, there was nobody there to answer.
Banjo pulled himself to a standing position and looked curiously at Willem. “Mama?” he said.
“She’ll be back right away,” Willem said. “She had something she had to go and do. Something she forget about earlier.”
He threw Banjo’s floppy pink bunny in the playpen with him and hoped he wouldn’t start crying. Banjo picked the bunny up and stuck one of its ears into his mouth.
“Hey, I know something we can do until she gets back!” Willem said.
He had some tattoos in his pocket that came with bubble gum. He took them out and looked at them. There was a heart, a scorpion, a skull and crossbones, a spider, a coiled snake, and others with sayings on them, like “OH YOU KID!” and “BE MY BABY.”
He went into the bathroom and got a clean washcloth, wetted it in cold water and took it back into the front room. Banjo looked up at him and smiled, showing his tiny teeth. Willem wetted a spot on Banjo’s forehead and then pressed the paper with the tattoo on it firmly to the spot. When he pulled the paper away, Banjo had a perfect skull and crossbones right in the middle of his forehead.
“Hey, that looks great!” Willem said.
He went and got a mirror. When Banjo saw himself, he squealed and laughed and bounced on the balls of his feet. Willem then put a coiled snake on his own forearm and a star on Banjo’s cheekbone. He was going to put a heart with an arrow through it on Banjo’s forearm when he heard a car door out front.
When Delores came into the house, she smiled at Willem and looked over to the playpen to make sure Banjo was all right. When she saw the skull and crossbones and the star, her smile faded.
“What on earth?” she said.
She ran over to the playpen and picked Banjo up with enough force that she scared him and made him start to cry. “What did you do to him?” she screamed.
“It’s just tattoos!” Willem said. “They wash right off!”
“How could you do such a thing?”
“I thought it would be cute!”
“Whenever you have your own children you can mark them up all you want, but until then keep your hands off mine!”
“I only thought…”
She carried Banjo into the kitchen and set him on the counter beside the sink, managing to scare the wits out of him. She began scrubbing at the tattoos with a bar of soap and a dishrag. When she saw how easily they came off, she settled down right away, but she was mad at Willem for the rest of the day and would hardly look at him.
Willem felt bad that Delores was mad but defiantly kept his own tattoos, a coiled snake on one arm and a heart with an arrow through it on the other, and hoped that she had plenty of opportunity to notice how cute they looked.
Alvin came home from work and it was time for dinner. Willem expected Delores to tell Alvin about the tattoos while they were eating, but she didn’t mention it. After dinner Alvin and Willem were in the front room watching television while Delores was in the kitchen washing dishes.
“How have you been, old man?” Alvin asked Willem.
“Okay,” Willem said.
“Did you have fun today playing with Banjo?”
“He’s something, isn’t he? I’d have a whole houseful of kids if it was practical.”
“They cost a lot of money, my mother says.”
Alvin finished his beer and filled his pipe. He looked at the television and then he looked at Willem. “I like your tattoos,” he said.
“Do you mind if I ask you something?”
“No. What is it?”
“We’re pals, aren’t we?”
“I guess so.”
Alvin reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. He peeled a two-dollar bill off the roll and handed it to Willem.
“What’s this for?” Willem asked.
“We’re pals, aren’t we?”
“I was just wondering if you saw anybody around today.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you notice any strange fellows around the house today? Fellows you don’t usually see, I mean.”
“Well, um, let me think.”
“I want you to keep your eyes open and let me know if you see anything out of the ordinary.”
“Like somebody coming around to the house to see Delores when I’m not here.”
“Sometimes Rosie’s mother comes over and they have coffee and pie together.”
“No, I don’t mean Rosie’s mother. I mean a fellow. A man.”
“Like in a yellow car?”
“In any color car.”
“Sure, if I see anything like that, I’ll let you know.”
“But you have to make sure that Delores doesn’t know. It’ll be our little secret.”
Willem looked at the two-dollar bill in his hand, admiring it and realizing he had never seen one before. He didn’t know if he would be able to spend it or not. He might have to hang on to it until he was an old man.
“I want you to put that in your pocket and not take it out again until you get home,” Alvin said.
“And there’s more where that came from, as long as we’re pals and we keep our mouths shut.”
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp