Mosby Ellis was lying on his stomach on a wooden table in the rear of Lilly’s Tattoo Parlor. His jeans were bunched awkwardly around his ankles. It was the same table where Lilly chopped the ingredients for her gumbo, goulash and gulyas. The aroma of onions, paprika and peppers mingled with the odor of rubbing alcohol and ointments and a distinctive but unidentifiable smell that Mosby always remained in his nostrils long after he’d left Lilly’s studio. It was a beautiful smell – a comforting smell. It reminded him of the warm scratch of Lilly’s needle.
The room was quiet except for the sound their breathing. They were old friends and neither of them felt the obligation to fill the silence with chatter. The stillness was abruptly interrupted by a loud clap of thunder, followed immediately by the sound of heavy rain. Mosby’s attention was drawn to the street in front of the shop where rain was battering the plate glass window.
From the table in Lilly’s tiny kitchen in the rear of the studio, he could see a dark Lincoln Navigator pull over to the curb. The dim glow of the streetlight revealed two people sitting in the front seat.
“Looks like you’ve got another customer, Lilly.”
Lilly has just finished adding a halo to the cherub on Mosby’s left buttock and she was standing back, arms folded, admiring her handiwork. “You realize that your ass is a work of art, don’t you Mosby? A regular Sistine Chapel.” They both laughed as she walked over to the sink in the corner of her kitchen and washed her hands before going to the front window to get a better look at the new arrivals.
“Looks like a man and a woman, but it’s hard to tell. They’re probably lost – just stopped to look a map. I don’t have many customers that drive up in a $60,000 vehicle but you’d better put on your pants just in case. If those folks are paying customers they’d be the first ones I’ve had in a month and I don’t want them to be scared off by your rosy butt.”
“I thought you said my ass was a work of art.”
“I was talking about my tattoo – not your ass.”
Mosby shuffled over to the full-length mirror in the on the wall behind the antique barber chair where Lilly’s customers sat while she worked on them. His jeans still around his ankles, he strained to see his latest tattoo. “Hand me that mirror, Lilly. Oh yeah. Beautiful. You really are an artist.” It looked like the cherub had been painted with a brush. The lines were perfect and the colors were almost luminous.
Lilly covered the cherub with a bandage, cutting short his admiration of her artistry. “Pull up your pants before you catch a cold. You want a cup of tea before you go?”
“No, I’ve still got twenty two more book reports on Spider Sparrow to read before tomorrow. Thanks anyway, Lil.”
“What would the parents of your fifth graders think if they knew their kids’ teacher had an angel on his ass?”
“Don’t forget the serpent!”
Lilly laughed. “Don’t worry. I’ll never forget the serpent.”
Mosby gave her a quick kiss on her cheek and hurried out into the rain. She followed him to the front of her studio and stood at the large plate glass window. She smiled as she watched Mosby Ellis jog across the street, narrowly avoiding being hit by a DC cab. She had been creating the Garden of Eden on Mosby’s torso for almost a year. It was nearly completed. She was going to miss his visits when her work was done.
She pulled back the heavy drapes that covered the entrance to the alcove to the right of the front door. She stretched to relax the tightness in her shoulders then she removed her glasses and placed them on the table next to the daybed where she slept.
Lilly had just poured herself a cup of cinnamon tea when the front door opened. A man and woman entered the shop. The man was older, distinguished looking. Lilly thought he looked familiar but she couldn’t place him. His arm was around the waist of the woman. She was much younger than he was – might even be mistaken for his daughter were it not for the way she was exploring his left ear with her tongue.
Lilly cleared her throat to remind them that she was there. “Can I help you?”
The man freed his ear from his companion’s tongue. “Yeah. We thought we’d like to get a couple of tattoos. Something to commemorate the very special bond between me and….what was your name again, baby?”
The young woman laughed coquettishly and playfully jabbed at him. “Oh, Stuart. Stop kidding around. This is serious. Don’t turn it into a joke.”
Stuart! They name jogged Lilly’s memory. The old guy with the freshly washed ear was Senator Stuart Davenport.
“Let me start over. Victoria and I would like matching tattoos. Nothing too…visible or too extreme, if you know what I mean.” The Senator winked at Lilly. “Maybe rosebuds or something like that.”
“Oh Stu, everybody gets rosebuds. I wanted us to have something special.” Victoria picked up the sketch Lilly had used as a guide for Mosby’s cherub. “I want a baby angel, Stuart Something like this. I think you would be adorable with a tiny little angel on your shoulder.”
Lilly could tell that Stuart was wavering. This was probably his first tattoo. “Why don’t you let me make you both a cup of tea while you make up your minds? No need to rush. You’re going to be living with these for a long time.