Ben is thirty-four and a tattoo artist known for his lettering. People are always surprised when they first meet him. They scan his blank skin – his clear arms and neck, not a tattoo in sight.
“Worse than a bald hair stylist,” Ben always says, and a courteous laughter pushes the moment along. Works every time.
He’s six-foot. Dark-haired. Fit. Non-smoker. Social drinker. Conscious eater but not strict about his diet. Loves breakfast. So much that he has a breakfast ritual. Was in a good relationship for three years, but she ended up leaving him because she couldn’t take the morning ritual.
“I hate smelling like bacon every day,” she’d say.
Or, “It would be nice to sleep in just once.”
Or, “The sun rises every day, Ben. It’s okay to miss it once in a while.”
True. But it’s important to him. Everyone has a vice. Getting up at 5:30 every morning and spending an hour on breakfast is Ben’s. Everything else is up for negotiation. just not breakfast. Someday the right woman will love him for it.
He beats the sun out of bed and leaps into the kitchen: four trips of thickly-slicked bacon, two eggs friend in the grease, a pad of butter to grill a handful of potato coins – many different kinds of potatoes have hit the iron skillet over the years, but the Yukon Golds always find their way back home. Salt and pepper to taste. Store-bought orange juice to drink and French blend French pressed coffee to punctuate the ceremony.
It’s spring now – early May, so he can take in the meal on the balcony of his sixth floor apartment. Fork pushes into egg, and golden yolk runs into the spaces around the bacon and potatoes and between the buildings and trees into the bright yellow dawn. It’s a moment of quiet satisfaction. One he would love to share with a person who gets it.
The breakfast goes down, and the sun comes up, without incident.
He takes the cozy off his French press and pours himself a cup, and that’s when they come to mind, like the steam rising from his coffee. A couple. A guy and a girl, who keep coming in mind like they came into the tattoo parlor a while back, and they stuck. He can’t share them from his head, like that last bit of water in the ear after a day at the pool.
The guy came in first, alone, to discuss his design. Word-of-mouth led him to Ben.
“It’s worse than a bald hair stylist,” Ben said regarding his clear skin, and the discussion was underway. The guy wanted an M tattooed on his chest. “No problem,” Ben said.
“No,” the guy reacted. “It has to be perfect. A perfect M.”
Ben liked the guy. You don’t just throw together an M. It’s like a good breakfast. Do it right.
“What does it stand for,” Ben asked.
“Do you mind if I don’t tell you,” the guy said.
Ben smiled and began sketching different styles and sizes.
This morning, on the balcony at breakfast, Ben stirs sugar and a splash of cream into his coffee. Today feels different. Something about the sunrise. The way it shows the steam above his cup today is different. The streets are quieter than usual. The air is still and cool, and he almost feels like he’s floating over the city.
The M tattoo guy kept coming in, and Ben would show him different sketches.
“That’s not it,” the guys would say.
Ben wondered about what the M stood for: Marriage, Memory, Mother, Mission, Mystery, Meaning, but never asked. He began to see Ms everywhere. It became an obsession. He saw one on the side of a bus, “M Style” A clothing line. It gave him an idea.
A couple days later he made one more sketch. He taped it up behind his work stations because he knew that was it. Every time he looked at it, it make him feel like he was floating. That’s all he knew. There was no meaning, just a feelings. A positive feeling.
The guy showed up with his wife and saw the new M taped to the wall and said, “Let’s do it.” The guy’s wife held the guy’s hand and smiled wonderfully.
Ben thought they were beautiful together, and he inked the M on the guy’s chest.
What he couldn’t shake was the two of them together. Her hand on the guy’s bare shoulder. The guy looking into her face. No big deal if you’re not paying attentions, but Ben could almost see a delicate fabric filling the space between them.
Suddenly the M was done. They paid, thanked, and left.
Just as Ben finished his coffee, he’s startled by a frenetic pounding on his door. He jumps up and answers it. A courier hands him an express envelope.
“What’s this,” Ben asks.
“I got here as soon as I could,” says the youthful courier.
Ben studies the label: “Jane Holden…Apt # 617.”
He hands the envelope back. “I’m apartment six eleven. This sayd six seventeen.”
“That’s a seven?”
“Looks like it to me.”
“Sorry, man. Sorry to wake you.”
“You didn’t wake me”
And the courier heads down the hall. Ben watches him knock on 617. The door opens. It’s a woman.
“Sorry to wake you,” the courier tells her.
“Oh, you didn’t I was just finishing breakfast” she says.
Ben takes notice.
The courier says, “Smells great.”
“Don’t you just love the smell of bacon,” she asks and opens the envelope right there. She slides out some papers. “Thank you.”
“Sure,” the courier says leaving.
Ben watches as she holds the paper up higher and on the back of the envelop is a big letter M. “M Style.”
The tattoo of the perfect M flashes across his mind. He watches Jane’s hands fold around the edges of the envelope, and he feels like she and him could be beautiful together.
David and Hannah Huffman of Kansas City started “1000 Words” in February 2009.
The process is simple. Hannah takes a picture. The picture inspires David to invent some people and write their story. The concept requires the story to be exactly a thousand words. Read more 1K archives here.