The Needles by


After the doctor told me I had no high blood pressure — this is the good news part of the story — the nurse took blood. “You’re not scared of this,” she said, seeing my Saint Monica tattoo that is, I suppose, dedicated to my son, his birthday, as well as to drunks. She meant needles, but of course the suction is different, the maybe lightheadedness, the loss of something vital, color.

It was closing time at the old office so I’d have to wait for my results.

But they never called, which I took to signal the avoidance of any emergency behavior. I was healthy, except a smoker with cardiac-related  family history. The doctor had asked me why I smoked, meant to stump me, but I said, “Because I’m stupid.” To counterbalance, I eat superfoods, always jog to the car, and take big deep breaths of fresh air when I can. I weigh myself almost never, but observe my belly. Per recommendations, there will be a colonoscopy in my future, a procedure my father endorses or at least slept through.

My son barely knows the tattoo is for him, just some part of his dad that maybe makes him lame or cool, depending on who’s looking. I have Saint Catherine on the other arm, my birthday, patron of philosophers, my major.  I don’t go to church. I only pray on airplanes. But remember the doctor said, with his silence, that I’m healthy.

My worst tattoo, featured prominently, is a snake, now gray and blurry, memorializing nothing. The guys at the shop we go to now want to ink everything bigger, not because they are imprecise but I guess because it gives them more room to work, to do, like, the shading. They have security cameras, and, they claim, guns. They’re not so tough—they’re artists.

In a decade or two, there will be a lot of seniors with tattoos, getting colonoscopies and swallowing lisinopril. The question, what do your tattoos mean, will finally become so frequent as to be meaningless.


Sean Ennis is a Philadelphia native, now living in Water Valley, MS.  His fiction has appeared in Tin House, Crazyhorse, The Mississippi Review, The Good Men Project, Bayou, The Greensboro Review, and the Best New American Voices anthology.  He’s taught for The University of Mississippi, The University of New Orleans, and The Gotham Writers’ Workshop. A recipient of a Mississippi Arts Commission literary grant, he is the author of the story collection, Chase Us (Little A/New Harvest).


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