The tattoo artist said the operation went smoothly, even though there was still blood everywhere. It's all part of the procedure, she said. The blood. Look, what did you expect, she said, you're putting a freaking foreign body underneath your tissue. At a tattoo parlor. It's illegal, you know, she said. Do you know how much the fine is - zero. That's right, zero, you know why, she said. Because it's jail time, she said. It's medical malpractice or something, she said.
She doesn't understand, he thought, and tried to say, but couldn't, because his mouth was heavy with the belt he was still biting. He tried to spit it out and her fingers helped pry his jaw open and then shut it again. He was shaking all over with adrenaline, the pain of something like a live amputation. Not exactly. He was enhanced, not amputated. He wanted to say this, but the tattoo artist's face was scrunched, her arms crisscrossed with images crossed over a chest he hadn't noticed until this moment. She has nipple rings, he though. Do you have nipple rings, he asked.
The tattoo artist didn't slap him, although she wanted to, but she didn't couldn't afford to make a scene, not here in the back room where she was illegally giving people superpowers. A superpower. The other two, the first ones, had also stared at her chest after the operation, but it was only now she put together the pieces.
Yes, she said. Now stop staring, she said. I'm not, he said, it's just that I can feel it, I'm attracted to it. Okay, she said, now give me the rest of the money, it's done.
I don't have it, he said, and began to move his hand, the blood still seeping from the stitches, around the room.
You don't have it.
I don't have it.
Good thing I decided to double my fee then, isn't it. Douchebag. Get out of here.
Okay. He didn't care that he'd been scammed, because he had meant to scam her right back. Six thousand dollars was outrageous. But she'd only asked for half upfront, and he could scrape that much up at least. So he had. And now he was in the world with a true sixth sense. She didn't give me a bandage, he thought. Bitch, he thought.
It was past midnight and the fog was heavy, and he worried about particles of dust getting into the wound somehow, so he stretched his shirt down to cover his hand, but it didn't change how he felt, felt everything, felt the mailbox around the corner and the train a mile away. He felt a man walking with an iron ring through his nose who soon crossed his path before the man was visible.
He was thrilled. He was magnetic. He was magic. It was that night that he resolved to return to the tattoo artist in the morning or maybe another night and thank her, take her out, apologize for almost scamming her, kiss her on the cheek and end the night in bed with her.
It took him a long time to learn that magnets only attracted things.
Ilana Masad is a queer Israeli-American fiction writer and book critic. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, McSweeney's, Joyland, StoryQuarterly, the Washington Post, the Guardian, LA Times, and more. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, a podcast featuring new, emerging, and established fiction writers.