by Christina Dalcher

Gran’s tattoo might have been beautiful. On her, it was a desperate grasp at youth, an atrocity, an embarrassment. Ugly.

“You could have that removed,” I said on a Saturday after Gran returned from wherever she went on Saturday mornings. “There’s a place in townβ€””

Gran silenced me with a wave of her stupidly paisleyed left arm.

Watchtower Concentration Camp - Buchenwald

Alexander Steinhof via Creative Commons

We’d attempted this conversation before. It always ended on the same note, but now Gran elaborated. “I got this after leaving Budapest.” Her eyes crinkled in a rare smile as she nodded toward the strip of curls on her forearm. “From a man.”

“A man,” I repeated. I supposed even in 1940 men operated tattoo parlors. Or maybe she was one of those ‘types,’ as mum might say.

“I don’t want to erase him.”

And I didn’t want to think about Gran having a lover.

She died the following Saturday, and two strange old women came to bathe her withered body. They saved Gran’s left arm for last, stroking it gently, muttering foreign, guttural words.

I got one last look at the ugliness of colored ink on pale, papery skin before mum dressed her, and I saw the unspeakable, forgotten ugliness hidden inside each paisley teardrop: A-13968.

Beautiful, Gran, I thought when we buried her.


Christina DalcherChristina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction addict from The Land of Styron. She is currently matriculating at the Read Every Word Stephen King Wrote MFA program, which she invented. Find her at ChristinaDalcher.com or @CVDalcher. Or hiding in a cupboard above the stairs. Or read her short work in Zetetic, Pidgeonholes, and Syntax & Salt, among other corners of the literary ether.

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