Tattoos hit France a few years after they hit England. I wasn’t really aware of them. From time to time one saw somebody with a tattoo on the beach, sometimes a discreet little butterfly on a shoulder, or a tiny flower on an upper arm. The huge and ghastly snakes and “I love Michelle”, associated with workmen, seemed to be less common on men’s chests – or at any rate we didn’t see many of them.
“Do you like tattoos?” Debbie asked me one day.
“Depends on what it is, where it is, and who it is,” I replied.
“Why d’you ask?”
“I was just thinking I might get a tattoo done.”
”I’d rather you didn’t. For goodness’ sake check it out with me before, at any rate!”
“Debs, are you listening to me?”
“Oh … yeh … sure … it was only an idea …”
So why was I so surprised and shocked when she got the tattoo done? Funny, the way mothers think they know their children. I had so often made the mistake of crediting her with more sense that she really had. She was sixteen, the age of consent, old enough to know her own mind, yet I had thought my light words of warning had sunk in. She pulled back the V-neck of her T-shirt and showed me the tattoo. Her eyes were full of defiance.
The other day a friend asked me how I defined the word “ugly”. I couldn’t answer in a simple sentence. Ugly: repulsive, vile. Initiates a sensation of recoil. The tattoo was ugly. It was vile. It was offensive in every sense and worse – had it not been on the breast of my young daughter – would have been terribly funny.
On her left breast, stretching from the edge of the nipple right up to beyond where her bra covered, was the head of a donkey.
My mouth dropped open in astonishment.
“It’s a horse,” Debbie told me.
It was a child’s drawing of a donkey’s head. She – my little girl, my child who I thought was so bright and so beautiful, had had this monster tattooed on to her pink young flesh. It was hideous.
I turned suddenly and left the room, afraid of shouting and struggling not to wail. Debbie remained on the sofa, silent. There is some way round this, I thought. This is a joke, not real. I pottered noisily about the kitchen, trying to be calm. It wasn’t as though I could command her “take it off immediately!” I unloaded the dishwasher with a great deal of vigour, cracking a tea cup in the process. I wished I smoked. It was too early for a drink. After a while Debbie came in. I looked at her.
“I did ask you to consult me first,” I said hoarsely.
“Please don’t tell daddy,” she replied, ignoring me.
“He’ll see it, won’t he?” I found I had to whisper as though it might somehow help it to not exist.
Suddenly I realized she was on the verge of tears.
“Who did the drawing?” I asked.
“Pamela! For goodness’ sake! Pamela is a CHILD!”
“No, she’s not, she’s fifteen.”
“Debbie! Fifteen is a CHILD!”
Debbie looked down at her feet. I struggled for calm. I wanted to slap her, I wanted to hit her really really hard, I wanted to hug her, I wanted to cry.
“Where did you get the tattoo done?” I put my arm around her and tried to reassure her. She was white and had started to shake slightly, “did it hurt?”
“I hate it!” she burst out.
(Yes, my little girl, I expect you do hate it. Soon you will hate yourself for it. I don’t know how to help you with this one.)
“Where did you get it done?” I repeated.
“A friend,” she said bluntly.
“But who? Where?”
“In Manolo’s flat,” she said, her voice hardening in a nasty way that was soon to become familiar to me. “That’s all I can tell you. I promised I wouldn’t say.”
“Manolo’s flat ?!! You must NOT go in to a man’s flat ! But anyway – why the secrecy?!”
She didn’t answer.
“Well, it is good to keep your word,” I said, “but if you know anything about me at all, my girl, you know that I will find out. So you might as well tell me. I take it it wasn’t Manolo?”
“How much did you pay?”
“Five hundred francs.”
“And where did you get five hundred francs?”
She didn’t answer but made a small shrugging movement ……
With a sinking sensation I saw a stranger forming in front of me as the child that I had raised started to disappear.
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. He books are available on Amazon and Kindle, or can be ordered from most big book stores and libraries. For more about her, to include her entertaining blogs from all around the world, http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk