Today’s Cali’s birthday and she’s eighteen, the tattoo needle pricking her shoulder sweeter than any birthday cake, the black outline of an anchor almost complete, teeth gritted as she peeks at the progress, avoiding the sight of the bloody rag in the tattoo artist’s other hand, her nails digging into the cracked leather of the chair’s armrests, wondering if her daddy made the same face when he got his anchor tattoo back in his Navy days, and she doesn’t care about her mother seeing it even though her mother hates tattoos, knowing her mother will say the tattoo is one more thing she’s inherited from her daddy, along with his tombstone grey eyes, flat nose, and shit attitude, her mother always talking about how Cali was a daddy’s girl since the day she slipped out her mother’s belly, how they had nothing in common, and now this tattoo, a choice, a declaration, a further choosing of sides, and her mother always the odd one out, always claiming they ganged up on her, how alone she was during the time they lived together as a family, how Cali’s daddy pulled on her mother’s last nerve every chance he got, like blaming her for the eviction notice on their trailer when she got fired from working cashier at Winn Dixie, although he’d been out of work going on five years, PTSD and such waiting for the military to settle up, and how often he’d lift his sleeve and point to the anchor tattoo on his shoulder, winking at Cali, implying her mother was an anchor dragging them both down, and how her mother would storm out of the room crying, and they would laugh and her daddy would chase after her, her mother locking herself in the bathroom as her daddy snickered through his apologies, and once he coaxed her out, he would start in again, and it was like that all the way until her daddy left them for one of her mother’s friends, a cashier who didn’t get fired, and now Cali only speaks to her daddy by phone, occasionally bumps into him at the Winn Dixie picking up his girlfriend, and today Cali’s an adult and she paid for the tattoo with the little bit of birthday money her mother gave her, and the tattoo is not so much something of her father, but something not of her mother, and she can’t recall the anchor on her daddy’s shoulder in any great detail, and she’s anxious her tattoo won’t match his, she went off the memory of it, and all the memories of their laughter, which they don’t do together anymore, and the tattoo suddenly feels heavy, she knows she’s gotten it wrong, and looking at the anchor in the mirror of the tattoo shop Cali begins to cry, and finally she has something in common with her momma.

Photo by Eric Nielsen, used and adapted under CC.