She has long legs, wears a short black dress, and dark sunglasses. The direction of her head indicates she’s taking in my pony tail, and baggy shorts. I see myself reflected in her shades—a stocky man with a septum ring.
“I want the words ‘In Memoriam’ tattooed here.” She extends her inner forearm. I hold her slender arm, my skin a riot of color against her unblemished canvas.
She fans herself with her free hand. Today’s temperature forecast is 113 degrees. I glance at my thermostat. It’s set at a comfortable 75 degrees.
She pulls her arm away.
Should I apologize for holding her arm?
“Sorry.” I clear my throat. “It’s almost closing time.” I offer her a choice of slots for the following day. She chooses 10 A.M.
I enter the information on our customer form and pause to ask if the word memoriam is spelled with a “u” or an “a.” She’s dabbing the handkerchief along the back of her shapely neck, won’t answer.
“Have you had a tattoo before?” I ask. “The inner forearm can be painful.” I wave my hand near the air-conditioning vent. It’s blowing cool air. “Do you want to try the shoulder or hip, instead?”
“I want the tattoo where I can see it. All the time.”
She leaves before I can defend my question.
For the third time, I call Mr. Williams from the property management company. For the third time, I’m directed to voicemail.
“I need my allotted parking spot, Mr. Williams.” I drum my fingers on the phone. “Right now, I’m forced to park far from my store. I leased that spot. I’m not putting up with —”
A beep cuts me off.
I lock up and walk past the assigned parking space. Someone has changed the offerings. Flowers, posters, and cards decorated the rectangle last week. Today, I see neon balloons imprinted with “2” nestling in the middle of colorful, stuffed animals. Reminds me of the wilting bouquets at some busy street intersections and, occasionally, on highway shoulders.
Jane’s dressed in brown. When she removes her sunglasses, I see dull gray eyes, a makeup-less face. She presses the handkerchief against her brow. “May I trouble you?” she asks.
I set the thermostat lower, and for good measure, turn on the ceiling fan.
She asks for a bottle of cold water. I fetch one from my refrigerator. Instead of drinking the water, she places the icy bottle on her forehead, then hugs it to her chest.
She pulls out her phone, shows me a photo.
“I want to add this picture under the words,” she says.
I see neon balloons nestling in the middle of colorful, stuffed animals.
“This?” I ask. “You want me to tattoo this?”
“Are you not able to?”
I stare at her unplucked brows instead of meeting her eyes.
Turning around to increase the thermostat setting, I say, “You took over my parking spot.”
Behind me, the door shuts.
I call Mr. Williams. This time, he answers.
“How are you going to solve my parking situation?” I tell him about the offerings.
“She’s still doing it a year later? She knows she shouldn’t. We’ve sent letters, tossed the flowers and toys . . . ”
“Wait. What happened a year ago?”
“Her husband forgot the baby in the car.”
I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand. “And he did that in my spot?”
Mr. Williams says, “You should park right over whatever she leaves there.”
Jane has not taken the water bottle. I drain it in one long swallow, calculating the temperature inside the searing oven of a car that day.
134 degrees? 144?
I study the listless balloons and the dusty stuffed toys as I walk to my car. I’m not a praying man, but I stop and close my eyes. A blanket of heat rises from the asphalt. I let it envelop my body.