NEA Literature Fellowships

Kevin Moffett

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(2008 - Prose)

From the short story "Tattooizm"

In the candlelight, his forearm looks meticulously bruised, or gangrened. Andrea knows what is there: in the center, written in dark and elaborate cursive like a formal declaration, is Olive, followed by an exclamation mark. The O is set apart from the L so it looks like O live! The rest of the arm is beset by roman numerals, dozens of tiny Is and Xs and Vs scattered at random.

The lines on the new tattoos are more assured, the shading more delicate. Clearly he is improving his technique. But oh! Andrea cannot look at the new tattoos. They are indisputably, noisily, mistakenly about her - and permanent, permanent, permanent. She instead looks at Dixon's thighs, at the symbols that have nothing to do with her. She can look at the thighs without feeling anxious. The thighs, compared to the forearm, are Disneyland.

"Does that feel good?" he says.

Today in the gas station the cashier pointed to Dixon's arm and said, "Those aren't real, are they?"

Andrea thought this the worst response that one with tattoos could hope for, but Dixon seemed pleased by it, like he thinks he's defying reality or something.

He's still pleased. His face, lit from below by the candles, looks hollow and evangelical. He tucks his hand between the fleshy part of her thighs. "I want to fall asleep with my hand between your thighs," he says. "I won't pull it out till morning."

She has decided to break up with him on August 25, which will be a week before their first anniversary and one day before classes begin at the junior college. There is no way she's letting him touch her with the tattoo gun, which sits beneath a T-shirt on his nightstand, and looks nothing like a gun. It looks like a dart attached to an engine. "Tattoo machine," he says when she calls it a gun.

She has registered for four classes: Calculus, Argumentative Writing, Geology Lab, and Volleyball. They offer a class in volleyball! She is going to be polite and astute, the most hopeful student on campus. She plans to join clubs, form study groups. She'll volunteer to help deaf students take notes. She'll bring extra pens to class. She'll be reluctantly popular. She'll wear a sweatband and those cool little canvas knee pads to play volleyball.

Dixon goes to the kitchen, returns with a bowl of blackberries, and watches Andrea eat them. When she finishes, he puts the bowl on his nightstand. She rolls over onto her side and he rubs himself into her. She exhales a forced breath. He seizes her ear, her entire ear, with his mouth and gently bites the cartilage. It feels good. Almost everything he does to her feels good. He grips her hand, brings it around, and puts it between her legs. She touches herself but it seems a bit redundant, so she reaches behind and clutches his hip, which is sweaty. He is working hard. Her hand follows the thrust and pop of his hip. He whispers what sounds like little tin pans. The shadows on the ceiling have gone crazy. The sheets are still sandy. She makes long low sounds, smeared, overrun.

In the shower Dixon scrubs her back with a sponge. Her eyes are closed beneath the showerhead. The water is too hot, Dixon is scrubbing too hard, and for now everything is righteously okay.

Kevin Moffett was born and raised in Daytona Beach, Florida. He is the author of Permanent Visitors, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award and long-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. His short fiction and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Tin House, Harvard Review, McSweeney's, A Public Space, The Believer, and The Best American Short Stories 2006. A recipient of the Nelson Algren Award and a Pushcart Prize, he teaches writing at Cal State San Bernardino.

Photo by Corinna Vallianatos

Author's Statement

Of all the abstract commodities that writing demands - patience, imagination, intelligence, foolhardiness - the only one that can, in a sense, be purchased, is time. This is what the NEA Fellowship allows me: time off from teaching and time for sustained work on a project. Freedom from distraction for someone so easily distractible is a colossal gift, and I'm honored and thankful for it.