The man introduced himself as Canvas. That didn’t bother Seth‌—‌many customers preferred anonymity, especially if they wanted his work on a private part of their body.

Despite the heat, Canvas wore long sleeves, gloves, and a balaclava, leaving not an inch of his skin on display. Even his eyes were deep in shadow.

Seth led Canvas into the office. The man was big, like a rugby player, but he wheezed as he walked, supported himself on the back of the closest chair.

“You okay? You want a seat?”

“Something to show you first. We alone?”


Canvas straightened up with a grunt, and took off his clothes.

He started with the mask, and Seth winced. The man was bald, and ink covered everything. Even the insides of his lips were patterned.

Then came the rest of the clothes. Seth was used to bare flesh‌—‌it was his canvas after all‌—‌but this man got completely naked. Apart from two small patches of bare skin, Canvas was totally covered in tattoos.

There were a couple of designs that could do with touching up, bus most of the work was under a year old, Seth reckoned. Still raw, a few still healing. Decent quality, though. Very impressive.

Canvas pointed to his right arm. “First one. Holiday, drunk,”

It was a heart, smudged and faded. A frame had been added more recently, held in female hands.

“Next one’s important” He pointed to the skull on his left thigh, a snake slithering from one eye socket, a rose in the other. “An ex, dumped me, died in an accident two days after.”

“Pain and beauty,” Seth muttered, recognising the symbolism.

“Others all mean stuff, too.”

Canvas rolled his shoulders, groaning, and the tiger up there seemed to slink through the grass, the design working in tandem with his muscles. Exceptional work.

“Must have set you back a fair bit.”

“Aye. Worth it, though.”

“Take a seat,” Seth said, moving round to the second chair.

Canvas flopped into his chair. “Used to run ultra-marathons, before I got sick. Doctors say days now, couple of weeks tops.”

He coughed into his hand. The inking of a drip wound up his arm.

“You got that after the diagnosis?”

Canvas nodded. “You understand. Hoped you would.”

“The broken bones?” Seth pointed to the work on his fingers.

“Accident, when my youngest was three. Got herself stuck, had to pull her out. Fearless, she was, like a tiger. Still is.”

A tiger, like the one on his shoulders. “You said your youngest. Is the puppy on your chest after her sibling?”

Canvas stroked the panting mutt. “Always had a soft spot for dogs. First wife used to call me her little pup. Soppy, like, but‌…‌I miss her.”

“Bad split?”

“Both too young. Second was a bitch, though. With some banker down south now.” He pointed to the female on his right hip, seductive, hand reaching for his groin. Beautifully rendered, especially the cold eyes.

The skin‌—‌the inky flesh‌—‌was tinged red.


Canvas nodded. “Most of ‘em I’ve had done in the last six months. Since the diagnosis, like.”

Only six months? “Must’ve hurt like hell.”

The big man shrugged, coughed into his hand again. Red speckled those broken bones.

“Got a mate. Taxidermist. Came to an‌…‌agreement. He’ll only do the job if it’s all done.”

One word stuck in Seth’s mind. “Taxidermist?” His stomach knotted. “Is that even legal?”

“Hired a lawyer, got all kinds of dispensations. All above board now. When I go, this gets stuffed.”

He ran a hand over his illustrated body.

Many questions rose in Seth’s mind, but only the shortest came out. “Why?”

Canvas rested back in the chair. “Never did much with my life. Two wives gone, two kids who don’t want to know me. Never had much of a career, even before the illness. No friends, just drinking buddies. No special skills.” Canvas glanced round the room, pointed to the dragon on the wall, one of Seth’s best. “Not like that. You’ve got talent, mate.”

There wasn’t a hint of bitterness in the man’s voice. Seth remained silent, unsure what he should say.

“About a year ago,” Canvas continued, “I realised I’m nothing special. Just like countless others. There’s all these statues to the ‘special’ ones, but nothing for us regular Joes. Didn’t seem right.”

It all became clear. “So your skin tells your everyday story,” Seth said. “It’s‌…‌incredible. But what do you want me to do? Touch up some of the older work?”

“Nah. Special commission. Well, two.” He grunted as he reached into his trousers as they lay on the floor, handed Seth a piece of paper.

“Is that wise? I mean, in your condition?”

“Can’t wait around, can I? Just take a look. Please.”

Seth unfolded it. Two images.

“Just ideas. Reckon you can do far better. That one goes here.” Canvas pointed to the bare patch behind his ear.

The image was an open book with a hole in the middle.

Seth nodded. “Your body is the book, lets people know the person within.”

“Yeah. And that one goes here. I want the scythe touching the dog.”

Seth knew he could do a far better Grim Reaper. The space on the man’s chest was perfect, especially with the scythe reaching across the dog.

The puppy. His wife’s secret name for Canvas himself. The Grim Reaper over his heart.

Canvas coughed again. More blood on his bones.

So close to the end. But why couldn’t the man’s history live on, a story for those who believed they had none? Wasn’t this the purpose of art? Wasn’t this what Seth yearned for, each time he swabbed a fresh patch of skin? Didn’t he always want his work to transcend itself?

Canvas would be a document like no other, the mundane lifted to a higher realm.

“I’d be honoured to help you,” Seth said.

Buy me a coffeeBuy me a coffee

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2 thoughts on “Canvas

  1. Pingback: 100th short story up now! | T. W. Iain

  2. Pingback: Time for a change | T. W. Iain

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