Short story about a tattoo for Leaving Cert English

Write a short story in which a tattoo plays an important part in the narrative. (2017) 

Warning: this is a very dark story. Discretion advised. 

This story has absolutely excellent characterisation and setting. The plot isn't overwhelmingly strong, but the bittersweet ending makes it come full circle and everything clicks into place. Well done, S.! You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€). 


Dan awkwardly sinks into the wrinkly leather reclining chair, and places his feet into the stirrups. The rusty springs are poking out from the yellow foamed insides, as he stiffly balances his weight on one side of his body. Photographs of miscellaneous body parts scatter the walls, a bright green tinker bell on one, a fire breathing dragon on the other. “This was a bad idea”, he remorsefully whispers under his breath. He plans a speedily dash for the exit as he checks if the coast is clear. Dan grimaces when the bulky bearded technician appears from behind the black curtain.

“Okay, you ready man?”

“More ready than I’ll ever be.”

The man wedges his beefy hands into thick black gloves, the echo of the elastic snapping back rings in Dan's ears. The sound of the electric needle stole his breath right from up under him, he wrings his hands around each other, losing grip from the dripping sweat. “It's for her. It's for her”, he repeated to himself as the needle grew closer to his arm. The pain from the needle was almost a relief to his unease. His head felt heavy as the motor provided a mechanic lullaby. He already felt closer to her.

“Where’s mom?” Katie shouts from the doorway. 

“She went to Kinsale for the weekend, so I’m in charge.”

Katie flung her school bag into the corner of the kitchen and sat up on the counter. She stared at Dan, the light from his laptop illuminating the wrinkles caused by final exams. Dan was always such a good brother she thought to herself as he was exasperated from stress.

“Why are you staring at me?”

“Do you remember when we used to go to the beach and have an extra large 99 every Saturday?”
“Katie, what are you on about? Shut up, I’m trying to do my work”.

Katie swiftly jumps off the counter and scatters up to her room. Tears unwillingly pour out, as she tries to swallow back uncontrollable whimpers. Her head feels heavy, everyone around her is changing. She grips the bannister for balance as she plunges into her room, closing the door behind on Dan and everyone else. Dan disdainfully rolls his eyes as he hears Katies door slam shut from above. He wondered why she was so sensitive lately, Why couldn’t she just have gone out for the weekend, like every other teenager.

“It’s not hurting too bad, is it?”

“No, I cant feel a thing,” says a startled Dan from his daydream.

“Cool, I’m just gonna grab a few more cloths.”

Dan was numb from the pain, all the pain. He could barely keep his eyes open from the bright fluorescent lights making them water. He couldn’t tell if it was the light or the pain irritating his eyes, he hoped for the latter. He hadn’t cried since it happened. He wondered if he was evil, why couldn’t he feel anything? He tried, he punched walls, people and even himself. He felt his sanity slipping from him, he had nowhere to go and no one to talk to. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the fingerprint ridden mirror. He was unrecognisable. “Dan the man” they used to call him, his boyish charm winning over every woman, coach and teacher in the village of Ballyvaughan. His smile would waver any impending punishment from teachers, his hurling skills would rope in recruiters and college girls from around the country. Now, nobody saw his smile, his hair was unkempt with stubble scattering his jaw and his new found love for beer was visibly shown in his overlapping stomach. They all said he’d be fine at first, to give him a few months. A year passed and no coach, girl or teacher came knocking on his door. He couldn’t wait for it all to be over. (This paragraph is excellent because it shows an unexpected amount of insight.)

“Alright, we’re nearly there, just a few more finishing touches and its over.”

“Over?” Dan quietly repeated to himself as he lifted his arm and rested his head back in the seat. The word “over” rumbled in his head like a cacophonous orchestra of percussionists. The needle acting as their conductor, with each jab of pain leading to a crescendo. The soundtrack of his pain and suffering reverberated the room. He could see the words now, flying above him. They began pixelating and distorting a repressed memory, one that he had no business in accessing.

“Katie! Turn off that bloody music I can’t concentrate!”

The music immediately comes to a halt. Dan furiously thrashes the keyboard with each punch of a letter. Katie had already gotten the stereo taken off her 3 times that week, for having it on the highest volume. Dan had had enough of it all. He was convinced God put his sister on earth specifically to annoy him. He wouldn’t mind as much if she played any half decent music. She would blast classical music all day long from the likes of Yo-Yo Ma to Beethoven. This certainly didn’t bode well with Dan when his county hurler friends were over.

Katie stared at her grubby bedroom ceiling, as tears swam down her face, creating pools in her ears. (Amazing, evocative description.) She counted all the many different spider webs and wondered how they had the perseverance to re-spin a new home, after being destroyed by the handle of her mom's brush. She envied their strength, she felt as if she could be more easily squashed than the dainty spiders above her. (Super.) She closed her eyes and felt her body sinking deeper into the mattress. She wanted nothing more than to be swallowed up by her duvet right then and there. Nobody would notice anyway, she thought to herself. She walks the halls of the school alone, observing the care free, gleeful teenagers around her. She doesn’t count herself as one of them. She wonders if God has made a mistake, putting her on an earth where nobody is like her. She imagines herself as an alien roaming the earth, unnoticed by the humans she is quietly invading. Only to be woken up from this false reality by the sharp whispers of sneering girls in the toilet. They always look her up and down when she enters the room as if gathering ammo for another insult. These are the moments when Katie longs to return to feeling invisible. It’s almost like an arena of predators, cackling crows, ready to pounce on their fragile little spider, Katie. She pushes her fingers into her eyes as if to stop the memories or push them further back.

Music helps ease her pain sometimes, she imagines the classical composers as her friends. They don’t need lyrics to express their pain, the beats of their breaking hearts carry the song. She finds this comforting in a way, to emotionally travel in the shoes of the greats. Katie feels at one with these composers, until they find solace and the song brightens and the flutes begin. Her stomach drops at their enlightenment as she has not yet found it. Recently it is getting harder and harder to drown her torment, no matter how loud she makes the volume. “I have nothing left”, she stammers as if professing a long known truth to a dear friend.

The sun is setting now, Dan anxiously runs his fingers through his hair, college is proving more difficult than he thought. He's continuously distracted by the buzzing of his phone, everyone’s at a party in town and he’s at home studying. Dan never missed a party, a night out or any type of social gathering. He thrived in these outings, all eyes on him, just the way he liked it. He had put his social life before school the entire year. Now he was facing Christmas repeats, his only motivation being the risk of being kicked out of college and not being able to go to any of the parties anymore. On edge, he twiddled his thumbs, staring at his phone, resisting the urge to text the lads that he was coming. A loud crashing thud came from upstairs.

“Katie, I’ve had enough! I’m calling mom!” said Dan as he frenziedly bounded up the stairs. Planning his harsh words with each roaring step. He swung her door open taking a deep breath to prepare for his hateful rant. He didn’t exhale. Katie laid there, on the ground, silent. Their fathers jar of painkillers from an old knee surgery, laid empty by her side. A shell shocked wave of grief casted over Dan, almost euthanising him. She must be sleeping, he thought. “Wake up!” Dan remorsefully blurted out over and over again. He still stood at the door hoping the mirage before him would disappear. A crumpled note laid on her bed. He could just make out the words “I just wanted it to be over” from afar. He took three slow steps forward as the room began to twist and turn around him. His knees buckle before him as he inched closer to her. His heart was no longer beating at a speeding pace as he accepted that he had died too, the minute he walked into that room. Dan gently lifts her precious head on his shoulder and takes her in his arms. 

“I made you do this,” Dan sputtered out as he cradled his baby sister. Guilt enveloped his body as he looked down at his lifeless sister, tears still wet on her face. Her mangled hair was glued to her forehead, as he swept it away to reveal a face he no longer recognised. Dark menacing circles under her eyes were the strongest feature of her once bright young appearance. An expression of perpetual sadness masked the innocent little sister he once remembered. Shame consumed Dan as he realised had he just opened his eyes he would’ve seen Katie for what she really was, lost. He thought of their trips to the beach every Sunday. They were so joyful and careless, what happened? Memories of every time he shut her out and belittled her came flooding back, puncturing his already broken heart. She looked so small and helpless, a victim of everyone around her. Dan searched her face for answers when he realised. Her lips were parted slightly, as if she was going to say something. (The story is a little too long and this paragraph just isn't as hard-hitting as the rest of the essay. I would shorten it.)

“What! I cant hear you” cried Dan

“Katie! Please! Speak up!”

“Katie! What are you saying!”

He held her frantically shouting as the ambulance screamed in the distance. (The author left out the detail about him calling the ambulance. I think it would be good to include that.) He shook her as hard as he could as his body fell paralysed from the pain. He laid next to Katie, cheek to cheek, pleading with her to not leave him alone in a world without her. Dan refused to believe she was gone, still clinging to his little sisters lifeless body as the paramedics entered the room. As they pried Dan's hands open from the grasp he had on Katie, the anguish of losing his baby sister rippled through his body.

“Alright man, you’re all done, it's over.”

Dan looked down at his armed and smiled leaving out a gasp of sheer relief.

“I have to say that’s the first time I’ve tattooed a 99 on someone, haha!”

When the technician left the room, Dan grabbed his arm and felt everything. It was over, he would never see his little sister again. He did not want to move on, but he understood with the strength of Katie in his heart, he could. He ran his fingers over the fresh throbbing tattoo as he felt her warmth surge through his body. He finally cried, he cried for Katie, and himself.

Write a short story in which a tattoo plays an important part in the narrative. (2017)
Photo by Ilya Ilyukhin on Unsplash

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