Green-Eyed Eagle - Mason Yates
“If you don’t mind me asking,” the tattoo artist started as he lifted his eyes away from the half completed Roman numerals on his customer’s bicep, “how did your son die?”
Although the tattoo artist had spoken in a clear and loud enough voice to be heard despite the buzzing of the tattoo gun and the rock and roll radio across the shop, Patrick Hammond could not hear a word in his trance. Everything in the universe dulled to shadows and faint noises like- well, like when you put your ear up to a seashell and hear the liquid humming inside. Across the shop, a painting of an eagle caught his attention, and Patrick fell away into the bird’s eyes, which were a bright green sort of like fresh grass on an illuminated summer day. The picture was put at the center of a wall where dozens of other paintings surrounded it, but the green-eyed eagle had a mysteriousness to it that attracted his attention. Its head pointed at the chair Patrick sat in, and its eyes were laser-focused on him despite it only being a painting. It felt alive, like it could jump at him at any moment. The bird studied him. In returned, Patrick studied it.
There were a few moments during Patrick’s staring contest with the green-eyed eagle that seemed hallucinogenic. For example, when Patrick first started to stare at the bird, he felt an odd out-of-body experience take his consciousness and put it inside the bird. Instead of staring at the eagle, he stared at himself: an overweight man with dark bags under his eyes and an ugly as heck five o’clock shadow. He could not help but wince at himself. At another moment, he did not sit at the chair any longer. Rather, he felt himself floating. He saw himself transforming into a bird and flying across the blue skies, his bird wings flapping and his green eyes scouring the land. In another life, perhaps, Patrick had been a bird, but he knew it was only a dream now.
“You still with me?” the tattoo artist asked after a stint of silence. “You didn’t wander?”
“What?” Patrick asked. He took his eyes off the green-eyed eagle and turned his head. A peaceful feeling settled over him after staring at the painting, sort of like a euphoric daze. “What did you say? I’m sorry. I was admiring that picture.”
“Which one?” the artist asked and stopped tattooing to look at the wall. There were three or four dozen paintings and drawings, everything from skulls to pirate ships to hearts with arrows in them to creepy dolls to drawings of famous celebrities. Each one looked well done. “There’s all kinds of them up there.”
“The eagle with the green eyes,” Patrick said and pointed at it with his free arm. “It’s too good. I love it. It gives me a good feeling just to look at it, you know?”
“I painted that when I served time in prison for robbery five or six years ago.”
“It’s amazing,” Patrick told the artist with a head nod. “I like the green eyes.”
“You can take it home with you if you want,” the tattoo artist said. “I’ll give it to you for free. If it makes you feel good, maybe it can help in your time of need."
Patrick smiled a sad smile. “I appreciate it. I can put it above my fireplace.”
“Great choice,” the artist said with a nod. “Now, if you don’t mind, how did your son die? I hope that’s not too tough of a question for you.”
Patrick shook his head. “Not too tough. It was a few months ago. I still cry about it, but I’ve gotten past the part where it’s hard to talk about him. He and some girl he met at college did a little let’s-run-away-together-and-never-look-back type of thing. They took his car and got far away from Hicktown, USA. I guess my kid’s car got stalled on a railroad track and…” A pause. A tear slid down his cheek. He guessed it was still hard to talk about his son after all. “And they were hit by a train just outside of Las Vegas. It was carrying sheet metal through the rain, and it had a hard time seeing them until it was almost upon them. Some luck, right?”
The tattoo artist shrugged. “Fate loves irony.”
“What do you mean?” Patrick asked.
“I mean,” the artist started as he pressed his gun back down against his customer’s arm in the middle of a Roman numeral, “that don’t you think it’s a little ironic that your kid decides that he’s going to run away, then the next thing he knows his car stalls on a train track? I guess- well, I hate to say this- that Karma might’ve gotten ahold of him, you know? It’s a little ironic.”
“I guess,” Patrick said and lowered his eyes. “I don’t know if I believe in Karma, but she might exist. If she does, she’s a bitch.”
The artist chuckled. “You got that right.” The tattooist continued to puncture flesh. The black ink started to form more of the numerals. MMXIX. 2019. The year of Tony Hammond’s death. Killed by a train outside of Vegas. Killed way too young, taken by a stupid decision, plus a misstep with his car. The tattoo artist contemplated the tattoo as his customer glanced again at the green-eyed eagle. “You really like that, don’t you?”
“More than you’d know,” Patrick said with a shake of his head. “I don’t know why, but I feel… alive when I look at it, like I could fly and soar off to some other land.”
“Trippy, isn’t it?”
“I’m glad it gives you some enjoyment,” the tattoo artist said. “I’m almost finished. You can take it home when we’re done.”
“I appreciate it,” Patrick said as he eyed the painting.
“It’s the least I can do,” the artist said. “After all, you’ve had a tough year.”
Mason Yates is from a small town in the Midwest, but he currently lives in Arizona, where he is studying at Arizona State University. He has interned with the magazine Hayden’s Ferry Review and is the fiction editor for ASU’s undergraduate literary magazine Lux. His works can be found in magazines/webzines such as Land Beyond the World, Scarlet Leaf Review, Blue Lake Review, Page & Spine, Pif Magazine, and others.