His Ink and Miss Atomic Bomb

by Robert Scotellaro

All his stories, he said, were written in his ink. There was even a tattoo under his full head of hair she’d never seen, but glimpsed the shadow of. She fingered the ones on his chest and thought it peculiar and amusing how some curly black hairs poked through them in the oddest places.

Her great aunt was Miss Atomic Bomb in the early 1950s. She showed him a photo of her in a bathing suit, young and beautiful—a mushroom cloud crown on her head. A bunch of grinning soldiers gathered around. Said how she died at 90—left behind over a hundred Chia Pets. The withered plant life browning in their decorative planters her family dumped. Had no real pets. Imagined Miss Atomic Bomb as a tattoo added to his picture book body, had it been his aunt. Ever young—flourishing for as long as he did.

In the diner, she couldn’t help staring at the creature clawing out of his collar, cinched by a dark tie cutting into his neck. Wore it for a job interview he was back from. Wondered what its story was, and the prison ones too. The crude spook show tats, shiny when he got out of the shower. When he took her and she was among them. Their thicket. Unlike her husband’s blank canvas. Across from her on one hand: LOVE. On the other: HATE. A letter for each knuckle. LOVE holding the fork. HATE cutting into his pancakes.

Robert Scotellaro has been published widely in national and international books, journals, and anthologies including: W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, The Best Small Fictions 2016, NANO Fiction, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Gargoyle, Great Jones Street, and many others. He is the author of seven literary chapbooks, several books for children, and three full-length story collections: Measuring the Distance and What We Know So Far (Blue Light Press), and Bad Motel (Big Table Publishing). With James Thomas, Robert will be co-editing an anthology of microfiction forthcoming by W.W. Norton. He currently lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “His Ink and Miss Atomic Bomb”?

    There is a prison culture where tattoos play a substantive role, not just embellishment, but in defining, recording, and even rendering a kind of historical/attitude-driven storytelling. A compelling hieroglyphics, permanent and informing.

    As a writer, I’ve always been intrigued with what draws apparently disparate personalities together. In this case, with an undercurrent of menace. The basis of “His Ink and Miss Atomic Bomb” was prompted by a prison exposé I watched. In it, a very ordinary, straight-and-narrow woman and one of the inmates had been corresponding for years. That dynamic interested me.

    In writing this story it seemed natural to divide it into segments. Deepening the woman’s “bad boy” attraction with details and allusions. His tattoos almost as a third character. “Their thicket”, “the creature crawling out of his collar”, how, if Miss Atomic Bomb had been his aunt, in his ink, she would have flourished, “ever young.”

    I enjoy imagining/inhabiting characters unlike myself. Characters from which I can learn and discover—make sense of, or lose myself, if need be, in their mystery.

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