Tattoo Judgment

Fighting Words: A story by Laura Ecock (17), St Wolstan’s Community School, Celbridge, Co Kildare

8:30. The swarm of students in the hallway part, pressing against the wall to get away from me as I pass. The stale glares of teachers fall on me. I shrug my heavy bag, adjusting it on my shoulders. My head is tilted down. My eyes forward. The shrieking of chat and laughter gushes from my tutor room. My nonchalant entrance quietens my classmates. A heaviness comes across the room as the sky outside darkens. Walking calmly, I silently take my seat next to the window. Alone.

8:45. I feel their eyes on the back of my neck. I pull my hood up, and my sleeves down. Chatter continues with muffled voices. Picking up the odd phrase. “She got another one.” I gaze blankly at the graffiti on the table, acknowledging the few gifted etchings of flowers on the harsh wooden surface. “She’s ruining her appearance with those.”

A few minutes pass and then the clapping of shoes comes through the door, along with the shuffling of students in their seats as the talking ceases. My body curls up in my chair, my arms wrapping around my chest. In a monotone voice our teacher calls the roll, each name sounding like a chore in his mouth. He pauses between names, long enough to know where his attention is. “Hood down,” he says; he waits until I do as instructed. I can imagine his look of distaste without looking up. Skipping my name, he continues with the roll call. The ink on my neck boils under the judgmental eyes.

9:00. The sky lightens, a few rays dancing along the window, casting rainbow patterns along the floor. The colours dance in time as she walks in the room. Giving a smile and an excuse of how her car broke down to our teacher, Lindsey takes her seat at the front. Jokes and laughter begin again to fill the room as people gravitate towards the pretty blonde girl at the front, perfect hair, blue eyes, clear skin. Clean skin. My eyes remain on the drawing of the flowers on my desk. The bell rings and we, as rehearsed every day, get up and follow our routine from class to class.



For the next six hours my day is a flawless routine. Everyone is right on cue, never missing a beat. My day is filled with hallways quietening, whispers and every room I enter darkening. A small cave in my chest collapses every so often. But for every grey cloud there’s a silver lining which makes the air lighten and people laugh. It’s when she enters the room. Each time a few minutes late, a sweet smile, a simple excuse and gullible teachers who aren’t afraid to play favourites. The ideal student, with clean skin and bright hair.

Regularly I would go to the front of the classroom to hand in my assignments, my sleeve would pull back slightly as I reach my arm out to place the several sheets of paper on my biology teacher’s desk. The dark ink showing along my forearm, the thorns circling my wrist. “I don’t know why your suspension didn’t last longer for that,” my teacher would say. Lindsey would follow up behind me. A single page in hand and that saccharine smile. “I’m so sorry,” she would say, “I was so busy minding my younger cousin, I didn’t have time to complete it.” The teacher usually says something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, how about finishing it tonight?” Her grin, “I can’t, I’m helping out at the charity shop tonight, I can do it next week of course.”

My hood isn’t allowed to be up during school, leaving my tattoos open for all to see and criticise.

4:00 on the dot. The bell rings and students rush to escape. I follow the line of students as we wind through the hallways until we leave the school premises. We all walk along the same path towards the car park outside school. Remarkably, Lindsey’s car is not broken and she jumps in still laughing with her friends. “I’ll see you tonight,” she calls out before shutting the door.


I walk past the car park and continue along the path. I take out my headphones and plug them into my phone. I feel the tingling warmth of the sun on my skin as I roll up my sleeves. Watching the trees, I walk past the houses on the road up to my home. Barking crashes over my music the closer I get to my driveway. Opening my door, an Alsatian jumps to greet me. “You forget you’re not a small puppy no more, Nero,” I mumble as I scratch behind his ears.

“Manon? You home?” a frail voice calls out. I take my hoodie off walking towards the voice. “Yeah, It’s me.” Nero close in tow behind me. A constant faint thump as his tail hits the wall, his nails tapping along the floor as we enter the living room. He does a little circle as I pick up an empty cup of tea.

“I’ll get you a fresh cup?” I say to the figure in the chair next to the window.

“Oh, you’re a pet.”

I round the chair and lean down to kiss my gran’s forehead. She reaches up and holds my arm gently, kissing my hand as a greeting. She continues staring out the window and I follow her gaze. “You must water your mum’s roses soon, they’re starting to droop,” she remarks. I add it to my mental checklist.

I make her a fresh cup of tea and place it on the table next to her chair. “Oh, you’re too good,” and she takes a long sip. “You know Manon will be home soon, pour her a cup, dear.”

“I’m already home gran, I’m here.”

“Oh, I know you are, but Manon will be here soon, I don’t know what that girl gets up to these days, too like her mother with those tattoos.” She nods to herself, focusing on her roses. “She’s too like you, five years and already like you, Sadie.”

“Gran, it’s me, Manon.”

“Manon, when did you get here?” a surprised expression filling her face. “Go get your mother, she should be out watering the roses like she said she would. She does love those flowers.”

I take her hand in mine and take a seat next to her, joining in with her daily habit of staring out of the window. The steam rising from the tea on the table at her elbow. Next to it is an old picture in a chipped wooden frame. I see my younger, five-year-old self beaming in my mother’s arms. She’s wrapping a towel around me, trying to dry me after swimming in the sea. Thorns tracing her wrists, rising along her forearms, blooming at her neck. Into a rose.