Written by Tamar Fox. For more pieces by Tamar, check out Real Israelis. (Trigger Warning: Please be advised that the following post is about sexual molestation and sexual abuse. The story includes depictions of the character’s mental state as a result of suffering from this experience.)
Hannah was wiping the blood off a customer’s arm when a woman walked into the tattoo parlor. The customer gritted his teeth and tried to concentrate on the Cubs game that was playing on TV while Hannah bent over the inside of his elbow, carefully maneuvering the tip of the vibrating wand onto his skin. She focused on the hum of the metal, and filled in a small section that had been outlined a few weeks earlier. Sean was halfway through a full sleeve of Celtic knots and a large ornate cross, and she had warned him this part would be the most painful.
When she looked up, Hannah saw the woman standing uncertainly at the counter, her blonde hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and her hands folded neatly on the glass. She was wearing nice clothes—black pants with a well-defined crease, an off-white collared shirt, top button left undone to show off a small wedge of collarbone, and a gold chain with a small pearl pendant. Women like her usually came in later at night looking slightly unkempt, buzzed on cocktails and surrounded by similarly adorned cohorts who helped pick out something small and uncontroversial, like a rose to be placed on a hip, or a dolphin for an ankle.
“I’m sorry,” Hannah said, wiping more blood away and then looking up at the woman again, “but it’s going to be a few minutes before someone can help you. You can just look around for a while if you’d like.” She pointed at the sample wall. “And we’ll be with you as soon as we can.”
The woman stared for a moment, looked hard at Hannah’s face, and then nodded. She moved over to the samples, mechanically flipping through the pages that were mounted on the wall, her posture stiff and her jaw set.
Hannah saw this all the time: someone determined to get a tattoo, but scared to the point of anger at the prospect of vibrating needles jabbing into their skin. Hannah’s boyfriend Owen was in one of the little rooms off to the side of the main studio, where people got body piercings. He was putting a stud in the tongue of a high school senior who had skipped school to come in and get it done against his parents’ wishes. The guy had brought a girl with him, and she was giggling nervously, telling her friend how awesome it was going to be, how totally fucking awesome it would totally be. The walls were thin enough that Hannah could hear Owen explaining what he was going to do and then fixing the clamp to hold the guy’s tongue.
“Some people say the pain is a bit bracing,” Owen paused, and Hannah knew from experience that he was sliding the needle through the guy’s tongue while he spoke, “but you’re in high school. You probably feel worse every day in trig.” The guy laughed nervously, and before he was even finished giggling Owen said, “Done!”
Hannah focused back on Sean and filled in another knot, careful to keep her touch light, using one of her rubber gloved hands to keep the skin taut. He took in a quick breath when she began the section just above the crease of his elbow, and she knew from her own sleeve that it was a strange feeling, because it tickled, but was also painful. “We’re almost done,” she said to him, her voice soft. “Just about two more minutes.” She dabbed at some of the blood that was coming up, and carefully aimed for another spot, trying to be as gentle as she could. In the other room she heard the teenager spit out the antibacterial mouthwash used to clean the wound and then cough. Hannah finished up the knot she had been working on and turned off the tattoo gun.
“What do you think?”
He looked down at it and grinned. “Fucking love it.”
She pressed down on the whole area with a bandage and taped it up with a roll of surgical tape. Hannah ran through the litany of instructions for keeping the tattoo clean while it healed, and Sean nodded mechanically—he had heard all this before. He gave her a credit card and Hannah looked over at the blonde woman again as the receipt printed. She was sitting on one of the couches, and she had a file from her briefcase spread on her lap.
Sean signed the receipt—20% tip—thanked Hannah and left, the bell on the door jangling softly as it fell closed behind him.
“So,” Hannah said, looking at the woman and raising her eyebrows, “what can I do for you?”
“Well actually.” She folded her file closed and slid it back into her briefcase. “I’m a state attorney for Illinois.”
“Is the studio in some kind of trouble?” Panic crept into Hannah’s chest, and she tried to rewind the last five minutes in her head, to remember if she had skipped some part of the legal protocol involved in tattooing Sean.
“Oh, no.” The woman looked startled. “Actually, I’m looking for Chana Leah Weinberg. Is that you?”
Jesus. Hannah blinked. Behind her she heard Owen leading the teenagers out of the piercing room. The girl was giggling and the guy was breathing loudly around his swollen tongue. Hannah moved out of the way so that Owen could ring them up, and they shuffled out of the store.
“Yes.” Her voice sounded strange. Strangled. “That’s me.”
The light in the room suddenly seemed too strong.
“I’m Rebecca Janssen. I’m the lead attorney on the state’s case against Rabbi Yerachmiel Held.”
The moment was anti-climactic. There was a sense of how dramatic it should have been, but Hannah felt perfectly calm. Owen muttered, “Fuck,” next to her, and she cocked her head to the left.
“What’s he being charged with?”
“Several counts of sexual abuse and sexual assault of minors.”
“Well.” Her mind was strangely blank. “That sounds about right.” Owen’s hand rested lightly on the small of her back, but he stayed quiet, watching her. He had looked like this when she told him the story, once, when they started dating two years earlier, and it scared her how she was able to turn a guy who was so loud and funny into someone so sullen and angry.
“I was told you might have some more information pertaining to the case.”
The name didn’t register at first, but then Hannah remembered the school secretary, a short round woman who always wore a beret and a sour expression on her face. The last time Hannah had left Rabbi Held’s office, her senior year, he had followed her into the main office and said “Chana…” in his soft cruel voice as she walked away unsteadily, livid and humiliated. Mrs. Schack had been standing in the door to the copy room, watching.
Hannah met Rebecca’s eyes, and then looked away, out onto the street, through the storefront windows. “I’m at work right now. This isn’t the best time.”
“I was hoping I might be able to buy you lunch.”
“I just got on at noon. I don’t get a break until three.”
“I can wait.”
Hannah shrugged, still feeling as if there was a reaction she should be having, but not at all sure what it would be. “Suit yourself.”