A Man Named Claude: A Short Story
Claude yawned as unselfconsciously as a newborn. It was late Saturday afternoon. He was waking up from a nap on his dilapidated navy blue leather couch. Despite promising himself that he wouldn’t fall asleep during the Dallas Cowboys football game, he’d surrendered to slumber within fifteen minutes.
His life, if he allowed himself the conjoined luxury of self-reflection and self-awareness, was in shambles. Here he was, at age 55, living alone in a shoddy apartment in Reno, Nevada. His compensation from the United States government for serving in the Gulf War was almost gone. He hadn’t worked a normal job in twenty years. Truth be told, he didn’t know what he’d be qualified to do.
Aware of the unicorn tattoo on his right shoulder—she had once gone swimming with him; hence, she saw him shirtless—his friend Margot had suggested he become a tattoo artist. If only, he mused bitterly… He could barely draw stick figures; truth be told, he still had nightmares about playing Pictionary as a child.
The tattoo was, not surprisingly, a spontaneous acquisition. Intoxicated to the point where he couldn’t feel pain, he had been dared by Drew, his drinking buddy, to acquire it. They stumbled into the tattoo parlor together while laughing with the boisterousness which can accompany excessive alcohol consumption. Claude, with his characteristic meekness, never dared Drew to get his own tattoo. Instead he obeyed. Of course he did. Being in the Army had taught him how to take orders without questioning whether or not he should.
Do you like to play Pictionary?
This tattoo parlor, Inky Miracles, was open 24 hours a day. Jessica, the bleach-bottle blonde working that night, had seen drunker customers. Although her boss didn’t approve of her catering to their whims, she was convinced that a business opportunity was a business opportunity. The ethics of whether or not she should rarely crossed her often vacant mind.
Claude, with his short, stout body, sat down in the chair. He grinned at her; he was too far gone to realize that she, without the aid of makeup, wasn’t remotely pretty. “Hey, gorgeous. I need a tattoo.”
“I’m here to help. What would you a tattoo of?”
“A unicorn.” He and Drew started giggling again.
Jessica was incredulous. She would have guessed that he would want something, err, more masculine.
“Okay. And where would you like it?”
“On my right bicep.”
In thirty seconds she prepared a rough sketch of a unicorn. He instantly approved of her handiwork. Next she asked what color he wanted the unicorn’s body to be.
“I get a choice?” His excitement was palpable.
Claude looked askingly at Drew. When Drew shrugged, he attempted to think lucidly. This decision, in his condition, seemed unspeakably important. “How about blue?”
“Absolutely. What color would you like its horn?”
Once again he was so excited she silently hoped he wouldn’t accidentally wet himself. Thankfully, he did not. “Neon pink.”
“Sounds good.” She tried to smile encouragingly, but it felt more forced than usual. Her shift couldn’t be over fast enough.
Forty minutes later, after giving her an exorbitant tip and his phone number, they walked outside. The brisk November air invigorated him. Ever so faintly he could feel the residual stinging sensation on his right bicep. Drew, momentarily forgetting about his tattoo, punched him on the offended spot in a sophomoric gesture.
“That was awesome, man. I can’t wait to tell the guys at work.”
Five hundred miles from stone-cold sober, Claude could already feel the tentacles of regret forming within him. This, while perhaps not the stupidest thing he had ever done, was far from the smartest.
Shaking his head in amusement, Claude wondered where life had taken Drew. They hadn’t seen each other for 25 years. He could, heaven forbid, no longer be living.
Distressed by this notion, he stumbled to his kitchen in search of munchies. The Cowboys, his favorite NFL team, were slaughtering the Minnesota Vikings. Instead of pondering unchangeable past events, he wanted to be entertained. He would, if, and only if, sufficient courage was available, confront past failures later.