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1922 Roma Airship Disaster Tattoo

Story by John Meyers (Read author interview) December 18, 2017

Art by Allef Vinicius

I have a massive tattoo of the 1922 Roma airship disaster on my chest. The flames and smoke clouds are very detailed, as are the miniature burning people leaping from the smashed windows of the crippled zeppelin. The first time I displayed the tattoo in public was during a day trip to Rehoboth Beach. I arrived late morning, secured an excellent parking spot near the boardwalk, and sat in my car until the crowds arrived.  Around noon I walked down to the water and took off my shirt. The 1922 Roma airship disaster tattoo drew immediate attention. Some people looked at it and quickly looked away. Others nodded respectfully. After a short while I had made some new friends, even though I didn’t want any new friends, or friends at all for that matter. I talked to these people about their lives and interests, which is something I rarely do. Before I knew it several hours had passed. I told my new friends I was only down for the day and had to get home before nightfall. I surprised myself by using the word nightfall in a sentence. At home I realized I’d forgotten to put on sunblock that morning. I was in terrible pain all night and couldn’t sleep. The next day the skin on my chest blistered due to the sunburn. It was a weird look, what with the Roma airship in flames, surrounded by the blisters popping and leaking down my sunburnt chest. It took several days for the pain to subside and I had to change t-shirts multiple times each day due to the leaking blisters. A couple of weeks later I went to a bar with a girl I’d met at the gym and told her about the tattoo. She demanded to see it right then in the bar. The lighting was low and I wasn’t confident the 1922 Roma airship disaster tattoo would be best represented in such dim light, but she insisted so I took off my shirt. When she saw the tattoo she put her hand over her mouth and reached out to touch my chest. She pointed out that each burning person jumping from the burning Roma airship had landed on a scar that had formed from the blistering sunburn. It almost looked like these people were surfing the sky, she said, each scar sort of resembling a puffy pink surfboard and each mini burning person comfortably lying on top. She kept pointing at the tattoo and shaking her head, which made me uncomfortable. I put my shirt back on and asked her if we could end the date. Later that night while looking at the tattoo in my bathroom mirror I remembered something she said about the modified scene being better than the original because a picture of horrific destruction had been transformed into one of hope. I understood her point, but the longer I looked at the tattoo in the mirror, the more convinced I became that I was the wrong person to carry this message to the world.

About the Author

John Meyers’ poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Louisville Review, Lunch Ticket, Cease, Cows (forthcoming), BlazeVOX, and Fiction Southeast, among others.

About the Artist

More work by Allef Vinicius can be found at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Eight

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