I bit the word “NOTHING” inked in block letters on his shoulder. I wanted to bring my teeth together through his skin. He stopped moving down my body with his gentler mouth, held me by the throat, examined the teeth marks, smiled, then kissed me hard and smacked me harder in the face.  I saw black diamonds — the kind on playing cards. I made no noise.

Whoever made noise lost. Lost face. Lost respect. Lost paradise.

We were ugly. We were not ugly enough. We were not ugly.

The last line of his favorite Bukowski story. ”The night kept coming and there was nothing I could do.”

We bit and smacked and punched and sliced and scraped and burned night but it still kept coming and we kept leaving and coming back. Nobody else gave and took as deliberately as we. We were gracious in keeping track.

Outside of night, we ordered food and took baths and watched movies, lying on the couch as others do. We covered our wounds. He covered the words. Nobody but us knew they were there but the guy who carved them so beautifully into his shoulder, not caring what they meant. The tattoo guy counted out the $400, mostly tens and twenties, arranging the bills so that all of the chins pointed to his left, before placing them in a lockbox that he put somewhere in the back of the shop.

Comforted by the man’s meticulousness, we offered the shoulder. He made no sound when the needle punctured his skin again, again and more. With his free hand, he pinched my thigh, he pulled my hair, he squeezed my wrist, he bent my fingers. When he did these things, the tattoo guy said keep still, man.

When the tattoo began to heal, we picked at the scabby words, creating scars that emphasized them. Highlighted them in a halo of angry skin.

The thing happened. It doesn’t matter what it was. We agreed without words to never speak of it. We agreed to the rules of losing.

We no longer had names. We moved to a new town. We did not have internet or e-mail. We did not have telephones. We did not talk to neighbors. We had what we needed.

The guy asked if I wanted one, too. We shook our heads. The shoulder belonged to us both. It would never leave.