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She's old and she tattoos only things of the past.

Her license is the oldest one.

Her parlor is old, too, in the dead center of the ethnographic quarter.

The parlor window has a built-in view of the sea.

When I ask after her tattoo style, she answers: "Traditional nü-US mostly." She owns also Japanese-Korean and Chinese Post-Epidemic but hasn't used them often. Her Australian module has been damaged in the riots.

I'm here with her because I'm thlogging about all things of the past.

"Tell me about your styles," I say while settling in the chair in front of her.

"Would you like a tattoo?" She sounds hopeful.

"Not yet. Tell me about the styles. What makes them so different?"

The chair is comfortable. Almost to the point of sinking. I take a couple of shots to edit later, and a panoramic one from this vantage point. There's more than enough time: I've got a one-week museum ticket.

"What about the styles?"

"Why don't you tattoo European? Or South-American?"

The tattoo machine hums quietly. I zoom at the parlor window. It's 2D, but the colors are bright and realistic. The shore and the beach had been a long-gone memory even before the parlor opened. It had been a chic trick probably, having a classy view while looking at a blind wall.

She answers at last. "Maybe another parlor held these modules. Or all Europe dreamed -US style."

I snap this moment of two-fold sadness for the thlog; is it more pathetic for half a world to dream the same dreams, or for her not to know what those were?

"Did you have many clients?"

"A lot—but there were almost none at the beginning," she says. "Would you like a tattoo?"

"Not yet. Please show me what clients you had the first year."

"I'm not allowed to reveal details about my clients."

I have to think around that.

I'll edit the thinking out. "What about the appointment log?"

"Only appointments, no names or tattoo themes," she says.

There really aren't that many. A dozen tattoos done during the first couple of months, most of them by court order. That I didn't expect. It's not in the records I collected while preparing for this visit. Of course, there are lots of blind spots about that period.

I won't edit out the joy and awe of this discovery. I'll put even the reflective pause in the thlog.

What offense justified having dreams punitively tattooed by court order? Should it have been done at all?

I point at some random appointments. "What procedures have these people been sentenced to?"

"I'm not allowed to reveal details about my clients."

"Are you allowed to duplicate the procedures then?"

The tattoo machine is humming quietly, and clouds are gathering over the beach on the parlor window. It seems rather cold at that shore. I squint, trying to focus better on the people wandering about—without success. This view is an old model. My eyes are old, too.

You cannot thlog about things of the past while using eyes from the future.

"Would you like a tattoo?"

"Yes," I say. "Give me the same as this one here."

"It's a permanent tattoo," she warns. "Made on Judge Herman Devero's orders. Any removal or meddling with the tattoo may lead to additional punitive tattooing."

I've got a one-week ticket, so everything here is permanent for seven days. Six already. I settle back and close my old eyes. I want to be alone in my thlog for a moment while the machine is fastening me to the chair and plugging into the neural shunt of my old body.

Pilgrimage old.

The machine counts back from ten and starts tattooing.

There's something else missing in the old data, and I'll leave both my surprise and dread in the thlog.

Tattooing hurts.

The tattoo is splendid. Nü-US style with dense colors, full saturation and precise detailing, and it just floats on the surface of my mind for a couple of minutes before snuggling against the rest of my memories.

"I detect successful completion of the process."

"Oh, yes," I say. "The details are mind-boggling, the depth is perfect. Where am I?"

Even while asking, I recognize the view. It's the one from the parlor window. The beach is almost buried under garbage. I'm choking on tears while fighting the memory of standing on this beach, on my way to wade through the horrible barrier to go surfing.

I love surfing. Riding the waves. 

But from now on, the litter of the past will float to the surface ad infinitum.

While I'm trying to swallow that—and I'll leave it all in my thlog, to the last thought!—it dawns on me that the tattoo is meant for something else. The machine is old, her views are realistically unecological. They are not the punishment. I'm tattooed a woman, and at the beach, I crave the surfer girl nearby; I ache to touch her booty, caress her breasts, kiss her lips, inhale her perfume's aroma; I'm so wet down there that I'm sick with longing. But she just passes me by, and it's like the sun is sinking down the beach wasteland. 

Both the view and the longing will keep echoing deep inside me until the end of my ticket, and they'll remain sealed in my thlog of the day. Imperishable. Imposed. Implanted.

I'm in an old body and I think of the past.

"Would you like a tattoo?"

Startled, I almost spill my pizza out of the box.

It tasted very detailed and dense, and chewing tattooed it in my mind; I thlogged eating some, but now the pizza is cold and sticky, and I'm not recording.

"No, not yet," I say. "What other punitive tattooing have you done over the period?"

I expect the usual "I'm not allowed to reveal details." Instead, she recites: "Dysphoria, depression, suicidal thoughts, sensory disorders, non-binary self-perception ...."

So much pain! The old pizza rises up my old stomach.

Some of the things on the list I'll have to look up later. But they all sound like problems that you can't imagine existed. That can't be possible. Up until they happen to you.

She's punitively tattooed empathy. What a strange idea!

"And what were your first voluntary tattoos?" I ask.

"I'm not allowed to—"

"Oh, okay, I know. Just duplicate one of them. A short-term one."

"This is a one-day tattoo," she warns. "It will self-erase by next morning."

I close my old eyes and clench my teeth. Ready for the pain.

I'm swimming with whales.

The water is soberingly cold, and my body is pinched in a strange garment that's not getting wet.

The whales are impossibly colossal. I forget to breathe while a titanic muzzle swims towards me for a whole eternity, and a wise eye winks at me point-blank. The whale's black skin is mottled by scars: pleats on silk. A twist of its tail sends me tumbling through the water, and I open my eyes in the chair in front of the tattoo machine.

Breathing is a convulsion. It hurts so much.

There are no whales nowadays. No elephants either. The rhinoceroses we succeeded in cloning. 

"Are you crying?" she asks. "Don't you like your tattoo?"

"It's most wonderful." I plunge my face into my palms and burst into tears. Tattooed whales sing in the depths of my mind.

"Would you like a tattoo?"

"Fix me with some dreams this time," I say.

"I'm not allowed to—"

I bristle, expecting the usual refusal.

"—tattoo sleep and food consumption, because tattoos are not considered adequate substitutes for real calorie intake and rest."

I'm shrouded in old tiredness but still up for one more tattoo before heading back to the hotel. "I meant a daydream. Of your choice."

The tattoo machine hums, and I ease my head onto the chair's headrest. I'm not thlogging; I don't expect anything to surpass the tattooed so far, and I have more than enough visual panoramic shots and emotional sequences.

The shore on the parlor window is enveloped in darkness, and the street lamps illuminate it like sparkling fires. It takes me some time to realize that the lights on the horizon must be ships.

Ships! Metal coffins. Oil spills. Ugh!

I'm so distraught I fail to notice the pain when the tattooing starts.

I'm on board a sailing ship. 

A wind-powered ship.

A boat with precise AI controls and zero carbon emissions, as streamlined as the whales, but the sea—Oh, the sea! The water is crystal clear and full of life. The sky is cerulean, the air is clean.

I'm one with the swinging deck under my feet, and at night, the stars are so many and so bright that the tattoo resembles a dream more than a fantasy.

I lay my old body on the old bed in the old hotel room and dream bright like the stars: sea and whales and feverish longing fuse into a nuclear bomb.

My old heart is about to burst.

On the built-in view on the parlor window, the sunrise is combing the sand, and I'd like to think that the small figures there on the beach are making love.

The hotel has packed me breakfast in an old lunchbox with bleached drawings on the sides. I eat slowly while sorting through the machine's log and comparing it with the historical overview from my research. The bites get washed with some warm liquid out of the hotel thermos. The tastes get my old body thrilled from head to toe. I understand all too well why one would like to have food consumption tattooed. Or sleep. Even if they aren't adequate substitutes.

Over the first couple of years, the log is not too full, and the parlor has been ransacked a couple of times.

"Do you have the attacks on record?" I ask.

"I do have witness testimonies to go with the complaints about destroying private property."

I'm expecting an offer to tattoo those on me, but instead, the view on the window changes to a view to the window from the outside. I almost jump out of the chair.

The image is murky, I can't see the huddled protesters very well. They have brought signs and drones. Only when I notice the masks the policemen wear do I realize that the fog is smog.


The breakfast rises up my old stomach.

People on the street are shouting "Privacy! Privacy! Privacy!", blocking the way of the policemen and their prisoner.

Blows are struck, sirens wail, the parlor window gets smashed.

An influencer advocates on the social media of the time: "Tattooing convicts is still a violation of human rights! We have to ban access to people's consciousness!"

I'll put those moments in my thlog—and maybe the old reaction they wake up in my old body. The thrill of staying true to yourself—of still being yourself—once you let alien notions straight into your head. Whether they be passions, whales, or stars. But there is also the thrill of being a part of something greater—of being an all-embracing entity—once you let the extrinsic into your innermost thoughts. All the ways you will change, and the ways the tattoo will change you. 

"Travel the world with tattoos!"—I'll put that in the thlog, too. When travel is so dangerous, neighboring countries turn into alien planets. And neighbors turn to be aliens.

"You've continued performing punitive tattooing despite the riots," I say when the noon sun is already heating the view on the window, and the memory of the beach gets bustling with people.

"It made for almost half of my appointments," she agrees. "I also got to tattoo community service by municipal authorities' orders."

I drink up the last drops from the thermos and close the old hotel lunchbox.

"Would you like a tattoo?"

It's hot. I'm cleaning a beach. I recognize it immediately because it's the one from the parlor window. I'm wearing a mask, and the air rushes into my throat with a medical pinch. My hands are sweaty and slippery under the gloves. The fatigue turns my blood to cement, and I'm sunburned around my mask: the sun is so bright here, near the ocean.

Reddened faces, exhausted smiles. The sense of solidarity, of unity, of communion knits us all together, here on the beach. It changes our mission, and it changes us too. 

A gigantic machine is sifting the sand in our wake, its solar batteries like a sunflower head.

I'm planting trees. I'm digging a hole, no mask this time, but the air makes my eyes water. The shovel is surprisingly heavy, and the earth is wet and sticky. I push with my heel and dislodge a big lump of grass and roots. The aroma hits my nose. So fresh! I squint but see no earthworms in the hole, but then a girl shoves me aside to pour a whole pail of worms and compost in, and a boy sticks a sapling in the hole. I fill it in with earth, and all of us are laughing together even if we don't know each other. We move to the next hole. Side by side.

A massive tractor crawls over the slope, shadowed by the familiar umbrella of the solar panels. Its trailer is full of saplings.

My old head is pulsing, too tattooed.

I need to feel the cement of fatigue in my blood.

I leave the parlor to take a walk. I'm thlogging but will probably leave only separate frames intact. The plywood nailed to the parlor window dates from the riots. I already recorded it yesterday on arrival, but now I look at it with tattooed eyes. There are no advertising panels put up like was typical for the chaotic times, but it is covered in tattoos. Penguins, bikers, birds, waves, stars and flowers, lions and wolves, clouds, flames, rockets, galaxies—they all overlap, crowd together, layer over layer. The tattoos spill over the surrounding old graffiti, assimilating them.

The tattoo parlor window doesn't remind me of an altar. At all. Whatsoever.

I can't stop thinking about altars while walking my old body around the ethnographic quarter. The streets surrounding the main exhibition have been preserved—for context. The building facades are kept carefully unrestored. I see graffiti all over and have to look up their meaning sometimes. I pass by a square, restaurants, a corner shop, a hospital with a big refrigerator trailer in front, a tech shop, a car dealership, a small park with a playground and skateboard ramps. It all looks as if there were people there a minute ago. But then they moved on to pursue their dreams.

"Would you like a tattoo?" she asks when I return to her altar.

I've come early and am now watching the sunrise on the window while having breakfast out of the old picture lunchbox. The tattoo machine is humming quietly. In her log, there is a year she spent closed and fulfilled only a handful of court orders, but this is a period I don't want tattooed on me anyways.

I don't even want to watch it because I don't have that many tears in my old eyes. Even thinking about it empties me of sense. I'm ready to scroll down to the moment the measures loosened and the parlor opened again, but there were voluntary tattoos during that period as well. Interesting, how did clients get inside the shop? Through the backdoor? Through an attic window? In the first two months, there were only three tattoos, then eighteen for the next two months, then more than a hundred. There's nothing on them in my research materials. Of course, the data from this period is mostly fragmentary.

Would I like a tattoo?

I smoke a piece of glass and watch the solar eclipse through it.

I'm picking strawberries in a forest clearing, laughing and smeared in juice.

I'm chopping wood, and the ax is as heavy as the world itself.

I'm chasing rabbits through a meadow full of flowers.

I'm breastfeeding, and the baby bites viciously on my breast.

Happiness is the opposite of emptiness.

She wasn't taken apart for scrap metal as many of the others. When the parlor opened again, her schedule was full for months ahead, and the work hours got extended.

"Restoration to old pre-crisis levels is a priority," an archive holorecording assures me.

I see an old thrill with my old eyes: the world works, and there is no reason to change it. Its problems are familiar. Lifestyles are habitual. Dreams are predictable.

I see a new thrill, too: the old ways need to change. The world needs a step forward, a set of different eyes. The change needs dreams.

Dreams bring change.

"The season of the tattoo machines has come."

I'll put that in the thlog, too, next to the feverish new parlor openings statistics.

Would I like a tattoo?

I'm making snow angels, and it won't stop snowing.

I'm skating on a frozen lake.

I'm sitting on a riverbank in the dark, surrounded by fireflies and the croaking of toads.

I'm climbing a summit, and the clouds below are an ocean in gray and white.

I‘m staring at the storks flying south in giant musters.

I hug and I'm being hugged.

I love and I'm being loved.

I warm and I'm feeling warmed.

I am!

She's old and tattoos only things of the past.

They won't fit in my head, too vast.

On shaky legs, I thread through what was cast.

But I just want to sleep. To dream at last.

On the fourth day, I can take no more. Blast.

The entire fifth day I spend out of the parlor. I thlog a little about some other exhibits in the ethnographic quarter. The tattoos feel heavy in my old head, taking their toll. Memories of people past; scattered pieces of a broken world. They tell a story, transient like lucent pixels on an electronic board. It washes with the rain of time pattering on my skull. But it leaves soil for time to water. And that soil sprouts green saplings.

I get my dinner at a food truck on the other side of the quarter. There's a cinema and a theater opposite, I thlogged about them earlier, but now the dusk paints new changes. It swirls colorful lights around them, and bright colors from the advertisement panels. My dinner is colorful, too. And flawlessly tasty even if it was printed in the truck.

As a child, I thought snow was printed somewhere high in the sky. I've seen snow once, but it wasn't as much as in the dreams my old head got tattooed with.

Not all dreams can come true.

But if there are enough of them, they become an avalanche.

The sixth sunrise sees me back in the chair in front of the window. The tattoo machine is humming quietly. Her log from the first three years after reopening is not an avalanche—it's a broken dam. There is more than enough data about this period, at last. I even have a couple of studies to quote:

The tattoo culture: a reflection of progress.

Important themes and their evolution through popular tattoo parlors.

Mastering climate change and the tattoo festivals around the world.

But now I think historians got it wrong; tattoos are not a reflection of progress but engines to spur it on. Also, all avalanches start with the displacement of a single snowflake. With tattooing empathy, for example.

Is it okay to do it by court orders? Probably not, but it is not my place to judge. Human history has seen too many changes sparked in the courtroom. And not always by the right sentence ruled.

I scroll further down the log and reach the point where the load got lighter, and there were vacant slots. And even further, to times when she passed through new, smaller peaks. I'm almost at the end.

She's not just old, she's the last one.

She's a legend, and nobody gets to become one by being a reflection.

The legends displace snowflakes. They are the engines of avalanches.

"Would you like a tattoo?" she asks when I slowly raise my old eyes.

"Yes." I point to the last appointment in the log. "Duplicate this one here for me."

The sky is a black sheet of paper with zillions of stars tattooed.

In that sky, I'm accompanied by the hiss and click of the outfit which comfortably protects my fragile body.

The awe makes me forget to breathe when the slow spin raises Earth to fill my whole view. I want it so much, my longing fills up the emptiness.

I have new eyes when I'm back at her altar on the seventh day.

She's old and she tattoos avalanches.



Elena Pavlova is a writer and translator, madly in love with SFFH. She has won the ESFS award for Best work for children (2021) and SLF’s Diverse Worlds grant (2021). Her translations include works by Peter Watts, Stephen King and others. Currently she writes for Scars of Honor, a MMORPG.