There are only six words in the message and they have been carved very deep into the plywood wall that is starting to sag a little as the sidewalk under it sinks a little each day.
The message reads:
Give It Back To Me Rusty
That was all it said.
Nobody who saw it wondered who Rusty was or what it was Rusty had taken.
Eventually though somebody did notice and that somebody was Denio Litman.
Denio was 42 and in a month he was going to be 43 and the one thing Denio wanted for his birthday was a tattoo. That tatttoo was something he promised to give to himself every year since the year he turned 40.
Last year he had almost made good on the gift to himself- last year he had actually gone into the Tattoo Parlor and looked through the books. That was a step up from the previous years when he hadn’t even bothered to pull into the parking lot.
He did, however, drive by very slowly.
But this year was different.
This year it was really going to happen.
Denio was so certain of that fact that he had started to collect drawings and pictures of tattoos that he liked and he now had about a half dozen books next to his bed about the history and culture of tattoos.
And then one afternoon as he ran by the wall he noticed the message to Rusty and he wondered who would stand there and take the time to carve something like that into wood-each letter was about four inches tall and each letter was starting to splinter around the rounded letters so Denio guessed that not only had somebody put their back into carving the message they must have nearly carved their way through the plywood itself.
Now that, Denio thought, took commitment and that’s when he decided to take getting his tattoo seriously.
A few days later the wall was gone- there was a new plywood wall in it’s place and a boardwalk covering the place where the sidewalk used to be and hanging from the wall were six posters for the same event which was:
“The Sixth Annual Twilight Tattoo Festival”
Denio stopped to look at the poster because this could be the place where his tattoo could happen-the needles and ink and the stinging could be happening to him…
Well- that was sudden.
Then Denio really looked at the poster and he couldn’t help but to notice that it was covered with lots and lots of women and that none of them had tattoos- though they did have very nice smiles.
Well, it was an Ink Fest alright, but Denio guessed that at this Fest the ink probably washed off with soap and water and that it was probably fruit flavored ink to boot.
Denio breathed something that he would never admit was a sign of relief and when he let that breath go he looked up and saw, written in blackmarker just above the poster’s top edge was
Give It Back To Me Rusty
Denio’s birthday came and went and Denio had bagged the tattoo idea again, which was sort of present he had secretly given to himself. However, the people in Denio’s life gave him actual presents and one was a gift card for coffee from Club Earth which was just around the corner from his office.
Denio used his gift card on the day he forgot his lunch and because it was the lunch hour Denio figured the lines at Club Earth were going to be pretty long so he decided to cut through the alley to get over to Bonnie Street before the Office people from further uptown made it down for their hourly fix.
Standing in those coffee lines was a nasty situation- all of those people shaking because they were going through caffeine withdrawals and reeking like designer perfumes.
So to avoid that Denio cut through the alley which only sounded bad- as far as alleys went the one that led over to Bonnie was clean and well lit and it looked like a picture from an old fashioned Christmas card because of the low doorways ( bricked over now) and the cobbled street (paved over in most places) and along the outer walls you could still see the frames that the windows used to be in ( boarded up).
Only now, in addition to that, starting at one end of the alley and ending at the other were the words
The message had been written in chalk and as Denio stood there he could see the little puffs of yellow chalk dust coming up off the letters and he saw it get caught up in the breeze and then he watched it drift and settle all along Bonnie Street.
In the evening, when Denio got home from work he started to pay attenition to the news, he even checked the news services on the Internet and read the papers.
He was looking for Rusty- and unlike his tattoo- it wasn’t something planned to do, he was really doing it.
One evening at the train station, , Denio saw someone in a grey hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans facing the wall that was now stripped of the Twilight Tattoo Festival posters.
Their arm was raised up and he could see in their hand a can of spray paint.
He could also see that there were two letters under the hand:
“Hey” Denio asked with a laugh- at least he hoped it sounded like a laugh “what did this Rusty take from you?”
The figure’s hand moved slowly from side to side, just a little and then the paint hissed out of the can:
” Come on…what did Rusty take from you? ” Denio reached out and touched the figure’s shoulder and as he did Denio’s thought to himself:
I really wished I’d gotten that tattoo.
The hooded figure turned towards him and as it did the paint can dropped to the ground and Denio heard it rolling all the way down the steps until it reached the train tracks below and stopped.
It’s probably still there.