The Tattoo This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

April 10, 2012
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He knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. As his youngest granddaughter nestled her head into the leathery concave between his neck and shoulder, just as so many of her cousins had done before her, the old man buried his face in the wild tangle of curls the girl had inherited from her mother, his daughter. Small lips pursing with the effort, the little girl traced the outline of the small blue triangle on her grandfather's forearm. The five numbers, dark and rigid and imposing as the building where they had been created, stood out against the fragile skin that hung in wrinkles.

She asked where the tattoo came from, what it meant. The old man's lips curved into a smile, but his eyes darkened. How could he tell her what it really meant? How could he explain what he had been through, what he had seen? To the little girl, they were five scratches in the arm that tucked her into bed sometimes, but to the old man, those five numbers meant so much more.


The number of months he spent in that hellhole. But the old man knew he was one of the lucky ones. He walked in like the rest of them, but he came out. Not everyone did.


The number of siblings he'd had. Three brothers, four sisters. He couldn't remember all of their names because he was so young when they were split up. And now, as he slowly felt his mind disintegrating, felt the word “senile” dragged behind him wherever he went, he couldn't remember even a face or a touch. But he knew that they were all gone.


The number of times he should have died but ­didn't. The number of times God intervened and saved his life, but for what reason, the old man still didn't know. It was the frantic switch from line to line, the constant begging, the number of times he was forced to kiss the hand that had strangled so many of his family.


The number six was important: six was the millions of his people who were killed. Exterminated. Gone without a trace, leaving behind a generational gap that he, his five children, and dozens of grandchildren could not fill.


The number of days that had passed without the man wondering why he was alive though his siblings and parents were dead. Why God had saved his life not once, not twice, but four times. Why six million Jews were dead, with nothing but a tiny, discordant piece of land to show for it.

And he had this tattoo and the endless nightmares to constantly refresh his failing memory. Number nine seven four six zero, another man, another ­survivor.

Realizing his littlest granddaughter was still looking up at him, waiting for an answer, the old man stroked her hair with a gnarled hand.

“It's nothing, sweetheart. Just a tattoo I got when I was young. It's bedtime.” And with that, the little girl trotted off, leaving the old man staring at his arm, tears trickling down slowly.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Bookish said...
Feb. 11, 2013 at 6:16 pm
Did you get this idea from the book The Devil's Arithmetic? It seems very similar.
Deamer_ said...
Jan. 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm
That was really good, very emotional :)
johnLennonfan said...
Dec. 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm
Hi, I love this story. :)
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