“Yes, along your spine,” Jameson said. Walters stretched his right arm behind his back, prospecting with his hand the area where he imagined the tattoo could be, expecting to feel it with his fingertips and to understand it.
“A little farther up,” Jameson said, regretting he had mentioned the tattoo at all. “Yes, right there,” he added, hoping that that would be the end of any further mentioning about tattoos.
Walters palpated his back. He couldn’t feel any contours or rugosities on the skin, but for a few seconds he made Jameson believe that he was able to see the tattoo with his fingertips, as unknowingly Walters traced the bell of the medusa that seemed to float between his shoulder blades. Walters’ delineated back muscles gave the medusa an asymmetrical and bumpy configuration. A poisonous air emanated from its ugliness. In the center of the bell there were two human eyes, and the top was crowned with an upturned ship that served as a hat. Numerous and intertwined tentacles dangled from the body and some of those tentacles ended in three-fingered hands that were holding coins. One coin accommodated a skull, another coin a cat’s eye. Asked about the color of the ink, Jameson would have advanced a guess about some sort of dark blue, but there were green and red veins that didn’t add any detail but seemed to make the medusa waver ever so slowly.
“Are there any names on it?” Walters asked.
“No, no names,” Jameson replied.
“What is it?”
“A medusa with eyes, and with coins at the end of some of the tentacles,” Jameson said.
“Medusas don’t have eyes,” Walters said.
“Well, this one has two,” Jameson almost made the point that it wasn’t a medusa after all, just a stupid tattoo, but he continued restraining his condescendence.
“How many coins?” Walters asked. Somehow that seemed relevant to him. If anything, the number twelve resonated in his mind with prominence. “Twelve?”
Jameson counted the coins. Some of them were partly covered by tentacles or other coins. “Yes, I think there are twelve of them. Why twelve?”
“I don’t know,” Walters said. “Why twelve indeed?” he thought. Maybe there was nothing to it and it had just been a fluke. In any case, he welcomed the notion that he knew something about that tattoo, which otherwise would have been a foreign object, like a parasite or an insult encrusted on his back.
“A medusa,” Walters muttered. “A medusa,” he repeated almost inaudibly. For a moment he thought he remembered and understood everything about that particular medusa, but as soon as that thought came it went away. As he wrapped his back under the wetsuit, that tattoo slipped second by second from his memory.
“Just give me a moment,” Walters said, kneeling down and rummaging through the pockets of his jeans to find the notebook and the small pen. Opening the notebook and holding the pen gave him again a sense of reassurance, drawing a line below the last entry a feeling of certainty and being in control, and floating on that ephemeral composure he wrote under the fresh line ‘I’ve tattoo, upperback. Medusa with eyes, holding 12 coins, to feed her babies? What inside the coins?’
He stuck the notebook and the pen in an inside pocket in his bag. He got out the diving tank and the mask and then he pushed all his clothes into the bag as if to hide the inside pocket from the view of others.
“Just make sure you don’t touch anything.” Dr. Pomme ordered. “Just go in and see what you can see.”
Walters slung the tank on his bank and put the mask on. Getting closer to the border of the canal, Walters assessed the surface of the water, as if looking for a door, an entryway. He looked back at the two men behind him, and they seemed more distant now. He could have been sitting on a boat already far from the coast and they would have been bystanders ashore, looking at the horizon. Jameson had reestablished his inscrutable face again. Dr. Pomme seemed very unhappy.
“Don’t touch anything,” Dr. Pomme insisted.
Walters, once again, opened his mouth to say something but he immediately closed it. What he wanted to say was unclear in his mind, and he didn’t believe the two men were likely to care for it. He readjusted his mask and engulfed the regulator with his mouth. In a quick and smooth move he squatted on the border, seemed to fall like fluid in a glass, elongating his body as he broke the water. No splash, suddenly he had disappeared under the water and only some shallow ripples revealed his entry-point into the canal.