Boston Tattoo

Tattoo You
Tattoo You

I sat on Boston’s shoulders, fists pumping in the sun, near enough to be sprayed by Mick Jagger’s sweat. The pounding bass shook my chest, five-foot high speakers bursting ear drums. Looking across the crowd I saw other girls on shoulders, buoys swaying above the body sea. We echoed one another: long hair, dangling earrings, Jagger’s lips and tongue t-shirts. Boston’s blonde head nodded to the beat between my thighs, his hands holding me steady. I floated, exceeding the fantasy I’d rehearsed ahead of my bedroom mirror countless times. Boston had been a stranger that morning, but in one afternoon he had transformed me from the quiet Roman Catholic school girl to a free-spirited Rock Chick.

The Rolling Stones saved the summer of 1981. Newly legal for work at 16, I started waitressing as soon as school break began. My gal pals and I had spent the last few months planning night barbeques on the beach and seeing countless movies together. With regular wages and tips stacking up, I burst with summer plans. Yet, repeated rounds of phone calls yielded nothing. Every movie had been, or was about to be, seen with a boyfriend. Each proposed adventure had to be left open-ended “in case he calls.” As the only one in our group running solo that summer, the girls adopted a sympathetic tone with me. I stopped calling and drowned myself in music.

That August when the Stones released Tattoo You, I rushed to buy the LP as soon as it dropped. Excitement had been building since the band announced a world tour. With school starting at the beginning of September, I wanted to be an expert on the album. Perhaps I could reclaim a place within the girlfriend circle. Dancing ahead of my bedroom mirror, I sang ‘Start Me Up’ into a hairbrush, gyrating my hips, making Jagger faces. My rendition of ‘Waiting on a Friend’ had a sobbing accompaniment each time I played the track; lyrics articulating my summer of abandonment.

In September, neutralised by our green herringbone skirts, crisp blouses and knee high socks, the girl gang returned to an easy school day rhythm. Despite my lack of boyfriend knowledge, they accepted me as the resident music expert. They launched a campaign to fix me up with one of the males in our class that they traded between them. A single candidate offered to take me out, on the promise of a real date with one of the other girls. I feigned indifference, telling my friends that well-scrubbed boys from the right families had no appeal for me. After a summer of staring at album covers and music magazines, I craved unkempt layered hair, cigarettes hanging from mouth corners, electric guitars bouncing off hips. Alone in my room, watching glossy vinyl discs spin on the turntable, I imagined myself at dim grunge clubs or stadium concerts. A bass player or singer catching my eye, security ushering me backstage.

One morning the school campus buzzed as students exchanged the huge news – the Rolling Stones would play one San Francisco date in October, tickets on sale from 10am. A few dared to ditch class, disappearing in their Mustangs and Corvettes to stand in line downtown. By the time the final bell rang, whispers filled the halls that the concert sold out in a couple of hours. Staring out the window on the bus ride home, I didn’t join in the usual girl chatter.

After my stop, I walked up the house steps with concrete feet and a hanging head. My mother opened the door with her usual smile, but didn’t ask about my day. A hand on my shoulder, she guided me to the breakfast room table. Four royal blue tickets lay fanned out, red lips and tongues exposed, a row of luminous white teeth glimmering on each. I screamed and hugged her tighter than I had in years. My middle-aged mother had heard about the concert on the early morning news, driving to a sketchy part of town to stand in line in her sensible brown shoes and matching handbag. I pictured her making the purchase, the seller categorising her as a Rolling Stones anomaly. Grabbing the phone I called my best friends, three screaming phone calls later, Tattoo You blared out of my room for the rest of the evening.

I had an elite status at school for the rest of the week, my three besties hanging on my arms as we walked the halls. We were The Ones, The Ones With Tickets. Friday afternoon my wave crashed. The Stones added a second date with tickets going on sale Saturday morning. Sunday night the phone rang, each friend in turn gushing the same tale – the boyfriend taking them to the second concert, but they were sure I’d find someone else. By Monday I was The One With Three Extra Tickets. And they were wrong; no one wanted to go with me.

As the concert date crept closer, guilt weighed on two friends, each offering up an older brother. I knew Jay and Louis on sight, but had exchanged little more than single word greetings with them. Jay had a friend who’d take the last ticket and the four of us could go together. In their early 20s, they seemed a lifetime away from me, but desperate to go and with no other options, I agreed.

The morning of the concert, I borrowed my older sister’s chandelier earrings (an approved request) and applied her mascara and eyeliner (braving her wrath). Completing my look, I wore a tight camisole and jeans that I had to lie down in to get zipped. I slipped on a sweatshirt to get past my mother and waited by the front window. My pulse hammered. Mentally I practised light banter. With the lawn mower sound of Jay’s old grey Beetle filling the street, I shot up, bolting out the front door before the horn’s second beep. Louis, already in the back, nodded as I slipped in beside him.

Jay looked around the headrest. “We’ll just pick up my friend Boston and then head across the Bay Bridge. There’s a bus to Candlestick Park from the parking lots by the piers.”

“Boston? That’s his name?” My voice sounded squeaky, not the sexy drawl I had planned to use for the day.

“That’s the name he goes by.” Jay revved the engine and turned towards the highway.

Jay’s friend lived in an off-limits part of the city. Passing houses with peeling paint and cars parked at odd angles on front lawns, I curled into a corner of the Beetle, scalp tingling. Jay pulled into a driveway, stopping ahead of a house garage now converted into an apartment. My eyes darted around the neighbourhood, glad Jay had left the engine running. After four beeps, Boston sauntered out – tall and muscular with long blonde hair hanging loose around his shoulders. I wiped damp palms against my jeans.

He slid into the front passenger seat, the Beetle felt smaller. Twisting, he surveyed Louis and me in the back. As Jay reversed out of the driveway, he tossed out our names like he was dealing cards. The three of us nodded in unison. Boston stared at me, unblinking ocean eyes. A black alligator tooth-shaped earring hung from his left ear, below it I spied a raised neck scar, thin and white. I looked down at my hands.

“You the kid whose mom scored the tickets?” A deep timbre, softer than I expected.


“Cool, thanks. It’ll be a good time.”

I glanced up at him and he winked.

Jay cleared his throat, tilting his chin. “You got the stuff?”

Boston patted the front pocket of his worn jeans. “Primo.”

Parked by the piers, Jay popped open the front of the Beetle. He hauled out a heavy rucksack, slinging it over one shoulder. The four of us joined the crowd at the bus stop, an excited jumble forming a loose line. I distributed the tickets. Jay and Louis had paid earlier through their sisters. Boston pulled a thick roll of green bills from his pocket, removed a rubber band and peeled off several notes handing them to me. The boys talked together over my head. I regretted my flat sneakers and 5’2” height. Craning around the boys hips, I saw several kissing couples making intimate use of the wait. Despite the foggy chill, I took off my baggy sweatshirt, tying it around my hips and fluffed my hair.

The bus dropped us at Candlestick Park and we shuffled along the security line. They pulled out bottles from Jay’s bag, all plastic and gave the ok. A burly officer jerked his thumb at Boston, moving him to a corner for a full pat down. The rest of us stood on the other side of the gate waiting. I peered through the chain link mentally flipping through Mrs. Alvarez’s Drug Awareness class slides. When the search yielded two fatties, a lighter and a roach clip, security handed them back and waved him through. With a rush, I released the breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding.

The sun broke through the fog, welcome warmth on my bare arms, chest and back. At a t-shirt stand, Boston turned to me.

“Do you want one?” He gestured to rows of concert t-shirts.

I looked through my lashes and smiled. “Yeah, ok. I’ve got money.”

One hand on my arm, Boston pushed his way to the front. “Which one do you want?” he said.

I pointed to a men’s sleeveless with the Tattoo You album cover on the front. Boston shook his head and pointed to a tight woman’s short sleeve with the iconic lips and tongue in red sequins. I bit my lip and nodded. Purchase made, I smoothed it on over my camisole, removing wrinkles as it clung to every curve. He stepped back and swirled one finger, asking me to do a circle. “Yeah kid, lots of sun. You were going to fry.” He gave my back a pat.

We settled into our seats, Boston indicated I should sit between him and Jay. Ant-sized people moved across the playing field below, congregating near the front. Even at this distance the stage appeared massive. Giant cartoon cut-outs of a guitar, car and record in primary colours stood against tall purple walls. When the J. Geils Band, the first warm-up, hit the stage people were still flowing in. I tapped my foot to Centerfold, singing nana-nananana under my breath. Jay passed bottles among our group, crossing my lap over and back. I shook my head at each offer. By the end of their set, the sun had burned off the fog. My top and jeans were sticky with sweat. When Jay’s large Coke bottle came round again, I took a swig, sweet then burning running my throat. Several quick swallows and Boston leaned over to pull the bottle out my grip. “Slow it down,” he said into my ear. Louis, on his own supplies, had entered another zone.

I watched the roadies change out guitars on the stage, their ghost movements like time delay photos. My muscles loosened. I slumped back in my plastic stadium seat with a permanent grin. George Thorogood and The Destroyers hit the stage to weak cheers, but soon had the crowd swaying to their blues rhythm. I wiggled my shoulders, shook my legs, but didn’t stand up. A smoke haze drifted around us, the air filling with a pungent skunk smell. An encore and George Thorogood and The Destroyers left, filler music blasted out during the set change. Jay and Boston stood up.

“Time to make a move,” Jay said. “We’re going down.” He pointed to the packed field.

“What?” Even in my muddled state, I had a clear vision of myself alone, lost in a drug crazed crowd. “I, I don’t…”

Jay and Boston nudged me along, Louis stumbling behind us. When we reached the field, a wall of concert goers blocked our way. Boston took my hand, holding me behind him and elbowed a path towards the front. Keeping my head down, I scrambled to keep up. Jay and Louis followed us. In my peripheral vision, flashes of colour streamed by. A mix of sweat, alcohol, vomit and weed clogged my nose. The ground became slick and muddy under my sneakers. Two hands grabbed my left foot and I fell to my knees, giving Boston’s hand a sharp tug. Without letting go, he turned and lifted me to my feet. “My shoe!” I looked down and saw one sneaker and one white sock. Laughing, a guy with dazed eyes rolled on the grass next to me, folding my sneaker into his arms like a football. Boston kicked the thief’s side. “Give it back man.” Another kick and it tumbled onto the grass.

Like Cinderella, I balanced with a hand on his shoulder while Boston replaced my sneaker. He gathered his hair into a bunch on one side and patted his back. “Time for you to be a koala.” I scrambled onto his back, arms around his neck, his hands supporting my thighs at his waist. Boston continued to push forward through the crowd, my legs and feet buffeting torsos and arms. I kept my chin against his back, peering over a shoulder. His hair had a sweet, tropical fruit smell. The scent made me think of a shampoo ad, the user having a climactic moment in the shower. I stifled a laugh. Boston’s t-shirt slid down as we moved, revealing a cracked heart tattoo on the back of his neck.

He stopped, releasing my legs and I slid down to stand on the grass. Bodies pushed in from all sides, my view blocked by waists and shoulders. His blonde hair a beacon, I grabbed a fist full of Boston’s t-shirt. He pulled me around to stand ahead of him, holding me against his chest, his arms blocking off other contact. Moments later the crowd erupted and I heard the opening notes of ‘Under My Thumb’. Boston squatted, lifting me onto his shoulders.

I blinked, emerging from body shadows into sunshine, swaying above thousands of multicoloured heads. At my level, other girls also danced on male shoulders, while some guys waved inflatable sex dolls instead. Jumping and pumping, bodies bounced. My body shook and tingled, on impulse I finger-tipped a drum roll onto Boston’s head.

There they were – the Rolling Stones: Jagger, Richards, Wood, Wyman, Watts.

Mick Jagger stomped around the stage in tight white pants with navy kneepads and white knee high socks. I bounced to ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, sang the ‘Beast of Burden’ chorus into Boston’s ear, dripped tears through ‘Waiting on a Friend’.

Shirtless Jagger continued a non-stop strut, his hair hanging in damp strands by ‘Brown Sugar’, chest glistening. Boston drummed the beat on my thighs, swinging his head forward and back. I drifted immersed in the music, the magic, snapping my fingers, waving my hands. As the band played on, Jagger disappeared, emerging in a Union Jack and Stars and Stripes flag cape. He swirled and spun, a kaleidoscope of colours. They transitioned into ‘Satisfaction’. I shouted the chorus along with the rest of the stadium. Dropping the cape, Jagger sprinted onto the catwalk next to us. Twisting, hips swivelling, he dropped to his knees, for a second our eyes met. I screamed, a shiver travelling down my spine.

Dun-da, dadadadadadadada, dun-da, dadadadadadadada. ‘Jumping Jack Flash’. Keith Richards and Ronnie Woods front and centre, axes burning chords, they leaned back against each other. Jagger swung out over our heads in a cherry picker, thousands of hands reaching to him and the sky. White balloons filled the air, fireworks burst overhead. Screams drowned the final notes.

Boston held me aloft the entire 26 song set. Swinging me down after the final encore, I hugged him – squealing, jumping like an over wound bunny toy. Fuelled by adrenaline and alcohol, I hugged Jay and Louis, then Boston again. The four of us pulled into a huddle, holding the moment, reluctant to leave the trampled grass and graveyard of crushed plastic bottles. Giving into the inevitable, we moved towards the exit tunnels. The four of us skirted a few prostrate concert goers. They seemed unaware the music had stopped.

Melding with the crowd waiting for buses, elbows and hips knocked against my head as people jostled for position. Boston grabbed my hand, clearing a path. The four of us reached the front. Mounted police encircled us, their boots at my eye level. Pushed from behind, I stumbled, Boston catching me before I fell into a police horse flank. Bus after bus arrived. Each time the crowd surged forward, fighting to get through the doorway. I watched the compressed horde squeeze in, a hot and sticky lava flow filling the bus within seconds.

Boston turned to Jay and Louis. “Next bus we put her in the middle and push her on.” Hands on my shoulders, he said to me, “Don’t worry about us, we’ll get on, you just go, ok?” I swallowed and nodded. The bus doors opened and my feet left the ground. I lost track of arms and heads, caught in a churning current of people. Bench seats already full, I stood in the middle of the bus unsure how I landed and wrapping my arms around the nearest pole. The three guys appeared a few minutes later, red faced and clothes askew. Reviewing the nearest seats, Boston targeted a skinny teenage boy. He reached out, grabbing the boy’s arm. “Give the lady a seat.” The teenager scrambled to obey.

Conversation filled the Beetle during the drive back home to Oakland. Together we relived each note, each move. What the band did, what the crowd did in response. Every nerve alive, words spilled out of me. I squeezed their arms and shoulders. We sang Rolling Stones tunes, out of pitch, a few words out of order, but in harmony with each other. Jay parked ahead of my house, conversation ebbing away. Boston hopped out, flipping the seat forward, offering me his hand. On the curb, I leaned back into the Beetle saying my good-byes. Boston walked me up the steps. He tucked a strand of my hair behind one ear and smiled. “You’re going to have them eating out of your hand Chicka.” I wished for him to lean forward, wanting to feel his breath on my face. Instead, he lifted my right hand and kissed the back of it. A wink and he disappeared down the steps. The image inked into my memory.

Marie Gethins

About Marie Gethins

Marie Gethins work has featured in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, 2014 National Flash Fiction Day anthology, The Incubator, Firewords and Control Literary. She won or placed in Flash500, Tethered by Letters flash, Dromineer Literary Festival, The New Writer Microfiction, Prick of the Spindle and Other pieces have been listed in the Doris Gooderson, Fish Short Story/Flash/Memoir, Listowel Writers Week Originals, James Plunkett Award, Words with JAM, Inktears, RTE/Penguin, Lightship, and WOW! Award competitions. She lives in Cork, Ireland, working on her Master of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.

Marie Gethins work has featured in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, 2014 National Flash Fiction Day anthology, The Incubator, Firewords and Control Literary. She won or placed in Flash500, Tethered by Letters flash, Dromineer Literary Festival, The New Writer Microfiction, Prick of the Spindle and Other pieces have been listed in the Doris Gooderson, Fish Short Story/Flash/Memoir, Listowel Writers Week Originals, James Plunkett Award, Words with JAM, Inktears, RTE/Penguin, Lightship, and WOW! Award competitions. She lives in Cork, Ireland, working on her Master of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.

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