JEOPARDY by Ruth Aitken

As my ex-husband the Jeopardy champion won thirteen games, I racked up quite a résumé myself. I followed advice to shampoo with raw eggs. I dropped a knife and drove myself to the emergency room. I fell in love with a man on the Metro, because he made eye contact when my hand bumped his on the pole. I successfully overheard someone in the break room say about me: Yeah, her voice makes me wanna die. I wondered for the first time whether I wanted to have sex with a woman. I went too far on party drugs that were too young for me, walked into a tattoo parlor and told the guy to surprise me. The whole world was spun on serendipity, and I thought whatever he tattooed on my body would teach me some lesson I needed to learn. 

Every light source in the parlor gave off swimming starbursts of color. I had helium in my veins instead of blood, so I was taller than the tattooist. I knew plain as toast that a connection was opening between me and the divine — because eight months earlier I’d had a vision of my [then soon-to-be] ex-husband on the Jeopardy stage. I couldn’t recall him ever watching the show, but in my head he looked so right against that blue background, smiling a stiff little nerd smile behind his podium, trying too hard to make Alex Trebek laugh. And then eight months later he was right where I’d put him. He must have picked up trivia because he needed a rebound hobby once he lost his old hobby of making me feel bad. 

The tattoo artist eyed me with caution. My dilated pupils and messy hair, my skirt shedding sequins on the floor. The hospital bandages on my foot. I cried a little, which didn’t increase his trust. 

Why don’t you go sleep on it, he said. 

I said I no longer let other people tell me when to stop being stupid. 

I was so reborn that even my ex-husband the Jeopardy champion and his $268,730 couldn’t bother me. That’s what those dragonflies of light said. 

What would you die for? The tattoo artist asked. 

These days, thank God, not much, I said. 

He gave me a paper airplane, right above the crook of my elbow. It restored my faith in people, to know that you could give your body as a blank canvas to a stranger and not emerge with something big and ugly and vengeful, asshole on your forehead or Garfield on your asscheek. 

I still liked my paper airplane when the drugs wore off, still liked it when the redness healed. I went to a bar I’d never been to before and I met someone. 

What does your tattoo mean? 

I leaned so close I could smell her shampoo and said, I don’t know yet.


Ruth Aitken is a fiction writer from Washington, D.C. Her favorite pencils are Ticonderoga.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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