One Thousand Cranes - Cover

One Thousand Cranes

by Leto Armitage

Copyright© 2021 by Leto Armitage

Romantic Story: A tattoo artist is slowly creating an intricate series of arts for her old friend Sakura unaware that it's really a message for her.

Tags: Fa/Fa   Romantic   Lesbian   BiSexual   Heterosexual   Fiction   Oriental Female  

“Sanctimonious prick.”

I paused, the needle hovering over Sakura’s back. “Sanctimonious?”

“Not you, this asshole I work with. I screwed up the other day and he can’t let it go.”

“Oh.” I returned to the task. Somehow I had thought she had meant the pricking of the needle. Most customers were focused on the tattoo when they came in but Sakura’s mind never went where anyone else’s did. I pushed again, inserting the indigo ink under my old friend’s skin. “I wish you’d let me use modern tattooing equipment.” The needle stabbed over the spine, a dark blue, black for most purposes, line taking shape. I firmly gripped the bamboo handle. How she didn’t scream bewildered me. It wasn’t a gentle process and the skin over the spine was sensitive. “It wouldn’t hurt so much.”

“It’s supposed to hurt,” came the same quiet reply.

I keep my hair short in a bob so it never falls in my eyes. In contrast, it always seemed like I was moving Sakura’s long hair out of the way. Sakura was first-generation American-Japanese with hair as dark as mine but she had bleached it until it could take an electric pink dye. At 5’3” and a feather over 100 lbs she was a tiny thing. I had always towered over her at 5’8” but on the repurposed massage table she was just like anyone else who came into the tattoo parlor.

The shape of the newest paper crane slowly formed. Each crane was distinct with a continuous line of drawn string connecting it to the others that began at the base of Sakura’s neck. Her hair usually covered them. There were nearly two dozen of the birds. In a way, they were a map of my tattooing career. I never imagined where things would go when I’d bought my first stuff off Craig’s List. I barely got out of the creep’s house without being molested. I sterilized the hell out of everything in the box, figured out how to fix it, and began giving friends tattoos without a license. It had been pretty damn dumb of me but it became a career. There might be some awful tattoos floating around out there from my early days. I hope they have been covered up. Over the years I’d lost track of everyone from our school days but Sakura. It seemed like no matter how little attention I paid she was still in my periphery. I’d not hear from her for a few weeks but then she’d be telling me to come over for dinner and we’d spend the night scarfing junk food and playing video games just like we were back in high school.

Not that Sakura had let me use the tattoo gun on her back when we were fourteen. That was the same year that Mikey Rhodes took my virginity. Now that was a sanctimonious prick. It hadn’t been long after that when Sakura showed up with a wooden box her grandfather in Japan had sent her with irezumi equipment. She had insisted in that way she had that I could never refuse. The first ones weren’t good. I begged Sakura to let me do them somewhere less visible but she had insisted they start there, at the base of her neck.

My mind went back. “You remember your mom seeing these the first time?”

Sakura laughed gently. “Yeah, the swim party when my hair was in a braid. She thought I was joining the yakuza.”

“You only had what, eight or nine then?”

“Eight. I got the ninth two months later.”

That was Sakura. She could be cute but she was always so serious, except when on the table in pain. Here she seemed serene. Each bird was a milestone but I still didn’t understand how. The times she picked to get them seemed random to me.

“I met Kris at the pool party.” I looked at it, the wings spread out horizontally and flat so they were symmetrical and parallel to her spine. “God, I can’t even remember his name.”

“Mulbranch,” Sakura supplied. “You were stupidly happy.” Sakura’s voice was faint, like on the edge of sleep.

“I was an idiot. He was a tweaker and I believed him when he said he’d stop.”

“Love is foolish but beautiful.” Sakura’s hair fell around her. You’re the beautiful one I thought. If you didn’t give off that remote vibe boys would be all over you. Me, I’m the plain one. Hell, even being a short tiny Japanese girl you have more curves than me. Helen, my namesake supposedly was the most beautiful woman in the world. I tried to make beautiful things but I and my life were just a mess.

I returned to an old subject. “If love is so beautiful why don’t you get out there? Doesn’t your mom want you pumping out some kids?”

“She has my brother for that.”

Dave’s voice came over the divide between areas. He was too professional to look when a girl had their shirt off but not too professional to avoid eavesdropping. “So what’s up with those things?”

“They’re a wish,” Sakura said, raising her voice just a little.

“So, like each one, you get one for luck for something?”

Sakura, “No. One wish, when there are a thousand cranes the gods will grant me one wish.”

“A ... holy shit dudette, a thousand?!”

“Maybe my wish will come true on its own before then. If so I won’t have to continue.”

“I’ve read about this some since we began,” I said. “Usually they’re origami, you fold a thousand and then hang them up and let them disintegrate. Tattoos are, just sayin’, a bit extreme.”

Sakura responded in that same monotone she always had when under the needle, talking as if from far away. “My grandmother puts out saki at the temple for good weather. The saki evaporates but weather comes and goes. The gods demand you offer something appropriate so this has to be permanent for a permanent thing.”

It was weird. Sakura was an atheist. Her Japanese was rough. I had never known her to care anything about her heritage until the day she asked me for this.

I lifted the needle up and took a breath. I had to push over and over and it required very precise repeated control. This was insane. People practiced this technique for years and Sakura would just show up out of the blue and it could be ages since I’d last done it so I had no muscle memory for it. But, I did it. “You could at least let me do this on your thighs where it won’t hurt as much.”

“No, it’s where it needs to be.”

“Well, I appreciate the company. It’s been slow tonight.”

“How’s Diej?” Sakura asked.

“Good. He’ll be by later near closing,” I said.

“How’s your dad?” I could hear the smirk in her voice. Bitch.

“Still pissed.”

“Because Diej is half black or because he’s half Latino?”

“Well if his name was Derrick and was a registered republican dad might have let it slide.” I kept the line going and turned, a sharp edge formed the edge of the paper crane’s wing.

“Dreads were a bridge too far?” Sakura asked.

“Maybe but being a Bernie Sanders supporter nuked the fucking bridge.” Sakura made a sound like she understood. “These are beautiful if I say so myself. I hope you get compliments.”

“No one sees them.”

I paused. “No one?”

“Well, you, but just you. That’s what my wish is for, the one who will see them every day.”

“What if you don’t finish them all until you’re all old and wrinkled?”

“You’d better learn to tattoo over wrinkles.”

“Yes ma’am.” My hand was cramping but I was almost done. I pushed on and shoved ink under the skin, stabbing her over and over again but Sakura didn’t seem to notice. The slender neck of the crane formed and the triangle head. It was quiet in the shop but finally, I was done. No shading, just a few simple lines but it took a long time for each.

“Done,” I said. I put plastic over it to protect it. I skipped the lecture, Sakura knew it well. Quickly Sakura pulled a light blouse on. I said to her, “Girl, you really should have someone in your life to see you naked and enjoy that.”

She smiled and passed me some folded money. She always insisted on paying. “What do I need a boyfriend for Helen? You’re the only one that gets to hurt me.”

I laughed. It wasn’t the first time she made the joke. “I know the answer but I have to ask, want to schedule the next one?”

She smiled, a little sadly I thought. “No, I don’t know when it will be yet.”

“All right, take care, love you.”

She waved. “Love you, bye.”

Sakura looked at her phone. A text message said, “here” and she heard a knock on the apartment door. Sakura opened it. “Terri?”

“Hey.” The tall thin girl with slicked-back blonde hair gave definite boi vibes in her slacks and button-up shirt.

Sakura opened it further. “Come in. Want a drink?”

“Love one.” The accent was slight but southern. Sakura relaxed. The girl wasn’t nervous so she’d done this before. That made it easier. They’d exchanged a few tentative messages but this kind of transaction needed some discretion so there was room for misunderstanding.

Sakura gave her the drink along with a wad of cash.

“All night?”

“Enough for until the morning,” Sakura said, “but don’t stick around. If I crash out you’re welcome to head out. Consider anything extra a tip.”

Terri grinned. “Thanks. You want the girlfriend experience?”

Sakura took a sip of the whiskey. “No. Can’t we just fuck and enjoy it?”

“Sure. People usually want something more though. Live out a power fantasy, have me do something their girlfriend won’t, whatever.”

“I’m already in love. I just want to feel someone against me.”

“You’re in love, but she’s not in the picture?”


“Is she straight or something?”

“Probably ... maybe ... I don’t know.”

“Oldest story in the book after brother murders brother. Thought about asking her?”

“Can’t. She would do what I told her. I ... it’s complicated. I need her to tell me.”

Terri laughed. “You’re pretty fucked up.”

Sakura sipped her whiskey. “That’s a problem?”

“Baby, I’m a fake blonde who likes girls to call her Daddy and spent her formative years masturbating to Sailor Moon. I’m not criticizing.”

“Sailor Moon?”

“Technically Sailor Uranus.”

“I was partial to Sailor Mars,” Sakura said.

“Okay, she was hot too.” They smiled at each other. They’d get on just fine.

Sakura, “I only have one rule. I keep a shirt on and I cover my back.”

Terri smiled kindly. “Babe I’ve been with some pretty rough customers. You could be scarred as hell back there and you’d still be the sexiest thing I’d seen in a long, long time.”

“It’s not scared, just private.”

“All right.” Terri finished her drink.

Sakura leaned back, “Daddy, do you want another drink?”

“Sure little girl, maybe something with a mixer?”

“Settle in on the couch. I’ll make it.”

It was Wednesday night, not a busy time for a tattoo parlor but I had an appointment. The guy was geeky-looking but kinda cute. I would have flirted but his girlfriend was nearby looking through the books. I could deal with the drama but I was really hoping she’d end up on the table. I could get another session in if the girlfriend liked something. It was always easier to sell one person on getting ink done if they were with someone who already was.

The tattoo was an old-school Nintendo controller going up to a heart on a guy’s arm. “So,” I asked, “you’re a gamer?”

“Yeah, but there’s a story.” There always is but I encouraged him because it’s part of the pattern people expect when getting a tattoo. “My dad died last year. He gave me his old Nintendo when I was a kid so I still boot it up and play it every now and then and think about him.”

“That’s sweet.” It was. I always liked tattoos for loved ones that passed on. I always felt weird about the ‘I heart Sandra/Joey’ kind of tattoos. A month later and I would be trying to cover up the name. “How did you find us? Recommendation?”

“Sort of, I saw that Ogawa Sakura did a selfie from here. I figured if it was good enough for her it would be for me. I asked the guy who answered the phone if he knew her and he said you were the artist.” Bless Dave, he was a decent soul.

“You know Sakura?” I focused on the round buttons, the hum of the tattoo gun in my hand.

He lit up. “I wish! You know her?”

“Yeah, old friend.”

“That’s awesome! She’s never posted her tattoos though, are they ... really private?” His tone was very suggestive. I disregarded it.

“Not exactly. They’re personal but not in an intimate place.”

“Yeah, not surprised, someone like her, they probably have a lot of meaning.”

“Someone like her?” I leaned in and worked on the heart shape.

“Yeah, I mean she’s such an artist.”

“Artist? Really? I didn’t know that Sakura did art. I thought she did some kind of coding.”

He seemed confused. “I thought you knew her.”

“Well we talk regularly, text you know that kind of thing. Occasionally we get together but she’ll tell you everything about what she’s reading or thinking about something in the world but forget to tell you she’s sick as hell.” That was true and it had happened a few years ago. I now kept makings for chicken soup on hand in case she ever forgot to tell me again. I would have killed her if she hadn’t already had such a bad fever.

He nodded as if that made sense to him. “Huh. Well, when I say she’s an artist I don’t mean, like, traditional art. She’s one of the founders of Yutori Studios. They make games but I don’t think they’re really games, they’re interactive experiences...”

He continued on and I started on the cross-shaped black lines to make the directional controller but my mind was somewhere else.


The pink-haired girl cringed in the doorway. “No, you didn’t!”

“I did!” Helen was very proud of herself.

“God, I don’t miss having to hang around weebos in school.”

Helen held up a hard plastic case holding cards. “Well, tonight I’m your senpai bitch!”

Sakura stepped aside and let Helen in. “I accept your challenge oh unworthy pilgrim.”

Helen held up the bottle of red blend she had brought with her. “You said you were making meatloaf so...”

“I take it back, you are a goddess.”

“Better.” Helen knew where the glasses were and opened the bottle while Sakura went back to the stove watching the timer count down.

“Still playing your white deck,” Sakura asked. The oven beeped and she got the meatloaf out.

Helen, “I bought one of the new ones, it’s white/green.” She poured the wine.

“Ohh that should be cool. I have a new blue/black one.”

“Magic and meatloaf, the best parts of high school.”

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