For ten years, since the death of the first Family Dog, Family Dog's collar has been lying gently in a place of honour on my parents' mantlepiece. It's much harder, I realised, to create that sort of touching monument to a person. People don't wear collars.
At a recent funeral for a dearly-loved friend, I couldn't help but grieve for his tattoos as well as the body they were about to cremate. He had some fantastic ink, and, I caught myself wondering somewhat perversely whether they might not be worth keeping. It seemed like such a waste. My friend's tattoos were the only parts of him which he had created himself, and chosen to present to the world. It seemed like we were going to burn a piece of his mind along with his body.
Perhaps it was the grief, or perhaps it was mainly the booze we had thickly laid on as a salve to that grief, but a few days later, I found myself slurring some particularly politically-incorrect sentiments at a family gathering.
"I want you to preserve my tattoo after I die."
The silence was tangible. My mother snorted and attempted to pass off my comment as a joke.
"No, I'm serious. When I die, I want you to cut it off my back, have it stretched and preserved like leather. You could mount it and hang it."
"Can you do that to human skin?" Clever Little Sister asked, her gore-hound glands pricking.
"Course you can. The Nazis did it heaps. Made collectibles. Couches, books, lampshades. That sort of thing. Apparently it was quite a thing to show your guest a Jew-skin lampshade."
This was probably a cruel topic to bring up. One side of my family were refugees from the Holocaust. I can see my mother's face growing whiter as she realises I'm serious. Wine-fuelled, I garble on, providing my own momentum.
"Come on Mum. I'm a Jew. Sort of. You could show all your friends your Jew-Skin artwork."
I don't know why, but I was being deliberately cruel. Maybe it comes down to being in grief and shock. I was the only person at the gathering who knew the deceased. It can be self-indulgently fun to act the part of the ennui-ridden nihilist at a time like that. But, at the same time, I actually believed what I was saying. I believe in organ donation - based on the logic that I won't need my organs after death. I don't believe in an afterlife, so I won't be needing my tattoos there. Wouldn't my family want to keep the best part of my skin, indelibly printed with something that came from my heart and mind?
My mother's face answers that one for me. She looks shocked, and more than a little nauseated. Her lips have twisted around as though she sucked something sour. I can see her picturing a patch of my dead, dried leather mounted in a little frame between her prints of cherubs and French maisons. Skin that she carried around inside of her for months. A piece of her, on the wall.
The idea of saving my ink still appeals to me, but I'll keep it to myself next time.
Would you preserve your tattoos (or someone else's) after death?