Cardinals and Red Sox

Originally written for my creative nonfiction course last semester.

The St. Louis Cardinals should have won the 2013 World Series. Not just because I loathe the Red Sox, but because I have two cardinals tattooed on my ankle.


I climbed onto the padded table, settled down on my side and Todd, the tattoo artist and a family friend, fired up the tattoo gun. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll get used to the sensation.”

My mom shot me a look. You’re going to be fine, Em, her expression said.

The needle punctured my skin. I gritted my teeth and stared at the exposed bricks on the wall of the Fredonia tattoo parlor.

“You wouldn’t believe how many women I’ve made orgasm while tattooing them,” Todd said as he drew the outlines of the two cardinals on my right ankle, just above one of my moles.

We had been discussing weird reactions he’d experienced from his clients while tattooing them.

“My ex girlfriend was even there once when it happened,” he continued. “How many guys can say their girlfriends have watched them make another woman orgasm?”

Probably not many, I thought, teeth still mashed together. And they certainly didn’t orgasm while getting their ankle tattooed.

Or, at least, I hoped they hadn’t.

My mother laughed. She really likes Todd. She refers to him as her tattoo artist and isn’t fazed by his tattoo-covered body and rather large, pedophile-esque spectacles.

He had just finished tattooing the same cardinals on her left wrist; her second tattoo. My mom’s pretty darn cool.

My turn had come. She sat behind me and watched Todd draw the outline, then begin coloring the shapes in. She kept admiring her Saran Wrap-covered wrist and then glanced over at me.

“You doing okay, Em?” she asked.

I’m squeamish, you see, and could feel the little bulbs of perspiration forming on my forehead.

“Yeah… I just don’t wanna look at it,” I admitted, secretly thinking, How far along is he? If it looks decent enough I might just ask him to stop…

I squeezed my eyes shut and the fat man with an awful, grizzly beard sitting in the chair next to me getting his oh-so-manly bicep tattoo retouched laughed at me. “He kept staring at your crotch!” my mom told me later on.

I shot a sheepish smile his way while my mom and Todd jabbered away. The needle made its way into my skin again and again while I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth.

Thirty minutes later, Todd got up to clean his equipment. “That’ll do it,” he said.

I sighed, twisted to crack my back and then got up to take a peek.

DSC_0522“They’re beautiful…” I said, craning my neck and angling my leg to see them.

Brilliant shades of crimson color in the male cardinal. The female cardinal next to him has more yellows and oranges.

“Now I can carry Grandma and Papa with me everywhere.”



My family and I believe in rebirth. When we die, we have the opportunity to come back and dwell in something else or some other creature.

A male cardinal has followed my aunt around by her home in Illinois since my papa died in 2011.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series that year.

Now a pair of cardinals –– male and female –– has followed my aunt around since my grandma’s death in August.

The St. Louis Cardinals should have won the World Series this year, too.


It had been a couple months since Grandma died.

My Aunt Bobbe flew in from Illinois in August to help begin cleaning out her childhood home. With my mom and uncle at work, she went in alone, rifling through my packrat Papa’s basement treasures and deciding who in the family would get what of my grandparents’ belongings.

After a full, dusty day, she stepped out into the garage to leave. Then she heard it.



Aunt Bobbe walked around the cluttered space to find the source of the noise, then sat down on the garage steps and lost her composure.

A bright red male cardinal threw his body up against the window of the garage’s back door, trying to break through. A female cardinal, perched peacefully on the nearby shelving units, waited patiently for him to break through the glass.



In a panic, Aunt Bobbe climbed up the garage steps and pushed the button to open the garage door.

The songbirds stayed put and Aunt Bobbe watched them for a moment before walking to my parents’ brand-new Chrysler 200, climbing in and driving away.

She picked up my mom from work and, shaking, told her the story.

“It was them –– I know it was!” Aunt Bobbe exclaimed.

She drove back to my grandparents’ house to show my mom, but the cardinals had flown away.


Mom asked me how my tattoo looked and felt the last time I saw her, just after the Red Sox had won the 2013 World Series.

“Fine,” I said. “But I wish the fucking Red Sox would have lost like they should have.”

She gave me a funny look.

“You know what, Em?” my mom asked. “After the Boston Marathon bombing, I think the Red Sox needed a victory more than we did this year.”

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