Deal Me In Lite, Week 23: "The Illustrated Man" by Ray Bradbury
It's week 23 of the Deal Me In Lite challenge, and this week I drew the four of spades, which took me back to my Ray Bradbury anthology for the fantastic (in every sense of that word) tale of "The Illustrated Man."
This story, originally published in Esquire in July 1950, is probably much better known as the basis for the story collection of the same name, published in 1951. In that collection, the device that ties all of the (otherwise) unrelated stories together is the "illustrated man," a man covered in tattoos, each of which depicts a different tale in the book. Jay at Bibliophilopolis, in particular, has read and blogged about several of the stories in this book.
In this story, which I found to be fascinating, but very dark even for a Bradbury story, we find the tale of William Philippus Phelps, a carnival worker. He has become extremely overweight since he got married a year ago, so to try to keep his job (and the love and admiration of his wife), he agrees to become the "Tattooed Man" for the carnival.
In desperation he searches out a tattoo artist who can transform him into a tattooed man as quickly as possible. He finds an old woman who lives way out in the country -- but of course she is not what she seems, not by a long shot. For one thing, her eyes, nose, and ears are all sewn shut. She also just happens to have a tattoo-portrait of Phelps on her palm, and it's clear that the tattoo has been there for many years. She can see the past, present, and future, and her specialty is to paint pictures of future events with her tattoo needles. She covers Phelps' body with a variety of wild images, including two special ones (one on his chest and one on his back) that she covers up with bandages. She warns Phelps that no one is allowed to see these special tattoos until the appointed time. She also makes a point of telling him:
"I will sit here for the next two weeks and think how clever my pictures are, for I make them fit each man himself and what is inside him."
Of course, at this point the reader begins to have a sneaking suspicion of what these tattoos might portray, but nevertheless willingly submits to Bradbury's masterful unfolding of the events leading up to the unveiling of the tattoos and the events that transpire afterwards, eventually bringing the story to a shocking conclusion.
I enjoyed this story immensely. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that Bradbury employs his usual magic with imagery in this story -- let's face it, the concept of a tattooed man is quite a "canvas" for him to play with, and he does not disappoint. If you've never read this story, it's well worth your time!