One night, late, when my effort to fight off what seems to be a case of incipient narcolepsy is fading towards oblivion, I hear the cascading Aeolian harp of my mobile phone signalling a text message arriving. It is from Samsara and tells me that next day she is visiting our galaxy to have the red of her back tattoo augmented and can I meet her afterwards at the parlour where the work is being done? She has something to give me. The place is called Crossroads and is on the outskirts of the Philosophical City. I get there just on three o'clock, a little agitated because the tape machine in my car has just eaten the copy of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band I was trying to play: Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire ... Never mind, I know most of it by heart. It's cool inside Crossroads, with a pale bluish light emanating from behind the walls illuminated with tattoo designs: the usual skulls and heavy metal chicks, birds and snakes, ships and dragons and crowns. There's a lonely looking bloke in t shirt, stubbies and boots sitting on a bench at one end of the room and two women cruising the design portfolio. I head for the counter at the other end of the room just as a short, burly fellow with long hair comes out to see what I want. He's older than me and speaks with some gravitas. I say what I'm here for and he says Samsara's work has just been finished ... good timing. He goes behind the curtain and I hear him say that there's a gentleman here for her. And then her voice, surprised that I'm on time. Her laughter tinkles down the scale from disbelief to what I hope is delight. While I'm waiting for her to come out I also cruise the images. For nearly twenty years I've wondered about getting my writing hand tattooed with Marquesan motifs but have never followed through. I want - or wanted - that hand tattooed because of the pain and because I liked that one of the Marquesan words for tattoo means prolonged and heartfelt weeping or some such and refers to those old men so heavily inked they were a blue black colour all over; Marquesan tattoo never ended and is said sometimes to have extended as far as the glans of the penis ... at the time in which I conceived this misconceived notion I did far more thinking about writing, tattooing, prolonged and heartfelt weeping etc than I ever did actually writing anything and now, although I do sometimes look at my writing hand and imagine it covered with inscrutable and barbarous markings, I'll probably never do it. She comes out all flushed and we go back down an overgrown path into the church carpark where I've left the car. Later, after she has unthreaded Sgt Pepper from the tape machine and put on Diamond Life instead, and we're driving away into the hot afternoon Samsara tells me Crossroads don't do hands, a lot of places don't, because it's very painful and as a result of inadvertent flinching the possibility of mistakes is high. Plus hands are always visible so there's that to consider as well. Why can't you have your tattoo completed in the Ruby Galaxy? I ask and she gives her secret smile and doesn't answer. Or not at first. Later, when I'm putting soothing cream on the Celtic crown above the Excalibur flaming down her back she murmurs something about how the work could be done anywhere, it's true, but she wanted to revisit Crossroads in order to look east and west. Where's Willie Brown? I wonder but don't say. What I do is ask what she has for me. Actually there are two things. The first is a ring in the shape of an eagle with a piece of oriental jade clasped in the hieratic breast of the bird. The second is a book. It has a purple cover and is a biography of Howard Hughes by John Keats. Not that John Keats but another, of Philadelphia, author of The Sheepskin Psychosis among other things. I have not come unprepared - I hand over a black egg that might be a scrying stone and also this quote from Plutarch's Life of Alexander that I think she might like: He could not refrain from leaving behind him various deceptive memorials of his expedition, to impose on aftertimes, and to exaggerate his glory with posterity, such as arms larger than were really worn, and mangers for horses and bridles above the usual size, which he set up, and distributed in several places ... I don't add, and it may anyway sound implausible, but this second gift is really only given so that I can see her smile that secret smile again. It is indescribable and seems to open up into a vista of knowledge as vast as the Thousand Ruby Galaxy. She reads. She smiles. Time runs backwards and forwards at once and when I look at my hand there's some kind of dull ink leaking from the low grade silver of the eagle ring, covering my skin with strange inscriptions. There is no pain: instead, a delirium that could be joy. Or ecstasy.