by Jeff Alan
"Come on, Angie. It's fun," Steph said from the couch, grinning in her puckish way. She was sunk deep into the cushions, more prone than sitting, languid and dreamy.
"Yeah, defile that perfect ivory skin of yours," Davy cajoled. "Like the rest of us." His eyes were shot with veiny redness, but he was surprisingly coherent considering the diversity of substances he'd consumed that night.
These were the last stragglers from the party: Tish, Missy, Tank, Steph, Davy...and Angie. It made sense that the other five were there; it was, after all, their house: a wonderfully shabby, bohemian palace. Angie was their guest. She'd been hovering at the fringes of their circle since her arrival on campus that fall. She thought they were fascinating - the things they talked about, the way they floated around campus like they owned it and didn't care that they owned it.
They were so different from the people she had grown up with back home in the Midwest. She could not picture any of them attending a 4-H meeting or a Future Business Leaders of America conference. Not one of them majored in anything as dull and practical as engineering or business administration. They were the antithesis of everything she had run away from, the embodiment of every crazy dream she'd had while languishing in her small town, ostracized, suffering through days that passed too slowly. She imagined them as modern-day Byrons and Shelleys, and she was among them now, invited into their parlor, into their beautiful madness.
"Maybe she already has tattoos," Missy said, waiting for a response, not getting one.
Angie always wore long sleeves and pants, even in the sticky Florida heat. She didn't want anyone to see what was underneath, didn't think they would understand, even though she thought her scars were beautiful. Each cut was, to her, a triumph over pain, a friend, a companion in her darkness. They were hers, and no one could take them away. They meant something, unlike her mother's ridiculous plastic surgery or her father's drinking. They were not a way of trying to be someone she was not, or of numbing the reality of who she was.
"Well, do you?" Missy insisted.
Angie felt her face flush. "No."
Davy's lips curved into a devilish smile. He handed Angie a corked vial. She took it and held it up to the light, rolling it between her thumb and forefinger. The liquid inside was yellow-green, iridescent.
"What is this stuff?" she asked.
Tank, silent until now, leaned forward in his chair, resting his thick forearms on his knees. "RDT."
"Never heard of it," Angie admitted, her cheeks still warm.
Missy took a drag from her cigarette, letting the smoke escape slowly as she eyed Angie. "Stands for reverse dermal tattoo. Comes from France, if you can sneak it past customs. You drink it, and a few minutes later, a tattoo appears."
Angie looked at the arms of her would-be friends. "So it's permanent?"
"Yep." Tish nodded. "Completely random, too. Could be anything, anywhere. They say that you get the symbol you're ready for. It comes from inside."
"You in?" Missy prompted.
This was her initiation. It was time to choose: in, or out. She felt a shiver ruffle the tiny hairs on her arms, like wind blowing through a Nebraska cornfield. She nodded.
"We go on three," Tank said. "Everybody ready? One...two...go!"
It tasted a little like chartreuse, Angie thought. Sweet and herby. She emptied the vial.
They sat in electric silence, each of them looking from one person to another, waiting. Soon, Angie began to feel a dull burning sensation on her right shoulder blade. She pushed down her collar.
"Let me see," Steph said, popping up from the couch. "A lotus flower." She nodded approvingly. "That's a good one. The lotus grows in shallow water, with its roots in the mud and its flower on the surface, reaching toward the heavens. It represents rising above the muck of human existence to something more spiritual, transcendent. It's about being who you truly are, recognizing your divine beauty."
Tank got up and went to the bathroom. A moment later he returned to the gold vinyl armchair he had been sitting in and plopped down heavily, air hissing through the cushion seams. "Freakin' Popeye again. On my ass this time."
They all had a good laugh - except for Tank, of course.
After another round of drinks and showing off their new tattoos, Angie left, stepping out into the humid night. She walked past the frat houses and noisy bars as she made her way home. Above her, the sky was cloudless, shimmering with stars.
When she arrived at her apartment, she immediately went to the kitchen and rummaged through the utensil drawer, grabbing something sharp. She carried it to the bathroom, where she turned her back to the mirror. She took off her shirt and looked over her shoulder, admiring the flower. It represents rising above the muck of human existence to something more spiritual, transcendent. It's about being who you truly are, recognizing your divine beauty. She looked down at her ivory white arms and her scars - some of them faint, some fresh, some blooming into keloids. She considered the sharp thing in her hand.
She opened her bedroom closet and took out all of her tops, tossing them into a heap. She sat on the floor next to her clothes, topless, slowly cutting off the sleeves, letting them fall like chaff.
© 2007 Jeff Alan
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens
Jeff Alan lives in a small, quiet town in North Carolina. His work has appeared or will soon appear in Every Day Fiction, MicroHorror, DiddleDog, and Boston Literary Magazine. His online home is www.bonescribble.com.