To Tattoo?

(Author's Note: This little story was part of a Nine Word Challenge to create something out of these words: valley, begin, relief, chipmunk, robin, scamper, well, finished, over. One never knows where the words will take you. It ain't literature but it sure was a fun exercise to put these words on the page. And...I'm neither cute, turning thirty or tattooed. This is pure fun fiction. FYI - The nine words are underlined in the text.)

by Kathy Ccoogan

Amy hates being so cute and conventional. She stands in front of the bathroom mirror and sucks in her chipmunk cheeks. Her cheekbones suddenly appear high and sculptural, the blanket of baby fat now held in by suction and her molars. She pokes Serena who is perched on the john lid painting her nails.

Serena looks up and says, “What?”

Amy points to her sucked in face. She turns her head this way and that admiring the contours and lets go only when it starts to hurt.

Serena says, “You look like Conan O’Brien.”

“I hate my face,” Amy whines to her best friend and roommate.

“Come on, Ame, give it up,” Serena, “You’re cute.” She waves her hands to dry the iridescent blue enamel.

“Aggghh. I’m turning f-ing thirty. I should be finished with cute.”

“Whatever,” Serena says. She’s heard this since they were in high school and now that she was back she’d have to get used to hearing it all over again. Blah blah blah.

Serena Thanatopoulous had never been called cute in her life; interesting and head-turning, with her shelf of nose and shelf of breasts and valley of cleavage and seemingly electrified dark, curly hair, but never cute. Pablo Picasso and his ilk would have swooned over her.

Serena had moved back into the apartment after her oh-so-short-but-not-sweet marriage to Jay and she and Amy had slipped seamlessly into their old habits and comforts. Amy whined about being cute and Serena kvetched about the great lump of humanity called, “Men.”

Amy leans on the sink and looks hard at her conventional face: bluebell eyes with an awning of lashes, Gerber baby lips and pinkish auburn hair cut close to suggest severity but succeeding only in screaming Pixie.

“You know who I’d like to look like?” she asks.

Serena says, “Charlize Theron.”

“Lizabeth Salander.”

“The Dragon Tattoo Girl?”

“Exactly. She’s all angles and darkness. Mysterious. Dangerous.”

“Well yeah. But you’d need general anesthesia to get tattooed or God help us pierced. You get panic attacks going to the dentist for a cleaning. And she was a tortured soul, raped and all.”

This stops Amy for a minute. “I could too get a tattoo.”

“Hah! I was there when you got your ears pierced, remember? You had to go back to get the second ear done the next day.”

Amy shrugs. “That was in seventh grade. That girl in the Mall was a butcher. And they have sharper needles now.”

Serena gets off the john, brushing her flying hair back with her wrist so as not to smudge her nails. Amy follows her out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. It’s 5:00 so she pours them each a glass of wine.

No dates tonight, though it’s Saturday. They’re still dressed in yoga sleepwear, after vegging around the condo all day, working a little, cleaning a little, not in any hurry.

They each could have had dates but mutually decided to take a night off from the déjà vu, all over again, parade. An interchangeable line-up of accountant- veterinarian- computer salesman-teacher came and went.

Tonight, Amy had turned down a real estate guy; Serena a chemist. But it could have gone either way. In-ter-change-able. The women clinked glasses and sipped their wine happy to be celibate tonight.

“Now about that tattoo?” Serena says. “You really gonna do it? I am anti-tattoo, you know. Too permanent. At least with marriage there’s divorce, hallelujia. With tattoos there’s only laser. And scars.”

“I need to do something. Draw a line in the sand between my twenties and thirties. A gateway to my big-girl life. So I’ll get a tattoo. That’d be sign of maturity, right?’

Serena rolls her eyes.

Amy continues, “I can get semi-drunk and brave and you can go with me.”

Serena ignores the suggestion and asks, “A tattoo of what? You’re hardly the dragon type. A robin maybe or a kitten scampering among the daisies, or one of those Japanese symbol thingies? And where would you put it?

Well, I was thinking maybe right below my panty line on my hip in the back.”

“That’s called your butt, you coward. Nobody could see it there unless you were nekkid. Woo-hoo.” They clink glasses again, drink and Amy refills them.

She says, “Franke, Steele and Baum has gotten weird about tattoos since the episode of the Latin quote written around Jerry Henderson’s wrist. It was that scrolly script that everybody thought read Tempus Fugit – time flies - but if you looked close it said Tempus F---it."

She continues, "A client saw it. A bishop. We represent the Archdiocese. Not good. So now all tattoos have to be covered up. Jerry wasn’t fired. He’s too good a finder for the firm, can suck up to anybody. But now he wears a really wide watch band on his right wrist. He said it was hell getting used to checking the time on that arm.”

“Small price to pay.”

“Anyway I don’t want a word-tattoo. I don’t want some guy that I’m seeing, ahem, have to grab his glasses or turn on the light to read my butt. Uncool.”

“So you want something, uh, symbolic? Ummm, how about the Scales of Justice? You worked hard for that JD,” Serena said.

“Nah. Too feminist. Like ‘look at me - a naked tattooed lawyer girl.’ Too braggy braggart. Especially if I’m dating, say, a plumber or carpenter, you know a blue collar guy.”

“I love blue collar guys. Real men, especially if they’ve grown up with sisters. Oh, and they have to like to read. Maybe we ought to look in the library, non-fiction section, How to Build a House from the Ground Up, or something. Is that too much to ask, manly and literate and sensitive?

“I thought Jay was a real man. He sure fooled us,” said Amy.

“Yep," said Serna, "I thought his, whatdayacallit, devotion was passion; wanting to spend every minute with me. Now I know that husbands can be stalkers too. That’s what he was - a stalker. A sneaky creepy scary stalker. Hell, he was even jealous of you.”

“Bye, bye Jay-Stalker. Water over the dam,” said Amy.

“Down the drain,” said Serena.

“Down the hatch,” said Amy as she chugged the last swallow of wine. They had inadvertently drunk a whole bottle as they sat mulling over tattoos and life’s other complexities.

Later as she stepped out of the shower, after having stood under the cold water to neutralize the merlot, Amy was grateful for her short cap of hair which lay like feathers on her scalp. No fuss. In front of the full length mirror she turned and twisted to see her rear end. She placed her palm first on one hip then the other, imagining a tattoo there. Right side she thought, on top of that little mole.

Serena was watching golf on TV as she practiced putting, trying to get the ball to lag before it went under the couch when Amy said, ”It’s now or never, come with me.”

“Come where?”

“To get me a tattoo.”

“A little hasty, perhaps?”

“Nope, I’m gonna do it. I’ve been getting references. Jerry, of the Latin wristlet, said ‘Tat 2z’ is clean and you know, professional. They’re two artists there and one’s a girl, woman, I guess, so I won’t be exposing my, you know, lower hip to a strange guy. Come with me. Please?”

“Okay. Fair’s fair, I guess. You stood by my dumb decision to marry Jay-stalker so the least I can do is be there for you when you make an equally dumb mistake. Did you decide what it’s gonna be?”

“Nope, I’ll look through their catalog and hope it’s like porn - I’ll know it when I see it.”

Tat 2z was in a strip mall next to a tanning salon. Serena said, “Great. One-stop shopping. Your choice: tanning-bed-melanoma or flesh-eating bacterial infections from dirty needles.”

“Shut up,” said Amy as she opened the door and walked to the counter. The place looked clean, like a cross between an upscale trendy hair salon and emergency room. Each station was divided by psychedelic curtains that could be slid closed for privacy. Serena didn’t want to think about where some people chose to get tattoos. Or piercings. Mama mia.

They were told to take a seat, choose their tattoo and they could have the next appointment. There had been a cancellation. Amy asked, “Does that happen often?”

The receptionist said, “Yeah, people chicken out so walk-ins are always welcome.”

“Lucky you,” said Serena.

“Shut up,” said Amy.

She browsed and browsed, flipping pages like she did when she read People magazine scanning, scanning, scanning hoping to see George Clooney; this time hoping her sub-conscious would zero in on the perfect tattoo. It had to represent her in a nutshell. But this was turning out to be harder than writing her college entrance essay.

Serena also looked, holding up pictures when she thought she had found one, or holding up disgusting ones: knives dripping with blood or busty bent-over women. Amy just said, “Nope, nope, nope.”

“Nothing,” Amy said, disappointed, turning the last page of samples.

“Why did you want to do this again?” Serena asked. “Something about making a big-girl decision of permanence marking an end of your twenties and the beginning of your thirties? Let’s re-think this. So you’re cute. So what. You’ve done important stuff. Gotten a law degree and not married a lot of jerks. Been supportive of best friends who have. Go out on a limb - make the big-girl decision not to get a tattoo.”

Amy looked at Serena. Without saying a word, she got up, walked to the door and opened it. Before she walked through it, she turned to her friend and said, “I need a continuance, Your Honor.”

“Continuance granted,” said Serena and followed her best friend out the door, not even trying to hide her relief.

Another prompt

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