(Queequeg had no inkling that tats would one day become a popular form of communication.)
Literati (that would be vouz)
I am so privileged to be part of this community, and even to man the tiller. We have another entry to post which was coaxed from Rachel Walker who was one of our original contestants for first contest that started all of this and resulted in our first publication: The Coffeshop Chronicles: Oh, the Places I have Bean!” in which Rachel was featured.
It was Peggy got her to send us this entry. Here is the email that was attached to it.
It had been nearly a year since the words first appeared on Stuart’s skin. Welted red lines formed phrases like To Live Fully Is To Embrace Banality and Dreams Are For The Deserving. When the itch became too intense, Stuart would tear his skin to shreds in an effort to assuage the burn. It wasn’t until Be Honest, You Have No Future appeared in block letters across his torso that he decided to make his third and final appointment with a dermatologist.
“Been under a lot of stress lately?” the doctor asked, peering dubiously at Suck a Sock, Doc where it snaked its way down his right thigh.
Stuart shook his head. Assistant Manager at FoodN’Stuff wasn’t exactly a high-stress position, and he wasn’t a man to exhaust himself with intellectual pursuits. His girlfriend (assuming he could still call her that) hadn’t appreciated when Fat Girl Got Your Tongue? announced itself across his chest the last time they’d fooled around. She said some stuff (‘revolting freak’ rang clearest in his memory), threw a lamp at his head, and stormed out. He wasn’t too distraught; Sheila had been pretty high-maintenance for a guy on a FoodN’Stuff salary.
“Any ideas?” he asked, wincing as the doctor performed a scratch test and the words There Is No Loving A Loser materialized brightly against his pale shoulder. “I can’t live like this much longer.”
The doctor frowned and scrawled something on his pad. He cleared his throat before answering. “I’ve seen this once before. What we have here is a particularly spiteful case of dermatographism,” he said, handing Stuart the prescription and turning to the sink. “It’s a new antihistamine, powerful stuff. Not exactly mainstream yet, but I think it might be just the ticket for you.”
Stuart scratched his ear where You’d Look Better In Retrospect glittered like a malevolent string of Christmas lights. “Did it work for the other guy?” he asked, his voice hopefully. “The other case you saw?”
“Hmm? Oh. Yes. Yes, he responded quite well to the treatment,” the doctor replied, scrubbing vigorously. “Finish the bottle and you should notice an improvement within a week or so.”
Stuart fought the urge to scratch his nose; he could already feel the snarky response. “I don’t know,” he sighed, “I’ve tried a lot of antihistamines.”
The doctor chuckled, “You haven’t tried this.” Propping the door open with his elbow, he hurried out of the room.
That night Stuart gulped down two small, unmarked pills before settling into a dreamless sleep. He woke the next morning to a not-unpleasant tingling in his fingers and toes. Hesitantly, he scratched his forearm where the words We Have To Talk erupted like an angry lover.
“What’s stopping us?” Stuart replied, shaking two more pills into his hand and swallowing them dry. It was going to be a long week.
The next morning he nicked himself shaving when Go Fuck Yourself swarmed across his jaw. The day after that it was replaced by the slightly less inflammatory Don’t Be A Dumbass, followed by the faint tingle of Jerk. Stuart smirked at that last one, splashing cold water on his face till the words faded to a rosy pink. He was feeling newly optimistic, so much so that he didn’t notice when the last pill slid off the counter and down the drain.
Stuart tapped his fingers on the bar’s marble countertop, slightly buzzed from downing his first beer too quickly. Sheila had agreed to meet him that evening on the condition his condition was under control, and he was quick to assure her it was. To test his theory, he scratched his knuckle. A tiny, Revolting Freak rose and quickly receded against the backdrop of his pale skin.
“Right back at ya,” Stuart muttered into his cup. The bartender raised an eyebrow.
Stuart was swallowing the dregs of his second Duvel when Sheila arrived. He watched her slink through the door and adjust her tank top, looking bored as usual. She’d lost weight since he’d last seen her, which meant she went from a size 0 to a negative 2. She spotted him and sauntered over to the bar.
“Sheila! Wow. You look … really nice.” Stuart babbled. “Can I buy you a drink? Cosmo, right?”
“I drink Stoli martinis now,” she replied, checking her lipstick in her compact. “Healthier, you know?”
They made small talk for a few minutes before succumbing to an awkward silence. Sheila finally spoke. “So… feeling better?”
“Never better! Guess I just had to find the right doctor.”
“What was it you had, exactly?”
“Spiteful…something or other. Some sort of skin allergy. It’s not uncommon.” Stuart signaled the bartender for another round.
“Whatever,” Sheila said, sipping her martini. “Glad you’re back to your old self. I missed you, I guess”
Stuart recognized the invitation. He touched her hand. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you,” he said, and it wasn’t a total lie. Sheila seemed pleased with the response. A couple of rounds later they closed out the bar and took a cab back to Sheila’s apartment.
After they made love, the sheets twisted around them like a web, Sheila fell asleep on his chest. Stuart needed to pee so he untangled himself from her and tiptoed to the bathroom. On his way back to bed he stopped to admire how a streak of moonlight traced a path from her neck to the curve of her lower back. A shift in the shadows caught his eye and he stepped forward, peering closer.
Stuart recoiled, choking back the shout that threatened to pour from his throat. He watched in horror as blistered letters bubbled and swarmed over Sheila’s skin before settling like a brand across her back: Kiss And Make Up? I Swear, It’s Not Too Late.
Sheila moaned and began to stir. Wide-eyed, Stuart stumbled out of the room, not stopping to gather his clothes. The door hissed shut with a click behind him.