Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, The Illustrated Woman by Bill Chance

“From the outer edge of his life, looking back, there was only one remorse, and that was only that he wished to go on living.”

― Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

Window sign, Tattoo Parlor, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

The Illustrated Woman

After work Craig drove off to the club to work out.

He didn’t exercise as an excuse to watch other people. He was serious about improving his fitness, he was working hard. But the first part of his program was to do a half hour on the stepper. There wasn’t much to do for thirty minutes except look around at the other folks working out.

He tried to do the stepper right. He would stand as upright as possible, keeping his weight on his feet, using his hands only for balance. A couple machines down some guy was flopped over forwards, resting his chest on the control panel, his arms on the handles. His entire weight was supported there, his blue spandex-covered butt stuck up in the back. Craig knew he didn’t get any real exercise that way and it must be killing his back.

In front of the steppers, past the always-busy treadmills was a warm-up area, where people do their stretching. This club was a serious place, not a lot of socializing, and although there is a wide variety of customers, a lot of serious bodybuilders hung out there.

Craig couldn’t help but notice one woman on the mat bending herself around, stretching. Tall and thin, almost gaunt, wearing wire-rim glasses and medium length blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore white shorts, a gray athletic bra-top, black workout shoes and weightlifting gloves. She must have had some Yoga training, those were serious stretches. She stood, feet far apart, and keeping her torso and legs straight and locked bent over and touched her cheek to the inside of each calf. Then she rolled around and tapped the back of her head on the padded floor between her feet.

What caught Craig’s eye wasn’t only her extraordinary flexibility, it was her tattoo. Not a small, ordinary tattoo, but a big design. She was illustrated. The illustration was a vine, he guessed a climbing wild rose. He could make out red blossoms and maybe even thorns among the thick green leaves. It started as a spiral tendril between her breasts and grew into an arc over her left shoulder. It continued down her back in undulating curves and finally ended… well,Craig couldn’t really tell exactly where it ended.

He was not a big fan of tattoos, but he liked this one. It looked like a real part of her, not some odd design picked out in a drunken haze and buzzed in on an ankle in a whim. Jeez, though, that must have hurt. A good two or three square feet of skin under that electric needle.

He finished his time on the stepper and walked some laps to cool down before he started working on the weight machines. Down on one end of the club was the free weight area where the serious bodybuilders worked. One woman was sitting, doing concentration curls with a dumbbell. The biceps on her arm literally popped out like a hank of thick cords, you could almost see every muscle strand. She was like a sculptor in flesh. The sculptor and the sculpture too. Slow carving with sweat and plates of steel.

For the most part, the men down there had unmarked skin. He had never noticed before that all the women had large complex tattoos. Abstract patterns across their bellies. One had a tiger looking out of its lair drawn across her shoulder blades.

He thought back to something he heard on TV as a child, during the Olympics, Craig thought about it and decided it was the 1968 games in Mexico City. The announcer was talking about the East German women’s swimming team. She said something like, “The Communist Bloc girls have a big advantage over the American women because they have a weight lifting program. American women won’t lift weights because they are afraid they will look too manly .”

Thirty years ago before then… over half a century has passed now. A lot of water under the bridge. It’s odd that he remembered that from so long ago; he had no idea why it made such an impression. Things have changed a bit since then, though, haven’t they?