The Bad Project

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Chapter 5. Butterfly and Dragon /Crystal

On the way out of their room for dinner the next day, Crystal noticed Marianne had put up a new quotation from Anias Nin over the mirror, “The day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” She thought Marianne had chosen the perfect idea to kick off her Bad Project since she had a mental and physical need to break out of her rigid upbringing.

Crystal and Marianne arrived at the dining hall, picked up food and sat down at a table for eight. Soon, they were joined by a couple who kept looking into each others’ eyes. The woman had a blue and red tattoo of intertwined vines around her left wrist. A big apple-shaped charm on the top of her wrist showed the Chinese character for good luck. Marianne looked at it with interest. Finally she said, “Did you get your tattoo around here?”

“Are you talking to me?”

“Yes, I’m interested in where you got your tattoo.”

“Down in Santa Grazia. At the Double Dragon Tattoo Parlor. I know one of the guys who works there and he gave me a discount on this tat.” The man with her gave her a startled look. He’d have to look into the guy and his discount later, because Marianne was hot on the trail of the Bad and would not let him get a word in edgewise.

What street’s it on? Is it near the beach?” said Marianne. Crystal admired her concentration on the information she was after.

“Well, it’s just South of the pier on a little street, about a half block up from the beach. I don’t know the street name. Why, are you going to get a tattoo?”

“Maybe. I’m thinking about it,” said Marianne.

Crystal looked at Marianne and wondered about her parents’ reaction to a tattoo. “Are you going home anytime soon? What if your parents find out?”

“They won’t.” Marianne ran her hand though her hair. “My first thing is going to be about not always honoring parents’ wishes.”

The tattooed girl heard the conversation, leaned forward and asked, “What do you mean ‘first thing?’ Are you planning a bunch of body piercings and tats? Because my cousin has a piercing studio in Monterey Park. If you wanted a lot he’d probably give you a discount.”

“Not exactly, but right now I think I do want to get a tattoo.” Marianne got up and picked up her dishes.

As Marianne and Crystal walked back to the dorm, they talked it over. Crystal thought that she should get a tattoo around an ankle or a wrist, so that the rebellion would be immediately obvious to her parents, if that really was the point of the Bad. Marianne argued that she wanted it in a less obvious place: her lower back, below the waistline, as she had said the day she described her plans for the Bad Project to Crystal.

Crystal thought Marianne’s motives for the Bad Project weren’t clear to her. Was it just going to provide grist for her writing as she had said? She was sure that Marianne was upset by the incident at Pythonia. But her motives went beyond that, she thought. She hoped they mainly involved a need to grow up under her own aegis, instead of her parents’ ideas. She had heard nothing suggesting her roommate wanted to harm others or even harm herself. May it be so, Crystal told herself.

She asked, “How can it be a rebellion against your parents unless you let them see it?”

“I don’t know much about Chinese martial arts, but they show you can do secret rebellion and it still works. I know they don’t want me to do this and I do it. How is that not rebellion?”

“Well, I guess it’s a start.” Crystal thought there wasn’t much Marianne could learn from getting a tattoo nobody could see. But then, it wouldn’t get her in trouble. This step was better than a lot of things she might do for the Bad Project. A gentle entry into the Bad. But not one that seemed to lead toward penetrating writing. “Are you sure this will make you a better writer?”

Marianne shrugged. “I have to start somewhere. I can experience and write about the thrill of doing what has been denied to me before, can’t I?”

Crystal looked at her for a moment, then said, “Yes, I guess you can.”

“Good, good,” Marianne said. “Okay, that’s what I’ll do.”

Crystal thought that Marianne wouldn’t find it easy to get out to Santa Grazia pier since neither of them had cars. But Marianne proved more resourceful than she had thought. She booked a ride out to Santa Grazia and back the next Saturday on the Zoombah, the bus that students could take to distant activities.

“Do you want to see it?” Marianne sounded pleased and excited.

“Sure. Show me.” Crystal thought she was a little pathetic. Crystal was the only safe audience.

Marianne dramatically dropped her orchid-embroidered silver silk kimono revealing navy satin underwear and whirled around so that Crystal could see her back. Right in the middle, about two inches below the waistline, was a five-inch-wide blue and black butterfly, very intricate and complicated. Her skin was inflamed and red around the tattoo but it wasn’t bleeding.

“Very nice. And maybe you can keep your folks from seeing it. At least you have a chance, unless you wear low riders or go swimming in a bikini next time you go home.”

“No, do you think they’d let me wear a bikini? They’ll never see it, don’t worry. But I know it’s there, it’s my secret talisman.”

“Sometimes you talk like a book, Marianne. But remember, accidents happen, and as your advisor on the Bad Project, I have to tell you this: think about what you’ll say if they do find out.”

“Shit. Why spend time on it when it’ll never happen?”

“Never isn’t real, that’s my experience. You can’t guarantee never.”

“I’ll think about it, practice some scenarios. Thanks.”

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