The irony is that when I got the tattoo in the first place, I wasn’t even thinking about angels at all.
I was sixteen, which feels like such a long time ago, now, that I can barely remember why I did it. Why I opted for several hours under the needle and across bone, when my peers all picked out simple designs for the fatty bits above their bums, or something equally as fast and dirty and relatively painless.
I know that it wasn’t to piss off my parents. Not exactly. I don’t know that my parents even had the capacity to get angry over me. It might have been to try to get them to look at me, though I wouldn’t have been sharp enough to realise that at the time. Every teenager thinks they want their parents to leave them alone, but nobody really wants that from their mum and dad, do they?
It might have been an entirely arbitrary thing. Ever since I’d understood, from being a little kid, the concept of tattoos, I’d felt like if you were going to have them, you might as well go large. Why have silly little marker-pen scribbles on your wrist when you could have a dragon across your back? When other kids my age started shoplifting make-up, I’d nab copies of those little tattoo magazines you used to see piles of on the shelves next to the porn in corner shops and newsagents. I’d spend hours leafing through the pages, particularly fascinated by the pictures of people who had ink all over their bodies, their eyes peering out of the only clean spaces, as if they were normal humans in alien skins.
By the time I hit the black ice of my mid-teens, I was filling notebooks with pictures and poems and stories, describing my desire to have a tattoo all over my body and face of myself, only happy. I was one of those girls.
If you forced me to talk to that girl, now, I’d probably tell her that she’d already covered herself in a self-portrait like the one she wanted – that she was a perfectly ordinary girl with a miserable one painted over them. The truth is, she never really had it that bad, but earnestly felt tragedy was something the whole world around her was striving for, and everybody wants to feel like they belong.
Thankfully, though, by the time I got the balls to get the ink, I didn’t have the money or the guts to go the whole hog, if I’d ever really had the inclination. Instead I put down the cash for the outline of the wings, with the rest of the detail and colour to be laid in over a couple of later sessions. I actually, wincingly remember telling the girl in the shop that it was because “I dreamed about flying away from my life”, but the truth is I saw a similar one on one of the Suicide Girls, and thought it looked awesome.
So the angel thing, that’s just a coincidence. Or maybe it isn’t. Who knows how the world works, really?
Like most people, I didn’t even believe angels really existed, until I saw one. I was twenty two, twenty three… actually, I was on the cusp. It was my birthday, and I was born around lunchtime, I’ve been told, so okay, twenty three. Two or three years out of a degree in Fashion that I hadn’t had any ambition for and thus far hadn’t done anything useful with. Living off the money of steadily more detached parents, in a shared house with people who at best ignored me.
It wasn’t a good birthday. It was the day that I had decided to kill myself. For lunch I necked four times my normal dose of anti-depressants, because I didn’t have any painkillers and I didn’t think it could hurt, and then I settled in the middle of my bed, the bedroom door locked, and slashed the fat vein in each ankle with a razor blade that I’d bought a couple of weeks before, an early birthday present to myself. It didn’t hurt as much as I’d expected it to. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on the actual wounds, or my legs below the knees were nothing more than abstracts, but I knew that the spreading redness on my bedsheets was a good sign.
I lay back and closed my eyes, glad that I’d had the foresight to put something good on the stereo.
This wasn’t a cry for help, or a test-run. I wanted to die. Actually, that wasn’t strictly true. I was just incredibly ambivalent about living, and the fact of having to carry on with it when I really wasn’t fussed was exhausting. My point is, I wasn’t just flicking through the brochure for the after-life… I’d bought my ticket and had stepped onto the bus.
I don’t know what made me open my eyes. It might have been an unexpected sound in the room, but it might just as easily have been impatience with the darkness. Whatever the case, I did, and was shocked to find I wasn’t alone.
He was standing, head bowed with concern, by the side of the bed. As far as I could tell, he was naked, but your eye couldn’t stay on him for more than an instant, as if he was too incredible a thing for your mind to take in. And light was drawn to him. It wasn’t like he shone, and he didn’t have a halo around him, but but light didn’t work the same way where he was concerned. When you looked at him, it was as if he was in a sunnier room than you were.
Look, it’s hard to explain. You’ll see for yourself in a bit, anyway.
It’s their job, you see. Or part of their nature. They are drawn to true suicidal intent. They attend at the deaths of the people who are really trying to die. I don’t know how they can tell us from the ones who are just play-acting. But they can.
Back then, I reached out for my divine witness, and though he tried to move back, my hand gripped around his forearm. I wasn’t looking for salvation or anything… I think I just wanted to see if he was real, and he was. My fingers tingled where they held him.
And then suddenly we were fucking. You couldn’t call it making love, because that wasn’t what it was… he was piling in on top of me, and I was pulling him in with my arms and my whole body, and calling it making love would be redundant. Because, you see, it’s instinct. If you touch them, if you make that physical connection, they’re pulled to you. An angel doesn’t know what else to do, because they’re full of love. They’re made of it.
I’ve referred to “him” and said that he was a “he”, but really I don’t remember a gender. I remember passion, and abandon, and the angel’s skin making my own feel so alive, but otherwise I couldn’t tell you what the sex felt like.
I can only remember what it felt like afterwards. I had risen into the experience, and all was light, and then it was later on, and I was aware again of myself, alone, in a now dark room. Blood was pooling around my feet, soaking up from the mattress, but I was no longer bleeding. I was whole again.
Their touch fixes you. It fixes your body, but it also fixes whatever it was in your mind that made you want to kill yourself.
You’re wondering why you’ve never heard about this before. You’re thinking that, for all the people who want to die, what happened to me must have happened to someone else, if not lots of someone elses. And I think you’re right, but I also think this: who would you tell if it happened to you? More’s the point, if you had tried to suicide, and been brought back from that place by a horny angel, wouldn’t you want to take that gift on with you, rather than dwell on the details?
Certainly, I didn’t want to live in the past. Suddenly, I had a purpose. You see, I couldn’t get the feeling of that skin out of my mind. It felt so alive, so vibrant. Like no other touch I had ever felt. It warmed your spirit wherever it met your body, and felt more like silk than meat.
I had to feel it again. So I hung out where I thought prospective suicides might be. I went to goth clubs, but those guys are actually more smiley than you might expect. I visited slums and homeless shelters. After a few days of trying that, looking around for that particular haunted look in the eye, I found myself exhausted with the effort. I started scouting out people who were maybe only a little depressed, tried to talk them round to desperate misery.
You should try it. It isn’t as easy as you’d think. It certainly never worked out for me.
Incredibly, it took me nearly two months to consider a place like this.
The first time I met another angel was about a week after I started volunteering to read to people at a mental hospital. I was lucky, early on, to meet an older patient who was known for their suicidal intent. I just made sure I was around him as much as possible, and one day, finally, it paid off. That time, I placed my hand on the shoulder of the angel as it watched over the slowly dwindling life on the bed, and as before the response was instant and fervent.
I was aware of the man expiring from an overdose on the bed, but tried not to let it bother me. My lover noticed nothing at the time, but I can only imagine the remorse he must have felt later. It added the slightest delicious edge to the memories when I considered it later.
But the one brief encounter, as intense and ecstatic and unreal as it was, wasn’t enough to justify the months of work I’d had to do. Before long, my body forgot what the angelic touch had felt like, and my mind found the memory too much to go without.
And I realised something else. It wasn’t the sex I was craving, it was the touch. The skin that seemed to vibrate with life.
The next time I found an angel, I didn’t touch them. I killed them.
It wasn’t easy. They are strong, and fast, and I hadn’t ever killed anything before, and I wouldn’t have managed to do it then, but for two key advantages I had over the creature:
Angels are built to mete out and mitigate death and carnage, but they are incapable of deceit or subterfuge.
And they aren’t allowed to hurt us. They might have been warriors at some point in time, but now they flinch from violence against humans.
I didn’t know that at the time, you understand. I had tried to crush the angel’s skull from behind with a hammer, and hadn’t intended there to be a fight at all. But the woman hanging in the center of her hospital room had groaned a warning, and I had only managed a glancing blow. Terrified, I had circled the room facing the angel for a few minutes before realising that he wasn’t coming for me. Was instead angling for some way to get out of my eyeline. That’s how they travel… they blink out of your periphery.
When I realised that, it was easy. I gave the angel hope. Moved out of the way. And when he went for the opportunity I’d given him, I spun around and hit him in the back of the neck with the claw of the hammer.
He didn’t bleed, but he did collapse to the floor. I hit him again, this time connecting with the back of his head, and eventually he stopped moving altogether. I pushed the door to the room closed, leaned the chair that the woman hanging from the beam had stepped away from against the handle, and got to work.
It isn’t like skinning an animal. As you seperate it with the blade, the flesh falls away sickeningly easily, then seems to dissolve away. It is almost as if the angel is designed to accommodate our need, though of course that’s an insanely self-absorbed notion.
And working with it is surprisingly easy. The skin doesn’t need to be cured – just cleaned, obviously – because it already feels and moves like silk. And after a couple of hours of working with needle and thread I discovered that you don’t need them. When two sleeves of the skin are pinched together for long enough, they bond almost seamlessly, only a light scar to show the join.
I’ve since found that angels heal pretty well. Pretty much instantly, from pretty much anything. Destroying the brain is all that works with any certainty, and even then the peculiar metaphysics of their condition means I’m not sure if they ever really die.
I know from experience that their skin still holds it’s warmth and subtle vigour. When you are wrapped up inside it, it feels like you are being held close within a state of unconditional love. Clothes made from it nourish you. Bedsheets let you sleep untroubled by dreams or discontent.
Pushing your face into something made from the material feels like taking comfort from a lover, or a mother. It feels like life.
If she was here now, I’d tell the silly girl who wanted the full body tattoo that covering yourself in ink will never change the way you feel, but wearing an outfit made from angel skin will make you feel like a whole different person. Like the same person, but smiling.
Wherever I am, whatever else I’m wearing, underneath it there’s a layer of angel skin against my own at all times.
The one that’s coming to watch you die will be my tenth. There’s a fluttering against my body that tells me that he’s close. In a moment I will go into the corner of the room, and avert my eyes, look up over at the ceiling, so I can’t quite take in the rest of the room. Once you close your eyes, you might want to keep them closed.
Close your eyes.