A letter to my body, by Fran Calder

Dearest Body

I find it quite hard to address you like this. I’m not sure we’ve ever spoken in this way. I feel anxious writing to you. Weird, right? We spend all day everyday together; this should be easy. Hi. I’d like to start this with a blanket apology for the way I have treated you over the years. Especially the way I have spoken about you in the past. And the other day actually. That was shitty of me. I actually love you a lot, even if I don’t show it as often as I should. So, my dear body, here are some of things I should have been thanking you for all this time.

Thank you to you for feeling so wonderful when I hug. For taking friends in your space and aiding their sigh of relief, for being body to body with my partner and feeling our heartbeats sync up, for feeling at home in mum’s arms. I love the relaxation I feel when we hug. It’s one of my favourite things.

Thank you for continually working hard at keeping me safe and healthy. I apologise for that recent hospital visit, I am working harder at making sure we don’t end up there. But you were a champ. That temperature wasn’t fun, and as much as I felt betrayed by you, I realise you were only doing your best to keep me going.

I am eternally grateful for how much better you make me feel when we work out together. And I am grateful that we are able to. It often feels like mind over matter, but you really push yourself to get that good old-fashioned endorphins rush. I’m trying harder to listen to your limits and respect them.

Every day you carry me wherever I have to go. You go beyond tired for me and I shall do better and not make you do that so often. I promise that I will try and be kinder to you. I will feel proud of what you can do and how you look, regardless of what that means. I will marvel at all things you have done and all the things you have the potential to do in the future (make a human, for one!).

Body, you truly are wonderful. I will check in with you soon.

All my love, Fx

Re-framing how we define our self-worth

Our age is one of narcissism. Contrary to popular belief, narcissism doesn’t have to be all that bad. On one side of the coin you have egoism and self-absorption, yet on the other we have self love. This age encourages us to share ourselves online and let others bathe in our narcissism; the selfie is a perfect example of this. What we don’t realise however, is how closely narcissism lies to insecurity and self-hatred. With an online culture that either feeds or deprives our ego with the amount of likes we get, whilst simultaneously feeding us a rhetoric of ‘good vibes only’ and ‘positivity’ we can be left feeling empty. Empty that we didn’t get enough likes, that the likes don’t make up for not liking ourselves and empty that we’re lacking this feeling of positivity everyone keeps harping on about. How can we get away from this definition of self-worth and make peace with our nude bodies?

I want you to think right now about the last time you said thank you to someone. Maybe it was when someone handed your first coffee this morning to you, or to someone that held the door for you, or someone that woke you up on the tube before you missed your stop. Now think about the last time you thanked yourself. For anything. I don’t mean you thanked yourself in a roundabout way, by rewarding yourself with chocolate after filling out a long and tedious form. I mean out loud. The sad thing is, even though most of you won’t be able to remember that, you’ll remember the last time you criticised yourself. It’s time to change how we speak to ourselves. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how others see us or what they think of us. The only person’s judgement you have to face is your own. So, be kind. We often say to treat others as we’d like to be treated ourselves. But many of us don’t even treat ourselves the way we’d like to be treated by others.

Self-love is a term that can be daunting. It’s scary enough to love someone else, let alone ourselves. So take the first step to love and be simply grateful. Instead of feeding a vapid culture based on likes and comments, fuck what the rest of the world thinks and thank yourself. Thank your body for making you who you are. For putting up with nights when you consumed too many jägerbombs, for carrying you through your first kiss, first job interview and for healing each time you grazed yourself. Thank your fanny for multiple orgasms and thank your willy for simply being there, no matter what size it is.

Nudity is taboo if in any context other than sexual. Last week a woman with purple hair at work told me that a woman was ‘disgusting’ because she was feeding her child and her ‘boob was flopped out all over the place’. When I heard of the free the nipple movement, I was outraged that being topless in the UK was illegal. It was only recently that I discovered that it’s not even illegal, only taboo and instead my outrage dissolved into sadness. We see naked bodies as pornographic, not because it’s innate but because that’s the only context in which we tend to see them. Hard, rippling muscles and oil-slicked perfectly symmetrical titties. When comparing ourselves to this caricature of modern ‘beauty’ it’s no wonder we find it hard to be kind to ourselves. This is not the only way to define nudity or our bodies. Our bodies are more than just sexual. They’re functional, sensual and sacred, and should be celebrated as such.

I want to end with an apology. Dearest body, I am sorry for not always appreciating you as much as I should. Dearest neck, I am sorry for not taking the time to stretch out that tight muscle. Thighs, I am sorry for pinching you when I get angry and frustrated. Mind, I am sorry for not being as compassionate as I could be. I am sorry that I don’t always listen to you, but from now on I promise that I will try my best. I am grateful to you body, for holding me together, for carrying my thoughts and desires. For your perseverance with me when I have pushed you to your limits. Thank you.

Why men need feminism too

We’re three weeks into 2019 and people are angry. Angry as hell and it would seem that the super blood wolf moon has indeed brought about the end of the world as the bible and American Horror Story had predicted. But instead of the four horsemen drawing nigh and volcanoes turning the world to fire and ash, what has brought about the end of the world? Something that could never have been foretold: Gillette.

Before I delve into what has turned people Violet-Beauregarde-purple in the face I want to first state: men are not toxic. Men are not trash. There is a rhetoric across social media which demonises and isolates men and this is at the detriment of equality. Men are important and should be valued, just as much as women are. No more, no less.

Unfortunately, the Gillette advert has become a hotbed of hatred. The comment section of YouTube is an orgy of MGTOW (men going their own way- rebranded after everyone relentlessly took the piss out of meninists) members with their noses so far up each other’s arses I’m surprised they haven’t suffered from methane poisoning. The comments have ranged from incomprehensible to ridiculous and the downright offensive.

There was the oh-so-original line (and certainly not plagiarised from As God as it Gets):

How do you write women so well? I think of a man. And I take away reason and accountability!

The ridiculous:

Gillette lost a lifelong customer with me. I used their razors and deodorants since my teens. Take a deep whiff of my musky nuts, Gillette.

The well-wisher:

Everybody who likes [this video] I hope you die

The scholarly:

Sexism is evil but Hating Men is wonderful! -Old Femcunt Proverb

The shocking:

more like girlette , boys can’t be boys and play fight? that’s why there are sooo manny sissies who want to become women and ”feel” that they are in the wrong body

And the one that made me stop reading:

If you play this video backwards you hear millions of aborted babies crying for their mothers.

Without watching the video, I’d be unsurprised if you assumed the video depicted women with Chewbaca styled body hair slicing off penises with Gillette razor blades.

But no. The advert, as literally stated (you didn’t need a degree in rocketadult-barber-barbershop-1319461 science to decipher its meaning) was about believing in the best in men. Hell, it was about celebrating the best in men. Celebrating men for standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Celebrating those who don’t accept ‘boys will be boys’ as an excuse for violence. It tells us to champion men who respect women and don’t glorify sexual aggression. Gillette showed us that not all superheroes wear capes (Edna Mode would be proud) and that it doesn’t take Superman’s strength to help someone. That sometimes softness and mediation is the right response to conflict. It showed that men aren’t indestructible for simply having a pair of balls and that there’s no shame in being vulnerable.

Despite men claiming that the Gillette advert was an example of misandry, I think the sorry state of the comments section shows how essential feminism still is. When men feel their masculinity questioned the response is cruel and violent. Sadly, it didn’t take hours of searching to find these transphobic, sexist comments, it took mere minutes. Again, I’ll state it’s not men that are toxic, but our image of masculinity is. We only have to look to dear old Mother Goose for an example:

What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails, and puppy dog tails,

That’s what little boys are made of!

What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice and all things nice,

That’s what little girls are made of!

Snips, by the way is a small eel. Girls are sweet treat to be consumed, whereas boys are aggressive writhing fish or slimy monopods. Not particularly flattering is it? Phrases such as ‘man up’ and ‘what are you a man or a mouse’ are dangerous. Not only do they tolerate aggression and violence but they encourage these attributes as important parts of the male psyche. And lastly, the phrase so emotionally constipating it’s no wonder men spend so many hours on the toilet: boys don’t cry.

Men aren’t simply just corporeal beings that eat meat and ‘taters to build big strong walls and carry dogs out of burning buildings. The reaction to the Gillette advert showed that all people expect of men is to fight and be physically and sexually aggressive. I thought we gave men more credit than this. To put men in a box like that only inhibits them and with such pressure to ‘be a man’ it’s no wonder male suicide rates are three times higher than the average for women. Our image of masculinity has been at the detriment of men. It has meant that boys with a softer side have been called pussies or gay. This is one of the things feminism fights for. Emotional equality for men and women and equality among boys who don’t necessarily present themselves ‘traditionally’.

The Gillette advert asks men what sort of man they see in the mirror when they shave. The moment of self-reflection when shaving is an intense one. It’s not a quick glance to check if the quiff still has its iced gem status (yes I’m still living in 2013). It’s a Laura-Mulvey-esque gaze. It’s interrogative. The advert asks more importantly, who do you want to see in the mirror. Self-reflection is an essential part of life, without it we do not grow.

Another reason the sky is falling in because of a mere 2 minute long advert is because shock horror, a brand is promoting a value. This is nothing new. Ever since Marlborough sold cigarettes with a yee-haw and a cowboy hat, brands have sold us a lifestyle. They even try to sell us yoghurt with sex. What’s so sexy about probiotics I will never understand. So why question a brand trying to sell us something beautiful? Trying to show us that heroism comes in small forms. Trying to show us that men are more than just physical bodies.

The nature of the internet is to hate and criticise. We nitpick before we’ve even considered, jumping to conclusions quicker than we skip through snapchat stories. Yes Gillette are trying to sell you something, that’s simply the way of our world. It doesn’t invalidate their message. We interpret the world through the media we consume and I applaud Gillette for using their platform for good, even if they are jumping on the woke bandwagon. Who cares? It’s a sad state of affairs when things can no longer be simply good in essence. It’s a wagon we should all be jumping on to, rather than sneering at from our high horse.

You’re a naughty boy, Mr. Tangerine

As a teenager, I was a confused tangled mess of hormones. My brain was dedicated to a select few things such as:

  1. My unfinished homework.
  2. Embarrassment that instead of chomping on a grape at lunchtime, it just fell out of my mouth and rolled away slowly in front of everyone.
  3. Wonder that Marnie sucked Sam off last week with her tiny mouth when I can’t even cope with a grape.

All three of these occupying thoughts caused me anguish, but one surprisingly more than the others. Though there is really nothing worse than your classmates watching a grape fall out of your mouth like a turd from a loose asshole, not having finished my homework was top of my list but not because I was concerned about detention.

As I entered the classroom of the man who hated tangerines almost as much as I disliked him, I felt a sense of dread. He called the register and one by one, students placed their copies of homework on his desk. When it came to my name, I felt a twist of shame in my stomach.

“I haven’t done it sir.”

Mr. Tangerine looked up and smirked.

“What are you then?”

I sighed with what I hoped was an I’m-sick-of-your-childish-games-attitude, but to most probably sounded like a hasty inhale.

“I’m a naughty girl.”

I still remember the earrings I was wearing that day and how I had my hair. They were little silver kiwis with a aquamarine stone. I felt seen, and not in the way I often wanted to be seen by boys, from which there could be found a sense of feminine power. I felt seen in a dirty way, like when a man with only five visible teeth catcalls you as you get off the bus. Though I’ve always been one for a defiant glare when someone annoys me, I found myself looking at my slightly muddy shoes as I repeated my line.

It was the only time I forgot my homework.

Mr Tangerine was an odd man to say the least, not only would he not allow you in the classroom if he found you with the forbidden fruit, he was sometimes a good teacher too. Some classes laughter shot through the air accompanied by electricity produced by a Van der Graaff generator. At times, I wanted to like him, but never could. He was much like that crackle of static the Van der Graaff produced. Sometimes he crackled with energy, but often you couldn’t see the sparkle, only feel the jolt.

When I got home from school I demonstrated my outrage to my parents with grand gesticulations, arms were being thrown left right and centre and feet were even stomped. Not only did I explain his little homework routine, but I went into detail, betraying the silence of that classroom.

“You know, sometimes while we’re working he’ll walk around and grope our buns, like our hair and I know it doesn’t seem like much but everyone agrees, it’s gross. He’s just gross.”

When they asked me if I wanted them to go to the school about Mr. Tangerine, my demeanour changed. Red dissolved into grey and horrified, I told them of course not. I didn’t know what it might do to my grade. Later that year when the Ofsted inspector sat next to me and asked me about my teacher I said why yes mister, he sure is a good teacher, and no, never had any problems mister.

I’m hesitant to put a label on Mr. Tangerine. Pervert? Smutty Santa Claus wannabe? I’m just not sure, but to say it was innocent would be naive. How could anything with that kind of subtext be innocent among teenagers whose brains are 90% sex?

My class earlier that year had sat in our Biology classroom, unable to contain our giggles as we watched a video of stubby green chillies engorge into monstrous red giants. Our laughter was met with a squeaky response of “It’s just a chilli!” from Miss Fry. After which, even she began giggling because it was clear as day that though what we were watching was a little spicy, it was not a chilli.

The hilarity of that moment  however could not be further from the fraught atmosphere in Mr. Tangerine’s classroom when homework was due. There was something inherently sexual about the way he thought it was appropriate to act with us.

He had a duty of care which was not fulfilled. I know that I for one never felt comfortable in his classroom. I know that others did, but I don’t think it’s right to deny to ourselves that what he did was wrong. The way he treated us was demeaning and sexualised us. He constantly reminded us that we were simply ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ powerless to deny him what he wanted.

Yes, touching someone’s hair can be innocent, and though word naughty can be used innocently (though rarely when talking to someone over the age of ten) in that instance it was not. The power he wielded over us and the way in which he flaunted it exuberantly like a tiny-cocked King with a large sceptre wasn’t right.

That’s the label I’ll put on him. Not right.

 

 

 

 

A sketch 8.1.19

In the depths of winter as we are, you will be forgiven for thinking this place is dilapidated. That life is rotting away. But look this time, not for the yellow brick road, but at the yellow heads. Peeping, from cracks in the tarmac.

The reflection of headlights in road signs bounces back at us. I wonder if there’s a designated road-sign-cleaner. Dirt is mottled like mould, creeping its way into the last clean corner.

Ben lights his cigarette and I wind my window down to let it escape. It is a manual, one of those old-fashioned handles that takes me back to being five and sat in my Dad’s Volvo. When I tilt my head back I can see the stars past the roof of Ben’s car. Cold wraps around the tip of my nose. I am alive.

A streetlight illuminates a telephone wire and it becomes a spider’s thread. I catch the smell of grass and soil in the air.

My brain stops ticking.

I stop feeling like there’s something I’m forgetting.

I am content, just being.

Yes, you will  be forgiven for thinking that in the belly of these hills, life dies. But look at their little yellow heads, clustered around a junction in the semi-darkness. A false spring drawing them out of their subterranean slumber.

This is the year the daffodils came early.

 

Sex tips that put the ‘mort’ in ‘un petit mort’

The late October sunshine lulled me into a false sense that summer had not ended, but the chill in the air yesterday and the all too frequent posts about pumpkin spiced lattes on Instagram is a persistent reminder that autumn has indeed come around to haunt us again. With Halloween just around the corner, here are some ways YOU could spice up your sex life this Halloween (no pumpkin necessary).

Finding someone to shag is half the hassle, so if you’re looking to snare a ‘winter boyfriend/girlfriend’ choose a fake tan shade two times darker than you should aim for and slather your body in the self-tanner. You will end up the shade of a pumpkin which should entice a mate who appreciates all things spooky. This might inadvertently cause Joey Essex types to come flocking to your door though, they too seem to love this festive skin dye. Studies have been done and we have no clear explanation as to why but several theories circulating in the academic community posit that TOWIE types and pumpkins share the same IQ and they are making attempts to cross-breed into their final form: a pumpkin with teeth. Rumours in the writing community suggest that Joey Essex is still submitting his erotic novel ’50 shades of orange’ to publishers to no avail.

If a more sickly pallor is what really gets your blood pumping then befriend the hottest person you know, they will undoubtedly be a vampire as all attractive people are- did you ever see an ugly vampire in Twilight? Vampires are particularly attentive partners and will do all sorts of romantic things like watching you sleep and whispering sweet nothings like “You smell so delicious I could eat you” into your ear.  We recommend app Twinder to find your blood-lusting counterpart. Be warned that vampires have a penchant for Bloody Marys and if they get hangry you could find yourself with your head chopped off and a celery stick rammed down your common carotid artery. So, use protection and always take some tomato juice with you on dates (a little holy water wouldn’t go amiss either).

Feeling frisky after work? Instead of bringing wine home, just buy a sharp kitchen knife and hack your way through the front door, your partner will be so relieved it’s just you with a knife that they will instantly fall into bed. For a Norman Bates twist, try this in the shower while dressed as your mother.

Just as Eminem says in his famous song ‘FACK’ having a gerbil nibble on your asshole ‘feels so fucking good’, but to give things a little spooky spin collect some spiders in a jar and place said jar against your partner’s rectum, they will love the gentle tickle of their legs. Alternatively shake the jar before using it (lid on of course) to give the little wrigglers a bit more bite (literally).

We all know of course that pain is equal to pleasure, having studied our common bible: pornhub. So on All Hallow’s Eve, why don’t you take a leaf out of sex goddess Annie Wilkes’ book (Misery) and tie your partner’s hands and feet to the bed before shattering both their ankles with your huge and rock hard mallet. They will let out an almighty howl and the neighbours will be dead jealous of your fantastic sex life. The only negative is, you might have to clean the soiled sheets later, and you sure as hell won’t be getting any help from your lazy partner.

Last but not least, remember to take advantage of any situation that presents itself naturally: if you start your period while having sex, just pretend you’re dying. Your boyfriend will be totally flattered that his giant member has ruptured your internal organs.

There are many ways to get creative with sex this Halloween, so don’t be afraid to embrace a little trick-or-treating. For those of you without a willing victim, get out there and go get yourself some phantom dick, literally or metaphysically. Use a ouija to entice some randy spirits, who said sexting was only possible on your iPhone?

 

A Horrorscope

It is morning. Light stretches its arthritic, bony fingers underneath the bottom of your ‘blackout blinds’. Yawning, you consider calling DirectBlinds a third time in an effort to get your money back, but after several somnabulant minutes you decide that it wouldn’t be worth the hour and a half of being passed from department to department, before someone finally hangs up on you ‘by mistake’.

You start your morning as is standard, groggy after a night of tossing and turning. It is too hot not to have the window open, but living in this part of the city means that it is too dangerous to keep it open. You peel back the covers to reveal a cheap cotton vest and boxers clinging damply to your skin. You never sleep naked, you’d feel like a tangerine without its peel between the sheets: vulnerable. Your skin feels foreign when unclothed, like it is trying to elicit something from you that you don’t possess.  You never linger in the shower, but wash yourself quickly. It is a chore rather than a pleasure.

Turning over, you reach for your iPhone 6s plus and scowl, still bitter the sales assistant talked you into getting this model rather than the 6s, which later you found out was equal in adequacy but less expensive. You slide along to the third page of your home screen, which hides your guilty pleasure apps: Homescapes and Horoscopes. You click on Pisces with a resigned sigh, you’d always wished you were a Scorpio, and that your quiet nature came off as mysterious rather than alien (this aspect of your personality is only emphasised by your Aquarius moon). You’ve accepted what your true form is: a flaccid, wet fish.

The horoscope reads:

Pisces, you have been particularly self-depreciating lately, (true) feeling closed to social interaction due to Mercury in retrograde, (also true, last week it took you days to recover after a dog had barked at you aggressively in the street) but good news! This has now ended, and today you should be open to romantic opportunity. Surprises are coming your way today.

You frown. You aren’t a fan of surprises and the horoscope neither indicates if they are good or bad.

A sound like a gunshot shoots past your bedroom window. You sit up in your bed. The narcotic stench of petrol reassures you that this surprise is quotidian. Peering over the sill of your bedroom window, you watch a plume of bruise coloured smoke emerge from a rusted exhaust.

You ponder whether your jumpiness could be due to the cocktail of drugs you consumed last weekend as you absent-mindedly scratch your balls. As the two Xanax had snaked its way uncomfortably down your throat at 3a.m. you had questioned whether or not there was a point to any of this. You knew that soon there would certainly no longer be any point to the line you had done forty five minutes prior. It had been a terrible party. Your drug dealer had invited you, eyes downcast, some sort of consolation prize after under weighing your quarter by at least 1.5 grams.

In the morning people had asked you, who’s Leah? and you had responded by blowing a haze of marijuana at them. With a lump in your throat, you realised you weren’t sure you could tell them truthfully who Leah was anymore. You hadn’t seen her since that night she threw her keys at your face and you had threatened to put your hand in the blender. The only thing left of her now is the tiny pit hole in the side of your face, from where the keys had cut you deeper than you had thought possible.

A pit-hole. That was what Tommy had called her last week. After you’d got home from the pub, you’d looked it up on Urban Dictionary. This was what it had said:

pithole

Pithole as the name suggests, they are the unavoidable bumps in the road of life, usully the nastiest, ugliest least attractive woman you will ever encounter. When driving down the road of life you try to aviod pitholes whenever possible, but its inevitable that every once in a while you will hit a pithole.

When walking in the mall, your friend sees a horrible ugly woman, he says “watch out for that pithole” to get your attention. Due to his quick thinking, you both avoid this troll.’

When you’d read the definition the word pit-hole had become pith-ole. A frown crossed your brow at the lack of apostrophe in ‘its’. You have no patience for those who cannot observe details.

Leah had a beauty men like Tommy would never understand.

It doesn’t seem like mercury retrograde has ended. The day is too humid, its air still dense with uncertainty. The grey clouds seem suspicious, as though they know something you don’t, something they could unleash on you at any time.

You leave your apartment earlier than usual, craving a fix of caffeine, necessary despite your nerves which you can practically hear jangling like a wind chime.  You tug at the hair on the nape of your neck as you walk down the street. It smells like it will rain. You forget this though as soon as you hear the

“‘Iya!”

It is not said, it is sung. You look up to find the bird and you catch a flash of teeth. They are charming teeth; slightly higgledy-piggledy like Dutch houses with once white paint that has faded to a pale yellow.  In that moment you fall in love with those teeth. You remember the words of your horoscope too late. Be open to romantic opportunities. By the time this rings in your head it is too late, and when you look up to see her face, she is gone. You turn around and find a swinging ponytail. Your bird has thin brown hair that ends in curls, kissed into her hair by the humidity. She leans into a car window and greets a man cheerfully. They seem like old friends and she runs around, ponytail still bobbing gleefully as she hops through the car door. As the car drives away you feel the breath that you only just realise you’ve been holding on to escape your lungs.

You shake the encounter and her teeth off.

It is two hours later, and you are trying to read your future with the grains of coffee left in your cup after swigging the last dregs of your third americano (black). You have half a biscotti left. Even though you know it is customary to dip it in a hot beverage to soften it, you don’t. You savour the way the biscuit feels as though it could break your teeth, a solid and immovable force, over which you always win.

The bell jingles but you ignore it, intent on finding some meaning between the clumps of soggy coffee dust in your cup. It is only when she sits opposite that you detect the silhouette of that ponytail in your line of vision.

Like a miracle, there she is, drinking an espresso with shaking fingers. Maybe like you, this means she is a coffee fiend. But then again, maybe she has bad nerves (yet this is only another similarity). Your eyes meet and she smiles kindly, but looks away just as quickly as the smile came. You decide this means she has bad nerves, rather than being an arabica junkie.

You don’t like the piercing above her lip which you are 60% sure is called a Monroe. 60% because the only thing you can remember about Monroe is the way her skirt blew up in that one photo. With her blonde curls and come- to-bed eyes, she is before your time anyway. You are intent on this girl that is of your time. You squash a chuckle as you think of Kung Fu Panda and that wise old turtle: today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.

This girl’s eyes are not come-to-bed eyes, they are more what-I-need-is-for-someone-to-rub-my-feet-and-buy-me-fresh-Christmas-socks-because-what-is-better-than-the-feeling-of-new-fluffy-socks-on-your-feet? eyes. If she can feel your peepers on her, she ignores them. She seems as though she belongs behind a glass wall, in a museum among paintings of nude women from the renaissance period and pagan fertility goddesses carved from wood.

You wish she’d chosen a cappuccino to drink, because she in your proximity for too little time. When she stands to leave, you look up from the newspaper you have been pretending to read. You watch her walk out of the door and past the glass front of the coffee shop. You were right, behind that transparent sheet she is exquisite.

All too soon, she has yet again slipped from between your fingers, tricky like water, she is somewhat intangible. You listen to the mechanical shriek of the coffee machine and before you know it, this sound has passed you and is on the other side of your ear and your feet are walking you out of the café and into the humid day.

In front of you there is only a lack, a stretch of pavement covered with chewing gum and impatient feet, rushing around you. Her red-bottomed shoes are nowhere to be seen. Along with the teeth and piercing, you have logged these shoes in your inventory of the bird.

She should have a name really. Tweety. Tweety-sweetie pie. You smile. You have only known each other for a few hours but already she is dear enough to warrant a pet name. This is special. Leah never let you nickname her. Disdain wrote its way across her brow when you called her lover. When you tried sweetheart, she stuck out her tongue like a petulant teenager. Even when you tried more unusual ones, treacle, choux bun, my little lily-of-the-valley, they met the same response.

Tweety’s open and tolerant face told you that you could call her any name under the sun in a voice that dripped with honey and she would shiver with appreciation.

You observe the street carefully, looking for a sign that your bird might be close. That is when you notice the Powerpuff girl lunch-box, abandoned at the bus stop. It is growing black mould. You hold your breath and walk swiftly past, imagining the mould spores as microscopic dandelion seeds, finding new homes in your nostrils and eardrums.

You hear a bell tinkle and can’t help but think of It’s a wonderful life. An angel gets its wings. Like magic there she is, out Tweety walks of a dingy second hand washing machine store that looks as though no one has set foot in it for five years. She turns on her red-bottomed leopard print heels, and marches down the street.

Your heart is in your mouth, and you can feel the THUMP THUMP THUMP of muscle caged between your teeth. This is it. Three times in one day. You have read all about the magic of the number three so you are certain this time that it is fate. You follow her, composing a speech in your head.

Hello, if you’re looking for a washing machine you can have mine. No, you sound like a cold-caller. Fuck. Hello, I’m shopping for my girlfriend and just wondered if. NO. What kind of a relationship is built on a lie? Hello, you’re beautiful and I’m sure you’re the one. It’s all wrong. You huff angrily with frustration. A little too hard however, because she turns her head to the side. It is that female masquerade: I’m turning my head to the side in a manner which I think is casual but really I’m checking if you’re a threat or not. She walks down a side street. You pause, not wanting to scare her off, so you give her a thirty second head start.

Despite the overcast August day, Tweety somehow fills the dank alleyway with a golden light. You almost forget about the stench of stale transfats invading your nostrils.

You breathe from your belly, a trick your mother taught you in order to quieten your nerves, which are no longer jangling musically like a wind chime, but grinding aggressively like a garbage disposal trying to choke down a teaspoon. You stumble over the cobbled pavements, and she stops in her tracks. She turns and walks directly towards you.

This is your moment, but somehow all your words have upped and left. They have metamorphosed into little ants which you stare at in dismay as they congregate around a coke can by your feet.

Those fuckers, what traitors.

You look up and those teeth and that piercing and the not-come-to-bed-eyes are staring right at you.

Tweety licks her lips with a flat tongue, furred white with her espresso and bacteria and you think that you have never loved bacteria as much as you do on her tongue. You are glad that your words have turned into ants and run away because she is going to speak first and they were crap anyway.

“40 for oral and 60 for a shag, don’t do any of that butt stuff though,” she pauses momentarily, “well throw in an extra 50 quid and a half gram of coke and you can have what you want.”

You have become the garbage disposal still trying to choke down half a teaspoon. Your brain grinds and croaks as you try to assimilate the words now floating in the air with the shapes you watched her mouth make. You feel your heart in your mouth slow to a THUMp THUmp THump Thump thump. Your cock stirs reflexively before it shrivels in shame. If you look like the type to pay for sex, then your mother is right, you really should wash your hair more than once a week and maybe you are just a greasy limpet.

Suddenly you are aware of the mould spores in your lungs from the lunch box and you can feel them fucking and spawning rapidly like horny rabbits. You choke on them as they spread up your throat, and suddenly the ants are back and all over your tongue: itchy.

Tweety-not-so-sweetie watches you, bored and waiting.

“Alright?” she asks tentatively.

You had thought she was like water, but you realise now that she must be an earth sign and here you are a fish on land, suffocating. In an attempt to soothe the coughs which scrape their way from your lungs up your throat, you rub your adam’s apple. Tweety rummages in her bag for a moment and pulls out an inhaler. You shake your head violently. Suddenly the bacteria on her tongue seems less than endearing and the inhaler is less than inviting. She shrugs and pulls out a fag, lighting it before walking away. You crouch on the pavement in an effort to gather the energy to kill your cough.

As she walks away, you notice the red bottoms of her high heels are flaking away from the shoe, and one of them is mottled with a brown substance you suspect is dog shit.

Her ponytail continues to bounce with an innocence that doesn’t belong to her face. When you had really looked in her eyes, you’d realised you were right about one thing; she sure was in need of those fluffy socks.

A bulbous drop of rain falls on your forehead. You look up at the sky, and a rumble fills your ears, one which this time does not come from the traffic on the road, but comes from overhead. The water soothes the persistent itch that runs up and down your throat. You can breathe once again. You have not yet stood up and you tuck your knees close to your chest like a child, letting the secrets the sky held this morning wash over your skin.

This time the water is a pleasure.

Ode to a pea

It’s always colder in March than you expect it to be. The wind bit at my nose as I paced past the Thai and Mexican restaurants that lie between my house and Boots. Ben, as usual, was a few paces behind me. I was born on May nineteenth, which means I am a Taurus cusping on Gemini, making for a whole lot of stubborn with a side helping of impatience. Ben has longer legs than I, therefore logic demands he should be able to walk as fast as me, so I marched stubbornly ahead, ignoring his dwindling pace. He didn’t complain. He knew better that day.

Half an hour before, I was in the throes of ecstasy; sweaty, unkempt and carefree. And now I had a big problem. Or rather, I had a microscopic problem. What I had feared would happen for years had finally been realised.

The condom had broken.

For the first six months Ben and I used condoms, I played the role of Tomas de Torquemada, head of the Condom Inquisition. After sex, I squeezed the tip of the IMG_0587condom, searching for some tiny hole through which some sperm might infiltrate my vagina. These months seemed laughable as Ben and I stared at this broken condom. It was as though instead of going out fully dressed, his penis had gone out in midwinter wearing only a crop top made of Clingfilm. It was highly inappropriate and I wanted to ask it through gritted teeth why the hell it wasn’t wearing its coat in these conditions. Instead, I sighed and checked my phone for the closest pharmacy.

As I stomped down the high street I felt as though nestled in my womb was a large seed. I could almost feel the imbalance of it, my body having been thrown out of kilter by the invaders that were currently occupying my uterus. My body was playing out the narrative of the princess and the pea. I felt like the princess, and despite the soft cushioning of my body, I could feel this pea, this negligible difference that was simultaneously me and not-me.

It sounds ridiculous, I know. And really, it is. An egg isn’t fertilised until twenty four hours after conception, but even so I felt a moral obligation to this pre-embryonic child. When we walked in, the pharmacy was empty, so I told the woman at the desk I’d called half an hour ago and needed the morning after pill. The woman raised her fuzzy eyebrows and her eyes widened with shock as though I’d asked her politely if she would so kindly pass me her handbag so I could take a crap in it. She plastered on an artificial customer service smile and lowered her voice to inform me she’d let me know when the pharmacist was ready. I sat in a blue vinyl chair as Ben defaulted to browsing the shelves. He coughed and gestured to the shelves fate had so kindly placed him directly in front of. Nappies, smiling babies and talcum powder laden shelves stared back at us provocatively. I laughed.

I studied the baby’s face on the plastic Pampers advertising. Its cheeks were cherubic and rosy, eyes crinkled into a glorious smile. That smile that only babies have because no one has yet had the chance to spoil their innocence. I felt a pang in my chest, for the baby that could have been if I’d made a different decision. One day, I knew I would decide differently. Only perhaps ten years in the future.

As I sat in the pharmacist’s office answering the clinical questions she delivered in monotone, I wondered if I was a little trigger happy with the morning after pill. I’d taken it on one occasion before: after I lost my virginity. I popped my cherry with a sweet boy, Lee. We’d met at a festival and had been talking for a couple of months when he visited me in my home town. I’m still not sure how the hell I managed to convince my parents to agree to this. Mum imposed three firm rules regarding sex.

  1. There was to be absolutely no sex under her roof.
  2. No sleeping in a bed with a partner, regardless of gender (this rule was purely to ensure the first was obeyed).
  3. Always use a condom.

A small frown was written across her forehead as Mum reiterated these rules emphatically. It was agreed. He was coming and I was elated. I grinned and promised my undying obedience, all the while wondering what Lee’s penis looked like, and why on IMG_1512earth it was more acceptable for me to shag someone in a hedge rather than in the house. I knew he wasn’t the love of my life, but we’d made eye contact between the strobing lights and shared three snogs, all the while not knowing each other’s names. It felt like fate we’d managed to get in contact afterwards, especially as I had left the directions of procuring his name in the hands of a hippy who had spent the past three days ‘oot his tree’, as my Mum would say, on MDMA. We laughed together, he was hot as hell (so said the gay man that hit on him at the Thai we went to) and I was randy. Put simply: I liked him.

I ended up breaking all three rules. From their establishment, I had always flat out repudiated the first rule; I certainly didn’t want to have sex for the first time hidden in the hydrangea bush Mum had trimmed earlier that spring. The second rule seemed inconsequential after having broken the first, so I had no qualms about taking a little nap on his shoulder afterwards. However, it was breaking the third rule I knew would haunt me. I didn’t let him come inside me, I justified to myself afterwards. He didn’t offer to use a condom, and I couldn’t find the words to ask, afraid that if I changed the precarious equilibrium of the situation then all of a sudden it might slip through my fingers like sand. I thought of myself as a woman then, but really I was just a girl playing at being a woman, dressed up in shoes four sizes too big for me.

I resolved to solve my problem the next morning. Having seen films where picking up Plan B seemed no harder than procuring a jam doughnut in a bakery, I waltzed into the pharmacy expecting to have everything solved before lunch. I was alarmed to find myself up shit creek without a paddle when the pharmacist told me I would have to go to Somerton to get it. This was a disaster. I didn’t drive and didn’t have time to get there between going to my parent’s art class, that I was already late for, and my orthodontist appointment. Thick heat met my face as I huffed my way out of the cool of the pharmacy down the road. Beads of sweat formed on my upper lip as I interrogated my brain for a solution. If Dad took me to my appointment, I reasoned, we could stop in Somerton to pick up this pesky pill (his wrath was infinitely inferior to Mum’s). While class was ongoing I cornered him and said I had to go to Boots. No questions asked, Dad agreed and I breathed a sigh of relief. When class ended the three of us sat in the car.

“Right, let’s go to your appointment then,” Mum chirped.

The black fabric of the car seats radiated a heat around me that I felt burn in my cheeks.

“Aren’t we dropping you off, Mum?”

“No, I’ll just come too, why not?” she smiled.

The dampness under my armpits felt slick. I could certainly think of one reason why not.

“TheressomethingIhavetotellyou,” I blurted out without pausing for breath. Mum was clairvoyant when it came to both her children, so not telling her would only delay the inevitable.

Mum was disappointed. She was not furious, but she was cross. Despite this, she held my hand as we faced the pharmacist’s accusing glasses in the cramped broom closet which was her office. As we left, she squeezed me in tight for a cuddle and patted me on the bum with the Chlamydia test we’d also picked up.

IMG_5284

“What am I to do with you?” she asked.

I replied just as I always have, “Kiss me, cuddle me, and love me forever.”

“I think I can manage that.”

As our laughter floated away into the summer breeze, the heat that day felt balmy for the first time, rather than oppressive.

The summer ended and Lee went travelling, so unavoidably the relationship fizzled out like a damp sparkler.  The leaves began falling in amber drifts and I started seeing a new boy, James. When Mum suggested I go on the pill, I agreed enthusiastically. I certainly wasn’t keen to be examined by those accusing glasses again.

We made an appointment and Mum walked me to the surgery. When my name flashed blue across the screen, she asked me if I wanted her to come with me.

“Yes please,” I replied in a small voice. I remember my surprise at the voice that emerged. At seventeen, I had thought I would never again use the same voice I used when she asked me if I needed a cuddle when I was thirteen and the boy I liked had called me a fat cow. What teenage arrogance. I was yet to use that voice many times. When we walked in, the nurse looked over the top of her half-moon spectacles (I didn’t seem to be able to avoid critical glasses) and told Mum coldly she could wait outside. I was baffled when I realised the reason Mum was told to leave was so she could ask me if I was pregnant. I’d grown up in a family where condoms were put on bananas around the dining room table and no subject was ever off limits.

For a while, the pill was great. It ended the period pains I endured that confined me to bed for a full day which no amount of paracetamol could palliate. Even better, it regulated my periods with military precision; I knew Carrie would come knocking at my uterus on a Thursday at precisely three o’clock. Half-way through one of my driving lessons in sixth form, I felt a subtle release of liquid between my thighs that could only signify, with alarming immediacy, that the crimson tide was high. I looked at the clock and realised with horror: it was indeed a Thursday, and past three. I squirmed in my seat as my driving instructor reminded me laughingly in his thick Lancashire accent to “Slow down, you’re such a boy racer, Kate.” Oh Tony, if only you had known the peril your new leather seats had been in, you might have hoped I’d step on it a little more. Guilt surged through me as I thought of how his little bald head had beamed when he’d presented me with his new car. I was determined to save the upholstery. When the lesson was over, I bolted out of the car and into the house only to discover the dampness had been a red herring and the sweaty result of my anxious disposition. My relief quickly subsided to make way for a new bout of anxiety. I was also having cramps. With no period and cramping, I came to the only logical conclusion.

I was having an ectopic pregnancy. So, there was something worse than getting pregnant: death.

I went wailing through the house to Mum to ask her if we should call the NHS first or just go directly to the hospital. She laughed when I told her I was due on that day and reassured me I was being a hypochondriac. At my age, she was the same. Her friend Janet had said, “You’re the only person I know that’s been pregnant for three years.” Despite using birth control, Mum was plagued with fears of pregnancy every month, a fear it appears, I have inherited. She stroked my head and reassured me I would be fine, we’d wait a day and see how I was then. As she always is, Mum was right. When I showered that evening, I was delighted to see spots of blood standing out proudly against the cool white of the ceramic tile. I watched as the little blobs raspberry rippled their way down the plughole.

Despite all this paranoia, the pill was faithful to me and I never fell pregnant. It’s not that I didn’t want children, but the opposite. I’ve always wanted to be a mother. So much in fact, that I once tried to be mother to a chick and stole an egg from the kitchen. With a sunny and childish optimism, I wrapped the egg in my scarves and hats in an attempt to gestate it in the soft womb of my winter clothing.

I was an odd child full of surprises. Mum was never sure if she was going to wake on a day on which I might put a woodlouse in my mouth as casually as fudge, or if it might be a day on which I ask her to show me her bum, and not the regular kind, her real bum (which for an inquisitive four-year-old me, meant bumhole). When she asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, she realised it would be a real bum sort of day. I replied instantly and with the kind of certainty only a four year old can have, “I want big boobies, like you!”image2

Mum grinned and took the compliment.

“Oh, do you? That’s kind. But what do you want to be when you’re older?”

I imagine I looked quizzical as I wrapped my head around the notion of my future.

“I want to be a mummy.”

“Oh, do you? How many kids are you going to have?”

“Ten.”

My statement was brisk and assured. Ten seemed the perfect round number. With child-like logic I had decided that ten fingers was manageable so why not ten children?

“Blimey, you’re going to have your hands full aren’t you?”

“No! You’re going to look after them.”

“I most certainly will not.”

I re-evaluated my situation having considered it  with one less pair of hands to help.

“Well, maybe I’ll just have three then.”

Over the years, I have wanted to do jobs so assorted they could have been pulled from a magician’s hat, but the one thing that remained constant was that I wanted to be a mother. I worked with a woman last summer who was so heavily pregnant it seemed a miracle. I’m sure she thought otherwise considering the way her feet must have felt after a seven hour shift, but she looked divine, in the biblical sense of the word. I looked at the joy written across her face when her baby was born, and I couldn’t wait for the day when I might blow a raspberry on my baby’s little fat tummy. There’s no better word for it than a yearning. There’s so much longing in that word. Sometimes I have to remind myself that if I had a baby this young, all that yearning, that joy, might be diminished by the life I hadn’t lived.

On a sticky day in July two years ago, I walked into the pub I worked in and was met with an atmosphere like sour milk. The two women on shift were both mothers in their mid-twenties, and were muttering furiously. They made me aware of their awful predicament and reader, be prepared for the worst, their ordeal is terrible. Their children had returned home for the summer holidays. Anti-climactic I’m aware, I’d been hoping for some gossip like, “Her with the tits off the PTA shagged Dave I reckon, cause I saw her itching and now I’ve got crabs.” Their children must have been spawn of the devil considering their response. Sure, kids can be difficult, but aren’t tantrums and occasional backchat part of the deal when you decide to have a child? I have a terrible poker face and my expression must have conveyed my shock. I was dismissed with an eye roll and a curt remark of, “You’ll understand when you have kids.” I hoped not. I hope not.

Despite all our flaws (and there were many) Mum was always overjoyed when my brother and I came home for the summer holidays. July drifted past lazily like fairies that disguise themselves as balls of dandelion fluff. I remember how we chased them and made wishes with them balled in our sweaty fists before blowing them away into the dry day. Even now, I run after these tokens of our childhood as though I’m still old enough to lose my milk-teeth. During the day we dug up weeds so much our fingers seemed permanently caked in mud, and in the night we burned them on the bonfire. The scent of buddleia, the butterfly tree filled the air and we had perpetually sticky fingers from eating plums from a tree that bowed with its burden of fruit. Mum only told us when we were older how she missed us when September arrived with an immediacy that jabbed like a needle.

I found it utterly depressing these women couldn’t wait to dispense with their children like some wet wipe with a mysterious brown stain. They spoke about their children as though they were a burden, rather than a joy. Maybe if they’d had children later in life, they might have felt differently when the summer holidays rolled around. I know I couldn’t look after a child now, because really, I’m still a child myself. At this stage in my life, I’m far too selfish. I relish in the freedom to spend an extra forty minutes in bed if I’m feeling too lazy to get up. I enjoy that I don’t have to be someone’s role model. It’s a comfort to know I can fuck up three thousand times a day, but ultimately, the only person I affect is me.

Despite knowing I made the right decision in taking the morning after pill, I couldn’t pin down what I was feeling as I stumbled home in March, too lazy to pick up my feet. Some deep sense of guilt weakly veiled by a stubborn air of feminist indifference? I felt as though my irresponsibility or bad luck had brought forward the potential for something so beautiful, but I had stopped it dead.

I gulped, attempting to swallow the pill that had managed to lodge itself part way down my gullet. As we walked I asked Ben if any of the girls he’d had unprotected sex with had taken the morning after pill.

“Yknow, I was wondering the same thing. I’ve never really thought about it before.”

I stopped dead in my tracks and my jaw dropped a little.

“Are you serious?!” I squawked.

He shrugged. I rolled my eyes and we resumed walking.

“We never spoke about it so I suppose it wasn’t a big deal for them, I always pulled out,” he clarified.

“Well I suppose that’s fine then,” I huffed, whilst considering the stressful aftermath of losing my virginity. My eyes felt strained, having rolled them with a little too much enthusiasm, as I wondered how many of those girls had secretly taken the morning after pill, just in case.

When we got home, I sat on my bed and cocooned myself in my quilt. Ben diplomatically sent himself downstairs for a cup of tea. I Facetimed Mum. There are some things only image1her words and laughter can solve. I couldn’t articulate the way I needed to be comforted to Ben, but somehow Mum knew exactly how to soothe my rattled nerves. I still needed her, after all this time.

 

She had been the one to teach me how to tie a shoelace around the leg of our cocoa coloured coffee table. She had taught me that sometimes the art of lying is important, so you can tell a bully to piss off (but only once and with Mum’s permission) but avoid getting in trouble with the teachers. She had let me wail into her lap when James told me he might be gay. Held my hand through the boys, doctors’ appointments and kissed all my cuts and grazes.

I’m no longer wearing shoes four times too big when it comes to sex, but in regards to motherhood, I wouldn’t even be able to stand up in those shoes. I want to wear those

foot
My foot aged four months compared to Mum’s

shoes exactly how my mother always has; with a confident stance and the strong curve of muscle sculpted into her calf. I hope that one day, the slipper will fit, and my baby will also know how loved, cherished and wanted they are.

 

Before we signed off she said the words she has always said, the words that I one day will say to my child,

“What am I to do with you?”

“Kiss me, cuddle me, and love me forever.”

A sketch 1.8.18

This summer has felt like one I will remember for the rest of my life. As though there is some hidden meaning that lies beneath it, a solution to a riddle which lies between the endless days of sun that stretch over the parched fields. Some answer to be found among the new constellation of freckles on my neck that has appeared in the last week.

Each moment has felt like fiction, something to be written about and heard, special even when it was mundane. I know I will lose the details though, just as the trees will lose their leaves in autumn, the rain will come and the details will be gone.

I will not remember the way it sounded to hear my brother’s hands work, chipping away at bricks in the garden. How rhythmic it sounded, somehow more musical than any beat or note he has ever played. Neither will I remember exactly how the sun felt on my cheek and how it warmed me from the inside out like port. I would say brandy, but I would feel like a fraud, unsure if Jack Daniels is even classified as a brandy, and unsure whether or not I like the taste, having been too drunk to appreciate the flavour when I sampled it (does quarter of a bottle count as sampling?).

Though I won’t be able to recall it perfectly, I can hear the breeze among the leaves of the apple trees, a sound as pleasing as ice rattling in a glass when you fill it with liquid. My mother walks outside in a scarlet bra and soft purple shorts. I can tell her feet are bare by the way they pitter-patter across the wood of the deck. Her bedsheet, a deep turquoise sways in the wind, evading her. She stretches to reach the peg which is holding it up. Red, purple, turquoise, it is a pleasing shock of colour against our brick house.

I am sat on a wall made of old logs which encloses Mum’s onion patch. From the soil their brown and white wrinkled heads peep like nosy neighbours over a garden wall. Next to me is a green watering can turned on its side in disuse. It reminds me of days in the garden spent watering green beans and sticking my feet in buckets of water. I have no explanation for why I did this apart from simply, it felt nice.

As I drink lemon and ginger tea from my Nana’s pale pink Moonmin cup, I think for the first time in a long time, that I feel truly content.

There are no words for the way the sunlight hits this garden at this time of day.

I know that soon the rain will come. I know that in time I will forget. But momentarily, there feels like there is no riddle and that these days of sunshine don’t have a meaning; they are simply there to be enjoyed.