‘To be fifteen’ by Victoria Richards

and after the third can of Super Strongbow cider, to throw up all over the embossed wallpaper belonging to that girl in the year above, the one with the bra straps and dirty jokes. She breathes in smoke without coughing, says, “alright?” to the most beautiful boy at school, the most beautiful boy with hair black as cats’ tails, slippery as nicotine. His smile a lopsided carousel.

To lock yourself in the bathroom at the house belonging to that girl while you leave traces of last night’s dinner – don’t eat too much, you get drunk faster on an empty stomach – all over the pale-pink bathroom suite her parents spent a day choosing from Because You’re Unique even though it started with a subordinating conjunction.

To have only just started your period but to not have breasts like Belgian buns and to have those not-breasts christened “pancake” by the boys who stand like gatekeepers in the kitchen belonging to that girl, cans of Monster in their pockets. Rows on rows of teeth. To have written a letter to the beautiful boy and to have asked him, unthinkably, to read it. To hear him say, “I like you – a bit,” like that, bit in italics.

To throw up in the house belonging to that girl who will look at you like you’ve bled through soft cotton, smeared war-paint across your forehead, your skin an 18-hole rebellion. She will point and say, “that’s her” until it becomes a hurricane, until Mrs Gulch rides by on her 1900 Orient with the broken spring, as dead chickens fly past the window. Her smile will tell its own story and she will call it truth.

Of sagging into the beautiful boy like he’s the wind and you a used tissue wearing someone else’s mascara. Of laughing chaotically at something he said that was only half-funny, of touching his knee and letting him touch yours, because knees are prayers and fingers communion wafers. Of going with him to the bottom of the garden belonging to that girl. Of being ordained.

Of someone calling your parents and for your dad to come, for him to climb the stairs belonging to that girl in silence, force the lock while you lie foal-limbed – to carry you out to the car like a trampled chrysanthemum and take you home, pull off your tights, wipe shame, hot and sticky, from your hair, put a bin next to the bed for morning.

To be fifteen and to have to call the house belonging to that girl. To speak through sheet glass over a tongue of sand, to rip yourself raw. To go back to school on Monday, toes curled and desperate inside ruby slippers two sizes too small. Childhood taps you on the shoulder– You’re a woman, now! To pray for an outbreak of collective amnesia. Of mass, unexplained cardiac arrest.

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