It began with the allocating of luck, our bodies pinballs inside a machine. It was the year of overlapping adolescences, when the girls started to faint and grow tall.
When I went to see my doctor at the clinic, the part of the wall where she measured our heights was dotted everywhere, as if with the eggs of flies. Mine was lost in there with the rest of them. Straighter, straighter, she said. Rapped my knuckles with a ruler. Look up! What do you see?
Just the dust gathering on the wallpaper of your ceiling, Doctor, I didn’t say. She made notes on my body. I nibbled at the edges of my own skin. She wrapped sheets of gauze around my raw thumbs. Stop chewing on yourself, she said, and wrote down something which might have been Failure to nurture.
[ Return to the review of “Blue Ticket.” ]
My father bought me a wiry grey dog when I turned eleven, for my heart. Run faster! I shouted at him when he couldn’t keep up with me. This was love.
Cool light, spiders erupting from their silver webs inside my window frame. Out there, somewhere, was destiny. The dog and I were running towards it together. I liked to bury my face into his peppery fur, though I think I was allergic. It is possible that love was making me sick all along.
Drink a lot of milk if you want to speed it up, the knowing girls told us in the bathroom, between classes, as we massaged balm into our chapped lips. It hadn’t happened to them yet but they had been able to find things out. Eat fats and oils, they said. We switched all the taps on and then we left for our lessons.
At dinner I took a spoonful of butter and ate it neatly. My father watched me and didn’t say anything. I took another. Licked the spoon.
Be careful in your wanting was a slogan written on the wall of the clinic. I must have read it five hundred times over the course of that one year alone. My legs swinging back and forth on the orange plastic chair of the waiting room.
Girls left one by one throughout the term. No goodbye parties, no notes. By the time it was my turn, barely anybody remained. It was me and two other girls and the boys my age in the classroom, pushing our pencils across paper as we multiplied and subtracted and memorized underneath the sun’s passage.
I felt no great fidelity to the concept of free will. At fourteen I had been awaiting the future for months. I sat for hours on the yellow tiles of my father’s bathroom with my knees drawn up to
my chest, as if I could compel my body onwards with the force of my thoughts. I couldn’t rejoice in anything, except that each event brought me nearer to adulthood, the clear and shining horizon of it. It was as if we had to swim through mud to get there, an estuary barrier to us reaching the ocean. Get through this, I wrote on the back of my school notebook. Private mantra. I felt very advanced to have made such peace with myself. I knew nothing, obviously.
All of this I spoke about to Doctor J, a harried pale woman, owner of the marked wall. Our growing brains were stored on tapes in her filing cabinet, which held a psychic onslaught of numberless teenage girls waiting to be sifted.
What is your mind doing lately? she used to ask me, and I would say the same thing every time, which was It’s not doing anything at all, which was also often the truth. I slept deeply and walked in the forest with my father’s gun after school, looking for the shivering bodies of rabbits, though I never fired it when I was alone. I became sentimental about pine cones and poetry, and swam my prescribed laps at the leisure centre with the other girls my age, walking home along the grey country road bordered with greenery.
As the year drew on, long red marks welted my thighs, mysteriously. Skin stretching, the doctor said. You’ll be tall. At the time I didn’t believe her. On slow days, I prayed for my bleed to come. Prayed to nature to make it happen, to the wet grass and the sky. My mother’s locket waited for me in my father’s sock drawer. It wasn’t locked away, but it was empty. My mother was buried in the grey cemetery outside of town. Her ticket might have been buried with her. I didn’t ask.
My father took me to a restaurant. It was my first time playing at adulthood, and I didn’t do a good job of it. Cracked, hollow bread rolls; I ate three of them very quickly. I saw the sad mushrooms in the carbonara as snails, and then could not eat those. Tender heart, my father called me then. He was a little angry. We had wine and I drank a splash big enough to coat the glass, but no more. It made my tongue feel lively. My father showed me how to swill the wine around and what the tidemarks told you. Like reading tea leaves, he said. I have looked into the wine and seen the future. It lives at the bottom of the bottle.
When all the wine was gone he lifted up the empty bottle and held it to his eye like a telescope. See? He laughed, but I did not ask what the future held.
She would have wanted you to pick a blue ticket, he said to me as we waited for the bill, but he did not elaborate. I did not want to seem stupid and ask, so instead I nodded. It was only trying to fall asleep, later on, that I realized what he had been telling me about my mother.
He was young to be a father. At the weekends, his friends came round to the house and drank beer and watched me. They played cards but not games that I recognized. One two, one two, they chanted as they threw the cards down. Another beer. I lay on my stomach in the dark in the hall, where they could not see me. I wanted to watch and not to be watched. It was fundamental to my desire. You do not understand that at fourteen. But I can understand it now.
In the cinema, later in the year, my fingertips slid around inside a bucket of popcorn. A boy sat next to me. I felt him put his hand out to me as if he were swimming. The hand moved up and down in the air until it reached my body. Hand found my shoulder, my chest. I let it rest there, peacefully. The film ended. The hand lifted. The boy left before I could look.
At school, the girls’ bathroom was almost always empty, by then. Nobody left the taps running.
One day the grey dog became fat and even slower. It turned out she was a girl. She lay down and small blind things came out of her, pink and bleating, like hearts. My father did something with them. Set them into the wilderness, or gave them new homes. I chose to believe this.
It was the dog I thought about years later, when I looked down at my stomach, and there it was. Undeniable. I, too, would be slow. I, too, would lie down upon the ground. Cold ground. Blue morning.
You should have touched them, said the last girl at school apart from me. You would have been their mother. They would recognize your scent, and your scent only. A sad, streak-of-water girl, with unnerving pale eyes. I didn’t like to think I was her sort, but here I was. Here we were. She placed a sandwich, carefully, inside her mouth. In my room at home I sniffed at my armpits, just to see. It seemed unidentifiable. It seemed like anyone else’s stink. Nothing that anything would call home.
[ Return to the review of “Blue Ticket.” ]