Boys should not be touched. No, should not be brushed against. Every extra kilogram; every twinge of nausea must be investigated. Menstruation days must be crossed off with joyous red ink. My greatest fear creeps from within, siphoning blood and stretching tissues and enslaving the body.
I suffer from chronic stomach pains, with a nervous habit of clutching my stomach as I walk, and a day without nausea is inconceivable. Dr Hosking put it down to anxiety, folded his hands together and said that, unfortunately, there is not much he can do for me. But I know that it is a warning, or a premonition. The hollow teardrop-shaped shrine within me is protesting, punishing me and punishing the world which created it.
Young girls are taught to fear the consequences: the parents' rage; the lost childhood and education; the slow trickling away of society. Yet worse than the tears and the closed future and the judgment, I fear the thing itself: wrapping my body around itself, then emerging in a scarlet flood with blinking eyelashes like whips, taking in the world and plotting how to rule it.
On the beach, in the supermarket, on the school grounds even, I scan every passing girl's or woman's stomach with wide eyes. Should I see one straining against clothes, the initial desperate urge to find a restroom is replaced by curiosity about the woman. Furtively, like a smitten boy, I peer at her face. Usually serence as a marble Madonna-to-be; never hateful. I lower my eyes in guilt. As she moves on, my eyes stray upwards again, and I peel away the cradle of membranes, blood and amniotic fluid.
A dumb swimmer, neatly folded like a picture in the midwifery textbook. Gilled like a fish and beaked like a bird. A little heart and a little brain like red cherries in a warm, bloody jelly. A blameless criminal, hung on a rope that can resurrect or strangle. An alien. A monster...
Babies. Everywhere I look; babies in prams, babies on television, babies on the tongues of women as they balance their teacups and slices of cake... I wonder, do a woman's hopes and dreams, her drive for autonomy, her power - in short, everything that separates her from an egg-laying hen - blow away like paper birds at that first cry?
Could I end a life? That is the question that looms out of the deep. Plastic dolls in sterile buckets. The grime-coated inside of a shack, and a woman with a coat-hanger. Cord-strangled ditch-delivereds. How much can the nervous systems stretching their feathery fingers through the little body feel? And yet, is it not better to die innocent than to live the life of a timid forest creature amongst refuse bags, fight crows for another bread crust, run as Mother hurls a punch or a knife...? Better I will not be able to offer.
I think about childbirth. The cold steel torture tale, my belly obscuring view; the doctors shouting inanities whilst judging; hating. All this time, the pain, the ocean of pain; screaming; my alien stomach hanging marble-heavy around my head, and then once every drop of strength has been wrung out of me as though I am a scrap of washing, the screaming of another voice...
The vision fades in oily slicks of nausea as I imagine the baby, plump and smiling, in a pram sprigged with ribbons. First tentative steps; every gurgle a mispronounced first word.
The love sticks in my throat, and I turn away.