Growing in towards the feelings we chew
like the food we throw up or
the dessert we spit out, we
shrink shrink shrink
and away from the space in which we’re not allowed to
Away from confrontations,
inwards like a dying vine that wraps itself around our figures in
wire and elastic and suffocating materials that hold up our breasts and suck in our bums,
and create dips in the waist that aren’t there but we’re told should be.
Sorry sorry sorry.
Covering the nipples in the bikinis and vests and underwear
that sexualise our human form,
we hide discomfort or cold or goosebumps in case
these should be considered signs
of our arousal.
Swallowing the low-kilojoule wine in thirsty gulps,
falling into misery and pain and solitude,
reveling in the drunkenness which we are permitted and which is intensified
by the empty stomach
we took our first sip on.
Secretly hating each other:
dreaming of misfortune while our brothers and fathers and boyfriends and husbands
clap each other on the back
and shake hands
and reach for the bill and the beer and the burger
that is theirs to pay and drink and eat,
while we cast our eyes down to the floors we’ve been trained to clean
the towels we know to pick up
the dirt we’re brought up to notice,
the dust we spend our leaves sweeping away,
away away away
Small and alone in the feelings that not even we understand,
that we choose to ignore as we congratulate friends
on their collarbones and jutting hips and sharp ribs,
when we punish ourselves for the breasts that aren’t perfect circles
and the labia that won’t hide inside of us like the rest of our reproductive organs,
when we grab our stomachs and thighs in angry fistfuls
and resolve ourselves to painful hours of hatred,
or pick and tear and shave and wax away every trace of the hair that could be considered masculine.
Hide hide hide,
And then we’re back to our salads
and our fruit
and our low-GI
that leaves our bodies when the last carefully chewed mouthful is swallowed.
Out through our mouths or in the gym or,
and here the collective shudder,
in the natural way that food leaves our bodies
but that we won’t name or admit to,
disguising sounds and smells and sights from male partners,
should they accidentally realise that our bodies too digest food.
We hold each others’ hands while we walk to the bathrooms
to do the secret, private things
that women do away from the giant omniscient
that banishes us to mirrors and stalls and bathrooms
to cover up imperfections because we’re not perfect,
with the concealer we spent our lunch money on,
and to insert the tampons that cost more than the meal that we skipped.
burrowing away the fact of our womanhood:
the blood we’re taught
lest someone sees and knows we’re human.
Megan Ross is a South African writer and book cover designer, currently teaching English in Bangkok, Thailand. Prior to this she worked as the features writer for GLAMOUR magazine, and as a freelance graphic designer. Her creative writing has been published on Aerodrome.com, Itch, and in Modjaji Books' The Bed Book of Short Stories and, in April, she was nominated for the Pen International New Voices Award.