Saturday, 24 January 2015

scum

Winter is dark and beds are warm, and the girl needs some kind of power to help her transition from her nest to the world. It is not a big transition—she thinks often of much larger ones, of her friends, their bodies playing catch-up with the Me that is stuck inside—but it is a tricky enough one for this day, when it is cold outside.

She puts on clothes. She puts on the necklace that gives her power, the long trashy pendant with the dense red heart, a heart which nestles somewhere around the crux of her ribcage, reading SCUM. Despite the self-deprecation, the insult, the necklace makes her feel as if she is doing fine. Whenever she wears the necklace, she cannot keep from fingering it, from placing the tip of the heart between her teeth.

She tries not to do this when she is teaching or during official appointments, but it is a thing, like fingerless gloves or the feeling of her own collarbones, that fills her ribcage with packed orange embers, transforming her chest into a glowing catacomb. In all probability, the world cannot see the glow, which is swaddled beneath layers of weekend clothes. It’s okay. It’s enough that she knows it’s there.

Perhaps despite is not the correct word. When she thinks about it, the word SCUM is precisely the thing that makes her strong. What are you to this world? Little, or nothing, so what does it matter how you act? Such a relief. And then, at the same time, this is so blatantly false that the lie, in itself, is a kind of pleasure.

Sometimes the girl gives voice to her deepest anxieties by allowing her hand to speak them aloud. She bends her elbow and her hand turns to face her, and it becomes a tiny dinosaur, or the head of a swan, or Stage 2 of the art of fisting. It opens its mouth and lists all the ways in which she has disappointed the world: chronic and acute.

Earnestly, spitefully, the hand-duck-dinosaur-fist says, “They all detest you because you didn’t answer that email in time.” “Because your voice was booming at 5 a.m.” “Because you’re shamefully over-excited by the world—don’t you know they roll their eyes when you’re not around?” The hand’s voice echoes in her empty apartment and the girl raises an eyebrow (the right one). “Really?” she says. It is hard to take the hand seriously.

Sometimes, she even lets the hand talk to certain friends. A knows how to put the hand in its place. “Wow,” he says, letting the word hang in the air like pre-storm thunderclouds. “What’s wrong with you, Handy? When did you get to be so mean?” “But…” “You can’t hang out with us if you’re going to be such a jerk. No one likes it.”

And the hand leaves, taking some of her stupidities with it.

“That guy,” says A. And she knows what he means.

The necklace is like this, in some respects. A talisman that makes her worth more than scum. Or perhaps it is just that she hangs it around her neck and dresses in a black catsuit and she looks like a girl gang leader from a dystopian future. So tough, so cute. The girl sharpens a fluoro-pink scythe, and steps into the world.


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