Words for International Women’s Day 2021
At six, I’m wearing a bubblegum pink dress with matching shoes, and my hair done up in a swish of ponytail. I get blackcurrant stains on my best cardigan with the pearl buttons and Mother says it’s fine, we can dye it darker to match.
At eight, I’m party sparkles in patent shoes, and three petticoat layers, with a dress that I think my friends would kill for. None of them say anything about it, we don’t have the kind of play dates where that’s allowed.
At ten, I’m full of new ambitions. For my birthday that year I’m given a nurses uniform, with a teeny upside down watch that ticks. Also a smart suit, briefcase, and heels that squash my toes, ready, of course, for any office-important code. There’s a skirt and blouse too, which could be all kinds of anything, though the spectacles that are enclosed probably lead to something quiet and studious.
At twelve, it’s more serious, and there are no more play dates with half-reluctant friends. There are no felt-tipped curly names on cardboard invitations to tea parties, Mother tells me off and says I must watch what I eat. And for most of the time watching is all I seem to do. My clothes are more dowdy. Hand-me-downs my mother says I ought to be glad to get and which she says, as she sucks her teeth like Grandmother, she will have to let out at the seams.
At fourteen, I am bundled in clothes that the friends I don’t have would never wear out of the house or be seen dead in. And yet are somehow still attention seeking and shameful. I try and explain this to Mother, but she frowns and says I’m an ungrateful brat. I don’t understand what exactly I did to deserve this, especially when I’ve overheard my grandmother say the same things to her every day.
At sixteen, I begin work in a plastic bag overall. Not even the glamour of a nurse’s uniform, or a bank clerk’s shiny name-badge. I am lined up with a hundred other girls who are almost women. All of us wearing cookie cutter expressions of desperation. Mother takes the scissors to me, so my hair won’t get stuck in any machinery. I end up with a lopsided pixie cut and bangs that will never grow back straight.
At eighteen, Mother puts me in the jumble-sale box, and makes a bundle of the clothes still left in the painted plywood wardrobe. She and Grandmother drop the box outside the church hall one afternoon. Some of the long distant friends from the long-abandoned tea parties are squashed inside the closed lid cardboard coffin with me. I whisper to myself at least I’m not alone. Mother’s childhood is also officially over. She has her own new plastic overall to wear, along with a horrible hairdo sanctioned by her mother.
At eighteen plus one day, after an afternoon of nearby rummaging, someone takes me out of the box and smooths down my ragged hair, tugs off the plastic bag, grabs up the bundle of clothes, and then kisses me repeatedly. She whispers a new name in my ear, which I will learn to love quickly, and then turns and yells to her own mother, “Look! She’s mine!”
About E.E. Rhodes archaeologist who accidentally lives in a part of a small castle in Worcestershire. She writes flash, cnf and prose poetry to make sense of it all. Recent work can be read in Janus Literary, The Cabinet of Heed, and Fudoki Magazine. She has work coming soon in Versification, Fictive Dream, and Blink Ink, as well both the Retreat West and National Flash Fiction Day anthologies. She tweets @electra_rhodes