“I mean, you’re only like a 6 or maybe a 7.” – Editor in Chief, Kelly Fitzharris Coody

As a woman, I’ve been on the receiving end of this indictment multiple times throughout my lifetime.

Certainly beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this type of “attractiveness” judgment that society thrusts upon young (and older) women can send most of us spiraling down into a shame cycle.

The quote that titles this letter, “I mean, you’re like a six or maybe a seven,” was actually said to me.

I was about to start college in the fall in a different state, at a place where I knew hardly anyone, so I was doing what everyone else did: I networked online and tried to meet some people before I went out there.

But when I sent a snapshot of my 17 year-old self, posing with a friend, perched against oak trees wearing matching red sweaters on Niceville High School’s campus, that wasn’t quite the response I figured that picture garnered. I wasn’t sending it with the intention of receiving any 1 – 10 rating of my appearance.

The only other person I knew going into UT was a friend I’d gone to theater camp with in Nacogdoches, Texas, in 1999. I’d become particularly abhorrent to him in the interim as well, much to my surprise, as we rarely spoke or hung out–we are Facebook friends, now, though, HA! (So this must mean that by now we’re cool, right? Facebook friendships are totally legit. Wink, wink.)

Other peoples’ opinions do not define us.

Their viewpoints, their judgments, their ideas of who you are based on a few interactions or a few photos don’t define you. We live in an age where judgment follows us; critics are far louder than fans and they can get to us any where, any time through various social media outlets.

We talk SO MUCH about equality and freedom, yet at the same time corroborate misogynistic ideals and perpetuate sexist stereotypes against women.

She’s a whore. 

What a bitch!

Ugh, I bet she’s on her period. 

She’s so thin she looks gross. 

Any of these sound familiar? We need to stop shaming one another before we can truly work together toward breaking the glass ceiling and making a change in this world.

To the guy who called me a six or a seven: Fuck you.

To guys who rate women on a 1 to 10 scale: Fuck you.

You don’t own us; you don’t own our self-esteem. We do. And, guess what? You’re outnumbered. And we are stronger, faster, smarter and better than you ever estimated us to be.

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There’s my six or seven self from Niceville High School in the slideshow above. There’s the infamous photo of myself and my friend on the high school’s campus in our matching sweaters that elicited the comment.

Just because I was moving to Austin, Texas from Florida didn’t mean I was going to look like a swimsuit model – that’s like assuming that a person from Texas rides a horse to and from work (if there are people out there who still believe in this cowboy-Texas-everyone-rides-horses-stuff, then WAKE UP! YOU ARE CRAZY!)  every day.

Here lately with all of the media frenzy surrounding Donald Trump and his insanely sexist point of views on women and what women’s roles should be, I felt the need to say something. It’s 2016 and we still don’t make as much money as our male counterparts. This needs to change. As of yesterday.

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The other slideshow I posted above is when my family and I lived in Aschaffenburg, Germany in 1987; when it was still divided into East Germany and West Germany. I thought I’d share. I always talk about it and write about it, but just found the photo albums housing these precious gems last week.

This editorial note is more personal than it is work-related; but the point is that sexism exists in literature, too.

Let’s stop tolerating the way we’re treated. Let’s “get fucking hysterical,” as our contributor Steve Carr said to me this morning, until we see actual change on the horizon.

Cheers, SLM Team,

Kelly Fitzharis Coody

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If You Need Me, I Will Be Over Here Wishing I Had Better Aim – by AMY ROSSI

If You Need Me, I Will Be Over Here

Wishing I Had Better Aim

 

 

Here’s what I did: 1) deleted the text message thread from my phone so I couldn’t analyze how “I was just thinking about you” turned into paragraph-long excuses for being busy and then the truth; 2) worked out, a lot, including real push-ups because who doesn’t like the metaphor of getting off one’s knees; 3) ate chocolate-based pastries during breakfast hours, negating the above except for defined biceps and a hint of a line where abdominal muscles might one day show through if I could just commit to grilled chicken and mixed greens and almond milk smoothies; 4) said oh, fuck you to my daily horoscope, meaning both the prediction and myself; and 5) hoped it was him every time my phone buzzed.

 

When I was younger, I heard the phrase Jedi mind trick and I thought it was a real thing that meant to concentrate on what you wanted a person to do and that if you focused hard enough, it would happen. I would stare at the phone and chant in my head call me call me call me, probably because my parents were not ones for movies, let alone ones that involved galaxies far far away.

 

I am much too old to do this now.

 

It takes a few weeks, but eventually his name is in the alert bubble on my phone. The text of the message is sheepish, an acknowledgement that we are on his terms now. But sometimes you just need the sure thing and who am I to judge. I put on the dress I’d been saving for him and thought I wouldn’t get a chance to wear – something from the juniors section, which I am also much too old for. My roommate watches from the couch as I fluff my hair and check my purse; if she side-eyes me any harder, she will be pulling a Linda Blair.

 

What I have a problem with is that we’re told this is devaluing, to come and go when called. What exactly am I supposed to value here? Why does being available mean I value myself less than if I take a moral stance that denies me exactly what I want?

 

I am probably too old to not know the answer.

 

Here’s what I do have figured out: 1) I don’t want/have time for a girlfriend right now means I don’t want/have time for you as a girlfriend right now but will sleep with you till I find someone else; 2) someone else will always come along; 3) if I can just keep this straight, I will be okay; and 4) it is possible that I am dumber now than I was at twenty-two because at least then I had being twenty-two as an excuse.

 

And so I flash my roommate a smile that says I know what I am doing and totter down to the cabstand in my high floral wedges because I don’t believe one should wear her sex clothes on a city bus.

 

He answers the door and as I step inside, I can tell it’s going to be different than the other times, and not just because it’s his bed instead of mine. And so I will let him leave marks and will ask him to pin my wrists, and later I will turn around so I don’t have to see what we’ve turned into.

 

Here’s what I value: 1) being wanted; 2) the illusion of being wanted; and 3) the choice to ignore the difference.

***

Amy Rossi photo

Amy Rossi’s work appears online in places such as Hobart, Ninth Letter, WhiskeyPaper, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. You can find her blogging about 80s metal music videos at amyrossi.com, tweeting at @mossyair, and in a room by quoting Road House. 

*Cover art provided by the very talented artist, Toby Penney*

Impersonator – by KATE JONES

Impersonator

 

She dresses carefully – ever so carefully – for the meeting with him.  She wants –needs – for him to see her as the woman he thinks she is.  

She feels, as she dresses, that she is impersonating the woman he wants her to be.  The woman she wants to be.

She thinks that maybe they are both the same person: the same woman.  

But she’s not sure.  She’s not sure because it’s been so long since she was the person she’s impersonating now that she doubts herself.  She doubts whether she was ever actually that woman.

Could she ever really have been that woman she sees in her mind when she closes her eyes, the one who used to walk into rooms and feel comfortable- confident even – with who she was; with how she looked?  

Could she really have dressed in such a way before that men had turned their heads to look her way; that they held her in their thoughts even long after she had left?

She sprays a little mist across her chest now, between her breasts, her décolletage.  She hopes she remembers which musky notes best react with her own individual scent.  She hopes he likes the rose-scented fragrance of her soap.  

She hopes…she just hopes.  That’s all.  For him to like her; for him to not be disappointed.  

She sounded so self-assured, so experienced on her profile.  Yet, still youthful enough to remember how to flirt with him.  How to dress right.  How to stay cool and casual.  

When really, she feels nothing of the sort.

She dreads the moment of walking into the bar and seeing the disappointment register on his face.  The deadening fake smile that says I was expecting someone younger, prettier, smarter.

Sticking the red carnation into the button-hole of her blouse, re-applying red lipstick, she hopes, desperately, that this time she will be the woman he is expecting to meet.

***

KATEJONES

***Kate is a freelance writer based in the UK who writes articles, including regular contributions to online women’s magazine Skirt Collective, as well as publishing life writing and poetry both in print and online.  She has a passion for flash fiction and short stories, and is usually found lurking around coffee shops, writing and listening to other people’s conversations. Jones has also become a regular contributor to Sick Lit Magazine, and is a 2016 nominee for the Pushcart Prize through Sick Lit Magazine.***

She blogs at www.writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com.

Find Kate on Twitter at:  https://twitter.com/katejonespp

*Photo courtesy of Cori Hackworth*

Dinner With a Side of Everlasting Happiness – by GRACE BLACK

Dinner with a Side of Everlasting Happiness

 

Sticking my hand down the garbage disposal is something I almost never do. In fact, I never do. Maybe, it’s the visions of sheer horror that play out in my mind. Bloody nubs emerging from the black hole just to retrieve a wedding ring. Is it worth it? I ask myself.

 

The item of promise lies in the belly of the disposal, a trinket. And I stare. A wet noodle from last night’s uncleaned pasta plate clings to my ring finger instead, and I almost laugh. Leftover congealed weight to signify a union.

 

Yes, I realize there is a switch, and that if the switch is off then logically bloodied nubs could only be the result of a B-rate horror flick in action, or an overactive imagination. Basically, the probability is extremely low that this could happen. Therefore, it’s not logical. But nothing’s logical anymore. Up is down, and down is left of lost.

 

You were on top of me just last week pressing, rutting around like, “Tell me where you want it, baby.” I pretended to not hear you just like you pretend not to see the dishes that pile up—day after day. You came in record time and decided I’d like to be showered with your seed on my thigh. You never were very creative.

 

We didn’t kiss. Or exchange loving glances or any other words. I didn’t have an orgasm nor did I have the energy to fake it. You fell asleep in less than two minutes, and I watched you. Honestly watched. Studied you. The slope of your jaw, the concave orbital eye area and how it seemed more sunken now, like supple plums close to rotting. Your trinket firmly in place, a yellow-gold symbol of our everlasting happiness.

 

I stare at the noodle that has chosen my finger without accompanying vows, turn on the faucet, and flip the switch for the disposal. There is a resonance to the metal as it’s forced against the stationary grinding ring at the bottom of the black hole. Church bells pealed twenty-five years ago; now, it’s tintinnabulation as I peel the carrots for our dinner.

***

Grace 2

Grace Black is just another writer wearing down lead and running out of ink, one line at a time. Coffee refuels her when sleep has not been kind. She writes poetry and flash fiction and prefers them both like her coffee—dark. She is an editor at Flash Fiction Magazine, and has been published in various journals and anthologies online and in print. Find her on Twitter @blackinkpinkdsk

Restless? Angry? Tired? Well, then! Come sit next to us.

(Your daily dose of inspiration, brought to you SLM-style)

 

Welcome to 2016, guys!

My last letter wasn’t positive or uplifting—and I won’t apologize for that. Pretend I’m a man, just for a second. And then re-read my letter.

WOMEN: stop apologizing for being who you are. Stop, stop, stop. Stop apologizing for writing—or saying a curse word—or for speaking. 

Women’s equality is NOT: expecting our reproductive organs to vanish or become perfect—it’s not relinquishing the proper amount of time for maternity/paternity leave, telling a female coworker she should “smile more” or calling a female coworker a moron because she giggled.

Tell me something.

Why is it that statistics show women to be scholastically superior to their male counterparts, yet as adults, we are paid less than they are and pre-judged in job interviews to “know less” than these same male counterparts?

Women writers suffer from a similar disservice. Guess who tends to subconsciously self-censor as we write? WOMEN. Why? Because we’re programmed to. WHY? Countless reasons. We’re worried about being “exposed” or “called out.” We’re worried we’ll be perceived the wrong way; we’re worried about speculation.

“Don’t publish this under my name, Kelly. It will leave me exposed.”

But all the cis gender males write unapologetically, often boastful. Oh, hello double-standard. I didn’t realize you transcended the boundaries of literature, too. Get the fuck out of here!

You know what, ladies? You know what I say? FUCK THAT.

Men are more likely to get in car accidents than women, get behind the wheel and drive recklessly, yet the myth of the “terrible women drivers” prevails! How does it do that? I mean, even despite those masculine, hiked-up, vehicle insurance premiums?

Hmmm…

ONTO our WINNING THEMES for 2016!!

 

  1. Kate Jones: INVISIBILITY (FEBRUARY, 2016)
  2. WOMEN’S WRITING MONTH (MARCH, 2016)
  3. Hillary Umland: LETTING GO (APRIL, 2016)
  4. Gene Farmer: NOSTALGIA (MAY, 2016)
  5. Christopher Iacono: FIRST LOVE (JUNE, 2016)
  6. Rob True: THE JOURNEY (JULY, 2016)
  7. Tino Prinzi: PERCEPTIONS (AUGUST, 2016)
  8. @voimaoy: WHAT IF? (SEPTEMBER, 2016)

 

That’s right, guys. An entire MONTH. Get yourself some. Submit, submit, submit. Now is your time; it’s everyone’s time. Write from your gut; write like your life depends on it. But never, never sell out or change who you are or how you write for anyone. Ever.

Oh, one last thing I almost forgot to mention. THE LAST TWO PUSHCART PRIZE NOMINEES FOR 2016.

 

  1. OWEN CLAYBORN, “DUTY OF CARE”
  2. CHUMKI SHARMA’S COLLECTION OF POETRY, including “Making Room for Light/Dirt Builds a World/Adjourned Sine Die/The Disappearing Act/Rescue Operation/Futile/Writer’s Block/Stranger in an Autumn Forest”

Everyone, make sure to congratulate the hell out of Owen Clayborn and Chumki Sharma for their outstanding work! And, please, keep congratulating our other nominees: Annabel Banks, Kate Jones, Prerna Bakshi, Chris Milam and Ron Gibson.

Who’s ready to start fucking writing?! I am. I can’t wait to see your submissions when we re-open on January 31st, 2016.

A FEW SMALL GUIDELINES: All I ask is that you please put the theme you’re submitting to in the subject line of your e-mail. And if you’re not submitting to a theme, then just write “non-themed submission.” 

Make sure you’re sending them to kelly.fitzharris@gmail.com since I changed the submissions e-mail address. 

Happy New Year, readers, writers and Sick Lit Mag enthusiasts. You rock. We kinda like having you around.

Peace and love,

Cheers!

Kelly Fitzharris Coody

Editor

Sick Lit Magazine

 

*Landscape photography courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*

 

Lay Down Your Ghosts – by Caitríona Murphy

Lay down your ghosts

by CAITRIONA MURPHY

 

I was a ghost, but as far as I was aware, I was still alive. Just about. Physically, I remained much the same as always; the same dyed hair, fuzzy with split ends. The same blue eyes, inherited from my mother, maybe a shade cooler. The same nose myself and my siblings hate, all inherited from our dad’s side of the family.

Except when I looked in the mirror, my eyes had a haunted look that I didn’t recognise. They were dull, and it didn’t matter what I did with eyeliner, they remained deadened. My skin was always ghost pale, so no changes there. I was moving in the real world. I ate, I drank. I spoke. I said the things he wanted me to say, what he needed to hear. I imagined a long string coming from my back, connecting to the place where my brain, where all rational thought, used to be. I imagined a quota of maybe six sayings there. “You’re right” “I’m wrong” and “I’m sorry” the most used.

What intangible essence makes us, us? It’s something I’ve always wondered, perhaps more than most. I am a triplet, identical to my middle sister and near identical to my oldest. People who don’t know us that well comment, over and over about how incredibly alike we are. And don’t get me wrong, I can see it. I look at a picture of myself and my middle sister and I see the exact same smile; I see the fringe that won’t sit properly, I see the same shaped hands and the identical teeth. I look at my older sister and I see eyes the same shape as my own, even if hers are a different colour. Her lips move to speak words so different to mine, but their curve, even their volume, is the same. Yet those closest to us will tell you that they can always, always tell us apart. They say they can see something different in our eyes. The see beyond the physical. Not just in the way my oldest sister walks into a room and commands it, or in the way my middle sister bounds into a room and charms it; but in our presence. Even when we aren’t speaking, even when we are silent, they know which is which. My mother has spoken of the essence inside of us that makes us, us.

I lost that essence for a while. As a Catholic, my church talks about our souls, about how they will ascend to Heaven one day. Our soul lives within us, the thing that is bigger, better than us, what gives our lives meaning. I’m not sure I’ve ever read any spiritual text about losing one’s soul.

I am my mother’s daughter, in every sense of the word. I am hers, in the good and the bad. The good; the aforementioned eyes, the shape of my face, the blue-purple veins. I am hers, the bad; crooked front teeth that are lovely on her but ruin my smile, a quick temper and a need to please. I look at my mother and see so many things; the kindness rarely seen outside of a Disney princess, intelligence; rapier sharp and all-encompassing and the inherent perfectionist qualities that make her a people pleaser. I see people hurt my beautiful, wonderful mother and yet time and time again, my mother reaches out to these people. Not just to help them, but to make them happy. My mother gives 110% in every single thing she does and unfortunately, stepping back from those in need, even those who have treated her cruelly or have been unkind, just isn’t in her nature. Not that she is a doormat. Far from it. Just incredibly giving, especially with those she loves. I have inherited that from her. Not, I hasten to add, the perfectionist qualities. I am quite lazy and function at about 66%, given my interest in the task at hand.

When I met him, I was just finishing school and beginning to feel that hesitantly, I was making my way into the world. I was exploring what it was to go out, to see the world, to meet boys who might want to be more than a friend. It was exciting and weird and horrible and fantastic, all at the same time. My sisters and I set out to capture what we could of the world.

When I met him, I never really thought twice about what I said; jokes were jokes to make people laugh, I happily voiced any thought that sprang to mind and I was free and giving with my compliments. If I were to offend someone, I would apologise profusely. And move on. A boyfriend seemed like a really good idea. Someone to be grown-up with, while still retaining the light heartedness of years that had just rushed past. My friends were going out with boys and it was a bandwagon I eagerly jumped on.

At first, I was little more than a friendly phantom to him. He certainly did not see me in that way, the way I needed him to. I wish I had remained that way; translucent and intangible, just shimmering on the outskirts of his knowledge, of his conscious. I had to make myself seen though; I longed to possess and be possessed, with all my immature understanding of what that entailed. I wanted to haunt him the way I fancied he haunted me. Really, it wasn’t him that haunted me, rather the vision of him; the ghost version of a man that I did not really know and certainly did not understand, apart from what he wanted everyone to know.

Eventually, I made contact, real, tangible contact with him and we started going out. It was fraught with demons, right from the start. He had every characteristic of a narcissist; a mother who treated him like a king and looked at him as if he were the dawn of every morning. And a casually cruel father who dismissed him with careless insults. He had the ego of a high powered CEO coupled with the crushing paranoia of the truly damned. He was barely older than me but so messed up, so deeply troubled that he might as well have been from a different world, a parallel universe where he was the only one making sense. I should have walked, no, ran away the first time he scared me with screams and words and temper. Instead, I shouldered his pain and tried to make the impossible a reality; I tried to make him happy, to be a reason for joy in his world. To do that would be the equivalent of disappearing into thin air; fanciful and impossible.

The more I gave him, spiritually and emotionally, the less of me there was. In my darker moments, I thought maybe that was what love did to you, that it would take from you and drain you so your other half, your “better” half was a more complete, happier individual.

Over the years, his mental abuse, his surveillance and his torture began to take such a toll that I felt I was floating away from the people I really loved, from those who really mattered. I was watching my family but could not connect with them, could not be a part of them. He had taken the best of me and all that was left was a wild-eyed, nervous wreck constantly jumpy and apologetic, watching her loved ones from a distance, too ashamed to tell them what was really going on. With him, I was a ghost haunting my loved ones, my adored ones, without them knowing.

Without him, when he was finally gone, when I finally exorcised him, I was more grounded, I was flesh and blood, but I felt as if I had lost the part of me that gave my eyes life, that laughed easily and set me apart from my sisters. I could not see any life within me; I could not see any spark that might have made me different. Look at pictures taken from that time and it’s as if there are orbs obscuring me in the photo; or as if someone stuck their finger over the lens and blurred me ever so slightly. I was alive, but only existing.

I only broke the spell when I finally opened up to my family. When I revealed what had really been going on and why it had taken so much out of me. I took back my power and by being open, by being honest and true, I slowly came back to my real self. My best friends who had been kept in the dark were horrified but slowly, they helped me come back to myself. They listened to me and we cried together. One day I caught sight of myself in a mirror and I saw an actual person, a real girl, someone who was not just flesh and bones, nor just someone who was mentally miles away. I saw a culmination of the physical and the mental, the emotional and the intangible.

I still don’t know what makes us, us or what makes me, me. I can’t put a name to that essence that was missing for so long. All I know is that we are more than flesh and blood. We are more than our emotions and our fears. We are more than what the demons tell us we are. What we will ever be.

All I know is that when I look in the mirror these days, I see a girl who finally put some of her ghosts to rest.

Ghosties 003

*****

IMG_0784

***Caitríona Murphy is a writer living in Dublin.  She has had fiction published in RTE’s “100 Words, 100 Books” anthology, the”Second Chance” anthology,The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Rocky Mountain Review, Platform for Prose and The Manifest-Station. Her creative non-fiction has been published in British journals as well as The Eunoia Review. She contributed articles on Yeats for the 2015 International Literary Festival. She has also written for NAILED magazine and has a forthcoming piece of fiction in The Narrative Journal this winter. Caitríona is a previous Mash short story runner up and winner of Rollick Magazine’s “Frantic” issue. 
Find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/FarmyBoyFetchMe ***

Rumors – by NIKKI COODY

Rumors

by Nikki Coody

Great, now rumors are spreading

Oh, is that really true?

Shh…it’s a secret

So, can I tell my friend?

I can’t undo the trouble…

Please…just don’t tell anyone else…

***

[This is an Acrostic Poem by Nikki Coody]

***Nikki Coody is a 2nd grade student currently enrolled in the gifted and talented program. Nikki recently placed in the statewide, Texas Reading Bee Championship, representing the entire Crowley ISD school district, after winning multiple reading bee rounds. She is officially a 2015 “Reading Bee Champ.” Nikki enjoys school, gymnastics and is always reading and writing. ***

Absent Moments and a few Haikus from CORINNE HACKWORTH

Absent Moments
by Corinne Hackworth
There was a time that I walked to the sea
When I arrived I stood at the very edge so that the waves could tickle the tips of my toes
but only just
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back so the wind could take my hair and I could fee the salt and spray on my cheeks.
I thought of you
and it made my heart burn
the blue of the day turned to inky grey
I found the spot in my soul where you lived
I pulled it out and I threw it as far as I could
away from me
There is a hole, a voided empty place
I am lighter
I wandered back home with the earth raw beneath my feet and belief
belief that I may not be happy
I can be content
I can be strong
I can be FREE
I can heal

 

Haikus by Corinne Hackworth

 

Sleepy mountain roads
All aspen and evergreen
Spirit rejoices


Shots fired! Shots fired! RINGS out!
For manifest destiny
Children watch mom die


An ode to Rob:
Trucker cap don’t mind
Front flip is out of control
Up down side to side


The daily grind kills
The brain screams white noise all day
Repeat tomorrow


Tuxedo kitty
Fluffy and fat on my feet
Do not hurl in shoes


 

***

IMG_1233

 Corinne is a Texas transplant raised in the rolling Virginia mountains. Boy-mom, extraordinaire running between corporate chains and seasonal sports. She is on the extended 20 year plan for her degree living semester to semester with one fearless man, and their cats. Find her on Twitter at: @acorn103

Taking Up Space – by KATE JONES

Taking Up Space

It starts off a hot, sticky morning the day I wake up as a man.

I hit the alarm and realise something isn’t right when my hand catches the stubble on my chin.  I run my hands down to my chest under my vest: it’s flat.  My large breasts aren’t rolling sideways, catching under my armpits.  A moment of panic; where the fuck are they?

I open my eyes and look down, see curly black hairs where breasts used to be; small dotted nipples.  And there’s something else strange going on below the sheets.  I feel downwards.  I have an erection.  I let out a gasp, eyes growing wide.  This is unexpected.  I feel strangely aroused.  I lift the sheet to peek below.  Erect and throbbing, my new penis is a pretty fine example sticking out of my boxers.

I sweep my hands down my thighs and across my stomach.  It’s flat.  And there are no silvery, snaking stretch marks.  My usually sashayed hips are just straight flanks down towards thick, hairy legs.  My hand finds my new penis without intention, grabs it, firmly, pulling back.  I feel a wash of pleasure ripple through my body.  I idle there, masturbating, for a couple of minutes before the alarm rings again.  I swear at it wanting to finish what I started, but I know I’ll be late for work, so I reluctantly let it go, for now.

This could be fun, I think, and I smile broadly.  I jump out of bed, trip over the cat and run into the bathroom.  Stripping off boxers, I stand in front of the full-length mirror, taking myself in.  I’m not bad, quite cute in fact.  I’d fancy me.  Well, the old me would fancy me, I mean.  I look to where my erection was and see it’s quickly shrivelling to a more modest size.  I never realised how quick it could disappear.

I take a piss, firing it in a loop above the toilet, trying to do stunts.  It’s such fun, why did I never know this?

I shower and explore my new body parts.  I run soaped hands down large, hairy thighs and around sacks like stress balls.  I stop as my erection is starting again and I don’t have time.  I dry off, brush my teeth and run gelled hands through floppy hair.

I’m relieved to see trousers, jeans, t-shirts in my wardrobe.  I pull on some smart brown trousers, and the tightest fitting t-shirt I can find.  I’m going to flaunt this flat chest.  I never wear t-shirts.  And I will revel in walking the streets without getting cat-called.

I think of every morning, walking past those road workers by the tube station.  Trying, desperately, to pull my jacket around my front in the hope my large chest won’t strain too much; that my ass in /that skirt won’t draw attention.

Before I leave, I decide to try out my voice.  It will sound ridiculous if I still have a high-pitched tone.  I speak to the man in the mirror.  Hey there, I say, for some reason using a macho American accent.  My voice comes out deep and sonorous.  I sound familiar.  I sound like my dad, I realise.

On the tube, I sit, legs wide and sprawling, taking up space.  Entitled.  A girl sits opposite, curling herself as small as possible into the seat.  I smile at her flirtatiously, trying it out.  She blushes.  I feel large and powerful, invincible.

At work, I have to sit through a tedious creative meeting.  I venture an idea on the Goldberg account; it’s not the best I’ve ever had, but it’s kind of a strange day and I’m not on top form.  But the most surprising thing is when everyone listens to me speak.  My boss nods at me appraisingly.  Sarah, a colleague, agrees – she’s smiling and proud and mentions things like expansion and new territories. She pulls out a folder, but the boss simply shakes his head and she shrinks back into her seat, deflated.  I smile at her sympathetically.  She glares back.

I head to the canteen for early lunch, bacon and sausage sandwich without the side order of guilt.  When my boss approaches me late in the afternoon, suggesting I apply for an upcoming promotion, he says it doesn’t matter that I don’t have the qualifications.  We can work something out.

I lean back in my chair and look up.  I don’t see a glass ceiling – all I see is endless blue sky for miles.

I catch the tube back home, hoping to see the girl from this morning.  Hoping I can invite her out for a drink, maybe take her back to mine.  I’d like to try having a one-night stand without being judged.  Without being called bad names.

I’d like to see what it’s like to run my hands over smooth, curving flesh; to taste the sweetness of a woman not a man and explore a different side of me.

I’d like to see how it feels to be inside a woman; not inside her skin, but inside her like a man.  To dominate, to experience climax and not worry if she does.

Just for one night.  Before I have to go back

to limits

and boundaries

and

smallness.

 

-Kate Jones©


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KATEJONES

***Kate is a freelance writer based in the UK who writes articles, including regular contributions to online women’s magazine Skirt Collective, as well as publishing life writing and poetry both in print and online.  She has a passion for flash fiction and short stories, and is usually found lurking around coffee shops, writing and listening to other people’s conversations. 

She blogs at www.writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com.

Find Kate on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/katejonespp ***

 

Labrador – by JEN ELLERSON

 

Labrador.

 

It was raining the night she brought it home. One of those fairytale puppies with the oversized ears and the fumbly legs. It was the last thing we’d ever expect; a new member to our already-oversized family. Another thing to have to look after and eventually ignore. But there she was, the tiny Labrador, brought into the house to a group of us girls, of varying ages. She was miniature, confused, and bewildered as we all squealed and clasped at her soft, sandy fur to hold her up to our cheeks. Still learning how to walk properly, you could hear her short claws tap against the kitchen linoleum. My three sisters and I fell in love with her. My mother handed her to us, and I never saw her pick her up again.

 

In the first night of her residence, the rain still slamming our screens, she took to a corner in the back of the kitchen. The small apartment was bi-level, with the sisters and parents asleep in the rooms upstairs. My bedroom was always away from them, in any apartment we lived in, and in this case it was downstairs. I dared not ask why. They said it because I was the oldest; I think otherwise now. The labrador was crying: a soft, silent whimper in the corner not far from my abode. In the pitch, wet dark, a small abandoned child. The sound was excruciating. I put on a dim light and held her for as long as I could, stroking her, hushing her, alone. I eventually had to get back to bed, as I’d rise early to make the kids’ lunches before we all headed to school. I repeated this every night until her tears lessened.

 

Labradors grow into large, graceful beasts. They are known for their intrinsic loyalty, their hearty structure and their childlike joviality. They are meant to run in sprawling fields, hunting for foal and fish, and protect their families of any species. We lived in an urban backdrop with no backyard, only a concrete alleyway with some bits of gum-ridden sidewalk. For the lack of trees and grass, our Labrador was kind enough to exchange affections, even allowing my smallest sister to occasionally ride her into the living room, wearing pajamas and mother’s pumps. As she matured, our hysterical-spotless matriarch had realised: Labradors shed. Ours would grow and slowly coat our home in a layer of slivered animal. For mother, this was a great offense, worthy of incarceration.

 

There was a door that led to a back staircase. The stairs were narrow, black, and curled down into a dimly lit basement, low-ceilinged and damp-aired. All that was down there were white goods and dusty frames. From here, her hair could only shed against the black paint of the steps, and remain clear of mother’s neurosis. Our charming creature, now growing into adolescence, was condemned to this prison for years. She would curl up by the door itself, with soft, hopeful angles, as if it were to open. She’d only be let out to be walked. We would liberate her into the house when mother was away, only to be sentenced if a single fiber was found on fabric or floor. It was worth it, to have our flamboyant detainee ramble in and clumsily jump us with affection and outstretched legs. We’d swiftly sneak her back when we heard the station-wagon pulling up outside.

 

By this time, my limbs were longer too. My tiny exile-room down the hall still had the mauve carpet and floral bedding that mother insisted, but I taped up some black curtains to match my trenchcoat and eyeliner. This space was all I had – an attempt at self-rescue from the rest of that house. There was no door to the room, so I lurked in the space within the cramped closet, which had its own light source. This is where I hid when I heard mother thumping toward me, fists clenched. I’d sit cross-legged with collages and stare at my taped-up postcard collections while listening to headphones on 11. Her put-downs would still penetrate, those tenants of protection and love:

 

You are useless. You are disgusting, get out of my sight. Who do you think you are? Can’t you do anything right? You just sit there on your fat ass. You’re grounded. No, I’m not telling you why. Give me your cassette tapes. What, do you think you are some kind of artist? You’re not going anywhere.

 

If my head was slammed against a wall again, the music would go back on and I’d close my make-believe door. I’d cry myself to sleep.

 

I was given many tasks, to measure my worth. Love is not unconditional. I looked after the siblings and was taught to ignore my friends and books. I learned to keep shut, never ask questions and do anything I was asked. A regular assignment, only to me: to clean the dog hair from the back staircase every day. There was a molded grey-gold tupperware bowl that was kept under the kitchen sink. It was to be filled with a rankly scented lemon cleaner and with an old sponge, carefully applied to each step on the way down. When finished, the bowl was filled with grey water and clumps of coarse, golden hair. I’d nearly trip on the dog on the tight way down, but she eventually knew to stay out of my step as she watched me with pity. If the job was not done well enough, I would be forced to do it again or be punished.

 

I’d study hard, and daydream harder. I’d lie to everyone and run off to Manhattan, smoke cigarettes in Washington Square Park and pretend I was Jack Kerouac. I’d sneak a sip of Dad’s good whiskey from the kitchen top shelf late at night, and blow a kiss to the Labrador through the door on the way to bed. I’d listen to Koyaanisqatsi before sleep to remind me that there was something, big, beautiful, and abstract out there that I’d graze one day. In the meantime, I dreamt of ways to die.

 

While the Labrador remained, I went away, against mother’s will. She couldn’t bear to lose the ‘help’. I left them there, I didn’t have a choice. The family eventually relocated to a suburban setting, this time in a bigger house that no room for me. On visits, I would sleep in the basement, with the Labrador. In the new captivity, she was still forbidden into the home. While I lay there in the dark, I could hear her breathing right above me. She wouldn’t rest or fold. If I drifted off, she’d lick my face. I wished she would just lay her head on my chest; I patted her ears in the blackness.

 

By morning, I noticed her eyes had grown long, tired, and somber. She moved slowly, and often walked into walls. The family would laugh, but she was in pain. Soon, the Labrador would have to be put down. They said it was her kidneys, but I think it was her heart. I was informed when a sister called me. I was in my first Manhattan apartment, cigarette in hand, molding words and finding life. I had nothing to say, and no hair to hold.

 

Nobody knew where I was, and now I am no longer there*.

 

I was told that no one cried more, than mother.

 

*Gwendolyn Brooks, “Boy Breaking Glass”

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jen_ellerson2015

***Jen Ellerson is a Berlin-based Creative Director, Designer, Promoter, DJ and Writer – and not necessarily in that order. Her 2012 publication, “Modern Movement”, is a document of Berlin subculture. She is currently working on a compendium of short stories. To this date, she maintains a perfect sense of trouble. www.jenellerson.com ***