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A Body of Water

1

 Your body is a violence.

Sixteen years old in a leopard print bikini. My mother’s new boyfriend put us on a plane that flew us to our first hot place. We walked through charred eucalyptus at dusk and I learned the sound of cicadas. I ate Nutella on toast for every meal and smeared kohl across my lids until it bled in the heat.

It is a heavy, difficult thing; a red place of wetness.

During the days I sat in the sun with my feet on the picnic table, spitting sticky watermelon seeds and reading a book in my cut-up Sex Pistols t-shirt. I pressed the small of my back into the sand when I sunbathed, so that my tits seemed fuller and my stomach flatter. I perched on an upturned barrel at the local beach bar and played cards with a girl who had vines and tendrils tattooed around her calf. A tall boy in a pair of Speedos bought me a bottle of beer, then leaned across the table and kissed me with his tongue. Marijuana smoke got caught in my hair and I wore an anklet with bells on it. I counted my ribs with my fingers before I fell asleep at night.

Your bones are coarse beneath your skin, like Velcro under silk.

My mother’s stomach puffed over the top of her shorts.

‘Come on, baby.’ She brushed her hair out of her eyes. ‘Come in the water.’ Her boyfriend’s shoulders were raw against the blue. I squinted in the sunlight and watched them wince across the burning sand. I tucked my iPod into my towel and followed them into the ocean.

You are conscious of the bulk of your capillaries

The water was murky and the force of the waves surprised me. My mother’s head bobbed around as her boyfriend supported her weight beneath the ripples. I forgot to take my sunglasses off and everything was sepia tainted. She splashed towards me, young and freckled without her makeup.

            ‘Can you believe it, baby?’ She said. ‘We’re in The Mediterranean Sea. You’ve got to remember this moment. Feel how warm it is. The Mediterranean!’ I rolled my eyes and paddled against the current.

strung through your limbs like copper wire.

I wanted to swim but I was worried about everything; my eyeliner, the strength of the waves, his pink hands on her soft body. The water filled my bikini bottoms. I got out and my fake tan bled in rivulets. It gathered around my creases in speckles: leaves on a diseased tree.

2

 You ache under the weight of other people’s eyes.

I took up surfing with a boy from school. Every Saturday we got on the train with our boards, relishing the awkward weight of them on our shoulders and the curious looks strangers threw us. We lightened our hair with lemon juice and plaited lengths of string around each other’s wrists. I kept seashells in my coat pocket until they began to rot.

There are crescent moons in the soft parts of your thighs.

We pulled off our clothes in the wooden cabin on the sand. The doors were warped with seawater and I removed my layers carefully, aware that he could see the outline of my body through the slits. He zipped up my wetsuit and his fingernail caught the back of my neck with a sharpness that was not unpleasant.

The waves were relentless and I threw myself into them. I liked the burn in the back of my throat, as though the salt was seeping into my brain and purifying my thoughts. Neither of us really knew how to surf and we thrashed around, our ribs jutting into hard plastic as we paddled frantically, desperate to be taken and held for an ecstatic moment, before being spat out like a bad taste.

You bite the flesh around your fingernails until it bleeds.

I was filled with a staticky panic as my body was pushed under the water. I swallowed froth and silt in my struggle to breathe, my eyeballs burning in the brine until I surfaced, panting and electric. I liked how helpless I felt beneath the force of the sea and afterwards how solid I seemed, for surviving.

You pick your scabs too early and expose the raw underneath.

The boy and I rode the surf to the shore together. Neither of us betrayed how afraid we had been. We felt that we were on the verge of an immense power; something that did not care for us, that we could succumb to over and over again.

3

 You are white hot

I went camping with a group of friends in Spain in the middle of the summer. We pitched our tents by a filmy river and strung bed sheets between the trees. We slept through the hottest part of the day and lived on tomato and mozzarella salad, chopped on a scrubbed plank of wood. We made fresh coffee on a camping stove and kept our beers cool in the shallows. Someone rigged up a sound system and at night we twisted in the scorched grass, blackening the soles of our feet. We looked for shooting stars then felt embarrassed, as though we were too old to believe in such things.

and bursting

We put citronella candles in empty jars and burned them at sunset. Their smell cut through the heavy air, but the insects came for us anyway. My body puckered in red welts and I scratched them until I bled.

            ‘You’ve got to stop scratching.’ My friend Maria pleaded, holding the lit end of her cigarette close to my skin. ‘You’re spreading the poison around your body.’ I ignored her. I forgot to wear sun cream and my pale shoulders burned. I danced with fresh yoghurt smeared across them, lumpy in the heat.

with blackened fruit.

We stripped naked and eased ourselves into the river, ignoring the stones underfoot and the silver fish rippling around our knees. We sucked beer from glass bottles and the reflection of the light on the water coaxed freckles from a secret place inside of me. I floated on my back and my areolas wrinkled in the air like strange sea anemones. Maria swam towards me and reached for my legs.

            ‘What are you doing?’ I flailed in the water.

            ‘Stay very still.’ She instructed. ‘I’m going to suck out the poison.’ I closed my eyes and felt the sting of her lips as she kissed every single bite. I stopped scratching and the mosquitos left me, in search of something sweeter.

4

You want to stick your fingers into your heart and pull out the dark thing at the centre.

I spent a month in Berlin and whiled away the weekends at the edges of lakes. I lay in the sun until sweat pooled in my belly button, and then swam through the water with long, strong strokes. I watched my hands making patterns, green with algae. I charted the depth by the changing temperature. I liked the cold, dark pockets best. I kicked my legs until my friends were a shimmer of wine bottles and crisp packets.

You are weightless in water.

I swam out to the centre of the lake, where it was coldest and darkest. I was drunk on the knowledge that the only thing stopping me from sinking was the iron in my own muscles. I liked the danger, but I knew I was strong enough to stay afloat. I watched my friends search for me across the stillness. I was unreachable and I liked it.

You are naked and new.

I treaded water. My friends’ voices trickled towards me and I felt ashamed for swimming so far alone. Tall trees beckoned me towards land with their branches, but my strength was infinite. I felt as though I could swim forever, drifting through the boundless blue.

You know it might drown you

I made my body heavy and plunged my head into the cold. I forced my eyes open, ignoring the sting. Sunlight marbled my limbs and flotsam floated by like fool’s gold. I swallowed a mouthful and enjoyed the dank taste. I imagined how easy it would be to let myself go.

but it will make you pure.

I thought about other things; the crunch of watermelon seeds between my teeth and the salty strands of my hair after swimming in the sea. I remembered the musk of my sixteenth summer, and the way that sex gathered in the trees like fruit. I pictured my mother; the smooth calm of her hands and the smell of her face cream on my pillow. I saw inky branches blooming across smooth skin and seashells rotting in a denim jacket pocket. I thought of fingernails raking my spine and wet kisses on mosquito bites. I remembered the bruising of melancholy and the way that sadness is solid and reassuring, sometimes. I thought of the viscous love; cloying and delicious, that leads you there.

Your body is a violence

Water is a space beyond weight and words, but both weight and words are important. There are things that exist that are too heavy for a person to carry and there are feelings that transcend the capabilities of language, but just because things are beyond our understanding doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn the weight of them. When your mind and your body are pulling in opposite directions and you feel itchy inside of your bones, it is tempting to break out of them, but your body is the only thing that will ever belong to you.

you must learn how to use.

I looked at the horizon and swam steadily towards the shore.