Writing Isabela Caramico. Artwork by Rosa Rucola (soon to be found via @rucolasexternalbrain)
A quick trip to the grocery shop. All I need is a bowl of soup. I’ll get the soup, I’ll pay, I’ll smile, and I’ll be back home in just a second. A fantastic idea, a bowl of soup will help calm down my guts –they are insisting on jumping about today. And besides, grocery shopping always helps appease the mind. I believe Tesco is the Church of the Modern Woman. Growing up I had to go to mass every week, when the time for prayer came, I would kneel on the pews and ask the almighty and all-forgiving god to please not give me big breasts when I grow up. Now I chose between a bowl of minestrone and cream of tomato. Minestrone will do for tonight. Funny how some days this shop doesn’t feel familiar at all. Here was where I first came grocery shopping with a man I loved. “What should we get for dinner?” I couldn’t answer him, since no one had ever said that to me before. And when we got home, he cooked for me and I got drunk, and he pretended not to notice. That became a routine of our shop, cook, drink, sex. In the mornings he would try to love me, and he would pity me, and I would pretend not to notice. Soup in hand, in line to pay, my guts start boiling up, and before I can do anything about it, they crawl out of my mouth into the world. I can feel the funny stares from the people behind me in the queue: “Oh look at her, what a shame, so young and already chasing her guts! Shame, shame, true shame!” How horrible, what an embarrassment! My mother did not raise me to be a gutless woman! I excuse myself from the queue to look for the rebellious organ and find it by the dairy section. I hover behind them and swallow them whole.
Decidedly composed, I march back to the queue. The eyes are still on me, and they see the restlessness of my guts, and they pity me, but I pretend not to notice. That was just a moment of gutless mess–very common–the problem is if you really let yourself go. Not me, I am not that kind of woman, I am holding tight to my guts and my eyes and my chest and my legs and they are all in place and that’s where they are staying. I pay for my soup. “Receipt?” “Oh no, no, it’s alright. Thank you”. A quick smile, never too big, never too small, no teeth no gum – I acquired this strategy in school to hide my caged bite and how large my nose would get when I fully smiled. I’m out of the grocery shop and into the streets, soup in hand, just a few blocks and I’ll be back. I had never been particularly beautiful growing up and my holy insistence on not having breasts backfired in my teenage years. In my A cups, I remained thankful to the miracles of the almighty, but no amount of mass made me immune to the seductions of romance, and soon it was to John Hughes to who I was praying for. One day after school, a boy said I had nice eyes and that he really liked me. Once again, I found myself unable to reply – partly because I was convinced that if I revealed my metal smile, he would immediately change his mind. He then pushed me against a table and kissed me. When I came back to my room that day I cried, and I felt uglier than I had ever felt before. I did not like the boy and I did not want to have kissed him, but I never fought him off, and in filthy complacency, I accepted his forcefulness, and for a moment I enjoyed it.
I’m almost home now. I unlock the door to my building and start climbing my way up. Just one more flight. In my last apartment, there were no lights in the stairwell, a charming accessory to the £450 monthly rent. I went down to collect some food there once and the delivery man met me between flights, in the dark, and I could see him smile. I smiled back, no gums, no teeth. He smiled more. The darkness made his teeth shine but my legs were too appalled and decided to leave me and take my arms with them. He didn’t, and he used them and abused them. I never fought him or pushed him away, I couldn’t. I was fifteen in the school cafeteria again, pressed between table and boy, except this time there was no table, and instead of a boy, a grown man. I, a woman. I stood quietly waiting for my exiled limbs to come back, and my silence acquiesced his desire, and even he pitied me. When my limbs finally did come back, I ran away without a word, up the stairs and out of the darkness, and back home. And I am home now, in my room. And so are my legs, and arms, and eyes, and breasts, and guts. The pain becomes too much, and I cannot hold it all in me any second longer. I’m all over the floor, the walls, the mirrors, and from them, I see myself, an empty body. She cries, shakes, and kicks, but nothing takes away the shame. The shame of having grocery shopped with a man who did not love her. The shame of wasting her first kiss on a boy she did not care for. The shame of not having screamed, punched, and killed the man in the stairs. The shame of not feeling any shame at all. And from the floor, walls, and mirrors, I pity her.