Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Duckling Ugly

I am nine or maybe ten and we are gathered as a group outside the swimming pool.  It is an autumn night and the wind blows sharply through my hair wet with the stink of chlorine.  It is swimming club night and I am a proud Duckling.  Soon a certificate for swimming twenty five yards will adorn my bedroom wall. 

We drift down the road; two mothers, four children.  It is an ungodly hour to be out when you are nine or ten and I feel a thrill at the neon lights of empty shops in the darkness, although I am weary from my endless lengths of the pool and a deep sleep beckons after a long day. 
The smell of frying hits my senses as we near the chip shop and the treat of supper; chips wrapped in paper, greasy and vinegar sharp hit my post swim hunger and fill my tummy with their comfort.
Suddenly I catch sight of my reflection in the shop window and I see the white lace top.  It is the top I have argued about with my mother earlier tonight.  She made it for me as a summer  holiday treat.  My mother thinks the night will be too cold for the white lace but I will not listen.  It is mine and I want to wear it.  It falls off at the shoulder and it is short, revealing my midriff and all the girls at school have one similar.  I had felt until a moment ago, so very grown up.

My reflection shows a little fat girl, eating her chips from the paper, belly spilling over her trousers and I look back at her and I am washed with shame.  I do not know it yet, but this begins a long and tortuous game that will turn my uncomplicated black and white childhood into womanhood with its many shades of grey.

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