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‘To be fifteen’ by Victoria Richards – Primers Shortlist 2018

To be fifteen

and after the third can of Super Strongbow cider, to throw up
all over the embossed wallpaper belonging to that girl in the year above,
the one with the bra straps and dirty jokes. She breathes in smoke without coughing,
says, “alright?” to the most beautiful boy at school, the most beautiful boy
with hair black as cats’ tails, slippery as nicotine. His smile a lopsided carousel.

To lock yourself in the bathroom at the house belonging to that girl
while you leave traces of last night’s dinner
– don’t eat too much, you get drunk faster on an empty stomach –
all over the pale-pink bathroom suite her parents spent a day choosing from Because
You’re Unique even though it started with a subordinating conjunction.

To have only just started your period but to not have breasts like Belgian buns
and to have those not-breasts christened “pancake” by the boys who stand like gatekeepers
in the kitchen belonging to that girl, cans of Monster in their pockets. Rows on rows of teeth.
To have written a letter to the beautiful boy and to have asked him, unthinkably, to read it.
To hear him say, “I like you – a bit,” like that, bit in italics.   

To throw up in the house belonging to that girl who will look at you like you’ve bled
through soft cotton, smeared war-paint across your forehead, your skin an 18-hole rebellion.
She will point and say, “that’s her” until it becomes a hurricane, until Mrs Gulch rides by
on her 1900 Orient with the broken spring, as dead chickens fly past the window.
Her smile will tell its own story and she will call it truth.

Of sagging into the beautiful boy like he’s the wind and you a used tissue
wearing someone else’s mascara. Of laughing chaotically at something he said
that was only half-funny, of touching his knee and letting him touch yours,
because knees are prayers and fingers communion wafers.
Of going with him to the bottom of the garden belonging to that girl. Of being ordained. 

Of someone calling your parents and for your dad to come, for him to climb
the stairs belonging to that girl in silence, force the lock while you lie foal-limbed –
to carry you out to the car like a trampled chrysanthemum and take you home,
pull off your tights, wipe shame, hot and sticky, from your hair,
put a bin next to the bed for morning.

To be fifteen and to have to call the house belonging to that girl. To speak through sheet glass
over a tongue of sand, to rip yourself raw. To go back to school on Monday, toes curled
and desperate inside ruby slippers two sizes too small. Childhood taps you on the shoulder
______________You’re a woman, now!
To pray for an outbreak of collective amnesia. Of mass, unexplained cardiac arrest.

Victoria Richards is on the ten-person shortlist for Primers Volume Four. ‘To be fifteen’ is the  title poem of her shortlisted manuscript. We’ll be showcasing the work of all the shortlisted writers over the next two weeks, so check back to read more poems.

Victoria Richards is a journalist and writer. In 2017/18 she was shortlisted in the Bath Novel Award and the Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize, was highly commended for poetry in the Bridport Prize and came third in The London Magazine Short Story Competition. She was also longlisted in the National Poetry Competition.

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