Several weeks ago I performed some of my writing to an audience for the first time. Technically I suppose it was really the second time I’ve ever performed, but the first involved me reading one story consisting of two words to an audience who were only interested to find out if they had won the competition.
Million Women Rise was very different.
My partner dragged me along to Taurus Bar, as by this point my stomach had started to twist itself into a tight little fist. I had expected a light hearted, convivial atmosphere, but as I walked in we felt cowed under awkward stares, a familiar sense of not measuring up. We had a sudden horrible sense of having committed a faux pas, and exchanged anxious words about whether I was right to bring along a man, considering the theme and purpose of the evening. We quickly realised that it wasn’t a problem, and anyone there to support was welcome, but I think we were just ready to be judged.
My choice of stories was weighing on my mind. Becca had talked me into reading my set of stories about Luca and Gutter, and I was anxious about their reception. Knead and Flesh both deal with the effects of domestic abuse, and I was worried about performing these pieces at an event raising money to support awareness of, and female victims of violence. I didn’t want to be the one who got it wrong or read something insensitive.
When it came my turn to read, I couldn’t stop shaking and my heart beat at me like the panicked thump of a jackrabbit. I wasn’t afraid of performing, but of the reception my work would receive. I’m still not sure how it went down; there wasn’t much time for me to practise reading, and I wasn’t even sure the stories would sound right when read aloud.
I read the following stories:
Luca gripped the umbilical spiral of the tea towel and twisted. The pumpkin flesh pulsed like a warm heart in his hand. Like something alive. He squeezed.
Gutter sat and sucked. Her arse hung over the wall, back turned on a ten foot drop. The lolly popped from her lips, and I was transfixed by her sugar-glazed mouth; it flashed orange in the diffuse streetlight, tempting.
Gutter liked to be wrapped in dark chocolate. She melted bowls of it in the microwave, watching the cracked pieces go shiny and slick. She drizzled a hot tongue across her throat. Gutter loved to be enveloped as if by a large fur coat; the lover’s whisper as it clung to her skin.
I pictured Gutter as one for hard liquor, but as in most things, she surprised me. She steeped liquorice root instead, fennel bulb and camomile flowers. Every quiet cup of tea with her was a hike into foreign territory.
This piece we rewrote radically, so I’ll repost it in full here as I read it:
Storm (originally Espresso)
We had slept under a thunderstorm, and the morning was grey, still sulking. The bedside lamp glowed over us well towards lunchtime, and the mixture of grey and gold light made Gutter look sculpted and hollow, a blown glass figurine.
She placed the espresso cup on the bedside table, cramming it in between jars of face cream, tattered magazines and the novelty alarm clock that played a message you could record yourself. For a long time I had to put up with it reciting my own voice back to me each morning, a shameful parade of filthy nothings I whispered to Gutter one night, while she lay with her finger secretly covering the button.
I wrapped my hand around her thigh, felt the hard muscle and dug my fingers into the crease of her knee. I kissed her dirty hair.
Luca pulled the lid off the bread bin. The pale dough waited, large and quivering like something sick with fever. Luca wrenched it from the bin and threw it down on the floured surface.
In the end, I think it went okay. I was too scared and shellshocked by what I’d read and the silence that followed to take in much. Overall though, I’m awed and incredibly grateful to Alex for arranging this and letting me be a part of it, it’s been a real honour.
I’m going to leave you with this video, which sums up the purpose of One Billion Rising far better than I could. Please take a minute to watch and think about supporting the cause.