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July 27, 2014 | by  | in Features |
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Sheets in the Sun

When you were very small your mother used to hang the washing up on sunny days. You loved to hide in the sheets that hung down almost to the ground. It was a tent, it was your own little white world. Nothing could reach you in there. The insects’ singing would rise up around you, and the sun would hit your bare feet, and washing powder and sunshine on cotton were the safest smells in the world.

The smell of his sheets means something different. It means hot afternoons, sunlight finding its way through the gap in his curtains. It means his fingers pulling up your school skirt, the one that still doesn’t sit quite right on your hips. It means his lips against your neck as he moves above you. It means knotting your fingers into his hair.

It means lying together afterwards, not touching or speaking. Just breathing hard as if that’s the only way either of you remember how to stop the silence from ringing in your ears. Your heart is trying to find a way out of you. Your skin feels too young for this.

After a while he gets up. You watch him pulling on his pants. The room fills with the smell of spray-on deodorant and the sound of him getting ready to go out. You know what this means. He might look at you like he’s about to kiss you; he might not look at you at all. But you know that in a minute, two if you’re lucky, he’ll walk out that door and close it behind him and he won’t be back, not while you’re still here. You pull the sheet up over your head. In the late afternoon light the world under the covers is a strange orange yellow. You stay there long after you hear the door shut, long after the sweat on your body has dried, listening to your own breathing and imagining there’s nothing outside of this cave you’ve made yourself. But eventually you have to come up for air and pick up your clothes from where he left them on the floor. Dressing alone has never felt so lonely. You wriggle out his window and head home before your mother starts to wonder where you are.

The first time you did this you were two days away from being sixteen. You’d spent months wondering what his mouth would feel like on yours. You’d spent weeks walking the long way home so you’d get to spend fifteen minutes walking with him, listening to him laugh and watching his eyes come alive as he talked about the things that he liked. One afternoon he asked you if you wanted to come in for something to eat, and there was no way you could have said no.

“My parents don’t get home until half five,” he said as he shut his bedroom door. Fear was hot and sweaty in your hands as he sat down beside you on the bed and turned your face to his. No-one had ever kissed you the way he did, with his mouth wide open and his tongue pushing against your lips. You thought about stopping him when his hands moved down to undo your blouse, but you knew if you did he wouldn’t ask you in again. So you let him push you back onto the bed and you tried not to tremble as he found his way inside you. Afterwards you got up to pull your underwear back on with shaking hands. You didn’t cry when you looked back at the bed and saw the blood on the sheets.

You don’t know how to tell him you’ve never seen anything lovelier than the way his face looks in the late-afternoon sun, his skin and hair outlined by that rich orange light. You’re not brave enough to tell him that at night when you’re trying to fall asleep you imagine he’s lying next to you with his arm around you, breathing steadily into your hair.

Six weeks. You could just be late. Between every class you go to the bathroom hoping your period has come but it hasn’t. After school you buy four tests with shaking hands. You do one in the bathroom at the supermarket and when the two lines come up you try not to let your lunch come up as well. You do another. And another. And another. Two lines on all of them. You sit down on the floor of the bathroom and stare at them for a very long time.

“Are you alright, pet?” asks the woman who’s been waiting to use the bathroom when you finally come out. You wipe at your eyes with your sleeve.

You don’t tell him for weeks. When you finally find the words one afternoon lying naked in his bed, you say them to the wall with your back to him. The silence stretches out long and thin until you wonder if it will break into pieces that will come showering down on both of you. Then he says, “Okay.”

You turn to face him. “Okay?”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

You pull your knees up to your chest. “I don’t know.”

Another long silence, which you close your eyes against. You hear him get up and start to dress.

“I think you should go,” he says.

You keep walking past his house on your way home from school. You don’t pause at the letterbox, you don’t look up as you walk by. It could be just another house, except for the way your footfalls slow and your shoulders tense like you’re expecting something, like you’re expecting someone to call out to you. Meanwhile the skin on your stomach begins to strain, little by little, and you start wearing looser fitting clothes. Your mother hasn’t noticed yet. When you press your palm against the small bulge above your pants, your throat gets tight and you smile a little, and you don’t know how you’ll explain this to her.

One afternoon you’re just past his place when you hear your name called. You turn around and he’s there. He’s wearing his soccer gear, his bag hanging off his shoulder. “Hey,” he says.

“Hey.”

He walks towards you until he’s close enough to touch. You look down at the footpath, at his shoes and yours, with less than a footstep between them. “How are you?” he says.

You shrug. “Okay, I guess.”

Then there’s the wind in your ears, the cars going past, schoolkids shouting and scuffing their way down the street.

“What are you going to do?” he says.

“I’m keeping it.”

He puts his hands on either side of your face and kisses you. He’s never kissed you in public before. You put your hands on his chest and push him away. “Don’t.”

“But –” He starts to reach for you again but you jerk away.

“Fuck off.” You pull the hood of your jersey up around your face and you turn and go home.

On your walks home you see mothers pushing prams. You see children on slides and see-saws. They squeal and laugh, they have small fat hands. You’ve started to go into stores on your way through town. You look at tiny little hats and T-shirts and onesies. You pick up pairs of blue booties and stroke the wool with your thumb.

One night you wake up and it’s warm and wet between your legs. You pull back the covers and there’s blood. You breathe hard for a few minutes and then you tear at the sheets and your pyjamas and your fingernails rip into the fabric and you don’t hear the noises coming out of your mouth until your mother comes in your room and sees everything.

The next morning you sit with your back against your bedroom door. You don’t want to look at your bare mattress with the dark stain in the middle, or at your sheets crumpled against the wardrobe like they’ve given up. But there they are. You pick up the fitted sheet from the pile, unfolding it until you can see the red amidst the white. It’ll come out no trouble, your mother would say. All it needs is a good soak.

You pull on a jersey and tie your hair back and go downstairs. In the lounge, your mother is folding washing. She has her back to you. Each sheet snaps and blooms as she shakes the wrinkles out before folding it into a neat square. As you open the front door, she says, “Where are you going?”

“Out,” you say. “Just out.”

Her shoulders tighten. “What were you thinking,” she says. She’s pulled another sheet from the pile but hasn’t started folding it. The ends droop around her ankles.

You step outside and close the door.

The harbour is nice today. The sky is washed out, the blue finding its way through the gaps in the clouds. You press a hand against your stomach and wonder what it would feel like to be hollowed out completely. You feel as if you already are. You sit down at the edge of the wharf and peel off your shoes and socks and drop them into the water. The heat is safety on your toes. How easy it would be, you think, to just slip off the edge and into the water and let it wash you out. Then maybe someone could come along and scoop you out and shake you into the wind and hang you up to dry, like a sheet in the sun.

Beth is a second-year student studying History and Media, with a minor in Creative Writing.

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