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Tahlia  McKinnon  
Precious  fruit  of  the  womb;  burned  up  salt  of  the  earth.  
Oh,  how  nature  has  forgotten  you.  

You  are  fourteen  when  you  lose  your  virginity.  
But  you  were  not  so  innocent  to  begin  with;  a  wasted  youth  spent  growing  up  too  
fast,  keeping  company  with  college  kids  and  middle  aged-­‐flakes.  You  smoke  your  
first  blem  with  them;  trade  zoots  after  dark  in  the  local  park.  You  spend  the  era  at  
the  bottom  of  a  shot  glass.  
They  show  you  how  to  self  harm,  but  you’re  too  scared  you’ll  do  it  wrong  and  off  
yourself,  and  you’ve  always  been  afraid  of  dying,  even  though  you  tell  them  that  you  
really  want  to.  
Oh,  but  he  is  the  death  you  fear.  Skin  fits  like  a  cheap  suit,  but  you  spot  him  in  the  
crowd;  his  calloused  hands,  his  blistered  mouth,  a  smile  that  doesn’t  touch  his  eyes.  
He  is  the  slash  on  the  wrist,  the  blood  on  the  water,  the  swollen  tongue,  the  empty  
bottle.  He  is  your  tiny  little  life  swallowed  up.  
His  lines  straight  out  of  novels,  eyes  like  shards  of  glass,  and  when  he  looks  at  you,  
you  fear  that  you  will  never  see  the  moon  again.  The  world  holds  its  breath  as  you  
learn  that  he  could  ruin  you  if  he  wanted  to.  Instead,  he  kills  you  softly.  
He  is  your  shadow.  He  is  time  and  space  and  age,  and  when  he’s  through  with  you,  
you  are  nothing  more  than  ice  and  holes  and  memories.  
You  are  fourteen.  You  use  words  like  sick  and  sket  and  skeen  because  you  don’t  like  
to  talk  about  your  feelings.  You  sell  your  soul  to  social  media  instead.  
You  learn  about  sex  from  the  exploits  scrawled  on  the  backs  of  toilet  doors  -­‐  the  slag  
list  circulating  Facebook.  You  are  fourteen,  yet  the  last  of  your  friends  to  surrender.  
They  warn  you  that  it  hurts,  that  you’ll  walk  bow-­‐legged  for  a  while,  but  you’ll  get  
used  to  it.  
They  have  absolutely  no  idea.  
You  are  fourteen  and  you  are  his  fantasy.  Everybody’s  beautiful;  today  is  not  your  
day,  but  still,  you’re  the  best  of  both,  he  says.  Short  hair,  flat  chest,  rosebud  mouth  –  
a  mouth  that  isn’t  ready  for  his  just  yet,  so  there’s  months  of  longing,  months  of  lust,  
months  of  lying  in  his  bed  watching  horror  films.  Holding  hands  under  tables,  
stealing  glances  in  detention,  drunken  phone  calls  in  the  night.  
Those  three  little  words  that  mean  so  much  to  all  are  just  another  synonym  for  ‘treat  
me  like  a  fool’.  

Tahlia  McKinnon  
And  this  is  how  it  starts.  
He  tells  you  what  he  really  wants,  that  it’s  what  good  girlfriends  do.  The  trembling  
touch  of  fragile  fingers,  your  foolish  groans  revolt  to  whispers,  but  you  don’t  stop  
“Oh,  my  love,  you’re  a  silly  little  thing  –  a  pretty  little  mouth  like  yours  should  stay  
quiet,  silent.”  That’s  what  he  spits  as  your  heart  starts  to  skip  the  beat  it  needs  to  
keep  from  ripping  open.  
Your  skin  the  colour  of  eggshells,  
and  you  are  just  as  brittle  beneath  his  ochre  bones.  
His  touch  leaves  you  drowning  in  your  own  smoke;  your  lungs  bleed  from  his  arrest,  
and  you  feel  your  body  begin  to  swell,  feel  it  balloon  into  one  big  languid  limb.  A  
bloated  crust.  A  prodigious  husk.  Like  fire,  you  snap  and  crackle.  Like  rust  and  bone,  
you  rot.  
His  voice  like  the  whump  of  a  whip,  rumbling  through  the  murk,  growing  more  and  
more  impatient.  You  try  to  pray,  but  you  have  run  out  of  words.  You  burn  at  the  core  
as  you  plead,  as  you  bleed,  as  you  hope.  Like  rust  and  bone,  like  rust.  
And  finally,  it’s  over,  it’s  all  over,  and  you  don’t  see  him  again.  
You  hibernate  for  days  on  end,  just  hoping  he’ll  return;  he  was  never  good  for  you  
but  you  will  never  learn  because  the  dream  as  you  know  it  is  over.  This  is  the  love  
you  come  to  know.  
You  are  twenty-­‐one,  and  people  often  ask  you  how  you  handled  it.  It’s  easy  when  
you  try.  You  looked  for  beauty  in  the  silence.  You  learned  to  stay  awake.  You  learned  
to  love  the  way  he  hurt  you.  And  you  loved  him  –  you  did  –  what  other  choice  did  
you  have?  He  should  have  showed  you  the  world  and  all  of  its  promise,  they  say.  But  
he  was  too  busy  coming  down.  
And  he  is  not  the  last.  
You  are  twenty-­‐one,  and  you  know  now  not  to  look  them  in  the  eye,  to  let  them  have  
you  anywhere  but  on  the  bed.  You  pretend  to  be  lovers,  or  friends,  but  you  know  
they’re  all  just  one-­‐night  stands  that  never  seem  to  end.  
You  finally  realise  that  love  and  sex  are  very,  very  different  things.  
You  are  twenty-­‐one  and  two  years  celibate,  but  the  last  time  didn’t  really  count.  You  
didn’t  even  know  each  other’s  names.  You  left  your  dignity  at  the  foot  of  his  bed  as  

Tahlia  McKinnon  
you  wondered  if  this  was  what  you  really  wanted,  if  this  was  what  love  really  meant  
to  you.  To  drink  each  other’s  fluids  and  swallow  each  other’s  pride?  
Empty  threats,  cigarettes,  unread  texts  and  dirty  sex.  
No.  Forever  the  fantasist,  my  darling,  but  your  life  is  nothing  but  a  cheap  imitation  of  
the  books  you’ll  never  read.  The  words  that  you  choke  upon  appear  to  write  
themselves  –  and  you’re  still  a  mess;  less  of  the  dark  shit  now,  but  still  tackling  the  
hardships  that  come  when  you’re  too  old  to  die  young.  
You  are  fourteen,  the  class  clown,  bad  attitude  a  part  of  the  furniture  now,  and  they  
forget  the  girl  you  were  before  him.  You  swear  to  your  friends  that  you  wouldn’t  be  
seen  dead  with  the  local  bikes  at  the  local  club  
And  then  you’re  twenty-­‐one  and  it’s  not  so  long  ago  that  you  became  one  of  them.  
They  touch  you  in  the  dark  without  your  permission,  and  when  they  taste  you,  they  
drink  what’s  left  of  your  inhibitions,  while  the  spirits  you  swill  dilute  your  own.  Your  
youth  smells  like  a  distant  sunset  and  is  fading  just  as  quickly,  but  you  blow  smoke  
rings  to  stop  yourself  from  saying  no.  
If  only  they  would  wrap  their  arms  around  you  the  right  way,  they  would  feel  you  
aching.  They  would  see  your  skin  prickle  at  the  touch,  standing  on  end  and  never  
quite  comfortable  underneath  the  heat.  Oh,  if  only  they  would  run  their  fingers  over  
your  scars,  at  the  right  tempo,  and  make  them  shine.  
You  are  fourteen.  You  worry  that  nobody  else  will  ever  know  you  the  way  that  he  
did.  They  might  see  you  naked,  but  they’ll  never  see  your  bones.  They  might  kiss  
your  tongue  but  they’ll  never  taste  your  truth.  They  might  make  you  sweat  but  
they’ll  never  make  you  cry.  
You’re  twenty-­‐one  the  next  time  you  see  him.  There’s  no  little  girl  inside  of  you  
anymore  –  he  put  her  to  bed  all  those  years  ago,  but  still,  you  don’t  feel  like  a  woman  
just  yet  and  you  know  now  that  he  is  the  reason.  You  are  one  big  hangover  of  
premature  puberty  and  he  still  reads  you  like  a  book;  he  still  fills  every  page.  Once,  
he  would  have  torn  them  out  in  frustration,  but  this  night,  he  folds  you  up  like  
parchment,  drenched  in  the  ink  you’ve  spilled.  
An  apology  is  all  you  need  and  he  delivers  the  speech  so  well.  He  was  always  the  
better  actor,  but  you  can’t  play  truth  or  dare  forever.  So,  you  undress,  pick  a  smile  
that  suits  you  best,  but  it  starts  to  hurt  your  mouth  –  a  mouth  he  kisses  until  you  are  
sick.  His  lips  like  cranberries,  crimson  crescent  seals,  and  your  teeth  fall  victim  to  
the  nostalgic  tongues  between  them.  His  breath  dancing  with  old  regret  and  the  
sweetness  fills  your  mouth.  
All  of  the  ways  you  thought  you  had  grown,  yet  he  still  reduces  you,  he  still  seduces  

Tahlia  McKinnon  
It’s  been  six  years  since  you  touched  hips  and  now  he  fills  you  in.  And  it’s  the  same  
war  of  words,  same  iron  first,  head  full  of  splinters  and  late  night  shakes.  
You  are  twenty-­‐one  when  you  are  finally  exorcised.  He  is  still  perfection  but  beyond  
redemption  now.  Left  in  a  stubborn  silence  pregnant  with  mystery,  you  realise  that  
you  were  nothing  more  than  a  shadow  in  his  history.  A  compulsive  liar,  soaring  
higher  on  a  cloud  of  coke  and  mourning  -­‐  he  is  the  reason  for  it  all:  
Knocking  down  your  own  pedestals.  Years  spent  with  your  knees  up,  knees  deep,  in  
the  back  of  a  car  in  the  middle  of  the  street,  with  boys  who  demand  you  take  a  
shower  like  you  are  suddenly  unclean.  Nights  in  cheap  hotels  with  the  ones  who  
fuck  you  until  you  feel  alone  in  your  own  skin.  Waking  up  to  a  room  of  sleeping  
teenage  boys,  wondering  how  many  of  them  slipped  you  more  than  drugs  during  the  
night.  Years  of  eating  your  feelings  until  your  gums  bleed  with  the  taste  of  gin.  
The  night  before  became  the  norm  for  you  and  you’d  drift  –  you’d  drift  and  you’d  
thrift  between  your  lovers,  but  now  you  see  that  they  weren’t  really  human  at  all;  
just  pot  and  pipes  and  neon  lights.  
His  hands  make  shapes  but  there’s  nothing  to  hold.  You  know  that  you’re  too  old  for  
this  now.  He  talks  until  his  tongue  bleeds,  rigid  in  his  skinny  jeans  and  you  can  
barely  look  at  him.  He  can  chew  on  the  roots  of  addiction,  take  his  medicine,  take  his  
pills  –  but  all  he  has  to  offer  you  now  is  jealousy  and  cheap  thrills.  
He  should  come  with  a  health  warning.  
You  are  twenty-­‐one  and  this  is  the  last  time  you  will  speak  of  him.  He  is  lost  in  the  
wilderness  of  these  very  words.  Still,  in  your  veins  run  bitter  symphonies.  
Love  dances  around  your  mind  like  a  pipe  dream,  the  word  burning  through  your  
throat  like  a  cancer.  
But,  no  more;  you’ve  spent  a  lifetime  fighting  the  light  that  you  carry  around  inside  
of  you,  and  now  you’re  strong  enough  to  survive  this  dirty  world.  It’s  easier  to  lose  
yourself,  to  wallow,  to  feel  lonely  –  but  young  one,  you  grow  from  the  seeds  that  you  
sow.  You  must  restore  what  belongs  to  you;  learn  how  to  laugh  again,  learn  how  to  
hold  yourself,  learn  how  to  be  alone.  
And  all  of  the  rest  will  follow.  

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