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This is a shortlisted story for the 2012 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.
We are without touch. We have four senses—or more than four. We can tell when we’re dizzy, tired, hungry, and surely those are more than four, and still we’re without touch. I couldn’t tell you a reason why because I can’t tell myself. This is the plight of the young woman without kids clinging to her school skirt, without a cigarette rolling back and forth across her sugar-cherry-candy-bomb lip. I’ve never been held at gunpoint, abused, talent scouted, lauded.
This is the plight of the virgins.
People say we make a choice and call us out on it, call us frigid; we haven’t made a choice to be choosy. You touch me, and my skin crawls. I wash, wash, wash, brush my teeth, rinse my hair. You touch me and I become unclean. Someday, my prince will come (I hope, I pray, I doubt). I grew out of princes years ago, but it’s developed into something more: what kind of people need this kind of rescue, a skin-on-skin rescue, a head turning, toe curling rescue?
She is me, she in the mirror, long legs, lack of smile. Black war paint around the eyes, big and blue. I’ve made an outfit out of a black top and skirt, made them into a dress, but I’m wearing stockings because I want to be like Jane Russell. I want to be Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe. Who’s going to catcall Audrey Hepburn? You take her out to dinner, Audrey Hepburn, sex with Audrey Hepburn happens after weeks and weeks of tension building, hearts speaking words without words across a white clothed table. She’s not the Snog, Marry, Avoid type. She’s part of a dying breed that I’ve bought into, me with my big eyes.
Me with my big ideas.
She is me and I go out. Top grades and top manners don’t show in my short skirt, I am another face and another place. I am a get one over, show off to your mates; I am not a me with a name. It won’t ever occur to you that your sister is my age, has my hair colour, my nose. Or that your mum was my age, you don’t think about that, do you? Mums and sisters don’t dance with you, but short skirts do. They promise without saying a word.
Not hearts speaking words, something far less flowery.
So what is the point to us, the virgins, the virgins with our plight who are waiting for Mr Right but who wear out short skirts but obviously, eminently want you need you have to have you? Shouldn’t we just fall in line? Be like everybody else, do as they do?
We haven’t made a choice to be choosy.
I don’t want the kids, the cigarette, the tugging on my heartstrings.
I don’t even want to be ordinary.
Is it so much to ask for the things that I’ve been promised? The things Jane Austen promised me, that Meg Cabot promised me? Darcy in a wet shirt doesn’t matter half so much as the idea that I, me, might be something. Something more than a skirt and what lies beneath it (skip over the suspenders; I doubt anyone’s going to get the Audrey Hepburn thing anyway). Maybe just the idea that I could have power that had nothing to do with that.
I’ve never been held at gunpoint, abused, talent scouted, lauded.
So I don’t have a story for the popular press like the teenage mother and the girl with the drug habit. I am middle class and all that entails. Yet we few – we, unhappy few, we band of non-touchables – have something that you don’t.
We are free.
We, the unremarkable, are free.
I was never imprisoned, never persecuted, never beaten.
But I am free nonetheless.
I’ll remind myself of this next time you see my long legs and I see me. Even as I wash, wash, wash your idea of me away, brush my teeth, rinse my hair, I am free.
We, remarkable for being unremarkable, are free.
Isobel Hall, in her own words:
"So, me: currently studying for a degree in psychology at Warwick University. I’m originally from Crawley, a town in West Sussex—but I’m pretty sure I was meant to be born at Jane Austen’s Longbourn and raised with a brood of properly improper Bennets! I love clashes, contrast; they’re what inspire my writing. For a girl, being too easy is wrong, but being difficult is wrong too. My story is based on myself and my experiences with a panic disorder that meant it was hard for me to touch physically—I wrote to touch people with my feelings instead. I think that makes you feel with me and want to understand me. To be understood is probably the deepest desire of every human heart."