Three months old and a sprawl of pink cotton froth and starfish limbs. Eyelids iridescent as abalone, flicker with untamed nightmares of blood and expulsion and struggle. Legs scissor wide, thrash closed, then collapse apart as the dream releases her and another, softer one takes its place. Her hands knead the air above her spread thighs.
‘Look at the little baggage, the little strumpet!’
The adults delight in her contortions. They chuckle fondly when she slumps across her mother’s lap with knees hoist around her armpits, fingers hooked into the hollow of her sucking mouth. They nickname her Strumpet and stand by her cot to watch her shuffle through poses.
Five years old and she refuses to wear knickers, hand-stands in the garden under the washing line and catches the sheets with her ankles, twists them between her legs and kicks them loose so that they crumple as they billow away from her upside-down grin. She’s still Strumpet but the name no longer spills smooth and pure as cream from her parents’ mouths. It has an edge, sour enough to curdle spit. Her father doesn’t wish to see her chubby buttocks flash past the television as she pursues bath-time with rubber toys tucked under her arms and water-baby glee on her face. Her mother turns from the delicate, curious fingering of her body’s intimate folds and pulls her wrist roughly away.
Sixteen years old and she wears knickers now but her skirts ride high on her thighs. She plucks the hem nervously, flirts with her reflection in the hallway mirror, hates her curly hair. She is torn between wanting to win this competition she never agreed to enter and running back to her bedroom to hide. She doesn’t realise there are other ways to live.
‘That daughter of yours is not going out looking like a strumpet,’ her father shouts at her mother, and her mother asks her if she wants to be the talk of the town, if she wants to gain a reputation, attract the wrong sort of attention. Her mother tells Strumpet that modesty is key to feminine desirability, never forget that.
Thirty years old and she whispers love to the littlest member of the family, watches the doting grandparents clap and exclaim at sofa-leaps and cushion-dives, each jostling to be the first with out-stretched arms.
‘Look at the little strumpet! Fearless, she is!’
At thirty-five she watches the grandparents headshake disapproval at naked water fights, the wild shriek and gleam of girl flesh no longer baby-sweet. She watches them wince and offer towels, pinch looks at each other and hold magazines to their faces to fortress their sight.
Forty-three now, and she persuades her daughter to the park on carnival day, drapes them both in sheets splotch-dyed the colours of the flowers in their garden. Iris purple and stem green. They write STRUMPET on each other’s forehead with lipstick and hold hands as they dance.