My Angry Red
‘You know that white stuff in your undies is normal‘, said my Mum breezily as she emptied the contents of the washing machine into the wicker ironing basket. She almost sang it, like she was praising me for having chalky pants. I drew a breath and wondered how to tell her that I had in fact not yet ‘hit’ puberty and that what she had found was more likely to be starch from Dad’s business shirts. Instead I lay belly-down in the hallway and cooled my body on the tiles.
‘Can I show you how I read again?‘ I asked, thumbing the pages of my mermaid book that I had been hiding under my bottom. “But I know how to read,” she replied, continuing to sort and fold, her white-gold bangles jingling.
I stared at my plate. Chicken and broccoli and rice. Chicken. Again. My Mum says that the hormones in chicken will help me to develop breasts. This is the extent of the science behind it. I think she read it in Body & Soul a while ago. Now we eat chicken four times a week. I plonked myself down next to my Dad on the sofa and looked over to him. Sometimes he could be my solace, he would pat my hair and call me ‘mate’. But tonight he was gawking at the reality show playing on television. I felt sick as with a mouthful he laughed at the shiny, bikini clad girl by the pool and remarked ‘She’s been eating her chicken!‘
Later, I studied my reflection in the bathroom mirror and wondered does everyone hate themselves a bit? I concluded that there must be someone, somewhere in this world who loved every single thing about themselves. Probably someone with no freckles or big ears or hairs on their nipples. Probably the bikini girl who ate all the chicken. I pulled my nightie up and counted the hairs on my nipples. Still about twenty on each, give or take. I was still combing through Dolly Doctor every month to see if a girl had written in with the same problem. But it was never there.
Suddenly I felt hot. What if I am a boy? What if this is my chest hair and I had eaten chicken all for nothing? My Dad has lots of chest hair and maybe I take after him. I am his son, after all. I scrambled under the sink for the hand mirror, the same one I had to use when Dolly Doctor said ‘we all have three flaps down there’. I only ever found two. I lifted my leg on the sink and my eyes searched the reflection of the hand mirror. I didn’t know what I was looking for. It all looked like guts to me. I eventually took comfort in the fact that it was all pink, cause I remembered hearing that boys have blue balls. And I couldn’t see any blue.
I figured I should get a start on things, so I observed the other girls at school, mostly in the change rooms. I was a bit let down when I saw some of them putting things down their bras. One girl had a silk scarf. I don’t think it was in case she got cold. I quickly learned from my listening that hairs grow back fast when you shave. Fast was what I needed. I could scrape a razor inside my armpits and the hair would grow madly. Then at swimming I could groan along with the others, ‘I forgot to shave again last night!‘ and even have real evidence in case someone asked to see.
I stole my Dad’s face razor after school and accidentally cut my fingers trying to prize out the black stubble. It stung. It gave me an idea. I ran into my room, shut the door and yanked down my shorts. I squeezed my fingers until they turned purple and no more blood would come out. I wiped my fingers on the inside of my white undies. The angry red on the plain white made me feel scared but proud that it was my angry red. I wanted to pin them up on my wall. Instead I stashed them in my desk drawer, folded inside-out, hoping my Mum would find them and also feel proud.