Under my skin

In which we meet Version 1.0

Rationally, I accept that most kids go through a phase of being selfish, whiny, demanding bastards. 

Somewhat irrationally, I find it really hard not to hate them for it – quite possibly because it’s like looking Past Isla in the eye. 

Past Isla was what polite company might call, ‘head-strong’, and what people behind closed doors might call, ‘a pig-headed, smart-mouthed, amoral princess.’ She was determinedly unwilling to accept that she might not be the centre-point of the universe’s orbit (she was, after all, much more right than anyone else), and she made sure to correct anyone who failed to recognise her supremacy. 

Backing down was for lesser beings. Lies would escalate, piling on top of one another like teetering blocks held only in place by steely belligerence. The universe fell into line with a whimper when she demanded that it be just so. And when something failed to align with her plan, her wrath was terrible to behold. Eardrums shuddered at her rage, skin burned under laser stares, and smoke crept from beneath doors as she smouldered. 

It didn’t take her long to learn that there were other ways to force the universe into line. Sweetness and light was a new one, all wide eyes and shy smiles, obedience that went beyond the letter of instruction, liberally slathered in butter that made it all the more likely that she’d win. She continued to smoulder underneath, of course, but learned to tuck the smoke inside and stop it from pouring down her nostrils. 

The sheer humiliation of being told off sent rolling waves of scorch down her face and along her arms, blew deafening white noise into her ears. This was unacceptable. She adapted, it was imperative that no-one find out things that would lead to a bollocking. Instead, she hid those infringements, honed her lies, and began to work in earnest on her outward facade. She needed to appear perfect from every angle, no gap to reveal the complex calculations and mechanisms that clicked and clunked beneath.

Eventually, the facade was perfected and the smouldering child lived wholly within its walls. As that facade grew more familiar and those actions and reactions became second nature, her fires banked and her hackles gradually lay smooth against her spine. 

I remember her when I watch another child give the world a hard kick in groin, reptilian eyes showing only satisfaction and menace. And I wonder if Past Isla’s still in here somewhere, if I’m unwittingly carrying Versuvius within my skin. 

Maybe she waits there.

Maybe one day she’ll get tired of waiting. 

The Truth

In which I ponder the importance of being earnest

Pencil sketch of a crab by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

The kids I taught were obsessed with The Truth.

A poem on mixed race identity.

‘Yeah, but is it real?’

A novel on the Great Depression.

‘Yeah Miss, but is it real?’

An entrail sucking demon from another realm.

‘Yeah, but -‘

They’re a Greek chorus with a brain-liquefying song.

I still wonder why it was so important

That the world be carved into truth and lies.

Why reality held such value,

And fiction was Fool’s Gold.

‘Anyone can say anything, isn’t it.’

‘And, like, if it didn’t happen then it don’t mean nothing.’

I fumbled for justifications,

Explanations of allegory and escapism,

Imagination and interpretation.

I cautioned that reality was often subjective,

And that ‘based on truth’ was not truth.

I was petrified by Medusa stares.

(I took the coward’s way out:

That demon and its fiery realm were definitely real,

That’s why they spell it ‘Real-m’.)

I suspect my former charges continue to split the world asunder,

And eye fiction with suspicion.

But in a world such as this,

With reality so surreal,

I hope they’ve come to detect

The lies that lie in The Truth.