In My Skin — an excerpt

From the prologue…

WHAT DO I REMEMBER of being a prostitute? I remember tenderness, boredom, the ice-creams we would eat at 3 a.m. in front of the television; the smell of cocks, shy men with silky skin, laughter; dark streets gleaming; boys in baseball caps slouching in the introduction lounge, heavy bellies pressing on me; conversations, sneaking cigarettes while fixing my make-up. I remember the other girls being like sisters, and knowing that to tell them my real name was dangerous. I remember opening my heart to strange men and stroking their faces, smiling. I remember being pounded so hard my face was white with pain. I remember being a prostitute, and being proud of it, liking it.

But what I did is not normal. No? I was naked, I touched people’s bodies, they touched mine, we were alone in a room. Like a masseur, like a dentist, like a beauty therapist. Yes, but I opened my body, they touched me there. Like a doctor. Yes, but inside.

Yes.

I sometimes wondered, with my legs spread over the face of some eager man, if I felt regret for the invasion of my most secret places. A man whom I’ve never met before is staring at my vagina. But what does this mean? It is just skin. Am I ashamed to have the crook of my knee examined? My ear? The inside of my mouth? Eyes leave no scar, I am not reduced by someone’s gaze. My body is beautiful, and desired; I feel beautiful and desirable. Someone is looking at me. At the outside, at the membrane of flesh that veils me. I am still mine.

I do not like to judge others. I know now that everyone has their secrets. I write mine down. I carry them lightly inside me. They are almost invisible.

I walked dark and dirty footpaths in the middle of the night. I got into strangers’ cars and got out swearing or smiling. I drove with men to grotty alleys and put stained tissues in my bag afterwards. I took their money and wiped my mouth and went to a small flat and pumped chemical relief into my vein, and returned to the rainy street. I slept on a dirty mattress in an empty room and shivered and woke every grey twilight wishing I could sleep forever. I lived on chocolate bars and bought a single cup of coffee for an afternoon, sheltering in warm cafés for comfort. I watched people in supermar¬kets and couldn’t remember what it felt like to take ordinary things from the shelves. I stood in the dark on the footpath and gazed in on bright living rooms. I held down so much sorrow I couldn’t feel anything anymore. The sadness and anger corroded all my feelings. The only thing I knew I wanted was heroin, and rest.

I made money I’d never imagined and I wore velvet dresses and shone in lamplight. I walked tall in crowds, knowing myself to be desired. I received luxurious gifts. I was a princess in my realm and men couldn’t get enough of me. They waited hours for my company and I couldn’t even remember their names. I had a house with a spa and hardwood floors; I lost track of fifty dollar notes, and found them adrift in pockets, inside books. I was everyone’s favourite. I told people I was a prostitute, and smiled as I said it, and dared them to turn their gaze.

The smile that I give when I talk about it now is, I can feel, nostalgic, provocative. A brightness comes into my eyes. And, I’m told, a hard look too.

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