25 March 2019

from The Stranger in the Mirror, chapter 1, Message in a Bottle (Jane Shilling)

Meanwhile I notice that my contemporaries have gone quiet.  The bold candour with which we always used to report to each other from the front lines of our lives has been replaced with a muffled discretion.  Once upon a time we couldn't wait to tell the next episode.  The vagaries of our lovers, our employers, our parents, our shopping habits, our looks - all became part of a rolling comic monologue.

With pregnancy and childbirth, a rich new vein of material emerged: the preposterous indignities of pregnancy, from the moment your navel pops inside out, mutating overnight from a sexy hollow to a ludicrous fleshy bobble, to the weary realisation, towards the end of gestation, that you'd pull down your knickers and offer your underparts for examination to almost anyone who demanded it with sufficiently crisp authority; the outrageous shock of labour, the unexpected catastrophe of raw feeling - rage, exhaustion, terror, boredom, love - with which the passionate intensity of motherhood is compounded.

Time passed, the children began to grow up, but still the conversation continued: more fractured now, and at longer intervals, reduced by the rending demands of work and family; the savage battle to secure some scraps of time in which to remind oneself of who one used to be, from a daily soap opera to erratic messages in bottles, brief bulletins flung into the overwhelming tides of domesticity, often saying little more than, 'I am still here.  Are you?'

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