Friday, 12 February 2010

Reader Wooing

Painting Courtesy of Jesse L Smith at The Tate

When I was a girl, I used to pretend I was a leopard. My sister Samantha was a fox and my older sister, Simone, was a deer, but I was this lazy, hazy, dreamy leopard, always stretching out underneath tables, nesting behind the sofa, lounging all over the house.

It all started with these marks on my skin; I’ve always had them. Most of them are hidden beneath my clothes, but I know they’re there. I’m not sure when or how it occurred to me but at some point growing up, they became my leopard spots. They’re not birthmarks or moles really but somewhere in-between. Smooth, flattish blotches, chocolate in colour with maybe a reddish hue, the largest of them about the size of thumbprint. Whenever I glance at myself in the mirror from across the room, I think I look punched-through with holes, perforated. They’re all on my stomach and back mainly. Three just below my right breast, two on my left inner thigh. I couldn’t tell you where they came from, or whose genes are to blame, only that—from about the age of 6 until I was 10 or 11—those spots made me, secretly, a leopard. That was their only significance to me in childhood: I was a girl but I had proof I was a leopard too.

(It seems only natural for a child of my airy-fairy mindset to think leopard. But I do sometimes wonder why I didn’t choose something else, if life might have worked out differently had I just pretended to be a different sort of cat, like a cheetah.)

I used to pretend I wasn’t human at all but had been adopted by human parents, then scrubbed up and dressed in human clothes, and trained to eat human food, trained to act with manners that weren’t naturally mine, when all the while, I was really this lithe and rather fierce jungle cat. I was always trying on feline characteristics when no one was watching, cultivating them in secret. I would lay stretched out on the ground, licking my fingers or pawing playfully at the carpet. I prowled and I preened. I padded my way around the whole house, on all fours sometimes, trying to find a perfect spot of sunlight to curl up in. Then I began snoozing at odd hours—scrunched foetally into one nook or another—but always with that lively, playful, clear-minded sleep of a child that has done the impossible and put itself to bed.

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