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THE NESTING DOLLS by Luisa Mitchell

Illustration of two babushka dolls

CW: This story references sexual assault. 

The Girl sat huddled over on the cracked cement verge across from the house where the crazy old man who smelt like sweat and beer lived. All limbs and bone, little meat. Next to her was another girl, dark-haired. Her street companion.

They pulled at the sunburnt grass that grew out of the cracks and blew them across their palms, watching them float onto the hard bitumen road.

The street companion was saying something odd to the Girl. She said she had an uncle once, a Bad Uncle. He had done bad things to her. He had touched her, and it hurt. It wasn’t right, it was bad, bad, bad.

The Girl sat very still. She seemed to know what her friend was saying. Her stomach turned and her eyes dropped low. It seemed her very skin crawled with the knowing, the having always known that Bad Uncles existed. But she didn’t really know. She didn’t even know what sex was yet. She was only ten years old.

 

The Girl, a little taller now, sat at her desk, watching the Boy who had his back to her on the other side of the classroom. She was thinking of that night – that kiss. It had been easy in the moment. She had been drunk, probably. Her friend’s older sister had brought them vodka.

I can’t feel anything, she had laughed. It’s not working!

So, she drank more. And then she saw Him, and oh God, she had wanted this for so long, and she grabbed him, held his face in between her hands, tightly, so she could concentrate, because she didn’t know what she was doing, and she kissed him, hard, right there on the mouth.

That’s all it was – just a kiss. Nothing more. Perhaps he wanted more, said a little voice.

The fan in the classroom whirs over the Girl’s head. Afterwards, when the bell rang and the others had filed out, and the Boy had explained how sorry, how truly sorry he was – yes, really, don’t you believe me? – and she stood there watching him walk away, she wondered how she didn’t see this coming.

“You know,” said someone nearby. They rested their hand on the Girl’s shoulder. “I heard he has a bet with his friend to see who can lose their virginity first.”

The Girl brought her hands to her eyes. Not to wipe away tears, because no tears fell; but out of instinct, as if checking to see they were still working.

 

The Second Boy was different, she told herself.

When the Wet Season came, and the tides swelled so heavily they seemed pregnant, and the storm clouds brewed, and the heat hung like sticky cobwebs against the skin – when all that came, the Girl fell in love a second time.

Time passed quickly and one month felt like one year in their young minds, and with each night spent together in each other’s embrace she would say, please, just wait, when I turn sixteen we can go all the way.

But he was incessant. He had built her a nest, and danced for her, and shown her all his brightest colours – and she was his, wasn’t she?

Well, I want it too, she told herself. She wanted him more than anything. Maybe now was the right time. She was very young, but not so young. Right?

Later, when another year’s Wet Season had come and gone, and after the Boy had broken her heart, the Girl wondered how long it would take this time to put her pieces back together again.

 

As soon as she finished school, the Girl ran far, far away to the other side of the world, to a place where they drank fernet con coca, and danced to reggaeton in the nightclubs.

When a Stranger at a party pulled her outside with him, the Girl followed. She wanted to be held. Being alone was disgusting. Embarrassing.

But when he had her in his car alone in that dark street where nothing moved but the fog from their breaths against the windows, the Girl suddenly missed the light and laughter that pooled out from the house behind them.

He wanted her there, in that moment. She lied quickly. I have my period, I can’t.

Well, no problem, he said. No hay drama. His hands moved quickly to unbutton her jeans.

The party seemed a world away, and she wondered if it was her turn to be raped. Many women had been raped before. It was only a matter of time, she thought. Maybe it’s mine.

Stupid, stupid girl. Look what you’ve got yourself into. No one will hear you scream.

Her voice was calm. She told him she really wanted to sleep with him – oh yes, so badly, truly – but tonight wasn’t the night. Just please, please take me back to the party.

Okay, next time, he said.

Great, thanks for understanding, she said. Thanks for not raping me, she thought.

 

When the Girl came back to southern waters and criss-crossed stars that looked down on her warmly, the Girl’s Mother told her a story about when she had been a Girl.

In a strange big city, on a cold winter’s night, a Man had come to the house where she was sleeping with a group of other young people. In the dark, she heard a window opening. Footsteps across the wooden floorboards. The frame of the four-poster bed creaking upstairs. A muffled cry. A struggle.

The Girl’s Mother froze where she lay, a rabbit playing dead. Praying that the crochet covers would hide her.

The Man came slowly down the steps. He stood over her, smelling the air. Eyes glittered in the shadows. He watched her for a very, very long time. Then he walked out the front door, and never came back.

 

The Mother stroked the Girl’s hair. Not mousy brown, she said. Just perfect.

The Mother said that she and her daughter were like Russian Nesting Dolls. Like babushkas, the Mother said with relish, her tongue finding comfort in the foreign word. The Girl, her Mother, and her Mother’s Mother, and so on – they were stacked inside one another, finding themselves in each other’s memories and in each other’s skins. The stories were passed down from one woman to another, and through them, you could still feel the embrace of someone who came before you; from here, from within yourself, the Mother said.

You are here exactly as you are, the Mother went on, because of Her strength. Because of Her resilience. Because your sister, your grandmother, your great-grandmother – their power lies within you.

Like a Nesting Doll? the Girl asked.

Like a Woman, the Mother replied. 

They sat there together in silence for a moment, their hands tightly clasped in the other’s. One Woman’s hands were small, cold, soft. The other Woman’s hands were lined with age, rough and red, spotted from years spent in the sun. Same-same, but different.

They held each other close. They were not alone.


Luisa is a writer, editor and filmmaker. She directed and managed a number of youth-led creative projects, including the Uni Goonies Film Festival, and Athena and Grok Magazine, two student multimedia publications. She is passionate about empowering young artists and ensuring the stories of diverse voices are heard. Luisa is a Kimberley woman of Whadjuk-Noongar heritage and her upbringing in the creative industry up north gave her a passion for using art to achieve social justice, particularly for Indigenous Australians, rural populations, and other underrepresented groups.

Copyright © 2020 Luisa Mitchell. 


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