November 2nd

Thanks so much everyone for that fantastic response. And here's the second one - please add your pieces to the comments section just as before.


Kumi’s rushing ahead. She always does. It comes from being a two-child
family. Kumi and her sister have special benefits because they are so unusual.
We were told about it at Meeting. How her mother and father had extra-fertile
seeds and eggs which made more than their allocated one. Kumi and Kestra
stood at the front as the teacher pointed out the features that were shared by
two bodies coming from the same parental gene-mix. We were told how
fortunate we were to see this at first hand and not through photographs.

So Kestra went to the Museum of the Past and transferred the memories to
Kumi. The rest of us have to make do with fresh vision. Kumi drags us all to
see the skeletons of women from the 21st century, and for once she hasn’t
exaggerated the horror. A scale measures the primitive women against the
men and although it’s impossible to believe, male and female are almost
the same size. The female skeletons are straight and so broad they look like
men. I mean how freaky is that.

Sura stands next to one. It’s almost double the height she is, and so ugly
without the elegant curves of her legs and backbone. The arms look
doll-like and useless, not even reaching the ground. The head is positioned
on an upright neckbone, looking ahead. It’s shaming thinking how women
then must have met each other's eyes.

We are silent as we walk into the underwear room. We laugh at the skimpy
bits of cloth, and then the first clumsy attempts at cage building. All of us
surreptitiously feel under our gowns for the tight metal cases surrounding
our bones since birth, shaping and refining our perfectly bent and twisted

Thank Femininity, we think, as we hobble through.


  1. Someone farted in my yoga class today.

    There we all were, in downward dog position, when out it trumpeted. Not a polite ripple either, but a huge vulgar blast.

    We tried to ignore it, we really did, but then Josie shouted ‘Better out than in’ and that was it. We roared with laughter, lost our balance and fell shaking to the floor.

    Celeste held her hands out in prayer position. ‘Ladies,’ she bleated. ‘Stand up please now, in tree position.’

    But eventually she gave up. She even cut our relaxation session at the end by a whole fifteen minutes which was cruel. ‘Namaste,’ she bowed her head, but we knew she was wishing our spirits anything but well.

    We went off to the pub. Normally we slink off home to glug huge glasses of red wine and pretend it’s herbal tea. Or I do. I presumed the others do too.

    Gazelle limbs. That’s what it seemed most people were doing yoga classes for when we sat talking in the pub. I thought of Celeste. There’s no doubt her body is different from ours. Taller. Well, OK, thinner. But it was disappointing that seemed to be all yoga was.

    ‘So why are you doing it?’ Josie asked.

    Suddenly I knew it was her who had farted. Please God, I’d prayed, let it be one of the blonde, 4x4 driving ya-ya’s, but it was old Josie. I burst out laughing all over again.

    ‘To be a better person,’ I said. ‘Closer to god.’

    They stared at me. They thought it was a joke. ‘Namaste,’ I said as I left, and they said it back. I knew I’d have to find another class. A fart is just a gust of air, but a confession will always be an elephant in the room.

  2. ‘I have to push. I HAVE TO PUSH!’

    ‘Go ahead.’

    Kalitha could feel the midwife’s body cage digging into her thigh.


    ‘Good girl. We’ll have the head through next time.’

    A boy. Please let it be a boy. Then he wouldn’t be caged like an animal. He could be free, like an animal. Uh-oh, the next contraction was looming.


    ‘Well done, there’s the head. One more and your baby will be born.’

    Sweat was running down Kalitha’s face. At least she would never have to do this again. She’d been told that some women in the 21st century had four children or even more. That wasn’t a baby, that was a litter. Uh-oh…

    ‘Ooohhh… Ooohhh… Unnnhhhh… AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!’

    ‘It’s a girl!’

    ‘Give her to me. I want my baby.’

    ‘Kalitha, she has to go to the rearing unit.’

    ‘Please, let me see her.’

    ‘And you need your cage back on…’

    After months without it, she was in no hurry for that. She felt something touch her arm. She looked down and met other eyes for the first time since her childhood, wide blue eyes that seemed to know her, in a tiny face with a snub nose and lips so pretty she had to touch them with her fingertip. The baby snuffled and opened her mouth, and was whisked away.

    ‘There, now, she’s ready to feed and we’ve nothing here to give her.’ The midwife rang a bell, tutting.

    A rusty cry pierced Kalitha’s heart.

    ‘My baby, my baby…’

    ‘My fault. I should never have let you see her. Get this cage on now.’

    The midwife came with Kalitha’s cage, extended with leather straps that would be pulled in one notch per day until she had regained her shape. And Kalitha wept.

  3. I guess Barbie thinks that she’s got it all, but I’ve got duck’s disease; my tummy’s too close to the ground. But the negatives are just from her point of view. My legs are as straight as hers, but my arms are longer. It’s in the family. It didn’t bother me when I was littler than little. A bit of a bother started at school when all the other girls shot up. And then there were the clothes.

    Weekends were ok, because that’s when you could wear any old thing, or new, if you had it. But weekdays in that great equalizer, the school uniform, they were the pits. You tell me how you can hitch up your block pleats to show off your knees when your bum’s in the way.

    There were advantages, though. No plaster castes from basketball falls - you don’t fall far when your centre of gravity only has to plumb several inches. Although it was a hassle getting up on the stools in the chemistry lab, I loved chemistry. It put us on the same level, and I learnt to follow my nose. You wouldn’t believe the stuff you can smell when you’re close to the ground. It’s a shock at first, but with practice and time you become selective.

    First there were flowers – dwarf iris and jonquils and chocolate cosmos – and then there were herbs – thyme, mint and lemon balm. Today I can sniff out a pheromone from a footprint. The shoe’s on the other foot now and who cares about Manolo Blahnik. I can walk on my hands if I want to wobble and I’m told there’s something seductive about the way that I waddle. I don’t have to be stuck with any old Ken, the world is my own bowl of truffles.

  4. Let us now give thanks.

    Let us now give thanks to the True Designer; for He delivered us from nature and made us ourselves. Man be praised for His perfect plan and for including us within that plan.

    We thank you.

    Let us now give thanks to the Omnipotent Engineer; for He delivered us from the deformity of our birth and made us beautiful. Man be praised for His perfect eye and for bringing us into His vision.

    We thank you.

    Let us now give thanks to the Great Measurer; for He delivered us from the eyes of our sisters and made us see ourselves. Man be praised for His perfect understanding and for bringing us into that understanding.

    We thank you.

    Let us now give thanks to the Mighty Master; for He delivered us from the air and made us of the ground. Man be praised for His perfect gravity and for bestowing that gravity upon us.

    We thank you.

    Let us now give thanks to the All-knowing Pedagogue; for He delivered us from the ignorance of ease and made us wise in the awareness of our suffering. Man be praised for His perfect justice and for holding us beneath that justice.

    We thank you.

    Let us now give thanks to the Holy Liberator; for He delivered us from the chains of self-reliance and made us free in our obedience. Man be praised for His perfect mercy and for showing us the mercy of his condescension.

    We thank you.

    Let us now give thanks to the Pure Light; for He delivered us from the darkness of our unclouded minds and made us illuminated in His shadow. Man be praised for His perfect brightness and blinding our wilfulness with that brightness.

    We thank you.
    We thank you.
    We thank you.

  5. You come here when there’s no other place to go. When the present and the thought of the future are intolerable, and the comforts of the Past call to comfort you. You’re even prepared to negotiate past traumas – rewinding them at a distance and watching the unravelling of lives you used to own – rather than deal with the present that’s threatening to overwhelm the life you’re still attached to you.

    In the Museum of the Past you can choose which rooms to enter – rooms of sunlight and cut grass, books and pillows, or bright city streets at night in the rain. There’s a room of kisses, the temperature gathering from lukewarm at one end to furnace level at the other. And a room of black and white photographs, taken on beaches at high and low tides, the sea crashing against harbour walls or a long expanse of sand with the water only a shimmering line across the horizon.

    Sometimes you think you hear voices and your heart quickens before you realise your mistake – you know that no-one else can enter another’s museum. And after all, this is why you come here, isn’t it? To walk through rooms with no interruption, no contradiction, safe in the knowledge that this is yours and cannot be taken away. That is why you refuse to talk about it when you leave, unlike some other people you know, who just gabble on about their Museums, giving away parts of it, until one day, you’re sure of this, there’ll be nothing left. You won’t do that.

    When you leave the light hurts your eyes. If only you could find a way to stay here. You could lock yourself behind one of the doors. You’d fall asleep next to something you used to love. And gather dust.

  6. Until I went to school I was so happy. We were a close family and looked after each other. Father and Mother had met on the stage so showbiz ran in our blood. It went even further back than them because both their parents had also been employed as entertainers. They specialised in pantomime and circus. On sentimental family occasions like Christmas we sometimes brought out their scrapbooks and looked at the playbills. A bit torn and brittle now, but the primary colours of the pictures must have attracted attention. They were never named among the stars who had big letters across the top of the sheet. Mother said that didn’t matter a bit. The stars could never replace the special role taken by our family members.
    When I first went to school I was confused. It was like being in a strange country because all the others, except William, were different. They were clumsy and kept banging into us and knocking us over. William looked after me and taught me how to look after myself. Never let them get away with anything, he said. Once they think they can push you about they will get worse and worse. It’s alright if it is an accident, but look out for ‘Accidentally, on purpose.’ He taught me how to hit back so it hurt. They soon learned.
    Lessons were alright. I used to have a desk at the front so I could see properly and I had my own comfortable desk and chair. I was good at lessons to start with, but then I started daydreaming about being a performer and never really caught up with the rest.
    It doesn’t matter now I am working in the circus. I have a special act where I run right under the trotting horses.

  7. The hardest thing is remembering that they don’t like meeting your eyes. I mean they really don’t like it: Maudie says I have to think of it like flashing, the same kind of affront. Avoiding eye contact is more difficult than you imagine, especially when you’re trying to work out what kind of impression you’re making.

    I know it shouldn’t, but it makes me wonder a bit about Maudie. I mean, growing up in this intense female environment, with all these rules and rituals. She got out, of course, but it must have left some impression on her. What if we had children, I keep thinking, and she went weird on me? What if she wanted her mother or her sister to come and live with us?

    That’s jumping the gun, of course. But I can see it’s a big step, bringing me to meet them. She must have trusted me not to run for it, though I confess I was tempted at first. Her eyes were on me all the time. The others looked at the floor, at their hands, anywhere but at me, but Maudie’s gaze felt like a spotlight, a laser, burning into me. My body went numb for a moment, in fact: I felt like someone on Dr Who, surrounded by a halo of blue light, as though she could see things about me, here, which weren’t visible anywhere else.

    Later on it was my turn. Up in her room, I peeled off the layers of pale soft cotton she still wears until she was standing there, pale and soft herself. God, she’s beautiful: against the bare floorboards and peeling wallpaper she looked perfect, like a new white egg. Unblemished, apart from that funny little scar beside her belly button. I’ve always wondered what that was.

  8. I fil sory fer the unwoms. Yes I doo! Mum ses im a jinklepit. She ses eevolooton wos wun big misstek. Wos eevolooton? Yer too yung ter unnerstan. It wos befor woms tuk contrul. Ov wot? Ov ar boddis. Thas in herstry. It souns booorin. Enny, Mum ses yer not havin wun, yer hav enuf pets. O plees plees. I will tek care ovit an fid it. No. Zip! Yer not havin.

    Por unwoms they ar nekid wiv onnly sum furr not gud as annimals hav. They run on for fit mosly, but they can stanup. They luk funny then! Betwin the bak legs they havver long pisser. Mos woms don evversee unwoms becus they are shy. Wen they her yoo cumin they run an tryter getterway or hid behin a boosh or a tre.

    I hav bin tamin wun tho. In the park, near the caf. It scavidges for rubbidge ther. Is a litle wun, smoller iven then mos unwoms. Is verry swit an charmin. I givit biscits, thisway I lay the biscit on ther gras then set on a bennch an kip quit stil. Sloly, sloly, the unwom crips ut frum behin a boosh. Sloly, sloly, it appruchis an grabs the biscit, then stufsit inis mowth an runs bac to wheritwos hidin.

    Is gettin yooster me. Evry day is bravver. Til at las I hol the biscit in mi han. The unwom riches ut an dosen grabit but teksit delicitly an genly.

    Ther necswik I bring Mum. The unwom isn at al afrid binow, it run an jump on me! I laff an laff. The unwom is hugin me an is pisser kips goin har then agin sof an flopy. Is tryin er git insid me, Mum! O alrit yoo can kipit. I supos it is quit swit.

  9. Women are funny creatures. I’m old enough to have seen fads and fashions come and go, and more than once come full circle. Take the current trend for being slim. I’m all for health but this is often taken too far. Some of the catwalk models would make Famine proud; they’re little more than skeletons clothed in enough skin and muscle to make them function. When I was young we felt sorry for people like that and gave them tuppence.

    The renaissance went the other way. To be fat was the mark of opulence. The bigger the girl, the more likely she was to find a good husband. Models – they were artist’s models then – lost work if they lost weight, for who wanted a model that was skinny, when skinny emphasised poverty. A goddess was depicted as being portly because a goddess was the perfection of the human form. Now they’re depicted as being slim but not skinny. I approve of that.

    What nature doesn’t allow, man will compensate for. Youth is the ideal, so when youth fades the scalpel is king. Face lifts, nose jobs, silicon breasts, liposuction… where does it end? Will they perfect cloning and brain transplants? Then, for the right price, you can be young forever and who doesn’t want that?

    Shape shifting is the key. It is said that you can control your body with your mind. Think yourself slim and if you believe it your body will, over a period of time, shift to what you perceive to be true. Want bigger, perkier breasts? See yourself with them and exercise those pectorals. Remember the toning. Flesh without tone becomes saggy and who wants that? Just remember to stop, or else you’ll end up as a model. Not on the catwalk but in Anatomy 101.

  10. Edie carved his initials, JZ, with the spikey end of a compass. She loved Jay, and he really loved her. That's what he'd said. They'd be together forever and nobody, and he meant nobody could do anything about it. And if her Dad wanted to say something, then he'd proper sort him.

    She sniffed Jay's bandana. He, was so special and it was proper love, proper. Nobody else understood that. Not her Mom or Dad, or Christy with her skinny arse. Jay said he liked a girl with booty - he wouldn't want that bitch Christy - and she was meant to be a mate, coming out with all them lies. Jay called her Crystal Tits, so she must have been lying. He wouldn't have said that if he'd done what she reckoned.

    She carved his initials again, but this time put the bar across the 'Z' like Jay did when he wrote it with a Sharpie. That's what they all didn't understand; he was like a proper artist, like Banksie. Everywhere she went she saw his name, and he did it for her. She could have killed him when he marked her Dad's car, but he said it was so that she knew he loved her, wasn't it? He'd even do that for her, he'd do anything. Anything she wanted, that was what he had said. He'd be anyone she wanted him to be, and didn't she want to make him happy too? It wasn't much to ask was it?

    She'd told her Mom, Jay would stick by her and they were going to get a flat and Jay would get a job. She'd just laughed at her, called her stupid. A stupid bitch.

    Edie carved a heart now, JZ 4 ED, blotting the bloody letters with Jay's bandana.

  11. They were opposites; diametrically opposed forces. The yin and yang of the office.

    But yin and yang were supposed to form a glorious union, the contrast creating something greater than the constituent parts. A true synergy (not the management cliché that prevailed in this stay-busy-do-nothing world).

    Opposite charges attracted, but not in this unholy alliance. The distance was kept at all times. The tension was palpable, but in this one place they had come together, in painful silence.

    The water fountain.

    Either could have retreated. Neither would yield. The parrot and the mouse.

    Two pairs of eyes scanned first one then the other. The first identified the crass and garish; the lewd and provocative. The second saw only the drab betrayal; the lack of thought.

    "What?" The bird of paradise squawked first, as was her nature, red glistening pout accentuating the challenge.

    "Hmmph," roared the mouse, but oh so quietly.

    "Make an effort, why don't you. Or is beige this year's black?"

    "At least I'm wearing something."

    "Thing just about sums it up."

    The mouse blushed. The parrot cackled.

    "Aha! Some colour at last. Such a shame your lips don't match."

    "You should be ashamed of yourself. I hear your tits are already upper management. Perhaps the rest of you will follow soon?"

    "Ooh! Hiss." The mime was catlike, the claws plastic (delicately applied and beautifully painted). "If you've got it, flaunt it, sweetie. Anyway, what's your problem? Do you really believe your way is better than mine?"

    "Our decisions matter, Chloe! Can't you see that? We have to consider our every action and deed with care. We owe that much to our daughters."

    "Oh come on, Beth. Loosen up. Celebrate the difference. Flaunt your femininity. Use it as the weapon it can be. What possible harm can it do?"

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  13. Dear Emmie.
    I had no idea being a great women artist would entail so much reproach and guilt …… I have reached a compromise.

    After much deliberation and conferring with my child, we decided on foster parents. I will put her on EBay, under the Artist dolls section. So long as the new parents let her have a pet she doesn’t mind. Do you think that her longing for a pet is derivative of ‘lonely only child syndrome’ or capitalist consumerism?
    You know my family think she suffers. They say stuff, like… “would you like something to eat dear , or is chewing your sleeve a nervous thing?” or “ we could take her swimming , she looks like she needs a bath”. They feel sorry for her, yet she gets so much more than I ever did she has a bedroom to die for. As a kid, I had ‘peeling-off’ wall paper, with cars on! Perhaps my dad wanted a son. Actually, I think the wall paper was a found car magazine, mum was very creative and resourceful.
    Emmie, I’m torn…. since I have decided to be an artist …all the normal people and other mothers, treat me weird. I can tell I have some kind of stigma growing out of the top of my head because of the way they stare. As for my girl child, she is sick of me trying to disrespect her street culture vibe….she wanta be a yardie gal and I want her to be lady like. She wanta play RnB, boom’n’ bass and I make her do piano practise. She will go to a new good home….we have agreed . Bidding on EBay starts Saturday.
    Oh what is the measure of a mother?
    Must dash, got to get to Tescos.
    Yours Sincerely

  14. Oh wow, aren't these all so different!

  15. Extract from the Journal of Doctor Paula Reems, Adviser to the Policy Doctorate. November 2nd, 2097.

    I am satisfied that barbarism is at an end. Since all people live in equality now there can be no room for those who maintain that we must defend against the recurrence of oppression. The old order has gone. We stand on the cusp of a new future, a new humanity; one which has no understanding of such ugly words as racism, sexism, classism. No understanding, nor any need for such an understanding.
    I find it hard to make any sense of the contention of a few of my colleagues, who argue that history should be remembered, even taught to young people, so that we will not make the same mistakes again. These things are best forgotten. We live in a tranquil world now. In our new order the will to power and domination has no part. No one will ever again force another human being into submission. The long ago struggles of feminists against centuries of barbarism, the unimaginable horrors of such practices as foot-binding and genital mutilation, must surely be consigned to a place beyond the reach of memory. Without a memory of oppression such cruelty can never re-occur.

    I am grateful that my dissenting colleagues are in a minority. The Policy Doctors rightly see in them the last traces of brutality. Naturally this will be erased. I pity my argumentative colleagues, but a therapeutic course of Tranquillity will set them right. They will be helped to forget. From this day all humanity will stand together: black, white, men, women – proud, tall and equal.

    Thank Progress, I think, as I begin another day in a world where no one will ever bow down; where we can look one another in the eye.

  16. As she spied on him through the narrow slit in the thick stone wall Meiying’s guilty daydreaming made her feel more like a wayward weed than a beautiful flower, which is what her name meant. Her parents had great expectations when they named her Meiying and she had not disappointed them. When she was four, with her cherry blossom cheeks and agate grey eyes already showing extraordinary promise, they had started binding her feet. Not even in their wildest dreams could they have imagined then that at the age of eleven Meiying, who’s bound feet looked like two new moons, would be offered a place in the emperor’s palace.

    She sat as still as a stone and watched the bird boy set down his bamboo cages. He had a withered leg that was almost as skinny and scaly as one belonging to one of his birds. Like her he would never be able run or dance and she felt a feverish kinship towards him as he hopped and hobbled between the cages.

    Meiying like to imagine that she was one of the boy’s exotic birds. She could feel him carefully lifting her out of the cage and caressing the back of her plumed head. He would sing to her in a high, sweet voice and then gently thrust her into the sky. She would fly off with her long turquoise tail sweeping behind her.

    But even as Meiying daydreamed she knew at the back of her mind that the birds’ wings were clipped and they would never fly. If they were ever set free they would only be bewildered and defenceless and eventually die. They belonged in their cages.

    She’d had enough for one day. Meiying stood up and began her slow return the room with all the other concubines.

  17. I watch Sura as she examines a piece of jewellery that used to belong to Oprah.

    It’s a sapphire necklace that sparkles like secrets and I wonder what it would feel like against my skin. I move over to a pair of black leather shoes, with red leather on the sole of the shoe and I wonder what they would feel like on my feet.

    I try to keep the sigh from escaping my lips when I see the perfume bottles, adorned in glittering jewels like eyes. Kumi comes to my side, takes my arm. “Oprahism was not meant to be so cloying.” She whispers.

    I nod, trying to keep the sense of loss from filling up my skin. “It has been so long since I have worn jewellery,” I say. My voice is a hiss in the hall, the others silent and looking.

    “Oprah would not have put her name to this.” Kumi says. “She would cringe to know that her name is being given to something that keeps us as prisoners.” She touched the glass case lovingly. “I would love to use perfume again. Do you know it’s been years since I’ve worn perfume?”

    I nod, remembering how my mother used to wear White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor. How, even if she was not in the room, I could smell her. After she passed away, I would spray White Diamonds in the room to have her close to me.

    Now, with Oprahism, there is no scent. There are only cages and crying. I hear Kumi in the darkness, crying. The bandages they use to bind her feet so that they will be small hurt and she hobbles worse than any of us.

    “I want to be a Princess,” she sighs.

    I take her hand to give her strength.

    Jamieson Wolf

  18. My mother tells me we’ve gone beyond all that pain. The Chinese foot binders, the corsets, the need to distort and mistreat our bodies for a feminine ideal. It was all in the dim and distant past. Women fought for a whole century to be heard rather than just seen. She shows me pictures of minging women in dungarees and woolly hats, sitting outside some place called Greenham Common and holding up banners.

    ‘I knew some of them,’ she says and expects me to be interested. I wouldn’t want to be seen dead in that company. Thank God my mates don’t look like that. As for politics, why should we care, it is nothing to do with us.

    Let’s get our priorities right here. Heat magazine is my bible. It tells me how to dress like a celebrity. I bet you never realised how many of them actually buy clothes from Top Shop? Then there is the make-up. Why pop into Boots when you can get designer stuff cheap on eBay? Don’t even get me started on shoes and bags. Wow, look at Posh, is she a size zero now? That is my ambition and I wouldn’t mind the boob job, either.

    It’s Wednesday today and the bathroom scales are lying again. I must stop eating, because soon it will be the weekend and I want to get into those new skinny jeans. I really don’t like what I see in the mirror today and if I don’t like it, he won’t either. I will be invisible.

    I sneaked a knife from the kitchen earlier. The blade glints as I hold it to the skin of my arm, hesitating before pressing it down into soft flesh. The sudden searing pain makes me feel alive for once.

    Another week, another scar.

  19. In this cage, she finds her freedom. She dances for herself. She dances for money. She dances to take back power from men. She flaunts her exposed body. She taunts them. She makes them yearn for her, but they cannot have her. She is safe from them in her cage and she goes home alone night after night – strong independent feminist. In this cage, she finds her freedom.

    In this cage, she finds her freedom. She is covered from head to toe in her traditional vestments, only her eyes see the world. Only her eyes do the world see. Her facial expressions cannot betray her because they have no one to tell. Her curves are not violated by trespassing eyes. She does not waste time and money and energy worrying about what she is going to wear, day in and day out. She does not have to agonize over every piece of clothing, analyzing its effects on those around her. Her clothes cannot betray her because they do not say anything. She is safe in her cage, safe in her mystery – liberated Muslim woman. In this cage, she finds her freedom.

    In this cage, she finds her freedom. Sure, she didn’t volunteer to be here. And she sure doesn’t dictate her own comings and goings. And sure, she killed a man. But she is free. Free from the bruises. Free from the broken ribs. Free from pitying glances at the grocery store when his fury happened to land on her face the night before. Free from the name calling. Free from the smell of booze. Free from all the crying, all the fear, all the hate. And the world, freed from him. Her little attempt to save the world – the righter of wrongs. In this cage, she finds her freedom.

    Alison Baldwin

  20. Our teacher leads us outside for Noontime Thanks and Remembering. Kumi does an almost-skip in her hurry to take her place second in the line. Once in the sunshine, we prepare ourselves, stooping as gracefully and silently as possible until our faces are upon the earth. We press our fingers into the soil, as we have done thousands of times before, and kiss The-Great-Mother-That-Is-Seen, murmuring our thanks for all that she has yielded to us.

    It is then that the Gelded Ones are permitted to join us. This can only happen at Noontime and for many it is their only chance to see their fathers. Kumi and Kestra’s father leads the group. We offer thanks to those that have given their seed and their blood for us; for the Great Mother.

    Our teacher reminds us all of War and the time of Unknowing that comes after War. We are reminded of how the Great Mother was almost murdered by War and how it has taken nearly a thousand years to cleanse ourselves of that sin. She reminds us too of how we must always strive to keep our number small; how we must never again spread like scum on a pool. We must never forget that the Great Mother is all things and that we thrive through Her; we draw breath through Her.

    The Noontime Thanks and Remembering is always the most exhilarating. The Great Mother moves through us and we are joyous, grateful for all that we are.

    Kumi’s shoulders are shaking now. The teacher’s words are filling her and trembling her. She will be a wonderful teacher herself one day. Then the hum of our voices as we reach the end of Noontime:


  21. I am summoned to the front of the class by Sister Anna. “Leave your work and start from Chapter four” she says, handing me the book. I can hardly believe my luck. It’s a needlework lesson, during which one girl is asked to abandon her work, stand in front of the class and read to them. I loathed needlework on that day sixty years ago and still do. I loved reading aloud. Sister Anna is well aware of my preference; I sense this by the grudging tone of the invitation. I feign reluctance, folding my tapestry carefully with the needle left ready to resume work; this does not fool Sister Anna but at this moment I warm towards her - beam at her which I hope she will take as a sign of my gratitude; my good intention has obviously misfired; as she hands me the book, she glares at me.

    A white swan on a lake, the chosen subject for my tapestry, shows no sign of developing; it is represented by a pool of spilt milk spreading gradually over what would be readily accepted as a blue tablecloth.

    I give Little Nell my all, dramatising shamelessly. I see Sister out of the corner of my eye, ostensibly counting her rosary beads but who is, I suspect, calculating how soon she can terminate my moment of glory. She curtails it by five minutes and holds out her hand for the book. “It’s a pity you don’t transfer some of your reading enthusiasm to your dismal needlework efforts.”

    I pick up my tapestry, add a few more stitches to the splodge of spilt milk but see nothing remotely swanlike emerging. It’s just not fair. The bell goes and I screw up the tapestry and thrust it thankfully into my needlework bag.
    Mary Rose

  22. They called me skinny-guts, lanky legs and stick insect. My Nan on my ‘rounder’ paternal side would shake her head at Mummy each time we visited and tell her I looked ‘painfully thin’. I didn’t think there was anything painful about being thin. I found it comfortable and easy. I enjoyed not taking up too much space. I thought how squashed the world would be if everyone was as big as Nanny.

    Being thin was the only thing about myself I didn’t want to change. The only thing that made me happy. Not like my eyes, murky pebbles set too closely together, neither green nor brown and definitely not blue. Not like my nose which had travelled too far down my face and taken a wrong turn along the way. Not like my large teeth, all crossed over and fighting for the same space. Not like my mouth which turned down at the sides when I smiled. Everything on my face seemed to point downwards, even the corner of my eyes, and I had no cheekbones to help lift things back up.

    I enjoyed looking at my body in the mirror. Beanstalk legs widening slightly at the top where my bottom should be. My torso, a long blank sheet of paper with arms dangling from the margins like branches knocked lose in the wind. Spindly fingers and twigs for toes. A face barely wide enough for its features. I knew exactly what I would look like as a skeleton. Exactly the same but without my cover on.

    Sometimes I wondered why we had bodies at all. Bones to break, blood to bleed, lungs to block, hearts to stop. I imagined a world where only minds existed. A world of disembodied souls. Perhaps I was imagining heaven. I hoped so.

    Sarah Charsley

  23. Questions that all twins want to be asked whenever you meet them

    Did you used to wear the same clothes?
    Can you guess what he’s thinking?
    When he hurts himself, do you feel it too?
    Which of you is the naughty one?
    Which one’s older?
    Are you identical?
    Does it skip a generation?
    Do people find it hard to tell you apart?
    Have you got a special language that only you understand?
    Did your parents have IVF?
    Are your fingerprints the same?
    Do you have the same birthmarks?
    Is one of you good at arts subjects and the other at science subjects?
    If you play draughts, do you always draw?
    Do you finish each other’s sentences?
    Why don’t you look like each other?
    Have you got the same taste in music?
    Ice cream?
    Doesn’t Julia Roberts have twins?
    Do you know any other twins?
    Have you ever doubledated other twins?
    Did you see that article about two twins who married two twins?
    Wasn’t that weird?
    Weren’t there twin tennis players? Tim and Tom?
    Did you like being a twin when you were little?
    Did you hate each other?
    Is Natalie Imbruglia a twin?
    Wasn’t she on Neighbours?
    Are twins special in any way?
    Did you ever wish you were an only child?
    Did your parents ever mix you up?
    Isn’t there something about every class at school will have at least one set of twins?
    Or is that people in the same room born on the same day?
    How many twins have you met?
    Surely you’ve met more than that?
    From a distance, could you know, definitely know, that it was him even when nobody else could?
    Do you swap clothes?
    What, never?
    Did you ever swap girlfriends and not tell them and, well, you know…?

    alex johnson

  24. Something’s growing. A tiny seed she’d slipped into the damp earth. She visits it every morning at the same time. Her icy fingers clutching scalding coffee as she sits and stares. And talks. First to the naked earth, then later to the minute shoot forcing its way upward.

    Someone once told her that talking made things grow better. She didn’t really believe them, but needed to start somewhere. So she tried to believe, as she sat and stared and talked.

    She told it all the things she did each day. All the things he made her do each night. How high heels cut her feet, but he made her wear them anyway. How the nights were so cold that she almost welcomed the uninvited warmth that penetrated her. And how the cold crept back faster than the daylight arrived.

    Now she was sure the shoot listened. Tiny tendrils emerged beneath folded leaves, reaching for the sun, searching for something to wrap around. Each day it stretched higher, waving in the early morning light. She threaded white string over and under bamboo canes; canes that splintered and broke when she forced them down into the ground.

    She told the plant about bruised flesh, about finger marks indenting her thighs, and tangled hair catching in thick fingers. It listened and continued twisting itself around string and canes. It needed more space to grow, and she balanced on tiptoes to thread the string high enough. Each day more leaves opened to catch the early sun, and yellow buds formed in the spreading greenness.

    Now she told it of his skin caught under her fingernails and his blood staining her hands, and how bones splintered when broken.

    She heard them break again and again as she bent to pick a flower from the plant.

  25. "Joined at the hip", that's what someone said about Gail and Maureen. I thought at the time it was a clever-clever way of describing their relationship. It was that year's cliche about people who went around a lot together. What did it mean? It meant that they were "inseparable" – a word used quite commonly about friendship, especially between kids. With kids it seemed to be OK. It was said with amusement even with pride – the kids are learning about loyalty. But not between a man and a man or a woman and another woman. That was too loaded. It was also OK between a man and a woman - though opinions were mixed as to whether or not it was a good idea. And it seemed to have overtones of envy, as if the speaker could do with a relationship like that.

    No, they were definitely not lesbians. (As far as I could tell, that is, and you know how innocent some people can be.) They both had husbands and had been with them for yonks, one had two daughters, the other a son and daughter. There were grandchildren. Their family lives seemed normal, but then who know what "normal" is these days.

    They came from the same background, dieted together in their middle life but put it all back on again the following year, went on holidays together, sometimes with their husbands, sometimes not. They did not always share the same opinions but were endlessly tolerant of each other. Their husbands did not seem to mind this friendship, but appeared to flourish in their own ways.

    So what was it that caused curiosity and speculation about these two. I can only think each was the other’s soul friend, and what the husbands did not need they did not miss.

  26. The men sat around the fire. They laughed and drank as they had every year. It was their escape from drudgery of the life of the city. The life of the fashionistas. Dressed in the uniform of their recreation, blue jeans, long sleeved tshirts and flannel shirts, they were comfortable and warm.
    There was a rustling just beyond the light of the fire. She emerged for a moment but there was no mistaking that she had been there. Tall and naked the men were drawn to this creature of legend. Wild and free she had not become a slave to the ideal of the time. There was a shout from one of the men and she ran off through the woods. They grabbed their guns and ran after her. They were coming quickly and a shot rang out but they did not know the forest as she did.
    She lead them deeper towards the ravine. Through the darkness and the mist she ran and then suddenly disappeared. They hollered back and forth trying to stay close to each other as they sensed the impending danger. Suddenly as if in response to their fears there was a shout and they heard the sound of one of their own go crashing down the ravine.
    They made their way back to camp, quieter now and waited. This had happened before and they knew that he would return to camp eventually although he would be stripped of his clothing.
    The women surrounded him and divided his clothing among themselves. The target picked first and took the flannel shirt. The others had brought her other clothes and she slipped them on. Once he was stripped down to his boxers they left him alone.
    The women headed back to home and planned their next shopping trip.

  27. At birth they were not expected to live and here they were, almost eighty and going strong. They had lived together all their lives, dressed in matching garments, adopted the same simple hairstyle, chose holidays in agreement, never a cross word - until now.

    Adele had found the article in a magazine and was buzzing with excitement.

    'Imagine, Irene, we could live for ever, be admired by all, travel the world.'
    'But,' her sister replied, placing her steel rimmed glasses on the end of her nose. 'We have never been admired, never wanted to go abroad. Here, pass me that article.'
    She read it, lips moving in time to the words, then flung the magazine onto the floor with contempt.
    'You must be mad, Adele,' she spat. 'I wouldn't dream of being preserved, especially in that weird manner. You go ahead if that's what you want. When I die I want a decent burial, not some hammed-up job.'

    'But you'll come with me, won't you? Come and see the doctor with me, just to discuss things, you know? Nothing more. I don't expect anything more than that.

    The doctor kept on his tulle hat throughout the meeting. He was certainly not conventional and neither were his methods of treating the dead. He flipped through numerous books filled with such pictures of beautiful people that even Irene was impressed.

    'I can't wait to die,' she told her sister that evening as they sipped cocoa. 'Of course, we won't feel a thing. He'll drrain all the fluid from our bodies and replace it with a plastic solution. He really is brilliant; didn't they look wonderful?'

    Adele drained her cup and made her way to the bathroom. Irene stifled a laugh as the sound of retching reached her.

    'Plastination indeed,' she chortled. 'Not likely.'


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  29. I dreamed of being the girl in the cage. Safely ensconced in her gently swaying, gilded chandelier. A private perch above the reach of the heaving crowd.

    She looks ethereal, preening by candlelight. Entertaining only those who could afford the premium, those who wanted something more.

    Why wasn’t I exotic?

    "Sorry doll, you're just not cage material," the boss told me.

    "I'll do anything," I pleaded.

    "I know you will," she sneered, and ushered me back down to the floor.

    Another night being passed around this bacchanalia of the beau monde. The pull at my limbs, each wanting to sample the Secondary course in tonight’s banquet of flesh. I try not to taste that which tastes me.

    They come from all over the world, these men and women who feast. All colors, sizes, shapes, and currencies. Some seek pleasure, some inflict pain. The playground of the elite, their amber anklets allowing an exit once their appetite is sated.

    My ankles are unadorned. My wrists are not. Like all the not first-born, I was branded with bracelets at birth. Interlocking “2”s, reminders that Secondaries are born to serve.

    The cageling has no tattoos. Her scarless, asymmetrical body seems to hover above us, a pleasure that even the richest can barely afford.

    She greets a new customer and the purple velvet curtain rolls down around the cage. She is privileged. She gets to disappear.

    I'm doubly cursed. A Secondary born ordinary. Two perfect legs, both arms in tact. Well-formed ears and two perfect eyes. One nose and a mouth. Ten fingers, ten toes.

    I’m not cage material.

    “I’ll have an amputation,” I begged.

    “You weren’t assigned to the Chop Shop,” the boss reminded me. “Besides, it wouldn’t get you into the cage.”

    You have to be born that way.

    bob [at] bobzyeruncle [dot] com

  30. Rob wants to go to that exhibition, the one where a German doctor has pickled dead bodies and sliced and arranged them for the living to gawp at. I don’t want to go, but I'm too nervous to tell Rob that. We are ‘trying again’ at our marriage and the therapist told us it would be good if we went on a few ‘day trips’ and spent ‘more quality time together as a couple’. I envisioned afternoons wandering around Richmond Park, the sun on our faces, our fingers interlocked and our heads tossed back with laughter. I wanted to travel back to the past. But we can’t do that.

    We are sitting in the living room, me on the sofa, him in the armchair (even though there is plenty of space beside me).

    “Why the face?” he says.

    “Face?” I say, although I know perfectly well what he means. It is the same face I pulled when my mother took me clothes shopping as a child and plucked out monstrosity after monstrosity. She didn’t like my ‘face’ either.

    “I was just making a suggestion,” Rob says. “The therapist said you had to listen to my suggestions too.”

    I stiffen, even though I know I should remain relaxed and positive, but Rob’s tone is accusatory and I can’t help myself. “Actually she said we should exchange ideas.”

    “That’s what I said.”

    You didn’t, I think, you didn’t say that at all.

    “Well,” Rob says. “Do you want to go to the exhibition or not?”

    I watched my marriage die and then I dissected it. Now I, we, are trying to bring it back to life. Why would I want to marvel at something that can never be revived? It is too morbid, too depressing.

    “Do you have another suggestion?” I ask.

  31. We must be back in our chambers soon, acceleration starts early. Our curves fitting perfectly into the small chambers, its funny to see how they started this journey, knowing how long it would take. I wonder at them, men and women, leaving on a journey that even their childrens children would not know the outcome of.

    Over the time though we have mastered acceleration, by careful design we have achieved what was impossible, not light speed, but a body capable of coping with five years of solid acceleration. Shame about the real men, thought they could survive earlier, to control the ship. But we cope without them. Thank Femininity, we have spares in the hold, under coma, we stop accellerating every five years, to check the ship, check the direction of travel, do mundane housekeeping like empty the dead comas out. Only fifty left now, but they should be enough.

    Each stop shows our progress, us youngsters get a chance to see history, the specials share by channelling. So much quicker. Their shells seem different somehow, more them and less separate. But if its mentioned then we are separated.

    I saw Kumi today, she smiled at me.

    Kestra has told me to be careful, I am not of them, I don't know what she means. I ask mother 3, she frowns,
    “Into your shell, strap in, countdown ready. No answers.”

    Dreams, noise, I am awake, there is light.

    My eyes open, its different, silent.

    Popping my latches I upload my shell, step out into the chamber and look for the others, I see Kumi, leaning against a viewer.

    “What is it?”

    Without looking back, her reply is a single word “Earth” She looks at me, “you are wrong”

    Someone else is nearby,

    Kestra “It is time, Femininity must be restocked”

    Jim Barron

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  33. The scales are registering fifty-six and a half kilos. That's just about within acceptable limits. He must take care not to eat too much this evening. No bread on the side and certainly no dessert. He can always surrepticiously slip Shona his if their hosts are insistent.

    Jake goes to the dressing area where outfits hang in neatly ordered rows, sorted by colour and type. He selects a slim fitting black jacket and trousers and a dark shirt to accentuate his slenderness. He knows how important tonight is for Shona. She’ll want to show him off to her girlfriends, especially now Christiana has taken up with that new boy from ‘The Cave’. He must admit, Christiana has chosen well there – he’s beautiful, tall too, every muscle perfectly defined beneath smooth spare flesh that just covers his skeletal form. there's almost nothing to him.

    Once dressed Jake takes a bottle of scent from the dresser, considers it for a moment, then replaces it and opts for another more heady aroma. He needs to make an impact. After all, what is he worth if he doesn’t even manage that.

    He hopes Shona will be in one of her distant moods this evening. It’s always more difficult when she wants a bit of love. He still can’t get used to the sex although she seems to enjoy it enough. It's always him on top because of her size, and frankly, it’s hard work to keep going until she’s satisfied. Afterwards he’s always ravenous and would raid the fridge, kept well stocked for Shona’s benefit, if he dared. But he doesn't.

    At least, here with Shona he’s relatively safe. Out there it’s too dangerous and he wouldn’t survive long. At least that’s what Shona tells him whenever he shows any small sign of rebellion.

  34. Femininity steps down the high street on four inch spikes attached at the heel to a pair of boots that zip up to just under her knees. The legs that emerge from them are encased in black nylon and disappear, somwhere quite close to where they join her strange upright body, under a tight black leather skirt. The matching jacket does not reach her waist and shows a blue-pink fleshy midriff. From a deep vee shape at the top of the jacket the plump tops of two bosoms thrust out.

    I have learnt all the words for these items though I’m not supposed to. We’re shown and told things from the distant past from which we’re expected to recoil in horror, reinforcing our collective sense of present perfection and passive grace.

    Femininity, that’s my name for her, clacks (it’s the sound made by the boot spikes against the ground) along until she comes to a building with tables and chairs outside and other people like her, males too, sitting and standing around them, talking and laughing and drinking different coloured liquids from various shaped glasses. She raises her hand in greeting then a horizontal bar moves slowly up the screen, followed by another one and the ancient machine is switched off.

    I’ve had to work hard to avoid being discovered by the thought minders. That would mean a lengthy session in rehab with consciousness altering drugs, but I love Femininity. I wonder what a life like hers would be. Tonight when I’m floating in my pool, released from my body cage for a precious hour and supported by warm fragrant water, I’ll continue with my secret exercises. Straightening, stretching and strengthening so that one day soon I can be just like Femininity.

    Sandy Andrews

  35. Human birth is a rare gift and to see pretty twins with smart features -a delectable
    experience. The birth of twins, we do not know if we can attribute to the creator’s
    wilful design ,or the outcome of genetic fusion or a mixture of both a conundrum
    for all of us. Kumi and Kestra are cute featured twins and their teacher is all
    words of adulation .we are given to understand that we are fortunate to have first
    seen them in person than in photos.

    Next ,the scenario shifts to the Museum of the Past which is visited by Kestra who
    Is brisk in nature. This passage is incredibly fantastic presentation of real life figures
    In juxtaposition with skeletons of the Past. Imagine seeing skeletons be it
    In Museum---an experience which is spine chilling –we followed in silence
    Kestra . First we see the robust ,uncouth primitive women of 21st century,
    Passivity swallowed us. The tall ,gigantic ,ugly skeletons of male and female make
    Us wonder whether mythical shade involved in it or monstrosity.
    Next we have a glimpse of Sura, one wonders who is this Sura? a beautiful woman
    Cut short in the prime of her life? A fairy lingering around spreading her magical
    Influence ? Sura and a skeleton ,eye to eye ,even in ancient days, we infer sex,
    Vulgarity, captivation by looks ,not something new and these women are no

    The last but not least of our visit to the most sensitive place , the underwear room
    a monumental example of man’s niggardliness on earth. For we women ,we improvise
    to keep ourselves fit , refined ,elegant .Feminisms in shambles but for this well-worn
    garments if not used properly. KUDOS to garment industry and manufacturers of
    clothing to cover.

    Radhamani sarma

  36. Later we were allowed back into the Museum of the Past to look at the pots. You wouldn't have believed it. Row upon row of them, mainly with only one handle, although a few had two. They used to do the strangest things with these pots. They were for the women to use, but later on men learnt how to use them, too. They would grow plants, then cut them up and boil them in the pots and then EAT them! Can you imagine? Eating a plant? And they did something else, but I'll only tell you if you promise not to freak out. They had anmals, or was it animals? Anyway, there were these strange creatures with four legs, and they were cuddly, friendly things, sometimes covered in fur. They'd kill these cute anmals, take off their fur and wear it themselves. All that blood and gore! Then they'd cut them up and boil them in the pots with the plants. Dis-gus-ting.

    No, I can't understand where they found the time to do all this. It's much easier to swallow a pill each day. I don't know why they didn't think of it themselves, but I suppose they were lacking in logic. Yes, I know it's funny, but what was even funnier was what we saw on the way out. Well, they were square-ish and some were thicker than others, and inside was a story. People would write stories to each other! Can you imagine that? They weren't even true stories either. They would make them up. Of course, if they wanted facts I suppose they would have just asked the screen for the information, like us, but why people would want to read a story that someone else had written, I've no idea. It must have been a complete waste of time.

    From: Yvonne Moxley

  37. Kumi is impatient to get to the last room in the museum, The Experiment Room. She is not really interested in the past but desperate to be part of the future. She has a special interest in the main feature of that room, The Baines Triplets. She’s read about them in New Scientist. The three samples had been created amidst controversy, undercover IVF and held up to the Light of Examination for Human Development Council. The first triplet, a girl is the control and unremarkable to contemporary onlookers; the second is intruiging for Kumi and she stares silently through the Perspex whilst Sura and Kestra hang back in the hallway between the two rooms. This skeleton is tall, like those she has just seen and is missing its bodyform cage. According to the plaque beneath the container, this girl had been allowed, under very strict conditions, to exist in a vacuum from civilised society; had been subjected to the suffering of walking on just her feet, menstruating and moving freely within a colony of male subjects. She died aged forty-three. Wear and tear to the cervical vertebrae is consistent with persistent tilting of the forehead towards the ground. Score marks on the rear left of the rib cage suggest that the specimen has fallen backwards onto a sharp object and probably sustained major organ damage as a result. Kumi shivers as she reads this, takes in a sharp breath of musty air and causing her cage to clamp tighter around her abdomen. It’s hard for her to imagine how this poor girl suffered. Kumi tries to climb onto the viewing box to get a look into her eyes but her fingers can’t grip the Perspex and slide down. At the bottom, the third triplet, a male, lies in a heap.


  38. Betray or suffer betrayal?

    Not for the first time, I am forced to allow my organised, compartmentalised existence slip from its moorings of structure and stability. Plummeting head first into chaos and dilemma is something I should be used to, but it never gets any easier.

    In these situations, sensations of nausea and outright fear never recede. Up to this point, regardless of the authority confronting me, my alibi has held,always vindicated by others. Without exception, relief has always been at hand to sweep me away upon torrents of absolution. Yet, there is always a first time for everything, right? A distinct possibility always exists that one day, I may not get away with it.

    I think that day may be now, unless I change the habit of a lifetime.

    The two police officers glare at me with intent. We sit uncomfortably in an uneasy silence, punctured only be the infernal squeaking of their recording device - obviously caused by a defective cassette spool. They don't believe my story so far. No one, not even the stranger randomly appointed as my legal represntative, has spoken for at least three minutes. It feels like three hours.

    I cannot allow this to continue any longer. I will have to tackle the fallout of my "confession" later. Getting into trouble and taking enforced blame as a kid is one thing, out here in the real world, it's a completely different protocol structure.

    She is going to have to face the consequences of her actions, regardless of the arbitary change. My younger sister by two minutes, thirty seconds will have to account for herself this time. For her selfish needs, our identical appearance meant everything.

    Not any more.


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