Our extract this issue is from the 2020 release, Tennis Lessons, by Susannah Dickey…
Sixteen years old – January
The anthropomorphised vulva smiles at you from your web browser in various shades of pink and red. White arrows move across it, showing you how to navigate yourself.[restrict]
Your new year’s resolution is to be normal, to be knowing, to be sexual. The vulva has promised you the keys to the kingdom of adult pleasure. You hold a
compact mirror between your open legs and immediately take it away when you see the vermilion skin, the colour of a squalling newborn’s face, and the brown hairs scattered across it. You keep your eyes fixedly on the drawing’s encouraging expression and put your fingers between your 45- degree- splayed thighs. The skin is dry and uncompromising, and when you wodge your finger in it feels like something that shouldn’t be there, like a popcorn kernel between two teeth. You slide them out and move them around the periphery. You try to identify all the different attachments of your anatomy. The vulva references your ‘clitoral hood’ and you cringe. You venture inside again, press further this time, allow your finger to stir your insides, and wait. When the disquietude begins to encroach – why aren’t you feeling anything? – you give up. The vulva’s once- encouraging smile now seems condemnatory. You close the laptop.
Seventeen years old – September
‘This is a rather disparate selection.’
The careers tutor, Mr Hughes, is an angular man in his sixties. On his desk is a framed photograph of him and his wife. His wife is short and round and has a grey bob and a green pashmina. She fits into the space under his arm. When you look at the photograph you find yourself feeling jealous of her, of their lives together, of their grown- up, moved- away children and their grey hair and their annual holidays to Italy or Spain or Portugal. It seems neat and scripted and preordained and you want all of it. Mr Hughes has a salt- and- pepper moustache that conceals his upper lip entirely.
When he speaks his mouth resembles a long, tufty caterpillar walking on a treadmill. You find it difficult to listen to him, so distracting is the gentle vibration of the thick hairs. He chews on every syllable. ‘I get the impression you may not have given this much thought.’
You like Mr Hughes a lot. You like the mauve skin of his eyelids and the wiry hairs on the backs of his hands and wrists. You like that he seems to operate within one register, that you are of so little consequence to him that nothing you could do would anger or upset him. The slow, deep rumble of his voice calms you. In this case, however, Mr Hughes is wrong: the problem is that you have given the assignment – to compile a list of prospective university courses – entirely too much thought. As a result Law, Social Work, History, Travel & Tourism, Film Studies, Politics, Nursing and Occupational Therapy are just some of the options you have written down.
‘I felt it might be silly to fence myself in too much.’
You look around the room, and then down at your lap, confronted for the first time with your temporality. You wonder how you have wound up here, in this position, already. Your grades never improved as you thought they would, and at some point you stopped being the person who could make a teacher laugh, who was allowed to crochet with coloured wool while the other students went through solutions to maths problems you had already solved. At some point you became someone teachers didn’t think of as special and clever. You look at Mr Hughes, urging him to tell you otherwise. He looks like he might be suppressing a smile. ‘On the contrary, my dear, you strike me as someone who might benefit from some fencing.’
Tennis Lessons by Susannah
Dickey was released on
16 July 2020, published by