Illustration by Claudia Pilbeam
Lemon is pregnant, a soft litter of puppies, due in a few weeks. She nuzzles into my hand, forcing my love onto herself, so I give in and scratch her ears. She pants, her belly round and full. She wanders away from me and flops down in the grass. The sun filters over her eyes, so she reshuffles, and then lets out a long sigh. I smile, as I realise how alike she is to a pregnant human.
I call Mum a few weeks later to see if she has birthed the puppies. Mum tells me Lemon forced a miscarriage. When I ask why she would do that, Mum explains that dogs can reabsorb the litter if something isn’t right.
‘Mothers always know,’ she says.
I wake before the world when I find out the news. At first, I don’t absorb it. I’m scrolling through Instagram the same way someone functions before coffee, but slowly, I get my fix, and my mind is working. By the time I read the news, the sky is the colour of peaches, clouds like tissue paper. Roe vs Wade is overturned in America. My brain is instantly thinking, thank God I’m in Australia. However, this does not dull the panic that’s smoking in my belly. It is an ignorant thought. Oceans do nothing to protect from sexism. If anything, America has taught it to swim. I climb out of my bed and sit by the fireplace. It provides me no warmth, so I cry hot tears instead.
I’m home helping Mum and Dad muster and mark lambs. Three hundred head. Mum is in the yards with the kelpies, pushing sheep up the race. I needle and drench while Dad brands and tags. It is a routine we mastered years ago when I was a kid. We move accordingly, shift when sheep need pushing up, step away so the dogs can get through. Some families rotate around kitchen benches to prepare feasts; we rotate around yards, sheep, and dogs. At some point, Mum struggles to push a mob of rams into the race. I jump back there with her, a black kelpie at my feet.
‘Push ‘em up,’ I say. The kelpie barks and sweeps across the yard. The rams shift, and they understand they must move forward. I tell the dog to sit, and she does. I look at Mum. ‘I think I want to go to a protest.’
‘You can’t.’ That’s all she says. I refrain from saying that I wasn’t asking for her permission. I climb back over the fence and walk up the race. For the remainder of the afternoon, we are unbalanced, and sheep spill everywhere.
I pull tarot cards every morning in July. A ritual, for myself. Some of my friends think they’re a waste of time, but I find comfort in their meanings, like every vibration will become a ripple, like this world is moving through us, rather than with us. I pull the same card for a while: the Ace of Swords. It is a card of great force, and means to triumph or conquest, either in love or hatred. For a while, I can’t pair the meaning with my life. It isn’t until one frosty morning, do I consider that it is not talking of any of my triumphs.
It is after all, a card of great force.
I buy a pink dress to wear at a literary salon. I make peace with the colour. For years, we blued. I didn’t like its deliberate grandstanding, parading purported femininity. For so long, I thought being feminine should’ve been a secret, like secrecy equalled elegance, and that’s what being a woman came down to. I am not elegant. I’m heavy, with chocolate cake thighs, and like a blister, I hold more anger than forgiveness.
I was taught where pink was soft, and I was calloused. It wasn’t until I became older did I realise I could be both. Being a woman means I am both.
‘Bitch!’ Some guy hollers as they drive past while I finish my afternoon walk. I didn’t even know he was trying to talk to me out of his car window. Taylor Swift was blaring through my earphones, and I turn her down for no one. He just happened to scream as a song was finishing (Champagne Problems). There is no guilt. If I had heard him, I would have ignored him, and I would still be a bitch.
In ignorance, accident, or deliberation, I am the bitch. I think of Lemon, and her reabsorbed puppies, how her body understood it’s limitations. Maybe a bitch is something to aspire to.
The condom breaks. Of course it does. I take my pill in a religious fashion, a habit which was hard to enforce, so the worry doesn’t come right away. Any girl would say they’ve used less and have been fine. Hell, I genuinely have used less and have been fine. Still, there’s something in my stomach curling. God, how privileged of me to be like that, to throw caution to the wind, to not think ahead, to wait and see if I care if there’s blood between my legs in a month. I feel sick. My partner sees this and offers to drive me to the chemist in the morning.
I think of the conservatives I’ve seen on social media, likening abortions with careless, stupid teenage girls who couldn’t be bothered to use protection (because it’s only her responsibility, right?). I think of my pills, and the broken condom now wrapped in tissues in the bin. You can do everything, and it can still be not enough. I cry in the shower for those teenage girls. I see my sixteen-year-old face behind their eyes, and I feel the ache in their hearts as I wash myself clean.
When I go into the chemist the next morning, I ask for the morning-after-pill in a crisp and loud tone. I hope a teenage girl hears me and knows this is okay.
My brother’s wedding is soft. It’s in a garden nursery, and I can smell early blooming wattle. Sun filters through poinciana trees, and everything glows at the edges. I pick at my acrylic nails. It’s not often I get dressed up like this, the heels and hair. I feel like a girl. Dad gives me a hug and tells me, ‘You look good, mate.’
This is his way of saying beautiful. I cling to the words and feel so warm.
My three nieces play with the hem of my dress. They’re aging, which is such a sad verb to give to a child. But it’s the truth. They’re so little, and soon they won’t be. I recall being their age. I was a grotty and feral kid, with cake batter painting my face and warts on my knees. These girls are gentle, with plaited hair and a fresh spray of freckles. I would crash my Bratz scooter, and eat mulberries from trees, and use curled hibiscus as lipstick. I genuinely had so much to look forward to. I look down at these little girls, and I sigh.
They don’t know yet what it means to be a woman. It will be the most exciting and terrifying time of their lives, but I hope they know that every female in every room stands with them.
And that I will be there too, to buy them morning-after-pills, to drive them to clinic appointments, to pick out their pink dresses. I will be there, ready to hold their hands, and show them how to move forward.
Jaime Colley is a fourth-year creative writing and law student at QUT. She has been published in Concrescence Zine, Verses Magazine, Glass, and the Luna Collective, among others. Her writing often swings wildly between the dark potential of thrillers, the subtle delicacy of relationships, and if she’s feeling especially game, both. Jaime is a proud Taylor Swift fan and has somehow survived this far into her degree without drinking any coffee. Psychotic? She’s aware.
Glass Fiction Week is an annual celebration of QUT students writing fiction. As part of Glass Fiction Week 2022, we sat down with Jaime Colley, author of Hot Pink Blues for a discussion about her writing practice. Read our Q&A with Jaime here, and submit your details here if you would like a (free!) hardcopy of Glass: The Fiction Edition, which includes all five stories published during the week.