at the Tate

Through the glass wall they step, one after another, until the six of them are on the other side. One looks back. The young woman. Oozing anxiety, she searches for the shape of her reflection, a need to check her size. She pulls a leather jacket from her shoulder and ties it around her waist, thinking, I need to cover my arse with cloth. She turns again, searches again, and seems slightly less dissatisfied with the image that meets her. It’s a testament to the discipline in her self-loathing that she doesn’t fall to the floor and scream. The young men, all five of them, are enjoying the view. One pulls out a packet of cigarettes, offering them among his friends. Two accept. They huddle together to light up. A rush of smoke appears over their silky heads and they pull back in one choreographed movement, inhaling and exhaling as if they have just completed a particularly taxing task. The woman pulls at the pony tail that follows her spine to the small of her back. She’s searching for an opportunity to look away from the view of the City to glance again (and again) at her shape, her form, this burden of flesh around her hips that is hers that she wishes to carve off now with a knife. What if I don’t have a child? she asks herself. What will be the point of all this? She lines up beside the men and for a few quiet seconds they stare together at St Paul’s. Then a camera comes out. One of the men reverses out of the line, warning his friends to prepare. The men laugh and one pulls out a pair of sunglasses, the sort Hutch used to wear, then undoes his top button, flicking at his fringe and manipulating his collar. He uses the glass wall to check it’s all just right, delighted at the youthful thing before him, within him, springing out of him. He sucks on the cigarette, then launches into a hug with the man beside him, and — snap — the photo is done. His friends laugh. But the young woman is still twitching, eating herself up, hating being here, hating this whole period of her life, wanting desperately to be a man, hating her female self even more than even she is able to recognise. And all the while, the names of the works she’s just seen keep running through her head, over and over. Vision of the Tomb. Self-Portrait of Suffering. Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams 1. The Last Sound. The words run over her like twists of rope and she stares at the rail upon which her friends are leaning. 

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