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A Woman I Admire Writing Competition Spring 2018

Jean Coxon
Highly Commended

Let's start with a woman. Built from the ground up. She's not: young anymore; untouched; from this country. A dustbowl in Morocco, Berber perhaps. Immigrant, for sure, in South West London.

Let's give her parents. A father. Absent, but not as absent as he could be. A mother. Hits: one, two, it'll never happen again. Next time: it's boiled water, skin sloughed from her thigh, you made me angry.

A way out: passport. Education? Assez bien. It's enough. A little money in the bank. It's enough. Say goodbye to sun-dried streets, blood in the gutter. Her own personal Hajj. Maman couldn't be angrier.

England's colder than expected. No winter clothes, a high-rise in Wandsworth. A job. Babysitting is woman's work, after all. Nineteen, and she won't pray anymore.

Let's introduce a man, because there's always a man. Something in common, for the soul. Parents they swear they'll never be. A father who beat him, a mother who coddled him. Post-war, and the house across the street is falling down. She knows the feeling, dragged out of the gutter.

Half a grand on weed, and his bong is bottle-green. Hits: one, two, three. A pub in Tooting, and he's finally on the receiving end of a skirt-chaser. Shirt-chaser, he calls it. She laughs. Doesn't speak a lick of English, but he teaches her all the good ones: Drinks. Sex. My place isn't far from here.

Add four kids — one's not his — and two dogs. Shaken, not stirred. Traumatized, not broken. At age three, the eldest never stops screaming. Motherhood is: hard; cold; never ending. She thinks of calling Maman. She raises her hand. Hits: Just one. It'll never happen again. The child quiets, not as satisfying as it should be.

A recent move? Yes, please. North England, small-town living, fresh air in her lungs. It'll be better here. It'll be enough. Skin like a desert, hair he calls exotic: it stands out. She lives in fear all over again.

Cracks in the foundation show in the lines of her mouth, crows-feet at her eyes. She's not laughing anymore, but knows more words than before: I'm sorry, my love; the dog's aggressive; we can't afford it; merde.

A recent move? Yes, please. Scotland, and it's colder than ever. She still has no winter clothes.

Give her illness: Depression, yellow fever. Give him worse: six years to live, and he won't be happy. Give her: hard work in a woman's sector; children who forget all she has done; divorce, the messiest of kinds.

Give their kids worse yet: the aftermath.

Let her: make mistakes. The kind her daughters can barely forgive. Let her: be kind; complex. They'll understand when they're nineteen and building themselves strong. They'll know the grit of their maman, the instruments of creating a woman from the ground up.

This year, I turn nineteen. I admire a woman built from the ground up, perfect or not. A task only she can do herself, like any other woman.

Jean Coxon © 2018