DEADHEAD | In Heather Lee Shaw’s story, growing is as much a curse as a blessing – especially when thorns are involved.
by Heather Lee Shaw
Karen grows two inches over the summer and I feel sorry for her. She cries in the toilets, telling me all the mean things the boys, all now at least a head shorter than her, say to her.
I pat her back and tell her not to worry. Boys are dumb. Friends last forever. All those things my romance books tell me I should say.
The next summer, Karen grows again, but this time so does everyone else. They climb up into the sky like beanstalks. Karen no longer gets name called, now everyone just makes comments about me. Lil Jessie Philips, they say.
“Don’t worry, love,” mum tells me, as she snips at rotten flowerheads. “It’s just not your season.”
Mum loves gardening. Courgette, runner beans, tomatoes, and kale. She won a spot in the allotment in 2013 and now she’s known as Green Finger Gale, the woman with all the bloody kale. She grows so much veg, she goes around the estate offering it out. Our neighbours love her. Me? I wish she would cook us a bloody burger once in awhile. Maybe then…
The year I turn 16 I tell myself: it’s now or never. Two more years have gone by and now I have to look up at my classmates – I’m elbow height. The boys call me titch, at least the nice ones do. The nasty ones call me BJQ – blow job queen. When I walk past them in the halls they call: “oi, while you’re down there!”
It’s embarrassing. Karen tells me boys are dumb and I shouldn’t listen. I miss the days when she was the BFG and I was no one at all.
That’s why I’m giving myself one more summer, one more hot, pregnant August, to let my body grow and become no one again. Just another girl in the crowd. I know a lot of girls want the dream: big tits, long legs, killer bone structure. I don’t, I’m not greedy. I was happy when we all stood shoulder to shoulder, playing the same games, swapping snacks under the tables. I liked it when people were just people, all sorted by whether you were friends or not friends. Now we were boys and girls, best friends, old friends, boyfriends and girlfriends. Someone in class even bragged about having a daddy, my Mum is enough for me, thankyouverymuch.
Summer comes and go, nothing changes. It’s the last straw. Even though mum is still sprouting that season nonsense, I notice we now have meat on Thursdays and she lets me order double burgers when we’re out, so I steal the key to her greenhouse and make a copy.
“This is just a phase. If you can bloom once, you can do it again.”
I start small, taking only handfuls of fertiliser at first, filling my bed with the foul smell. When a large ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign appears on my door, Mum thinks I’m hiding something but her guesses are mundane. She asks me about boys and slides a book under my door about safe sex and female pleasure. I rip out the pages to make mulch for my compost.
Slowly I start to see improvements, within a month I’ve gone up a shoe size. When I need new shirts to accommodate my new breasts, that’s when I start drinking miracle grow in my coffee.
“You look good,” a boy called Fisher tells me, one day after class. He’s red in the face as he says this, almost the shade of roses. The boys no longer call me names, and I thought that would be enough, but I find myself agreeing to met Fisher in the park.
It’s a Wednesday when I get my first kiss. The sky is rumbling with rainclouds and the air is thick, I taste it as I taste him. “You smell lovely,” he tells me when we pull apart. I let him nuzzle his nose against my neck. He’s not the best looking lad, but I like his ginger hair and the freckles on his nose. I only put up a brief fight when he dips a hand under my shirt. After all, what’s the point of breasts if you can’t let others enjoy them? They’re very squishy, I’ve been playing with them at night.
It’s a shock to both me and Fisher when his hand comes back bloody. “What the hell,” he says. There’s a thorn in his hand. “Sorry,” I try to laugh it off. “Must be a dodgy bra strap.”
I don’t tell Mum about the changes because I can tell she’s happy for me. When I sprout up past her she claps and gives me seconds of the courgette risotto. I try my best to go along with it, but I’m scared. My body keeps changing and when I take away the fertiliser my skin cracks like a desert floor, making it painful to move. I bring the dirt back, drink water, but the thorns are growing thick and fast. I find them in my hair, on the ridge of my spine. I wear my uniform buttoned all the way to the neck, yet my chest strains against the fabric and I can feel eyes watching me. When I’m alone I poke at the protrusions, sometimes pricking open my fingers. Blood drips onto the sheets.
Frosty meets me one more time. He’s scared, but I know no lad can turn down a willing girl, and I’m determined to take control. We kiss, lightly, then not so. He rests his hands on my waist but doesn’t dare go higher, so I guide them down. I let him reach all the way into my skirt and push aside my underwear. What comes next makes me gasp but then Fisher howls.
There’s blood everywhere. I pray that he still has his fingers, which he does, but they’re ripped raw. The skin torn apart by what looks like a hundred angry needles.
“There’s something wrong with you!” He runs away, I can’t blame him really.
When he’s gone I know I can’t go home. I’m too tarted up in blush and eyeliner, my shirt too covered in a boy’s red, red blood. I go to the only place I know I can go.
The greenhouse is warm and comforting when I get inside. I curl up with the roses, letting the sound of plants breathing, recycling the air, lure me to sleep. When I wake up, I try not to scream.
“Oh my love…”
Mum finds me just before lunch. Lost and afraid, the flowers took me in. Now my hair is petals and my feet gone, curled down into the ground, searching for nutrients, hoping to keep me still.
“I’m dying,” I tell her. I’ve grown too big, I just know it. I’m beautiful but I can already feel the rot set in.
“Nonsense,” Mum says. “This is just a phase. If you can bloom once, you can do it again.”
She picks up her shears and starts to prune my hair, cutting out all the deadheads. I close my eyes and remember when I was small, just a seed, so full of unknown potential.
Heather Lee Shaw | @SardonicStork
Heather is a writer and cartoonist living in London. When not trying her best to put pen to paper, she produces webcomics over on her instagram: SardonicStork.