Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Coming of Age

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Coming of age stories captivate me. There seems to be a defining moment that marks the transition from girl to woman; from boy to man. And this moment has nothing to do with menstruation or bar mitzvahs. It has to do with knowledge and the action one takes to gain that knowledge. Like Eve with the apple, that moment is a realization that you are both more and less than you thought you were; that time is passing; that all will change. And that moment is connected to the beast in us all – like childbirth and sex and death, it is real and often bloody.

The following is a monologue I wrote for a modern day Gilgamesh but it hasn’t yet fit into the play. I hate it when things I write won’t fit into the play they have been written for.

...

I must have been nine or ten.
My parents were out at some party or other
and a teenaged girl was babysitting.
She wasn’t a particularly nice girl –
wanted us in bed as soon as possible
and turned on the TV as soon as my parents left.
My little brother and I would try to get her attention
by leaping around the room with plastic guns and swords.

- stop it! (she’d say) you’re so immature

And we’d laugh and then she’d bribe us
with sweets to leave her alone
but the smell of her did something to me.
When I sat beside her on the couch.
I remember the smell of that girl:
sweet – vanilla, maybe,
some sort of perfume,
something fabricated,
something fresh to cover up her real smell.
The smell of skin and scalp and oil and privacy.
Under that sweet, made-up smell,
I could smell her privacy.

So my brother and I were in bed that night
and I must have just drifted off
but I was asleep – I remember – I was asleep
when I heard her scream.
My brother and I ran down to see what was going on
and there she was under a blanket on the couch
screaming short and shrill, apparently for nothing.

- what? (I said) what is it?
- get back
- get back?
- go up to your room.
- what’s the matter?
- don’t you see it?
- see what? see what?
- is it gone?
- I don’t know
- the bat.
- the bat?
- a bat. There’s a bat in here.

And at that moment I had one of two choices:
I could act the child I was – go back to bed,
leave this girl, this babysitter, this teenager
to take care of it all.

Or I could get involved.
I could find a way to deal with it.
To deal with the situation the way a man deals with a situation
or at least the way I imagined a man
would deal with a situation like this.
With a beast.
A beast in his home.
Threatening his babysitter.

With swords and shields and hunting and killing
blood pulsed into my teeth.
My brother and I dressed in plastic armour –
he as a medieval knight,
me dressed like a Roman.
A helmet with a brush on the top,
but I didn’t wear the skirt.
I knew the skirt just wouldn’t be right.

- What the hell do you think you’re doing?
- We’re going to hunt the beast.
- This isn’t a game. Go back to bed. I’m going to call your parents.
- Don’t.
- Go back to bed.
- I won’t.

The bat flapped out from its hiding space –
somewhere behind the curtains –
and started dive-bombing the living room.
The babysitter screamed and hid again under the blanket.
My brother, too young to force himself to heroics,
scurried under there with her.
Under the blanket and I could see
her clasp him to her chest ... to her breast.
She drew him into her smell
and at once she stopped screaming;
started cooing ‘shhhh ... nnn ... shhhh...’
and humming too like ‘hmmm hmmmm’.

Again the bat was still.
He hid in a corner somewhere
but I didn’t know where he’d gone.
I picked up my brother’s plastic sword
wielding one in each hand.
Double fisted I walked
slowly about the living room.
Searching.
Pushing back curtains
pulling away furniture,
peeking under the cable box.
Hunting.
I was hunting.
Heart racing, pounding at my temple
within my plastic helmet
and sweat under my arms where my own smell
was starting to percolate.
A smell that had begun to embarrass me at school.
After gym class.
At the end of the day.
But the smell of it now gave me courage.

Slowly I moved in the lamp-lit room once so familiar,
now a cedar forest with the beast Humbaba ...
the beast ... the creature lurking in caves
and watching me.
Hunting me.
Preparing to attack.

I gently pulled a corner table covered in a decorative cloth
away from the wall.
I pulled it away from the corner.
I pulled gently because I knew,
somehow I knew
what horror cowered behind
and there in the corner
I spied my opponent.
Black and webbed and small and fierce
with eyes for only me:

- pardon me, have mercy
I’m frightened, I am terrified.
See me, please see me for what I am:
an unintentional intruder.
I didn’t know that small dark hole
would lead me here to this fire-lit cave.
I was looking for fruit,
just looking and I’ve made a mistake so please,
noble Sir, pardon me my trespass.

My heart pounded in my temples,
like I said – did I already say that?
and my blood raced like a river,
like a wind that wouldn’t settle
and there was nothing in me to stop my hand from
raising those plastic swords
and stabbing their blunt ends
into the cowering bat.
I held one sword to its wing,
pinning it to the wall
and stabbed with the other
as the bat screamed – eyes bulging blindly
out at me as I stabbed and stabbed again with my
ineffectual weapon – the girl screaming in the back
and my brother too:

- What’s happening?
- What are you doing?

And the volume of their shrieks matched the volume of the bat
and it made me thrust harder and stronger and deeper with force,
becoming more and more frantic to make it stop.
There was no way to set it free,
no way to let it out now and its almost dead,
nearly dead and almost dead nearly dead,
almost dead and then –
it stopped.

Stopped moving, stopped – breathing,
stopped living and it was quiet.
And it was still.
And I was panting,
breathing, living still.

The girl came out from under the blanket.
She walked up behind me and looked over my shoulder.

- Ew.

Was all she said.
And I could smell her behind me.
The perfume smell had faded
and the girl smell, the smell of privacy
was flooding the small space
between the front of her and the back at me.

I stared at the death while breathing her in.
I was devastated.
And I had an erection.

I ran up the stairs to my room,
dived into the crack between my bed and the wall
and shook with unrestrained emotion.

Tears and snot and spit and cum
oozing out of my body.
I had killed a living thing.
I had watched it die.
And it made me feel alive.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Erin Shields

Erin Shields is a playwright and actor who most recently won the Governor General's Award for her play If We Were Birds (Playwrights Canada Press). She is a founding member of Groundwater Productions through which she creates, develops and produces much of her work.

Go to Erin Shields’s Author Page