This is what you will do. It will be a weekday afternoon, maybe a Wednesday and your husband will be at work with his dad and his uncle at the factory and you will be home looking after your three-month-old daughter. Your mother will have just left for the day and you will be relieved that she is gone and anxious that she is gone. Your marital bed will be made so tightly it will remind you of your childhood home and how you can never manage to make it so well by yourself. Your mother will have cleaned the house and put your washing on the line. She will have prepared a roast for you and your husband to eat tonight and told you to put it in the oven in two hours at two-hundred degrees and at about quarter past five put in the potatoes and pumpkin that she has cut up and put in a bowl next to the oven.
Your daughter will be sleeping quietly on a sheepskin in the middle of the room. You will be resting on the couch with a magazine and looking at all those Hollywood girls with their post-baby bodies and their yoga mats tucked under their arms. You will wish you had thighs so thin and toned, even before you fell pregnant. Your daughter will stir and you will not move and hope she falls back to sleep on her own.
She won't. You will bundle her up in a blanket one of your mother's friends gave you at your baby shower. You will smell your daughter's scent, her hair and feel that feeling that you didn't know existed until you found out you were pregnant. You will pick up her nappy bag, lock up the house and strap her into the baby capsule in the back of your Tarago. You have heard from another woman in your mothers' group that there is a place in the next suburb that will do it for you and you drive directly there.
You will park and unstrap your daughter and put her in her pram. You will walk into the pharmacy and it will be busy at the back counter so you will go to the baby section and browse the nappies and formula even though you have two months' supply at home. You will pick up a packet of breast pads and consider buying them, even though you have stopped leaking already because your breasts have got the message that they're not needed anymore.
The pharmacy will slowly clear and one of the women in uniform will come up to you and ask you if you need any help and then they will look at your baby and ogle her for a minute and ask you how old she is and you will say, three months, and they will say, what a big girl, and you will be a bit insulted like they are calling her fat or saying that you are a bad mother.
They will get back to asking you if you need any help and you will say that you have heard that there is a pharmacist here who is willing to pierce babies' ears and the woman will say, I'll just have to check if he has time today, and you will look back at the breast pads while she asks.
A woman that you recognise from your primary school will come over to you and ask, ti ricordi di me? and you will say, sì... you're Sandra's Mum? and she will nod and smile and bend over to your daughter. She will pat her on the forehead and say, Che bella! What's her name? and you will answer Antonia and she will say with a questioning look on her face, tua mama? and you will nod. The lady from the pharmacy will come back over and they will talk in dialect and English and Italian about your daughter and you'll try to work out what they're talking about and whether it includes you.
The lady will finally say that the pharmacist will be ready in a few minutes and you will pick out some studs from the selection near the counter. You will pick the smaller size studs, with fake rubies in them. More old people in the pharmacy who look like paesane will peek in your pram and because they look so familiar you don't feel too threatened. They will congratulate you with their smiles and oooh and aaah at your daughter and you will grin with pride. Some of them will bend down to her and touch her hand and your daughter will try to look for your eyes amongst theirs. She will whimper a little until you place your hand on hers.
The pharmacist will finally call you through to the little room at the back behind the dispensary. He will look familiar and you will have the feeling that you used to see this pharmacist when your grandmother would take care of you after school. He will be kind-looking, grey-haired, olive-skinned, like your father but taller.
The pharmacist will tell you to sit on the chair in the room and hold your baby in front of you. He will wash his hands and put on some disposable plastic gloves. He will clean your daughter's ears with alcohol swabs and then draw two dots with a felt-tip pen in the centre of your daughter's tiny, perfect ear lobes. They will look strange on her baby skin, like a tattoo.
He will say, She is going to scream. Hold on. You will resent his implication that he knows your daughter better than you do. You will see that he has only one gun and you will ask if he has two and he will say, No, plus, there's only one of me.
He will tear open the packet of earrings and slot one into the gun. He will hold it over your daughter's ear. His gun will click and your daughter will be silent for a moment. He will pull the gun away and you will see that there is a tiny capsule of flesh stuck to it and he will use the dirty alcohol swab to wipe it off and throw it in the bin.
Your daughter will scream. She will scream for so long her wailing will turn into staccato yelps as she gasps for breath in between. The pharmacist will busy himself attaching the next stud. You will try to calm your daughter. You will hold her closer to you and rock her on your knee. You say things like, Poor baby, poor baby! You are such a brave girl. You will put her over your shoulder and pat her nappied bottom, as if her screaming is a result of gas and not of having a hole shot through her skin.
Her scream will reverberate in the tiny room. It will deafen you. It would deafen the weary pharmacist as well had he not heard it thousands of times before. If you could see the reactions of the customers in the rest of the store, you would not be in this room. They will grimace and squint as if by closing their eyes they can also close their ears. They will look pained, stung, as they hear your daughter wail, without knowing why she is doing so. They will know whatever is happening in that back room is wrong, even if they don't know why; a child's scream doesn't lie. Sandra's mother will laugh along with the staff and talk about when she came here to get Sandra's ears done over twenty years ago.
You will calm your daughter eventually. You will whisper sweet things into her ear. You will sing Twinkle twinkle to her over and over like you do when you are putting her to sleep and she stops crying. But she will still whimper.
The pharmacist will sense his moment and move back over to you but your daughter will scream, aware of the potential danger. She will pleadingly stare up at you, her mouth wide, wailing, her wet gums shaking at you. If she could speak she would say This man wants to hurt me! Protect me! But she cannot speak, so instead you will hold her tightly and sing twinkle twinkle again and finally she will stop because she trusts the love in your voice.
You will turn her face away from the pharmacist so that she cannot see him and slowly he will place the gun over the other earlobe and click again and your daughter will scream. A scream of pain, a scream of betrayal. Hell hath no fury like a daughter scorned.
When the studs are in she will look different, not exactly cuter, but older, woggier. It will be the first step to your daughter looking like a person and not a baby. Soon she will look like one of the children that you see in the badly photocopied picture included in a new photo frame, like a three-year-old boy in a leather jacket and Ray Bans.
You want your daughter's ears pierced because you had yours pierced, as did your sister and her daughters and your mother and her sisters and all your cousins and every woman you have ever known. You want her ears pierced so that she can start looking more like you, like one of yours, of your clan. She looks like your grandmother and your mother.
You will say to her, Oh you look so pretty now! You look so beautiful! and when you take her out of the room and back into the pharmacy there will be women who look your mother's age who will say Che bella! and smile and pat her on the hand and try and make her stop crying. You will tell her again, What a pretty girl! and the lesson you will teach her is that when you hurt, the world thinks you are beautiful. You will teach her that if you allow a strange man to stick a thing in you, he will think you are prettier than you were before. You will teach her about being a woman, that women always suffer and that they suffer most to make others feel better.
The pharmacist will give you a little bottle of cleaning fluid and instructions to clean her ears and turn the studs for the next six weeks. That night you will try to do so but when you try to touch her ears your daughter will scream.
When your daughter is older she will shock you. That is certain. She will be angry at you for many things, and she might be angry at you for this. She might; it's not set in stone. Your daughter will grow up in a generation that has every choice under the sun, more so than yours, if you can believe it. She will have choices you can't even conceive of yet. Choices about where to live or how to live that might seem simple to you but her decisions will be unfathomable to you now. The life she leads will look unrecognisable to you.
She might be mortified that you took this one choice away from her. She will laugh at you and tell you that you can't control her or what she does with her body and her life and you will think, Get over it. This is my right. lam your mother and I have the right to do this to you. I have the right to hurt you. You will think, this is how life works. Things hurt. They're just earrings. You will think, fuck you, you shat in me, you split me so far my ass and my vagina were one gaping hole until they sewed me up. I am allowed to get your ears pierced. You will think this and you will believe it, but you never say it aloud to her because you know she will look at you like you're crazy.
When she is fourteen she will try to go to school in a school dress two sizes too small, that is barely long enough to cover the wings on her sanitary pad and you will yell and scream at her and tell her that she is not leaving the house in that, Miss! She will turn to you and give you the finger and your heart will break a little, from anger or shame or betrayal. She will have boyfriends that you would hate, but she never introduces to you. She will introduce one that she doesn't particularly like, who she knows you will approve of, just to get you off her back about whether or not she's a lesbian. She will have your husband wrapped around her little finger and this will forever be a wedge between the two of you. Her love for him will be a slap in the face for you, who only experience her careless animosity.
You will have dreams for her. You will. Dreams of yours that you displace onto her. She will never seek them out, however, because something deep inside her tells her that whatever you want for her will only bring her pain and the searing smell of betrayal, of blood and ethanol.
‘The Piercing’ was first published in Going Down Swinging #28, back in 2009.
GDS is republishing some of our favourite archive pieces online during the current crisis. Got a favourite you want us to share? Let us know on our social media channels, or at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to hear from you.
Looking for more reading material? Your local indie bookshops need your support right now. If you’re in Melbourne, check out this great map from Alan Vaawerk over at Kill Your Darlings to see who’s delivering near you. Or, check out our shop for GDS print editions. We’ll do our best to get them to you.
Image credit to da5ide via Flickr.