I land in the world arse-first, and as I am scooped up, turned around and rubbed down, I spot my father sitting on a chair by the door and I glare at him and try my hardest to kick him from across the room.
My legs don’t reach. I’ve been waiting nine months to get out so I can do this.
I try again, martial-arts style, one leg then the other in quick succession. I learnt this move from an idea of my mum’s, it whooshed in one evening while I was in training doing somersaults. I’ve been practising all this time inside. I know she noticed, and her hand stroking her belly told me she approved. I heard her mutter, ‘that’s my girl, Kick-Kat,’ and Kick-Kat is the name she whispers to me now, as I am laid across her chest.
From behind the soothing haze of the flimsy voile curtains I feel people following my shadow as it makes Kata on the fabric folds. But I won’t look through the window, I just won’t, it will all be different but still the same… saplings turned to trees; same people, new dogs.
So now he’s striding up to the bed and looming over me. I’m cosy against Mum’s warm body, bum sliding into the crook of her elbow, but I’m still kicking, trying to get him in the balls, or the kneecaps.
And I can feel myself turning puce out of sheer frustration because I can’t land a blow.
Mum lies propped up on several white pillows.
I feel the muscles in her arm tense up as my father leans in towards her.
‘I’m too hot’, Mum says, brushing his hand away, and I kick at it with my foot for good measure. He grabs me and holds my toes in his strong fingers, “so tiny” he says, tightening his grip so it hurts.
I prefer to admire my treasured possessions from a safe distance. So I keep the good china (inherited, like most of my things) in a high-up display cabinet which I can’t easily reach. Who uses the best stuff every day? It’s not even dishwasher safe, your parents’ table service set. Too easy for porcelain to just slide through your soapy fingers and break. And where would we be without a sugar bowl of sweet nothings and a layered cake-platter stuffed with fresh starts?
A lady who is not my mum attaches a cold clamp to the tube coming out of me and then hands my father a pair of surgical scissors that gleam under the strip lighting. Right away he’s cutting through me and although I can’t feel it, I scream as though I can.
Then he’s peeling me off her arm and hoisting me up, so my legs are just dangling in the air thrashing around. He bobs me up and down a bit, but he’s not looking at me now, or at Mum, he’s just staring at the lady who has been doing the clamping and plumping up of pillows and arranging tulips in a vase…
“Nurse, please can you take… the baby,” he says, thrusting me towards this stranger.
It’s not just about waiting to use the best china. I can’t remember the last time I went outside. Instead, I just stay here and focus on practising my kicks (stamping kick, axe kick, snap kick, thrust kick, front kick, roundhouse kick, crescent moon kick, returning wave kick, double kick, jump kick, back kick, side kick…). I practise them in front of the window.
There is a point here, a fulcrum.
It happens when I’ve spent nine months, and then twenty-one years waiting. And ruminating on things – like Mum getting dressed up for her cousin’s wedding and asking how she looks and you just shrugging; Mum telling me she slept the neighbour, because she doesn’t believe that you and his wife are just friends; me telling you I’m writing an encyclopaedia of kicks, chops and associated Karate equipment as you sneer and say you’re going to stop paying for my lessons.
And I’m thinking about some of these things when I take my place at the kitchen table for my special twenty-first birthday breakfast. You don’t even look up.
Not a blink.
My slouched shoulders square up, and with a growl in my belly that isn’t hunger I grab one of the croissants Mum has piled on a plate from your ‘special occasion’ set, and my arm recoils like a sling until, ping, without thinking I launch the croissant at your head. Then, as buttery flakes of pastry flutter to the floor, the action switches to bullet-time, like in all those gun-fu movies. Before I know it, I’ve emptied my freshly-squeezed orange juice down your white nylon shirt, yanked a sad tuft of grey hair from its combover in a left-handed swiping chop-n-grab, spun, picked up and thrown a cup of piping-hot coffee at your nose that then smashes to the ground (sorry about the cup, Mum); and karate-kicked you, one-two, one-two, in the leg and the groin so you double-over on your chair not knowing whether to cover your gonads or your shins.
It happens Bruce-Lee fast, and my moves are so precise that you are constantly on the defensive and unable to retaliate. Then I leap across the flagstone floor, up the single step to the hallway – mum calling after me, “Kick-Kat” – and run out the door.
Using money won playing martial arts games online, I move into a flat. But I realise that even though I’ve left, I am still the same, and all I know how to do is practise kicks and wait.
It’s just the other side of the see-saw, then and now.
The nurse takes me from my mum’s arms and snuggles me into a thick blanket, and I can’t even kick my legs… I’m wrapped up, stuck together, and trapped, I might as well not have bothered to come out at all.
I start to yell until I’m sweating and panting, and the nurse is tutting and says, “I’ll take this little one for a walk, shall I?” Then she’s carrying me out of the room, and my father, who is now sat on the bed, wedged up against Mum with one hand smacked on her bare thigh, is waving me off with the other hand and winking back at the nurse.
I know people are watching from the pavement because I can hear them. Every day. They must have been drawn here by the sign in the window for my online karate tutorials that now have over twenty thousand followers on YouTube, provide me with a solid revenue stream via Patreon, and result in endless messages asking me about the story behind my ‘live performance’. Either way, I want to give them something more, so I’ve decided to build a full-sized wooden training dummy to spar with.
I will add it to the collection of wooden Karate-weapons I have hand-carved out of my parents’ old dining table. But I’ve run out of wood.
I’ll get a delivery and assume the waiting stance until then – feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing out at 45 degrees, arms slightly forward, fists closed, elbows bent, neck and back straight.
I slump on the nurse’s shoulder and the smell of her uniform catches in my throat, cloyingly sweet compared to the sour body smell I was bathed in moments ago. As we reach the door, I look at the fresh hospital sheets and blankets my father has pulled up around my mum, fact-erasing in their whiteness since she has just given birth. A lie. And I can feel the nurse smiling at him as she turns her head like they have some kind of connection and as though everything is OK just the way it is. And I want this woman to know the truth.
And so, I scream louder, kicking my feet out of their blanket and kneeing her repeatedly in the shoulder as hard as I can, wriggling and spitting and yelling at the top of my voice.
I have figured out how to build the dummy from a specialist website and the wood and other materials have just arrived. I don’t look outside when I open the door (eyes down as they pass me the items), but I hear a ripple of voices and the crowd seems bigger. As the door closes, I see the new edition of the local paper on the doormat. There is a photo of someone I think might be me when I was younger on the front cover, with a caption reading:
This week’s featured event is a durational live art installation by one of our local residents, a martial arts enthusiast with a grassroots following who has not left her house for twenty years in what is believed to be one of the longest running endurance pieces by any artist. Known as ‘Kick-Kat’, she only comes to the curtained window to practise a highly choreographed series of martial arts movements culminating in a waiting stance that can last for days. Featured as part of Borough of Culture, tickets are available from our main office.
The nurse carries me up and down the glaring corridor, patting my back, as I watch my father through the internal window, menacing my mum on the bed with his charming smile and skinny arms.
Then he’s gone from view until he emerges through the doorway. The nurse seems to switch into ever-so-slightly slow motion, as though every movement (the inflection of a hip, the turn of an ankle) is calculated a millisecond in advance. He approaches, and as he says, ‘thank you’, he pats her bum and I feel a surge of warmth run through her.
I let out a howling scream, and then I’m crying so hard I’m choking. He hoists me off her shoulder, and through puffy eyes I see them looking at me and he is saying, ‘why is she turning blue?’, and the nurse is screaming ‘call the doctor, call the doctor’.
And to be honest, I’m unsure whether I’m going to make it, and I can’t help wondering if it would be better to bring the waiting to an end right here. Before it has properly begun. And that’s when I see it…
a version of myself surrounded by a hustle of people dressed in white that arrive to perform a life-saving function.
“Kick-Kat, Kick-Kat,” they’re calling my name outside now. The waves of shouting are growing louder, impossible to ignore. And dared on by the growing and impatient rumble of voices, as if induced by their rapture, before I know what I’m doing, I throw the curtains wide, open the window and take a huge gulp of air…
I see the world in full, not a sliver, or a glimpse but in glorious full colour 4×3, as if I’ve just been hurled out into it for the first time from somewhere warm and comfortable. With eyes that are still acclimatising to the light, I study the crowd, and see that they are all dressed like me in white Karate-gi outfits. And I drink everyone in their soft, white suits in like milk.
I turn to face the rosewood dummy I have made, sizing it up for the performance.
In the bright sunshine, I realise that he is nothing more than the wood I have carved.
And then I prepare to reveal the move I have been working on since the day I was born –
Seesaw Kick is a technique used only in circumstances of paralysis/grip of waiting. Nothing is known of the technique other than it uses Prone Baby Stance and unleashes powerful shockwaves to reverse all oppressive forces (Encyclopaedia of All I Have Learnt, ed. Kick Kat).
About the author:
Sophy Bristow is a writer living in South Cambridgshire in the UK. She is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Her flash and poetry has appeared in Lighthouse Literary Journal, From Glasgow to Saturn, Fenacular and Toasted Cheese, and her experimental short story Operation was short-listed for the Fish Shorty Story Prize. Her Twitter handle is @SoffoirBristow
Header Image: Andreyuu on Istock