A Roadmap of Womanhood
by Louise Mangos
The vein travels east from her cleavage across her right breast. Its trail is blue-green, like the motorways in her faded, water-damaged AA Atlas from the nineties, before everyone started using smartphone apps. It resembles the M1 where it meets the M25 at Bricket Wood, passing two freckles and a cherry angioma. After the junction, it takes a sharp turn south and ring-roads her areola, the place on her body where three babes have suckled, partners have fluttered their curious fingers and slid their passionate tongues. Frogmore. London Colney. South Mimms. The vein then travels eastwards horizontally before fading under her armpit into the ancient woodlands of Epping Forest. It transports her iron, her anger, her waste. It has pumped away the pain of mastitis in a steaming hot shower, felt the soft silk of an underwired C-cup, been prodded by doctors searching for cancerous nodules. The vessel should be blood red, but through the curious filter of human skin untouched by sunlight, it becomes the emerald green of a heaving swamp. Once fascinating, it is now shunned by partners, repulsive to lovers, frowned upon by friends. Today this roadmap is for her eyes only. After the fired flush of menopause has chilled her skin to marble, it remains a testament to the men who have overstepped her boundaries, crossed the central reservation, pulled in to a coffee stop for a quick pick-me-up. She looks at herself in the mirror, parked naked on a double yellow line. She studies the tattoo of her womanhood and wonders if she can do a U-turn, take the M4 all the way to the southwest, where there is nothing between her liver-spotted skin and the pot-holed coastal road except the salty tears of the Atlantic Ocean.