The human
hot-water bottle

by Jacinta Nandi

Berlin winters are cold.

It doesn’t matter how many layers you drape over yourself – hats, scarves, gloves, coats, jackets, waistcoats, tights, stockings, thermal vests, old curtains, old buckets, duvets, blankets, it doesn’t matter: the cold creeps in anyway, the cold seeps in anyway, cuts into you through that icy wet strip of flesh just under your belly.

Your bones ache with cold, your jaw aches with cold.

Your teeth throb and your gums shiver, salty and heavy, and cold, cold, cold.

Outside the wind howls like an illegitimate wolf, snarling spitefully at his mother, the moon. The window rattles. From the room next door, you hear the sound of kids screaming in their sleep.

And you hug your little boy to your chest: your gorgeous, darling little boy.

“You’re my hot-water bottle,” you tell him. “I was so poor, I couldn’t afford a hot-water bottle. That’s how poor I was, Pixie. So, I went to the hospital and got myself a little boy. A human hot-water bottle. That’s you, that is. My darling, gorgeous, precious little boy.”

And sometimes he grins that grin back at you – that drunken sailor grin, delighted, unconscious, satisfied. But sometimes he does this shivering little gasp which makes you think he’ll freeze to death one of these days – although the health visitor says he’s just learning how to breathe.


© Jacinta Nandi

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

Share your thoughts

* Gloria Steinem