Fondle with care
Puberty, that moment in a boy’s life when girls suddenly become interesting, when a boy like me stops and thinks to himself, ‘oh now I understand.’ At this very moment in my development, a crucial yet highly sensitive moment I should stress, I turned into a freak.
My voice, once the avatar of angels, became coarse and vulgar not to mention unpredictable. Pubic hair started to appear in peculiar places; acne had a fantastic opening night and would run for years. Strange stirrings in my underpants occurred at the most inconvenient times, I had erections all over the place, on the school bus, in class (more during algebra for some reason), at mass, oh the shame, and once in the public pool…shallow end. I had all this weird stuff going on and then, just as I was becoming more aware of myself physically, I became fat.
It’s a strange time for a boy, those first couple of years, the body kicks into overdrive, hormones are on the loose, waging war on the boy you were, still are. That playful kid so full of magic and wonder is pulled towards manhood kicking and screaming and there is nothing to be done about it. Clocks continue to tick; time unstoppable in its stride drags you along, bobbing and weaving towards death. Death starts here, at this moment, Peter Pan wakes up and smells the putrid stench of reality and in doing so slowly fades away, withers with every blow descended upon him by an uncaring world.
It’s not all doom and gloom of course, alongside the obvious insecurities lays a hidden gem. A gem that at first seems totally unattainable, so far out of reach it might as well be on Mars. Sexual experience doesn’t arrive on Christmas day all wrapped up under the tree, batteries included and with a step by step colour guide. Sexual experience is gathered bit by bit until you have the whole kit. Sometimes you can try to accelerate the harvest, make hay while the sun shines, but mainly for me, at that age, sexual experiences came like an oasis in an otherwise barren land. Piece by painful piece I built the puzzle.
Being fat didn’t help nor did it help that my mother cooked the best food; her way of showing me she cared. In an attempt to battle the onset of premature obesity my father bought me a new bicycle. Dieting was not an option; the healthy full figure of the well fed was common place in my family. Even so, despite mother insisting that I had only become cuddlier, Dad made it his mission to, not only help me loose the weight, but to guide me in all matters of courting. His advice, to be myself, seemed, at the time, lame but well meant; after all I wanted to be anyone but myself.
The bike was a hybrid mountain bike; it had suspension and a rack for clipping my school bag on. On week-ends I would cycle for miles exploring the surrounding countryside. Sometimes I’d take a fishing net and sit for a while by the river, if I was lucky I’d catch a crayfish or two. Other times I’d meet up with the gang and play war in the woods. These gang meetings were becoming few and far between as each boy fell for the charms of one girl or another. I was fat, my friends were exploring new horizons I could only ever dream of and I had become, as a result of this, a bit of a loner! All of this I bore upon young and inexperienced shoulders because I had my bicycle… and freedom was her name.
It was on one of my trips with freedom that I happened upon a strange and wonderful sight, one I will never forget. As I paused for air and a jammy dodger by a millpond full of weed, I spotted a girl, thick set like me and about my age, lying in the long grass by the edge of the pond. The girl hadn’t noticed me at all; she seemed to be extremely engrossed in something. As I stood watching her I suddenly felt awkward and exposed; an intruder in someone else’s dream. I ducked (or tumbled) behind an upturned rotting peacock. The peacock had somehow managed to get his head stuck in a hole within the bank. There was a warm breeze and its plumage, faded but still colourful, fluttered gently in time with the reeds.
I finished the jammy dodger and then quietly rummaged through my rucksack looking for Jammy’s accomplice. I stole a quick peak around the decaying arse of the peacock as I finished off my second biscuit. The strange girl hadn’t moved, still there lying motionless in the grass, I had to get closer, maybe she was dead?
Corpses were common place in my family, recently many old and beloved family members had chosen to die in a cluster. I had a suit just for funerals. One relative had even died more than once! Uncle Gianni had died seven times; he’d been struck by lightning, drowned, frozen in a loch, shot at, crushed under a tank and poisoned by a jellyfish.
With each incident Uncle Gianni’s body lay motionless, dead like, his heart lurched to a standstill, as all hearts do, eventfully. Death arrived, sickle polished and ready for reaping, ready to free Gianni’s soul from the torments of mortality.
Gianni’s soul, once liberated, would start its long journey to the afterlife to stand shoulder to shoulder with loved ones and peers. Soul would pause, out of body, to look upon its vessel in life, to pay its last respects. Then, each time Soul thought its freedom was in the bag, some busybody resuscitated Uncle Gianni! Soul hesitated on the seventh occasion, hung around for a while just to make sure. Except in this final instance Uncle Gianni died alone while attending to his ablutions with no busybodies in sight; just like Elvis he died on the crapper. Soul was free to go.
As Uncle Gianni lay ashen in his silk lined coffin, the grimace of his efforts frozen forever upon his wrinkled old face, part of me expected him to sit up and gasp.
I decided to sneak around the bank, concealing myself in the undergrowth as best a fat boy could. I found a good hiding place about six metres away from the girl, behind a tuft of something prickly, and watched.
The girl continued to lie motionless for several minutes but during that time I could see her body slightly rising with each intake of breath; she lived.
I was about to give up and return to my bike when she suddenly moved. With great speed and agility her arms, like two chubby torpedoes, shot out and grappled an enormous bug eyed frog. Her lily white hands closed around the amphibious crooker and she brought it close to her face; I thought for a moment that she was going to kiss it!
Then slowly she produced a drinking straw from a pocket in her jeans and still holding the poor thing with one hand, she shoved the straw up the frog’s rectum with rehearsed ease. I swear the frog’s eyes opened even wider in shock and discomfort, nevertheless the poor thing had no idea what was coming next. She then, it’s hard to believe I know, she then put her lips around the available end of the straw, puffed up her cheeks and blew!
The recipient of her cruelty doubled in size, inflated, and with nowhere for the air to go it eventually flew out over the pond; a deflating balloon, whizzing as it went, its anus, unable to cope with the quantity of escaping air, clapped away like a set of castanets.
We both fell about laughing, I couldn’t help myself it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen and probably still is. Of course she noticed me immediately and when she had stopped howling she came over to me and simply asked if I had any food. I lied, I said no I hadn’t, I did have a Curly Whirly in my rucksack but it was for emergencies only.
The girl said her name was Annette and that she lived on a campsite nearby. I couldn’t help but notice that, despite her solid form, Annette was not only pretty but in possession of a fine pair of breasts. Big breasts to be precise, because big breast were all a boy my age cared about. So when, after introductions were made she invited me for squash and crumpet, I couldn’t refuse.
I collected my bike and Annette produced an old chopper from the long grass, it had tassels and something that looked like a fog horn hanging from the handlebars. As we cycled together through Corpse Wood I asked her, for want of a better conversation starter, about the dead peacock.
‘It was Jimmy Dodson did that, the butcher’s son, slingshot, first time, right between the eyes.’ She informed me, slightly out of breath and getting pink in the cheeks. She seemed impressed with this Dodson character, I searched the events of my life for an impressive anecdote to tell her; I drew a blank. I decided then and there, in Corpse Woods, with dusk fast approaching, amidst the scent of pine needles and girl sweat that I would master the slingshot if it was the last thing I did.
One of the many impediments a boy must overcome on his journey to manhood and the loss of his virginity is to talk to girls. With boys it was easy, but nothing seemed appropriate when confronted with a girl, my mind froze. At school things were not quite the same; girls clung together in little covens, cackling and whispering as all sirens and necromancers do from time to time. Girls at school were aloof and unapproachable; to seduce one you must seduce them all; the very idea frightened me to death.
Annette seemed different, less like a girl from school, more like a mate, someone I could laugh with, do silly things with; she was like a boy with benefits.
I took a deep breath and plunged head first into a story that I believed would cover all the basis, a fable that Aesop would have been proud of. A tale that would make her not only smile but also want to be my girlfriend; it was a risk but a risk worth taking. Sometimes you have to pull out the big guns and this was my cannon.
Only, after an ambitious start Annette showed no signs of interest, my confidence waned and my story began to flag, lose momentum and eventually implode. I trailed off, entered into the weird world of mumbling like it means something, followed by an empty attempt to hum a tune, cough…Silence!
If there is a home for incurable stories mine sits alone gazing without focus through the window, sighing occasionally and telling anyone who cared to listen that once he had soared to heights unimaginable, that once upon a time he had been considered one of the best. When I visit him, and I do often, he no longer recognises me, thinks I’m Greta Garbo or a pre-Columbian Venezuelan potter. Maybe I remind him too much of the past and it upsets him to remember our defeat. We just sit there by the window gazing out upon manicured lawns, our eyes never meet and what’s more we both know that they never will. The shame is palpable, one day I just won’t visit him, one day he will be grateful I never came.
Before long we came to a clearing in the woods and picked up a track leading towards a set of wrought iron gates. The gates, two giant guardians bore down upon us, they said ‘we are old and wise, we are important and foreboding.’ Their mission in life was to guard, but guard what from whom I didn’t know nor did I know which side of the gates offered the greatest danger. Those gates, I believe now, stood between childhood and adolescence and once I ventured through there was no going back.
Annette dismounted gingerly and whipped out a huge key that had been suspended by a piece of string between her breasts. She unlocked the gates and beckoned for me to follow her with a tantalising, seductive smile.
As the guardians groaned on their rusty hinges, as if furious to be parted, Annette breezed through to the other side leaving me motionless, frozen to the spot. ‘You trying to grow roots?’ Annette asked. I looked back along the path we had taken, back towards the pond, the peacock and the frog. I looked further still and, beyond the pond and the road that had led me there, I saw my mum preparing dinner and my Dad pottering in his green house. I saw the sanctuary of my bedroom, the comfort it offered, my records and books, my collection of fossils and hidden from the glare of any intruder or invited guest my teddy bear, Henry. I looked back at the womblike security of my childhood, Mother’s warm embrace, Father’s jokes and silly plans, the tree house in the garden, warm slippers, milk and biscuits before bedtime; idyllic, cosy, happy and safe.
Suddenly I didn’t care so much for those breasts and I would have happily traded my Curly Whirly for freedom and the familiar road home. Despite my sudden reservations I followed the temptress through the open gates and stepped onto unfamiliar soil.
Everything on Annette’s side of the gates seamed more sinister, maybe it was dusk’s imminent arrival, she sends out her scouts and sycophantic phantoms to prepare for her big moment. Dusk, unlike night and day has little time to make an impact, she must grasp and twist and stop as many hearts as she can, all within a very small window of opportunity.
Gnarled trees, there long misshaped fingers scratched my face as I pedalled and the wind began to whistle a lament; or a caveat; probably both. Wind, unlike Dusk, is on stage for hours at a time, her work load is, or can be, immense, she can often get confused.
As our wheels crunched the dead autumn leaves beneath, the skeletal bones of dried up branches cracked and snapped; parched of life, brittle and old. Dissolution had never felt so close.
I followed Annette to a campsite, not a holiday maker’s campsite, no this place had a real sense of permanence about it. Mobile homes, each with its own small, untended lawn were lined up in rows, stacked up on blocks and slowly being consumed by neglect. ‘Grubby’ is a fare assessment of Annette’s neck of the woods. Amongst the homes and overgrown gardens lay broken down or burnt out cars, rusty scrap metal piled up in heaps and discarded sofas silently seething. Dogs roamed freely and cats sat on car bonnets keeping watch, taking notes, ready to report back to the Cat Queen. The Cat Queen keeps files on everyone; she knows everything and says nothing, she knew my fate the moment I rode into camp, long before I had any idea what was about to transpire.
There were children everywhere, most of which gave Annette and I a wide birth, some older kids grabbed toddlers and rushed them inside as we passed. Annette looked over her shoulder as she skilfully dismounted while still in transit and called out, ‘this is us’.
Sitting outside a shabby looking mobile home, next to a gas canister half buried in the ground like a long forgotten doodlebug, sat a man in a deck chair. The man gave me a blank unreadable look as he took a swig from a jam jar, a bottle of Gin lay empty under his chair; I found him instantly despicable.
I said Hello because where I came from that was the polite thing to do. Mr Gin took another swig, scratched the stubble on his chin then spat on the ground between us.
‘That’s me Dad’ Annette said almost apologetically before mounting the milk crates that acted as steps to their home. She stood in the doorway attempting a coquettish demeanour, ‘come on up for crumpet, if you want?’ She said.
Given the choice of staying outside on the lawn with Mr Gin or following the mysterious Annette into her lair I ran up the steps like a fat gazelle. She led me straight to her small, untidy bedroom and sat down on her bed amidst the dirty discarded clothes and empty crisp packets. She took my hand and while I stood there in a daze, placed it upon one of her plump breasts; the left one, if I recall! I felt hot, my pulse raced as my penis, controlled by some ancient biological command, came to attention. We stayed that way for a full minute, neither of us spoke, I didn’t want to spoil it, however I did wonder to myself if Jimmy Dobson had had the same pleasure.
Annette seemed blasé, even a little bored until that is, while I was working up the courage to squeeze, Mr Gin kicked open her bedroom door and grabbed me. He pushed me up against the flimsy wall of their caravan, his haggard purple face only inches from my own he said with stinking putrid breath, ‘That will be five quid, it’s five quid a feel’.
I managed a ‘what?’
‘Five quid you owe me for feeling my girl’s tits, hand it over, or else’ he spat.
I didn’t have five quid and told him that, choosing, without meaning to, the ‘or else’ option. Annette meanwhile had picked up a magazine and was idly flicking through the pages. I’d been hoodwinked, taken for a ride, quite literally, and I’d fallen for it hook, line a sinker. Annette’s Gin swilling father used his daughter’s breasts to lure young boys back to his hovel and once there, the bait in your hand so to speak, he strikes. How many times had Annette done this? How many boys had paid her iniquitous father for the pleasure? How many frogs had died? I really wanted Annette to say, ‘it wasn’t like that Daddy, I really like this one, he’s different’ but she didn’t and wouldn’t even if she’d meant it.
I found her apparent nonchalance breathtaking; I realised that this situation had played itself out time and time again, become routine to her. This is what Annette did, what her filthy father had groomed her for, she knew only this, nothing else; this was her life, her survival. I knew nothing of her past, her history, her upbringing, all I knew was that I’d never met anyone as divorced from my own reality as her. I wondered briefly where this ‘routine’ would end, with Annette sucking off tramps to pay for her father’s gin, or pregnant at fifteen, suicide, even murder?
What possible chance did a girl like Annette have in life? No wonder my story of middle class angst failed to move her, she had no reference points, no way of knowing what the hell I was talking about. Her life was so far removed from my own, we lived on different sides of the track, different sides of the universe, I had freedom and she did not. I had the freedom to express myself, to grow, to explore my childhood, my adolescence and to own an opinion; Annette did not. Annette had been bullied and cajoled, perhaps even starved into submission, if she had an opinion it was well hidden, suppressed and kept at bay, whipped like a lion in a cage.
Amongst the fear I felt shame; I felt embarrassment, like it was my entire fault, like I was the one that had taken advantage of this poor girl. If anything I was a fool to believe that a girl like Annette with her various talents would be interested in a fat boy like me, even so, despite the shame, the embarrassment and the guilt, I had, with good intention, felt her breast!
I wanted to save her from this floored existence, this excuse for a childhood, no one should have to live like this, no one should have to prostitute themselves for survival. I wanted to save her but the urge to save my own yellow, middle class skin was slightly more overwhelming.
Oh I could be romantic, I could also be foolish and headstrong in a comfortable environment but right there, in that horrible, damp, dark caravan, a million miles from home, I was a scared and confused child. I became overwhelmed by the scale of realism, my mind, my Id experienced distortion, a tear in the fabric of whatever it was I’d labelled reality. I was totally unprepared for the discomfort suffered by many outside of my own snug, loving existence.
Outside dusk had wrapped up for the day and moved on, night-time had muscled in and taken residence. Somewhere in the woods I heard the Cat Queen call my name, she broke her silence just for me; her warning cry was a little late but appreciated nonetheless.
Only after the event did I ask myself if Mr. Gin helped himself to Annette’s bounty, did Mr Gin, once drunk enough, force himself onto his daughter. Did he tell her that it was ‘their special secret’, did he cry in shame after the event, did he wring his hands and pray for forgiveness, for the strength to be a better man, a better father? I managed to convince myself however that Mr Gin only cared about gin and nothing else. The alternative would be too much to bear.
I came to the conclusion very quickly that I could not save Annette, that maybe she had no desire to be saved at that point; I needed only to save myself. I only had enough will to save one of us and despite the pity I felt for her, I could only save me, live to fight another day, as they say.
The Cat Queen had broken her silence and her shrill chant; bone chilling as it was gave me the willpower I needed to get out of there and back home to the sanctuary of my comfortable life.
Mr Gin eyed me with suspicion and said ‘What ave you got then, a lovely new bike maybe?’
My heart fell, not my bike! Not freedom! But I knew I had no choice, I nodded and he let me go. ‘Now scram fatso’ he yelled through yellow teeth; and I did but not before laying my Curly Whirly on the bed before Annette as some sort of offering or apology…or snack.
I ran out of the mobile home, slammed the door shut, grabbed my bike (more instinct than reprisal) and without so much as a backward glance pedalled as fast as I could. As fear froze my mind my chubby legs just kept pumping away. Flight had won over fight and I cycled all the way back to those giant iron gates. I experienced a moment of terror as I wondered how the hell I would get past the guardians but then a young couple arrived on a motorbike, the passenger got off and opened the gates; I dashed through.
That night, despite my ordeal, I made two promises to myself, one was master the slingshot and the other was to feel another girl’s breast again, if she would let me.
I never saw Annette after that day; I never ventured anywhere near that pond or for that matter Corpse wood. But, now that I’m older and wiser, I do, from time to time wonder how her life turned out. I’d like to think that old Dodson won her heart in the end and that between them they forged a life together as far removed from the one she had as a child. Maybe they run a sanctuary for deflated frogs.