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Fiction #501
(published August 26, 2010)
The Comforts of Woman
by Steven Stafford
I had first pursued her because I had heard that she was easy. In gym class, at lunch, at CCD, at baseball practice, nearly a dozen guys I knew told me that they had slept with her. I, being thirteen, was eager to have sex with anyone anywhere at any cost, not only out of pure hormonal, neo-Darwinian drives to pass on my genes to some unwitting as yet nonexistent child, but also out of an overwhelming self-consciousness, that seemed to surround me like water when swimming.

"Are you a virgin?" Colin had asked me on the bench, one baseball game.

"Why do you want to know?"

"Just wondering." I ignored him and watched the game. "So? Are you?"

"Of course I am," I said. "I'm thirteen."

"I'm not." He grinned widely.

"You're fourteen."

"I know."

Later in the game, I had to ask him, "Who was it?"

"Who was who?"

"Who was it that you . . . did it with?"

"Oh. This girl. From another town. You wouldn't know her." I was skeptical, and he must have seen it on my face, because he quickly added, "And Madison. But everybody's done her."

She had been the first girl in our grade to get boobs—they made quite an entrance into the world. I recall observing a bra-line on her when we were nine. I tracked their progress eagerly, and with delight—writing odes to them, drawing them, daydreaming about them. A teacher—a female one, to boot—found some of my drawings and called my parents; my mother was incensed. My father, hearing about it later, was almost proud.

To get closer to her, I ingratiated myself with one of her male friends, one whom I did not think was having sex with her, named John. Looking back, it seems likely that he was gay; at the time, however, I had no idea how to know such things. He was too well-dressed for a thirteen year old straight boy; his hair was too perfect. He was in my math class, and I talked to him every day about whatever I could think of, making fun of people I knew he didn't like, helping him with the homework. Then, I confessed to him, after school, my longing to sleep with Madison.

He introduced me one day after CCD let out. To her I did the same thing I did to him—agreed with everything she said; laughed at all her jokes; offered to do her favors; except that, having seen a relevant episode of Doogie Howser, I introduced sexual innuendo whenever possible.

That was how, to my regret, we became friends. As Doogie Howser's friend had advised me, I tried to make it as clear as I could that sex was what I wanted, not companionship, not cuddling. Perhaps because I was not a doctor, nor even a very good student, she simply laughed off everything I said, shaking her head, scrunching her face, and swinging her ponytail around. "You're so silly," she said.

Our first get-together, which I had thought of as a date, was at the library, where we studied for an upcoming history test. I was excited, but not as excited as my penis, which somehow remained hard and inflamed the entire two-hour study session, something it no longer cares to do.

I, of course, learned nothing that day, except that she was not as easy as she seemed, and that Doogie Howser was poorly-advised. I got a D on the test. She got an A-.

After that, for every test I invited her to the library; for every project I invited her over my house to work together, usually pasting printed photographs on tri-folded posterboard.

The reason I could do this was because my parents had recently gotten divorced.

It had been a long time coming, I can see now, and there was no particularly spectacular series of events leading up to it which might warrant telling here; my parents just slowly "drifted apart," in the words of my then-therapist.

"But why!" I demanded of her.

"Sometimes this happens," she said. "The important thing to remember is that it's not your fault."

"Well whose fault is it, then?" I found myself getting angry at her, rather than at the parents who had been gradually easing themselves out of my life.

"It's no one's fault, honey. You don't control who you fall in love with." I was not satisfied at all with this answer, and now I think that moment was my birth as a writer, as someone stepping back from the busyness of life to take it all in, as someone on the outside like at a zoo. It also didn't hurt that I was not popular in school.

I switched to a different therapist after this—not a therapist, a "psychiatric clinician," I believe was the title—but he just said the same things. I liked him better, however, because—perhaps due to my age and gender—I found the first therapist so sexually attractive. It surprised me: at the time, she was pregnant with her first child. Again, perhaps because my tastes were not discriminating yet, I found myself wanting to be inside her, jealous of that little baby.

I talked to both therapists about Madison, but I didn't feel comfortable until I switched to the male therapist. They both kept saying things like, "and that's healthy." They also kept assuring me that I had nothing to be ashamed of, when I hadn't even indicated at all that I was ashamed of anything.

After a few projects, Madison actually began inviting me over, rather than nonchalantly accepting my puppy-like invitations as she had done to that point. I told my therapist that I thought she liked me back, and that we were going to have sex. "And you're going to use protection, right?" he said.

"Yes," I said, understanding only dimly.

My father had called me up on my thirteenth birthday—a date which had probably reminded him that I existed—and told me he was coming by to pick me up. I waited outside for over an hour. When he did show up, he smelled of what I now know to be booze, and car exhaust. "There's my boy. My big strong man. Put it here." He stuck out his hand. I clasped it and shook; putting a sick look on his face, he crushed my hand in his.


"Come on! Give me a strong one! Squeeze!" I did, as hard as I could, but he just laughed. "Happy birthday, Jeff. Come on. Get in the truck; we're going anywhere you want."


"Anywhere you want. Let's go get us some supper." I was overwhelmed with the responsibility. "Where you wanna go?"


"Well, all right! Let's do it." He drove well over the speed limit, sometimes braking to the rhythm of whatever song was on—usually Stevie Ray Vaughn or some other heavy blues guitarist.

When we got our food, he suddenly looked solemn, as if he were about to pray. "Jeff," he said, leaning over his burger and fries. "I got somethin' I wanna talk to yer about."


"Now, you're thirteen. You're a man now. And you're gonna be havin' sex. Now, what that is . . . is when a man sticks his penis into a woman's vagina. And then, like a machine-gun, it shoots semen everywhere. You can't control it. It just goes off."

"Oh. OK."

"Now, you're gonna wanna use a condom. That'll keep yer safe from diseases. And from getting her pregnant. You don't wanna do that."


And that was about what I knew. We had to take a sex education class the year prior, but it had been poorly done: it was more like anatomy class than anything, and one day, I fainted. To this day, I still shudder when I hear the words "vas deferens."

Rather than going to my mother's vacant house—as good and private a location as any to have sex—she invited me over to her house one afternoon. The place was grand—huge, well-furnished, smelling of leather and wood. It was, to my pleasure, just as empty as my mother's house, except bigger.

When she let me in, she gave me a hug and I felt her breasts against me; they had a consistency I had never experienced before. They were a bit like the squishy balls we used to play with in the backyard, or even like water balloons full of jello.

She shook her head in front of me like a dog drying itself. "What are you doing?"

"You can't tell?" She shook it some more.


"I got a haircut!"

"Oh. I like it."


"Where is everybody?"

"My Dad is at work."

"Where's your Mom?"

"Oh. My mother died," she explained. "Awhile ago."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," she said, turning cheery again. We went up to her room; I thought we were going to have sex.

We did not. Despite this disappointment, it was still a thrilling new frontier of experience for me: there were brassieres all over the floor, panties, papers, books on France, CD's by boy-bands. I tried to take it all in. Even the smells were new—everything reeked of a sugary perfume. My eyes watered; by the time I wiped them, there was something rubbing around my crotch.

When I opened my eyes, I saw that it was a stupid dog. "This is Athena," she said. Then, to the dog, she cooed, "Say hi, Athena. Say hi." The dog barked at my crotch.

"Hi, Athena." I was scared that it might smell the hormones dripping off of me and bite off my genitals pre-emptively; needless to say, I lost my erection. After sniffing my crotch some more, the dog lost interest in me and left the room. I found myself staring at the underwear on the floor.

"Sorry," she said, frantically putting them into her bureau.

"That's okay," I said. "What do you want to do today?"

"I dunno. Just hang out." She sat on the bed, leaning on her hands, intentionally or unintentionally pushing her breasts out and up.

My friend Paul—who, by the way, had slept with her—told me that when a girl wants to hang out, she really wants sex. I asked him if it's possible that this or any other phrase might not retain its original, non-sexual meaning. He said no. "Dude, I'm telling you. It means she wants to do it." I asked if "do it" might not be understood sexually. "Dude, you're not getting it," was his reply. Of course, "getting it," could have a sexual meaning.

It occurred to me much later that the number of words a given language has to refer to the same thing is proportional to how often the subject comes up—with Eskimos, I'm told, there are nine words for snow; the Romans had a bunch of words meaning to kill; we have a thousand words for casual sex.

"Oh," I said to her, and went in for a kiss.

"Ew!" she shrieked and slapped me away. "What are you doing?!"

"I thought. . . I thought!"

"You thought what!"

"I thought that's what you wanted."

"Ew! No! Why!" I was beginning to lose my erection. The dog ran back in and began to bark at it.

"You invite me over. You look sexy. You shake your hair around. You take me up to your room. You sit there on the bed all seductively. You have sexy underwear all over the floor. You say you want to hang out."

"What did you think I meant?"

"I thought you wanted to do it!"

"Ew. Disgusting. You guys are all alike." If she had been referring to any other group than my gender—say, my ethnic background—I could have been indignant. But complaining about male humans was as trendy as the fornication I was attempting. "Disgusting." She spit out the words.

"Why?! Why don't you like me?!" I couldn't keep the question inside anymore. It was the question of most pop songs, of most young male diary entries.

"I do like you." She still looked like she was going to cough up a fur ball. She had her right hand over her mouth.

"Then why am I disgusting?!"

"You're like a little brother to me. We can't do that." I nearly flung myself through the window—not out the window (as it was closed), but through it.

"What do these other guys have that I don't?!" I asked the even more forbidden question. It felt as if something were erupting inside me.


"You know. The guys. The guys you have sex with." She gasped.


"Colin. Paul. Mike. I could go on."

"They were my boyfriends. Not at the same time. But each was my boyfriend at the time."

"For like two weeks!" She burst into tears, and I began to feel guilty. "I'm sorry."

"You think I'm some whore."

"No. No, I don't." No, I thought. Whores do it for money. You're a slut: you do it for fun.

"You didn't like me, after all," she said. "You bastard. I thought you were kidding when you told me you just wanted sex." I had been taking the advice of Doogie Howser's friend at the time—getting her thinking about sex and making her laugh at the same time. It made sense on paper. "You're just like everyone else. I was going to make you brownies." Not only was I missing out on orgasms, but also brownies. She was cruel.

"I'm sorry."

"Get the fuck out."

"You didn't answer my question."


"Why them?! Why not me!" She stopped crying.

"Look at you," she said. "You're a baby. You look like you're six." In retrospect, that wasn't a huge age difference. "You have a baby face."

Loud noises echoed from downstairs. She took her hands from her face, went to her mirror, and began to clean herself up.

"Close the door." I did. "It's my Dad. He comes home early sometimes from work. He's a professor, so he can work from home sometimes." She began to wave air at her face. "Come on. Get it together." I heard the footsteps ominously come up the stairs, echoing through the cavernous hall, getting closer and closer.

"Madison," he called, and opened the door without knocking. "Oh. Hi there." He was old; much older than I expected. He had a potbelly so out of proportion to his body that it seemed to be something he wore rather than something that was part of him.

"Hi, sir," I said, extending my hand. "My name is Yonah."

"Nice to meet you, Jonah." He turned to her. "You get a haircut?"

"Yes, Dad. I told you I had a hair appointment today. I had to get a ride from Taylor."

"Oh. Sorry. It looks nice, though." She said nothing. He closed the door, and I heard the footsteps fade.

Thinking back on this, which happened nearly twenty years ago, I'm reminded of a study I read recently. I can't find the article now, but it said that girls who are close to their fathers hit puberty later; and girls who are not hit puberty earlier. I find that fascinating. I'm no expert on the female body, still less on the gestalt female, but I find it hard to believe that a father could be such an influence on a young girl's body. Perhaps I had this man to thank for the drop in my grades at age nine. Perhaps even I could, by merely observing their physical development, learn about young girls' family lives and seem a mind reader. But I did not know these things at age thirteen.

"I hate him."


"Cuz he's so. . . " She made a noise much like when I tried to kiss her, starting in her much lauded chest and rising up to a stifled screech. "He walks in on me all the time. It's like he knows when I'm getting changed."


"He's a creep. Always has been."

"Oh. Do you still want me to leave?" She sighed.

"I'm sorry." She turned and gave me a hug, crying on my shoulder. "You're a good guy."

"You're making it worse," I said.

"I know," she said, and kissed me on the cheek.

Steven Stafford is a graduate of Umass Amherset. His work has appeared in Dappled Things.

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