Authors: Tamara Faith Berger
Coach House Books, Toronto
Table of Contents
copyright © Tamara Faith Berger, 2012
Published with the generous assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA
CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
Berger, Tamara Faith
Maidenhead / Tamara Faith Berger.
PS8553.E6743M35 2012 C813'.6 C2012-900237-2
Maidenhead is available as an ebook: ISBN 978 1 77056 313 1.
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’The dream of all men is to meet little sluts who are innocent but ready for all forms of depravity – which is what, more or less, all teenage girls are.’
– Michel Houellebecq,
The Possibility of an Island
‘My mystery is that I have no mystery.’
– Clarice Lispector
here are slaves on the earth right now, actual slaves. There are classes of slaves and races of slaves. There are slaves on the earth right now, birthing more slaves. This is not a dream. I have done a reality check and there are still slaves. I met two slaves when I was sixteen years old. I met them and they taught me that I had to change my life; I had to make it worth worth. I had to learn how to make my value instinctive because an instinct for value was all that slaves have.
At the edge of the sea in Key West on our family vacation – the March break time when I was sixteen – I learned that two hundred Africans died on the beach there after they’d made it on slave ships across. Then Cubans died one hundred years later, dried out to death on rotting wood rafts. Blond college girls also drowned in this ocean, after drunk sex that didn’t feel right. Key West: the last blot of American land before the slaves thrived or sank in the sea.
LEE: You know what this story is about? It’s the autobiography of your self-fucking-worth.
GAYL: Nah. She was just in a learning position. And then she led us like asses into the ocean. That’s funny. She should start it like that.
On the first night of our family vacation, after greasy black burgers and fries near the beach, my dad and my brother took one bed with the TV remote and my sister took the other, screaming
when she saw scrubs. It was some hospital show, an operation gone wrong. I told my mom that I was going for a walk on the beach.
‘It gets dark too quick in the tropics,’ she said.
‘If I can walk around after dinner at home by myself, why can’t I do it here?’
My mother was slow with her comeback. ‘But you don’t know your way around Key West, am I right?’
‘Yeah, but isn’t that the point of travelling?’ I countered.
My mother watched me as I scuttled around the room looking for the key, trying not to get the attention of my father away from the TV. I wasn’t going to just lie there with them all and pretend to be involved in some hospital crisis. I’m not a herd mentality. People are out there having drinks and dancing. There’s a beach outside our window, a moon.
I registered it was strange that my mother wasn’t looking to my father for help like she usually did at home. The first flash of a fight between us and she’d shoot this helpless, fed-up look at my dad to get him to say something about me not listening to her. It was as if my mother knew that her words had no law.
The wind was loud outside through the screen and I put on my short jean jacket, in case. My mother had set herself up on the chair furthest from the TV with her headphones of folk and a book about women in Korea that had a black and white photo on the front.
Whatever, Mom, enjoy your dismal world. I’m in Key West. I’m actually here.
My feet had blisters from my new shoes but I couldn’t walk down that hallway without running. Beer bottles rolled on trays outside rooms. The carpet was the colour of turf. Our motel was probably supposed to be nicer, maybe that’s why my mother seemed so fucking upset. This was a Spring Break motel full of American kids.
I galloped down the stairs instead of taking the elevator and got out at the back, right near the beach. The air was kind of mouldy, still warm. A gull started to shriek. I didn’t exactly know where to go. I thought it was weird there was no one around. I sat on the sand, in front of the hedges that guarded the pool. Fluorescent light through them made my skin green. The beach seemed like a sphere at night – out to each side it dropped into a hole. I thought about Jen on March Break in Cabo San Lucas with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend. Jen wanted me to have a boyfriend so we could talk about things. She said that Josh was once begging her to do it with him, literally on his knees, because she was holding him off all week.
‘You can really make a guy crazy,’ Jen said, ‘not letting them have sex with you. It’s the hottest thing when they finally get it. It’s primal, I swear, seriously.’
I didn’t understand how she knew when to do it and when to hold off.
The ocean was black. I didn’t want to go close to that void. I wanted to read. I was just going to get up and go back to our room when I saw a spark near the water. It was a cigarette being passed back and forth.
I inched forward on the sand. Over the waves I heard clicking, like magnets that you keep sticking together.
‘I can’t hold it anymore!’ a girl said.
‘Come on,’ said a guy. He sounded annoyed.
Then that clicking sound got louder and I realized that it was sucking, then slurping.
‘You can stop,’ the guy said. ‘Let’s lie down.’
Then there was no light and there was no sound. After a few seconds, I heard something else. It was quiet at first, but then it squeaked, or meowed. I felt my heart being startled in time to those sounds. Painful, animal crying sounds.
It didn’t feel good to be there. I crawled back to the hedges, sweating. I knew I had to go back to our room. I didn’t want my mother to come looking for me.
That night, I had to tell myself a story to trick myself into sleeping.
Me still out on the sand by myself, smoking a spark. One of the guys in our Spring Break motel in bathing-suit shorts holding a flashlight on his balcony, circling it around. The light was drawing a heart in the air. Then his flashlight went off. He was coming down to find me. Me there meowing, slurping, on my hands and my knees. I had pulled up my skirt, put my head in the sand. I could still look behind me, squinting, I could look at the guy without him seeing my face. He was half-naked and hairless. He reached into his shorts. There were sparks off his body, flashlights, cigarettes. His shorts came down. He held himself. I was rocking back and forth. The guy crouched down near me, behind me, and twisted my head. I started to open. His mouth was tight like a trampoline. I was pinned but I wiggled my bum until the guy jerked and pushed up into me, somewhere. My stomach got prickly the way he was corkscrewing through. We were clicking, slurping. My father started wheezing. My sister dry-coughed. I turned on my side and tried to start again from the beginning.
I had to keep imagining that I was losing my virginity so one day it would really happen.
GAYL: Dreams, yeah, are dreams. That there was no dream.
LEE: Everyone was once a virgin, you know.
GAYL: You mean a
of a virgin. You could be raped a thousand times and still be a virgin.
LEE: Who the hell gets raped a thousand times?
GAYL: I’ll leave that interrogative strand to the experts.
At the pool on the second day of our family vacation, my father said, ‘I like your bathing suit, Myra, is it new?’
I nodded and then I jumped in the water. My suit was fuchsia, a combination of a one-piece and a bikini. My dad used to give me and Jody and Jeff dolphin rides in the water when we were kids. His back had pimples and you had to hold on tight with your straight arms to stop your mouth from going under. It was awkward before I knew how to swim. That feeling of going deeper, bobbing down but trying to stay up, while the dolphin didn’t even know how close I was to staying under.
I wrapped my towel around me to cover myself. The sun smacked the surface of the pool.
‘I’m going to the beach,’ I said.
My dad had sunglasses on, his nose was bright red. Jeff was reading
and Jody was tanning with baby oil. My mother pretended not to hear me. She was in the middle of her Korean book. It was called
Testimonies of the Comfort Women
. We hadn’t spoken since the night before. I was almost finished