Dawn

Norman Chester’s wife mumbled and chuckled in her sleep. Beneath her floral nightgown the soft, pale lumps of her flesh lay dreaming.

“Fendermembrum,” she mumbled, or “mumbeynumberdy.” Beside her in the darkness of their shared bedroom, Norman lay curled up and snoring, like a fat, new-born baby in his stripy grey pajamas. He was dreaming that he had won at the races, and that the winning horse had come home to live with them in the flat. He had just succeeded in backing the horse up the stairs to their floor, when he thought he heard someone call his name.

“Wuh?” asked Norman of the dark, rolling over.

He was almost totally asleep once more, when again he heard his name being called, this time in a fierce whisper, and he opened one eye. He stared at the back of his wife’s head, but she wasn’t moving.

“Norman! Down here!”

The voice was gruff, male, and seemed to come from under the covers. This upset Norman, and he got straight out of bed. He stood, staring fixedly at the place in the bed from which the voice had come. He was wide-awake now.

“Norman,” said the voice, like a boxer regaining consciousness, “I need a drink. I must have a whiskey.”

It seemed to Norman that the voice was actually coming from his wife’s bottom. A month earlier he had cancelled his annual check-up, to save money. But now he was regretting it.

“Norman you idiot!” whispered the voice with great urgency, “I know you’re there. Now get that drink!”

This was too much for him. Check-up or no check-up, he was not going to be bossed around by his wife’s backside in the middle of the night.

“Who are you?” whispered Norman, coming slightly closer to the bed.

“Get the torch,” urged the voice, “and get the whiskey while you’re at it.”

For a while longer he stared at the blanket, then he left the room, not even bothering to tiptoe. One part of him was scared that his wife would wake up and question him but another part was hoping she would wake up, and end this nonsense.

Mumbling under his breath he switched on the kitchen light, and in the 3 a.m. silence set about fixing the drink. When he had finished he paused, shrugged, and downed the drink himself. Grimacing, he poured another. Then he got the torch from the fuse-box. With the torch in one hand and the glass of whiskey in the other, he returned to the bedroom. After the light of the kitchen the bedroom seemed particularly dark.

Norman stopped beside the bed, and wondered how to proceed. He felt like an idiot standing beside his own bed at three in the morning with a glass of whiskey and a torch.

“Are you there?” he asked the blanket.

“Of course I’m here, did you get the drink?”

“Yes,” replied Norman, rather more loudly, hoping to wake Betty. If she woke, reality would return and the nightmare would be over.

But strangely, she didn’t.

“OK,” the voice whispered, “bring it under the covers.”

Norman stared at the blanket with growing annoyance.

“No,” he hissed back, “you come out and show yourself.”

“I can’t,” replied the voice with less self-assurance, “I’m stuck.”

“What do you mean you’re stuck?” asked Norman, loudly.

There was a pause, and then a sort of distant smacking of lips.

“I am stuck to Betty,” it whispered, no longer sounding so self-assured.

Like someone who had just suffered a very peaceful aneurysm Norman sank to his knees beside the bed.

Oh God no! He thought.

But the voice that delivered the coup de grace to his fragile mind spoke with such self-disgust and self-pity, that it moved his heart.

“I am Betty’s vagina,” it said.

It was many seconds before Norman became aware again of the sound of his own breathing and the ticking of the alarm clock. And then, so moved was he by the utter hopelessness with which the vagina had spoken that he was motivated to commit a simple act of kindness: he fetched a straw from the kitchen.

He knelt at the end of the bed, slipped his head in under the covers and with the torch switched on and gripped between his teeth, very carefully moved the whiskey upward between his wife’s doughy white thighs. But then he encountered the pantie. He had forgotten all about the pantie, and suffered a moment’s wild alarm. What would Betty do if she woke up now and found him under the covers between her legs in the middle of the night, with a torch and a drink.

But just as he was about to withdraw, the voice spoke again.

“Don’t worry,” it whispered with heart-rending urgency. “I have some influence. I can keep her asleep for a few more minutes. Just go carefully.”

But Norman was no longer capable of choosing caution or any other mode of action. Once your wife’s fanny has talked to you a part of your mind is changed forever, and you may act with all the carelessness of the sleepwalker who, convinced he is dreaming no longer fears the consequences of his actions. Therefore, moved not only by the fact that the poor vagina was muffled like a hostage but also by the dreadful urgency with which it seemed to need its drink, he abandoned all caution and pulled the pantie to one side. Struggling to push the blanket out of his face and not to spill the whiskey he pushed the straw up to the lips. For a moment nothing happened – he suffered another frightening moment of displacement within normality – but then the lips opened, puckered forward and closed over the end of the straw.

Betty’s fanny was having some whiskey.

In his warm little cave of light under the blanket Norman smiled, feeling a sudden surge of friendliness and concern for the old thing. When the straw started making slurping noises he pulled it gently from the lips. The vagina gave a sigh of satisfaction. Norman waited for it to speak and after breathing deeply in and out a couple of times it said: “Listen Norman, tomorrow night we must meet again, but you’ll have to give her some sleeping pills. It’s damn tough keeping her asleep when I’m so far from the brain. But we need to speak. We’re going to make some money you and I.”

It fell silent. After their brief camaraderie, Norman suddenly felt very alone in the room. He carefully replaced the pantie then reversed out from under the blanket. He took the torch and glass back to the kitchen, but when he returned to the bedroom and approached the bed he found that he simply couldn’t get in.

The idea that they were three in the bed was too much for him. He backed away from the bedroom and went and lay down on the sofa in the sitting room. For an hour he lay awake, staring at the shadows on the curtains, his mind a maze.

At eight o’clock when Betty stepped sleepily into her sunlit kitchen, she knew at once something was very, very wrong with her husband. Her hand went up to her mouth.

Norman was sitting at the end of the kitchen table, knife and fork in hand, a napkin tucked into his collar, looking very pleased with himself. And there, right in the middle of the table, the most shocking thing she had ever seen in her home.

A breakfast that she hadn’t made.

In thirty six years of marriage Norman had never made a meal. A cup of tea he could make, and he could smear some jam onto a slice of bread. But a meal? Alarm bells rang and it was with great difficulty that she hid her fear, acting as pleased as possible to see the black toast, the runny eggs and the oily, twisted bits of bacon.

She sat down and looked at her plate. She wished Norman would stop watching her and wondered how on earth she was going to eat. She couldn’t very well refuse the only meal he had ever made. How, she wondered, as she cut away at the safest looking bit of toast, was she to explain this?

Her first thought was that he had done something wrong. And this was his way of buttering her up, before confessing. But then she remembered that Norman had glanced down at her crotch as soon as she had entered the kitchen…

“Oh Lord,” she thought, through the loud crunching sounds in her head. She thought they were more or less finished with sex. Her own libido had not survived motherhood and she had felt terribly guilty over the years for the frustration she knew he had experienced. But there were such long gaps in between now, and he hadn’t hinted at any frustration in a while. But what other explanation was there?

She looked at her husband and wondered if this was his mid-life crisis? A bit late, she thought. She looked up from her plate and smiled at him. He smiled right back.

“Anything on today?” she asked, meaning sport.

Norman was having difficulties with his face. He had never felt so awkward and exposed in his life. He felt so many strongly conflicting emotions but none of them were appropriate for a facial expression. He was incredibly grateful for Betty’s question and clung to it like a drowning man.

“There’s rugby at 3,” he said, then stopped, not knowing what else to say. “But that’s still a long time away,” he continued, instantly wishing he hadn’t.

Betty was moving the food about on her plate, keeping her hands busy to create the impression of eating. Suddenly she got up.

“Some tea?” she asked, watching his eyes.

“Uh, no,” he said getting up too. “I’ve got to get going. I promised Laurie I’d help with the garage door.”

“Oh,” said Betty. “Well, thank you for the breakfast.” She said as she watched him leave, trying to sound light and sunny as if he made breakfast every Saturday morning. But she felt a terrible pang of love and pity for him.

Alone, she sat with her tea and surveyed the bizarre picture of the breakfast table. She felt an unexpected jolt of excitement when she pictured herself telling the girls at the shop about this. For a change it would be her reporting to work with entertaining personal news. Then just as suddenly she felt guilty for thinking it, while poor old Lumpy was clearly undergoing some terrible crisis. She sipped her tea and wondered in a distracted way at the faint smell of alcohol she seemed to pick up on herself.

Just before five o’clock that evening, as his defeated team left the TV-sized rugby field, Norman leapt up from the sofa.

“Let’s get take-aways!” he said to Betty who had been knitting with half an eye on the box. She had never seen him show so little interest in a game and her worries of the morning returned. My poor Lumpy, she thought tenderly.

The truth was that Norman had missed the entire game. The day was losing its light and he still had no idea how he was going to get the sleeping pills into her. Then, as the final whistle blew, it struck him that if they ordered Pizza from Diva’s they’d get two free Cokes and in Coke, he felt sure, she wouldn’t be able to taste the tablets.

“Ok.” Betty tried to match his childish enthusiasm despite the fact that they had got take-aways every Saturday night for as long as she could remember.

“What shall we get?”

“Divas!” Norman shouted, startling himself. “Divas,” he said again, softly.

Betty couldn’t help but stare at him. How strange, she thought, that one can know someone for forty years, and then suddenly, Bingo! One day they’re a different person. We are ruled by our hormones, she thought philosophically. Ruled by our bodies.

Norman couldn’t bare her gaze a second longer and went to the phone to order the two pizzas they always got. He wondered what to do next. He decided he’d run a bath for Betty. But as he entered the bathroom he suddenly thought about her fanny in all that water.

“Oh God.” He closed the bathroom door and sat down heavily on the toilet, his head in his hands. He tried, as he sat there, to think of anything in his recent thoughts that might indicate he was going mad, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t come up with anything. With the exception of the vagina everything seemed quite normal.

He stared at the embroidered Serenity Prayer that hung on the back of the bathroom door, framed on each side by brightly coloured peasants stooped in prayer. “God,” read Norman, his lips silently forming the words, “grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

Norman groaned. He felt neither wise nor serene, and the words bounced meaninglessly around in his mind as he sank deeper and deeper into his guilt-tinged bewilderment until finally he convinced himself that the night ahead would be the test. If it spoke again then life was weird, but he was normal, and if it didn’t speak again then it was time for him to confess. And see a neurologist.

The doorbell announced the arrival of the pizzas and woke him from his reverie. He flushed the toilet – bugle call of normality – and joined Betty in the kitchen. He persuaded her that they should eat in front of the television and as she turned to take out two plates he opened her coke, and threw in the two sweaty tablets he had hidden in his hand.

Norman’s conversation was animated during their meal and Betty kept glancing at him when his head was turned to the TV, wondering whether tonight he would make his move? My poor Lumpy, she thought, a teenager again…

But the next time Norman turned to look at her she was fast asleep, her head back against the sofa, a half eaten slice of Pizza in her hand.

He was calmly looking at her face, her mouth hanging open and her cheeks slightly flushed, when a gruff little voice shouted “Bingo!” so close and unexpected it made Norman leap from the sofa and drop his plate.

“Let’s talk cheese my friend,” continued the muffled voice as Norman struggled to compose himself. “But first I need a drink, and this time make it a double!”

Norman turned off the volume on the TV set, drew the curtains and switched off the light. Then, with shaking hands took the plates through to the kitchen.

“Dear Lord,” he whispered as he poured the drinks. But he was relieved. Betty was asleep, the vagina had spoken. He was normal!

He returned to the dark sitting room and looked at his wife, her head rolled back, the blue light from the TV screen spluttering eerily over her still body. He put the drinks down on the coffee table, pulled up two footstools, and gently spread Betty’s legs, placing each foot on a stool. Then he pulled up her dress, revealing the flesh-coloured expanse of her pantie. Sliding his hands under her buttocks, he pulled the pantie up to her knees, where it remained.

“Ah, thank God,” sighed the vagina, its mustachioed lips stretched wide in a vertical, self-satisfied smile, “let’s have that drink then, Lumpy.”

Norman knelt in front of his wife and brought the glass and the straw up to the smile, wondering who Lumpy was.

The lips finished the double whiskey with one deep, long suck, and let out a sigh of the most candid relief.

Norman removed the straw, and put the glass down. He sat heavily on the carpet, looking up between his wife’s legs.

For a long while there was silence. The lips were sealed. Norman focused on his drink.

He listened to the ticking of the clock, and the dim sounds of traffic outside.

“Do you know what tomorrow is?” asked the vagina suddenly.

“Sunday?” replied Norman.

“I’ll give you that…” it replied condescendingly, “but more importantly, my dear Lumpy, tomorrow is the ‘Durban-July.’ ”

Norman stared in shock. In all the chaos of the last 18 hours he had totally forgotten about the “Durban-July,” highlight of the horse-racing year!

“How much money have you put aside this year?” asked the voice, its tone silkily conspiratorial.

Norman had saved up about R 2000 over the year, but suddenly he felt unsure whether he should reveal it.

“About a thousand,” he said, glancing quickly at the television.

“Well,” came the voice from between Betty’s legs, “that’s a pity… Because I know who’s going to win.”

Norman started. “How?” He asked.

“Because I,” replied the vagina, his tone thoroughly self-congratulatory, “am part of Nature.” He paused to let his words sink in. “I am part of your wife, yes, but I am also at one with Time, the pot plant in the kitchen, the grass at Greyville Race Course. And the horse that’s going to win.”

Norman was amazed. He moved closer so that his cheek pressed against Betty’s calf.

“Which one?” he whispered, staring fixedly into the hairy gloom.

“African Thunder,” replied the lips.

“African Thunder,” echoed Norman. The filly was almost last on his list, or anyone else’s for that matter.

“How can you be so sure?” he asked looking back into the darkness.

“The pot plant is over-watered. Its roots have filled the pot, it doesn’t have proper drainage, and as a result its leaves are turning yellow.”

Norman was quiet. He wondered if it had actually seen the pot plant. But Betty had never been, and never would be, naked in the kitchen. She wore her gown everywhere unless she was clothed or in the bathroom. For a while he sat staring at the television, seeing nothing.

“Tell you what, my little Lumpy,” said the vagina at last, “this is our first time so I’ll go easy on you: Put half of your ‘one thousand’ on African Thunder, and put the rest on any horse you like and let’s see what happens.”

At 11:37 the following morning Norman leapt up from the very seat Betty had occupied the night before and stared in dumb and glorious amazement at the television screen.

“We did it,” he rasped, “we bloody did it!” In total confusion he paced around the sofa. Twice. He looked out of the window, seeing nothing. He wanted to tell the vagina, but that was impossible. He phoned Betty on her mobile.

She was struck dumb. In all their years of married life he had never won anything more than a few hundred Rand on the races. It was a vice of his she cautiously encouraged. After all he was so conservative in his betting and she believed that the satisfaction of small vices kept the temptation of bigger ones at bay. A little glimmer of pride for him lit up her heart, and for the first time since breakfast the day before she felt totally at ease. Never in all their lives had they had more money than they needed, and now they had more than they would know what to do with.

Stuttering wild nonsense into the phone she swung like a pendulum between sensible thoughts, and wild, daring thoughts. But they would have to go out tonight to celebrate, that much was certain! And who knew…

She thought again about Norman’s bizarre recent behavior and that telltale glance at her crotch.

“Well Norman you old devil,” she thought saucily, “you might just get lucky tonight if you wine and dine this old girl right”. She smiled at herself, feeling suddenly ten years younger.

Seven o’clock found them sitting opposite one another at “Chives,” the restaurant they had come to when each of the boys matriculated, and once again – for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It was the first time in years that they found unrestrained joy in each other’s company, their two candle-lit faces flickering one for the other. They drank champagne – something they had not done since their last visit to this very restaurant. But although their minds and hearts were filled with their unexpected windfall, they didn’t speak about money. They spoke about the boys (both married and living abroad); they spoke about the past, about the shop, about anything that floated into their minds – avoiding the topic of The Money, as if mentioning it might break the spell. Their evening together was a moment taken out of time, a candle-lit raft, pulled gently by a violin’s strains along the meandering river of their lives.

Just before midnight they stumbled into the dark passage of their little flat, Norman supporting Betty – who was giggling uncontrollably after their near-catastrophic ascent up the stairs. He couldn’t remember when last either of them had been this tipsy, and a burst of youthful spontaneity prompted him to carry her from the sitting room to their bedroom, where, impaired by drink and laughter, he dumped her unceremoniously onto the bed. As she fell she pulled Norman down to her, and pushed his face into her cleavage. He had started kissing her shoulders and neck when he remembered her fanny! Panic and drunkenness fought for control of his mind, but trapped in his wife’s embrace he started shaking and Betty, mistaking this shaking for lust, slipped her hands under his jersey and started massaging his shoulders, arching her head back as she did so.

This was too much. Norman rolled over onto the bed next to her and lay gasping, staring up at the swirling ceiling. Betty, grinning like a girl of twenty, swung a leg over him and sat astride him. She bent forward and kissed his lips and face and down below he felt the pressure of her buttocks on his crotch.

“Betty!” he whispered fiercely in the swirling, sticky dark.

“No!” he tried to shout, but she was kissing him on the mouth again, and down below he felt her start to move her crotch rhythmically over his. And then – oh God no! – he felt in his own pants that terrible bodily betrayal which every man alive has known: The totally unconquerable response to the presence of sex, from the one part of the body that never – in all the centuries of human evolution – has relinquished its autonomy. Norman felt himself grow hard, his mutinous member straining against the fabric of his pants – a state of tension that Betty quickly remedied.

His mind cried out in silent anguish. As if looking down into the darkness of a swirling bath plughole, he saw the future in his mind’s panicked eye: the vagina would never forgive him. It would remain silent forever. It would give him no more tips, and then-

His rebellious member violated the dark liquid portal of his future wealth, and he passed out.

It was hours later when he woke breathlessly from a nightmare in which he had propped the heavily sedated Betty upside down on the sofa (so that her head was on the carpet, and her opened legs were hanging obscenely over the back of the sofa) and he was pouring an entire bottle of Chivas Regal down her gluttonous, slurping vagina.

He sat bolt upright in bed, his head wracked with pain, the room revolving like a dysfunctional and nauseating merry-go-round. He looked to his right. Betty was sound asleep, her shoulder naked in the moonlight that shone through the curtains. His eyes moved down in a trance of guilt and self-disgust to the mound of her thigh, where they stopped.

He had to make amends, and he had to do it now.

He got out of the bed, his head throbbing with each clumsy step and knelt on Betty’s side of the bed.

“Are you awake?” he whispered, his nose nearly touching the blanket.

He waited, but no voice came. All was lost.

He laid his aching head on the edge of the bed. He was drifting back into a nightmarish, self-pitying stupor, when suddenly the voice spoke.

“Yes, I’m awake,” it said, “I’m wide awake thank you very much, and since you are too, I think its time we have a little talk, you and I.”

Norman said nothing.

“But first,” it continued, “since you and Betty have had such a lovely evening I think it only fair that I too am allowed – permitted,” he said as if between clenched teeth, “a little something to get your taste out of my mouth.”

Norman didn’t know what to say. He got up weakly from the floor and walked as if through lead, to the kitchen. For the third time he took the whiskey bottle down from the shelf, but this time only one glass which he filled almost half way before finding a straw.

In his stricken, exhausted state, he was almost carefree in the manner in which he gained access to the vagina, and fed it it’s drink. For a very long time indeed neither of them spoke. But when the lips did finally speak they delivered a speech that Norman would remember, word for word, to the very end of his life.

“Let me tell you what it’s like to be me,” the gruff little voice began.

“All day I am gagged by cloth, rubbed between sweaty thighs. All manner of fluids drip through me, the least of which is urine. Twice I have had to stretch to the size of a melon, something from which, I can assure you, it took me a long time to recover. I itch, I have tampons pushed into me, I bleed. And then-” it paused, as if struggling to find the words.

It was starting, Norman realized, to sound quite drunk.

“Then, after all this, I have a penis shoved into me. For my efforts. For my thanks!”

Norman’s whole body went cold.

“Now, when you are a vagina and someone fucks you,” – Norman winced at the language and the wince made his head throb, “you say to yourself: ‘OK, I’m a vagina, what do I expect? But when you are in a business partnership, and your buddy, your companero fucks you, then you start to ask yourself some questions. You ask yourself, ‘why am I in this so-called partnership? What’s in it for me?’”

There followed a very long silence during which Norman hardly dared breath. He sat on the edge of the bed, his hands grasping and releasing each other in his lap.

The vagina, having provided proof of its oneness with nature, now betrayed its woeful ignorance of human nature, and drunk on whiskey and self-righteousness, overplayed its cards.

“So let me tell you what’s in it for me,” continued the slurring, nasal voice from under the blankets. “We are going to accumulate as much wealth as it takes to set me free.”

Norman was confused.

“Are you hearing me, my friend?”

Norman nodded, but couldn’t speak.

“Surgeons are doing incredible things nowadays and one day, in the not so very distant future, we are going to have them cut me lose.”

These words the vagina let fall like so many stones. Stones which, in the silence of the bedroom, dislodged the over-stressed stays of Norman’s mind, and woke him from a life-long dream.

“I am going to be free,” said the vagina. “I am going to live alone, without this body controlling me, and I am going to drink whiskey whenever I want, as much as I want. And I am never, never ever going to be fucked by my partner again.”

Norman sat staring at the moonlight on the cupboard, and a strange expression, for which there was no muscle memory, started forming on his face.

Leaning forward where he sat on the edge of the bed, his shoulders started to shake. At first he shook gently, like a demure relative at a graveside. Then the shaking increased in vigor as he hugged his arms across his chest and started rocking backwards and forwards, biting on his teeth to keep his mouth closed.

He thought back on the sexual frustration he had suffered for most of his married life. His bizarre dependence on two wrinkly, hairy little flaps of skin. Suddenly it was over. He was free, while the vagina was an addict, and addicts were easily controlled.

Ignoring the slurred insults emanating from Betty’s nether regions Norman rolled over onto his side and buried his face in the blankets until the laughter finally subsided and he lay still.

For a while he lay like that, unmoving, simply wallowing in his new found freedom, then he raised his head and looked at Betty. Serene and beautiful she was in the moonlight, oblivious of the war that had been waged and won… And as he looked at her, seeing her as he had earlier that evening, properly – for the first time in decades – he felt the room grow brighter, as if the moon had come out from behind the clouds.

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