Annemarie Hendrikz

Biology

Strange words she muses – loss – lost – lose. Something not being where it should be – no longer in the right place; and then there’s ‘should’ and ‘right’.   Yet, the loss of mother, fortune, keys, virginity are not at all the same condition, even if they were all to happen to the same person at the same moment.

Lost virginity.  Now there’s a thing.  Biologically it involves breaking the hymen.  Horse riding is alleged to be able to do this, however, so there is clearly more to virginity than the state of a vaginal membrane.

Her virginity was a portal to the right society, the right man, the right life; a matter of principle. So her mother (who was not then dead) had said.  She knew, from this same conversation, that there was likely to be blood.  So there was, but she, like most young women of nineteen, was used to loss of blood.  That was not the issue.

The young man was handsome by any criteria.  He had the most graceful back she had ever seen, a smooth brown chest with a gentle dusting of hair down the middle to his navel and below it too, long strong legs, a head of curly black hair and fine shiny black hairs on the top of his wrists and the first phalange of each finger and each toe on his slender feet. His eyes were brown, his black lashes long, his broad smile filled with white teeth and he was a passable dancer.  He owned a magnificent motorbike – which she considered the next best thing to a horse – enjoyed reading and gardening and was soft-spoken and well mannered.    So it seemed the right time to consider embracing the principle and opening the portal.

The moon was soft through the muslin curtain of her room.  She could see, but not too much.  She could feel however, far too much. He had grown another limb and it lacked his otherwise gentle good manners.  He was slippery with sweat and strange sounds.  Surely this enormous body part was not going to be able to find its way into a part of her that struggled to accommodate a regular sized tampon. (She learned later – with children – that she owned an incredibly flexible body part, but that night her own slender brown legs balked at the expectations and it really all became quite difficult).

Still, it happened.  She lost her virginity.  Felt it thrust up under her heart. (For a while she wondered what happened to her hymen.  Did it shred and fall in pieces on the bed mixed in the blood – no semen, he contained that – or did the hanging shreds attach themselves to her vaginal wall like little tags of cling seal, fretting forever at the loss of unity?)

That night when it was all over, and he lay soft next to her with grateful eyes and his gentle smile, she fell headlong into the jaws of relief – and thus, she was initiated and entered the expected society of her mother’s dreams, thinking them her own too, with principles more or less intact.

Many years later, happy years sustained by loving her children and by her studies and the practice of law and entertaining and homebuilding and wife-ing, it dawned on her that she might actually be lost.  Thinking it might help, and having made no fortune to lose and having by then lost her mother and many sets of keys, she decided to search for her virginity.  She began to explore all the nooks and crannies of her busy life.

One day, quite unexpectedly, she looked more deeply and more softly into the eyes of a woman she had thought of as her best friend until that moment.  When the woman’s hand reached out, slowly stroked her check, her neck, her collarbone, the breast above her heart, she felt her virginity stir and she knew with certainty – her principles in uneven motion – that she had not lost it at all.

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Annemarie Hendrikz

Aching for another chance

Ben is no longer in a hurry.  Just exhausted, dirty and terrified of the wooden box on his lap.  He leans into the once familiar gate, seeking comfort – not only for his aching city back. He remembers hanging the gate, sitting on the hand-drill while his father turned the arm and wood-shavings curled out of the hole like fantastic flat worms and mixed into the pungency of sun-baked fynbos and his father’s pipe.

As soon as he’d found the box he had tried to open it with his pocket knife – ‘the one you must always carry on account of the python’.  But the six screws needed more exact handling, demanded a rusty respect and now he is grateful that the moment of opening had been herded into a more roundabout destiny.  Why had he burned with a need to know?  Mama had not told him what was in the box, only that he would find it at chest level and an imagined arm’s length nearer the surface.  And that is exactly where – eventually, after hours of searching and digging – he had found it.  Terrified or not, he must do it.

All six screws come out smoothly.  The lid shifts as Ben pulls out the last screw and he catches his breath on the smell – a whiff of stinkwood and something else, both smells entirely familiar. He slides the lid open further.  It sticks half way.  Still it’s a biggish box and he can get his hand in.  He brings out the chisel, wrapped in an almost disintegrated oil-cloth.  The carving edge is worn concave; the wooden handle now fits in his own palm, the squiggly Italian name and unbelievable year etched into the wood at the top.  How could he not have known this would be in the box.  Of course!

His grandfather had been a sculptor, but his father, the man of this box, the man whose hand belonged to the chisel, had made furniture.  Exquisite, handcrafted pieces.

Memories crowd in like a stampeding herd, he can hardly make out details but the energy of it rocks him.  Enormous tree falling – seemingly silently after the whine of the saw, held in slow motion by the stinkwoods and yellowwoods still standing, waiting their turn in years to come.  The soaking beams in giant oil troughs; the rats – sometimes caught unaware in the night – lying oil-smooth, face down, tail straight the following morning, looking like snorkel divers.  The long strips of riempie hanging from roof-hooks like giant biltong sinews.

Ben reaches into the box again, not looking, feeling.  Cold, smooth with patches of something crumbly.  Another memory stirs; the two-shelf bookcase near the fireplace in his parents’ bedroom.  That’s all there was –their bed, their chair, the huge fireplace, the bookcase, and on the bookcase the jade green…..yes!  He pulls the carving out, the curled up almost formless but unmistakably cat body, now slightly crusted – with what?  It looks like miniscule barnacles, but as he rubs the fist-size sculpture on his cords the crust comes off and the stone takes on its original murky gloss.

His hands – his fingertips – tingle as though strange and new blood is pumping into them after years in a vice.  Without touching he knows – suddenly and with a riptide of memory – what else he will find.

He had heard the big saw on that autumn mid-morning, but ignoring the ban – sure that it was only for when he was young and didn’t understand the dangers – he had rushed into his father’s workroom, heart a drum in his throat, stomach clawing under his ribs, clutching the immaculate cream-coloured envelope with the magical embossed stamp of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music on the left – above his name and address.

He remembers his father’s shoulder, his hand on it momentarily.  He remembers his father’s startled blue eyes and then the astonishment in them and the sound that came from his father’s open mouth.  At first he hadn’t known what it was, the hand that shot across the workbench, the blood that squirted from his father’s arm.

Nobody ever blamed Ben.  Not to his face anyway.  Not even when, five years later his father took the gun in his good hand and ended something for himself, nor when two years after that Mama died – some said of grief.

Ben didn’t take that scholarship. He never did learn Hungarian, nor stand again on the Fisherman’s Bastion where he had held the hand of a parent on each side and looked down on the Danube river that had inspired the first music he fell in love with – at three, listening to Mama.  He did study piano, his mother had insisted, but locally and with a reticence that kept his brilliance at bay and sent him fleeing to law school as soon as he completed the doctorate she had set her heart on.  He had also kept on playing in the amateur quintet.

The small box comes out of the bigger box easily. Stinkwood too, also with a sliding lid, the 27 delicate white hand-bones at peace on the soft brown leather inside.

He hears his father’s voice again, telling of the dignity of hands, his own hands, his father’s hands, his grandfather’s hands.  The gift we can offer the world his father had said, the roughest and the finest skills, the touch most intimate.

Ben places the objects carefully back in the box.  He knows what he must do.