Girl & Machine
It was the beginning of the school summer holidays when I first discovered you and your delights. I know this for sure because I was home alone, it was a weekday and, in the lounge room, there were Christmas decorations and a plastic tree in a box that hadn’t yet been put up. That’s how it all began, when I decided – bored, I guess – to take off all my clothes and wrap red and gold tinsel around my body and adorn it with angels and stars – which, I have to admit, kind of felt nice. Then – second decision – I went into my mother’s home massage clinic and, curiously, by the handle picked you up. You gleamed. You were brand, brand new, and I was nine.
There were other new things in that home clinic. Since we’d moved into my stepfather’s house earlier that year, my mother had renovated the back sunroom with the hope that she would be able to do her sports therapy full-time, and not just evenings and Saturdays. She’d fixed an infrared lamp to the wall – that was supposed to help heal damaged tissue. She’d tinted the windows – privacy – and tiled the floor – non-slip. She’d installed a spa so her clients could relax after their treatments. But you, you were thing that would make the deepest impression, would have lasting impact on me.
My mother simply referred to you as the massage machine. She had explained that she could use it if her arms and hands got tired; she’d move it along muscles to release tension and stress, but never on bone.
Never on bone, I repeated to myself as I plugged you into the socket and turned you on. Sitting on the massage table, still naked and wrapped in tinsel, I tried you on a calf, a thigh. That was alright. Then, shoulders and sides – awkward, uncomfortable. The jelly of my belly – good... I moved you around, up and down, the vibrations travelling across and through my flesh. And then, before I knew it, there was an unexpected, hot explosion between my legs; it rippled out like Pop Rock candy, but better, the fizzy crackle ebbing as it reached my extremities, my four limbs, fingers and toes.
Well, it goes without saying that’s how I spent the rest of the afternoon, until just before 5 o’clock when I knew my adults would be coming home. Because even though I didn’t have a name for the pleasure I had learned my body was capable of producing, repeatedly, I sensed that the attendant act was not something I should display publicly – especially in front of a new stepfather. So, at 4:45, I put the tinsel back in its box, put my clothes back on and assembled myself on the couch to watch The Brady Bunch or cartoons or some nerdy science show so as to appear to be the same kid they’d left that morning. My lips were sealed.
But do you think I told my best friend? Of course!
The very next time I went over to Stacey Sleeman’s house, as soon as we were alone I told her about you and how you could make her feel, using the Pop Rock candy analogy. But Stacey seemed apprehensive. She averted her eyes while I kept on exclaiming, excitedly, ‘Stacey, it’s perfectly safe. If you want, I’ll hold it for you on your vagina and then you’ll see how good it is!’
That never came to be.
After that visit, Stacey and I slowly drifted away.
But you: Rectangularly-shaped, cream-coloured, plastic-coated. Inside, you had a thrumming motor. And in the place where there would’ve been a tail, if you were a vertebrate four-legged animal, there was an inordinately long electrical cord. Your vibratory surface was about the shape of a brick, flat side down, maybe a little wider. You had two attachments – one, a bristly thing, the other, knobbly and potentially painful. Obviously, attachment-free was the way to go. Another choice. Three settings: slow, medium, fast. Fast: best. I would run, fly home from school to be with you between 3:30 and 4:45, to be on the safe side. Not that there weren’t a couple of close calls, when I didn’t hear the key turn in the lock until the last moment. Frankly, you were noisy as a tractor. The solution had to be that I relocate our activities to the front room, by the window, so that with one eye I could watch out for a car rolling into the drive, while allowing the other to roll back in my head to white.
Masturbation. Eventually, I heard the word. I also came to understand that other girls had other ways of doing it and achieving the same end – or, at least, one other girl I knew.
Since Stacey Sleeman had gone, I’d become friends with Suzanna Pinetti, who was a couple of years older and lived across the road. One time, early on in the friendship, I invited her to come over after school and to bring her bathers so we could go in the spa. When she arrived, I told her not to wait but to get in, as the heat and bubbles were already on. Meanwhile, I was going to the kitchen to pour us some lemonade.
‘Because it’s nice to feel the cool bubbles on your nose from the cup and the warm bubbles from the spa at the same time,’ I explained.
I mean, there were other sensations I enjoyed, too – it wasn’t all about you!
But when I returned, I found that Suzanna had not only gotten in, as I had encouraged her to do, but she’d thrown her legs over the tub’s rim and was moaning like a bear with a sore tooth.
Of course, I knew exactly what she was doing, but still I asked dumbly, ‘Suzanna, are you alright?’
I wanted to give her the chance to save face that Stacey Sleeman hadn’t given me, because I’d also come to understand that self-pleasure wasn’t normally socially acceptable, not even among girlfriends. But Suzanna didn’t stop.
Instead, she lied. ‘I’m not masturbating, I promise.’
‘Okay,’ I said, tentatively stepping towards her. When I’d finally entered the warm water, she was still going, so I tried to offer her another more convivial amusement: ‘Here’s your lemonade. If you just put it to your nose –’
‘In a sec,’ said Suzanna, still moaning. ‘Put your feet... over the edge... and do what I’m doing. Make sure you’re near a jet.’
So, what the hell, I did. But you know what? It just wasn’t you.
You certainly were competition for the human teenaged partners that followed: ‘No, no. Just jiggle your finger. Faster, faster. Use the palm of your hand.’
And then, sadly, when I was seventeen, we had to part ways.
There were difficult circumstances. By that time, my mother had left my now ex-stepfather.
We’d been living in another house for two years. She was depressed, and I don’t know where she went, but more often than not she didn’t come home until after midnight. Somehow, I’d managed to get myself through Year 11 and 12. I was in the middle of my HSC. The week before, I’d broken up, too, with an on-off again wrong boyfriend; and his friends had seemed to think it would serve justice if they sent someone to break in and rape me – to try, at least – after my Unit 2 Maths exam. Home didn’t feel safe anymore, so I moved in with a teacher into his share house.
Oh, everyone said I was a slut. And I was – if you define a slut as being someone who has agency, who takes control of their own life, even as it’s falling apart.
To tell you the truth, what that teacher and I mostly did was sit in parks, blow cola out of straws to see who could shoot the furthest, and talk. Well, I talked and he listened, like no one had before. That was something you, my dear, couldn’t do.
Many years later – thirteen, to be exact – we were united again. So much life, love, gain, loss had happened in between. My mother had just died and I, sole inheritor, was going through all her things. Her pantry, her wardrobe, the boxes in the garage. That’s where you were, hidden like a forgotten treasure. Holding you in my hands, I felt I was meeting an old friend, someone who, despite a limited means of communicating, had given me an unabridged knowledge of my own pleasure-self, and had made me, in a roundabout way, begin to question the bounds of mine and my world’s sense of female sexual shame.
But you: Older-looking, chipped, stained. Your damaged cord had been wrapped in black duct tape, although, it seemed, you still had a sturdy core. Motor apparently running and ready, you mirrored back my own enduring indomitability and desire.
Well, you know, and I know, what happens next.
About the author
Tamara Lazaroff is a writer of short fiction and narrative nonfiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Meanjin, Southerly, Feminartsy, Girls Will Be Girls and The Big Issue, among other Australian, NZ and UK journals. She has a particular interest in hidden histories, the migrant experience, queer and feminist themes and celebratory stories of social connectedness. She lives in Brisbane with her cat.
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