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Amber Paulen


Excerpted from The Body’s Long Madness, Draft 2, Part 2, Pg. 87 to 89

The next thing she learns—the very same day, much later in the evening, after they had walked and talked, hungry, they stop for a slice of pizza—is about the sexual repertoire of most Tunisian men.

“Most of us haven’t had sex yet.”

Valerie’s mouth drops and he can see the disbelief on her face.

“I am still a virgin. Most of my friends are virgins.” Fouad smiles and takes a bite of the steaming pizza. For him it is the most normal thing in the world. For Valerie it is a feat rarely conceived.

“So, you mean all those men just standing around all day are mostly all virgins?”

“Yes. Our religion says that we may have sex on the first night of marriage.”

“Do you mean the whole white sheet and everything?”

“Yes, we have a white sheet, very special for that first night. My mother still has hers. It is a very old tradition.”

“But, I mean,” stutters Valerie. “Isn’t it difficult? Don’t you want to have sex? Don’t you get horny?”

Fouad gently laughs and looks at Valerie from the side, as if suggesting the superfluousness of her question. “We are men. We are taught ways to relieve ourselves. I think most men here though, if presented the option, would have sex. That is why you, a white woman, has so much trouble here. Your culture doesn’t demand that you remain chaste. To me, your culture even demands the opposite, that the least chastity is prized. But even here, look at the music videos. . . I’ll show you later. . . they drive me crazy! We are the very old combined with the very new. All of western influence is recent here, but spreads very fast. It is difficult to meet a woman because of it. They see all those men on TV with expensive cars and good clothes and they are the kind of men they want. They don’t want us average men that work for our pay and can’t even find work most times. I saw it in school. All the guys with the best stuff always had a girlfriend. All the rest of us. . . it will take ages to marry.”

Fouad again walks her to the hostel, as he does every night.

Valerie lies back on a bunk to the side of the sullen and damp room. Tonight she has many thoughts and she takes out her journal to relieve them. Thinking of Fouad and his great longings. Stuck in his situation; or is it his situation that is sticking to him? One can never tell, especially here, where the constructs coating the truth are of different substances.

The matter of sex, or the lack of it, greatly intrigues her. She thinks of her first experience, that random thrusting, laying there like a stiff plank; what was that all about? was she too young? but if that were her wedding night? would she have been just as stiff? Sex for ‘Westerners” at young ages was something that as much happened as getting ones ears pierced or teeth cleaned. No longer prized or held in esteem: fuck at will! that’s what we seem to say. Valerie must admit there is some kind of sensuality lost when everything is so out in the open. Can you imagine? That first night? The man’s excitement could go as far as impotence. The woman, keeping hidden until the final moment, revealing her flesh, bit-by-bit. Where an ankle is enough to cause a swoon or sonnet or erection. Where everything surrounding sex drips with the fecundity of nature’s spring, every movement inlaid with meaning; the body: a wondrous and sacred thing, beautiful in itself and its nakedness.

But, instead we fuck under the flashing lights. Our sexy screams more and better, tuck and curl, get a boob-job while you’re at it, yours are looking slightly deflated. The sacredness of the body has been raped to become a mere dressing-ground/play-ground. We refuse to admit it to ourselves that we are being used and exploited by the flashing lights and innumerable accessories. What we take for love and love making is a cheap replica made of plastic. Our priorities are all fucked, as fucked as the teenage prom queen who has been wearing push-up bras since the tender age of twelve. But, shrug your shoulders, what can we do? We’ve had it coming to us since the beginning of time. The beginning of time: where our bodies were the proud pillars upon which we stood. But that time, like all times, has passed and we already know there is no looking back for what we don’t have. Let those adolescent girls be cored! They’re as horny as they come! They know more about fucking than Valerie does; she hasn’t even been born yet. We’ll get what’s coming to us yet. There is no stopping the progression of time. The days of the body as sacred have long gone.

Setting down her journal Valerie picks up Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which she has been reading. Underlining great passages that return fuck to fuck before the original sin. To be so indebted to love making, the pleasurable bliss between absence and divine presence, is contained in those pages; a reverence. That is the fuck that Valerie wants, the woodsman with his penis decorated in flowers; they run out into the rain for the sheer joy of water on their sex-tingling bodies. Looking for nothing but the core of it. Nothing more.

If there is some high middle-ground between sexual-repression and sexual-satiation than Valerie imagines that this would be it. This world of DH Lawrence’s, where the purity of the act is lifted above all. She can not help but to be filled by the scenes in her dull ascetic’s room. It is as if warmth is radiating from the pages, bodily friction, life-giving, almost hot to the touch. Though Valerie almost dare not desire such a thing; the intensity of it could be enough to shoot her off into the world yet to come, where her orbit would be as tight as a prescribed satellite or better yet. . . the moon. All she has known are the dry thrusts of Isaac, the aborted attempts of Alex, the random fucks she has tried like dipping her fingers into a still wading pool, and of course, that first time, stiff as a board. Strangely enough, John comes the closest, in that retracting vein of memory, to a complete pleasure. He pushed, but not too hard.

This is the life, stabbing around in the dark, until sometimes, by miracle or luck or providence, great beams are struck and their striking lets off such life that one feels as if one were a star burning too close to the sun. Sometimes. So, Valerie figures, it’s best to do as much stabbing around as possible.

In the next few days, Valerie is introduced to Fouad’s phalanx of friends. They line the sidewalk outside of the movie theatre in the late morning. They are not going in nor are they going anywhere, they are just standing around, most of them smoking cigarettes. Valerie has become a commodity. Fouad introduces her around, but only to those he likes best, to those he trusts. Being white in the woman shortage increases her value ten-fold.

Fouad takes the liberties of explaining her situation as she smokes cigarettes, studying all those black eyes and robust features. All these guys, good-looking but not her type; their intensity sensed as if on a radar. One leans over to her, his mouth to her ear, he whispers, “I want to make love to you.” Pulling away to make sure Fouad did not espy him making moves on ‘his catch.’ Valerie wants to giggle but that would be rude; thinking: why not start a line? I’ll go in there and get undressed and all of you can come in one-by-one, like a school lesson. I’ve never had ten virgins before! There is a certain pity she feels for all these unsatisfied men. At least I could help you out with a hand-job, I’ve done worse. She tries to put herself in their situation, though the cataclysms of male desire is too much for her to imagine. All those penis’ standing on end, twitching for a hot and wet stable that they’ve never had. It’s easier to think of the world coming to an end. . .

Bracciano, Italy
January 2008


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