I think the scene must have been brewing in my head for all those years. I saw it when I was eighteen and by the time I worked it out I was thirty-eight. I was in the passenger seat heading across the Story Bridge when the penny finally dropped. He was an amputee. Of course. He was an amputee. Why didn’t I realise that twenty years ago? I turned to my husband and tried to explain, but he just shook his head and asked me why I had been watching that kind of thing when I was eighteen in the first place.
When I was eighteen we watched pornography together because we could. We’d rent the hard stuff from some video stores; you just had to ask them. It was always my job to ask because the boys were too embarrassed. It made them feel like perverts. They said that it was different for girls. It wouldn’t look like I was dirty. I would just be liberal-minded, brave and bold and unrepressed. Still, every time I went up to the counter, the man there looked me up and down and it was clear he thought I might be a pervert — just one that he might contemplate fucking if the lights were off and he were drunk enough.
We watched the videos in the dark, because that’s what you were supposed to do. We sat there with cups of tea, three of us, sometimes four. We watched, and when it was over we stomped around the flat for a minute or two before slouching off to our respective bedrooms. Sometimes we snickered at the terrible attempts at comedy — the one with the fireman, the one with the doctor, the one with the tradesman and the plumbing problem.
This one night, someone lifted himself up from out of the couch, knelt by the VCR and pressed rewind. We watched it again.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
And again. But each time we watched it we saw the same thing, a man with his arm buried up to the elbow in a girl who looked less than comfortable. She whimpered, and grimaced and winced.
Measuring the hypothetical length of his arm, we silently calculated the position of his fist, somewhere up near her stomach.
“How is such a thing even possible?”
We pressed rewind and watched the video again.
I’d been collecting pornography since I was twelve and someone had a photograph of a woman with a carrot in her vagina.
It was the day of the school swimming carnival.
I never participated in sport, bringing notes from my mother to make sure I’d be exempt. But
I’ve always loved to swim. I swim very slowly, but I can swim for hours at a time without tiring. I love the breathy rhythm of it, the way the surface of the water creeps above your ears, obliterating the world.
It was hot, a languid summer day, smelling slightly acidic like the juice of an ant squashed between your fingertips. I signed up for the 200 meters, and lay on a towel in the sun.
There were whispers about the photograph before anyone had seen it. Apparently the red-haired boy had it in his bag.
I thought about how it would be to put a carrot in my vagina. I thought about how I smuggled candles into my bedroom sometimes and used those late at night when no one could see me. I knew using a carrot would be the same, but somehow the idea of a vegetable inserted into someone’s vagina played on my mind.
I thought about how, if there was a photo, there would have to have been a photographer watching her insert the carrot into her vagina. I wondered if she had gone into the next room like an artists’ model and emerged with the carrot properly inserted, removing the light cotton sheet from around her shoulders, lying or sitting on the divan.
My race was next. I had never been in a race before. I had never worn my swimsuit in front of my peers. I wondered suddenly if I should have signed up at all. Was it too late to have myself scratched from the starting block?
Then someone brought me the photograph, torn from a magazine. Sepia. Old. It reminded me of the elegantly posed portraits of our great-grandmothers, only this grandmother was not wearing any clothes and there was a carrot in her vagina.
I needed to take my school dress off. I was wearing my suit underneath. Everybody else had already changed into theirs; they lay in the lazy spread of the hot bleachers or flat on their backs with their knees spread to make an even tan.
I could never lie like that.
I folded the photograph into the novel that I had been reading, even though Wendy Jones was waiting to see it, and stashed it deep inside my schoolbag. I didn’t want to remove my dress in front of everybody, but they’d called my race and everyone else was already standing near the edge of the pool.
I pulled the sack of checked fabric over my head and stood at the starting block. The other girls wore bikinis. Bikinis were big that particular year. The other girls had sleek flat chests and skinny hips. I was too round. I was aware of my new breasts, which were already so large that you could hold a pencil under them. I’d read about this in someone’s magazine. Are your breasts too floppy? Of course I had answered the multiple-choice questions when no one was looking.
I missed the starting gun but I plummeted anyway, a moment’s delay and then the fat slap of water, the bliss of submerged oblivion.
I thought about the woman with the carrot in her vagina. Did the cameraman adjust the carrot, moving it a little this way or the other, pushing or pulling? I wondered how these things could be orchestrated. I wondered if the woman had family, if she told her mother about the photograph, if she married the man who took it or perhaps had children with him. I wondered if the photographer might have been a woman. Would it be easier to have a woman moving your carrot a little further in, a little further out? I wondered about the hundreds of people who had seen this photograph since then. I thought about that woman with the carrot and her ability to bring a whole new generation of teenagers to orgasm. I wondered whether the red-haired boy who found the picture had masturbated using this image. If I also masturbated using it, would that mean that the red-haired boy and I could be lovers?
I saw the blue-tiled wall approaching. Half the race run. I kicked and my arms windmilled and I reached out for the tiles, felt them beneath my fingers, was about to turn and head for the finish line when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I bobbed to the surface, panting. One of the teachers was leaning into the pool and tapping my head. My tight wiry hair had spilled out from the neat plaits. There was a waterfall of hair in my eyes but I could see that there were no other swimmers in the pool. The others had finished. I was only half way through.
I gasped, found words, realised I was quite puffed. I had held my breath for quite a way. I always found it difficult to coordinate my breathing with the flailing of my arms.
“I can finish,” I gasped. It was only another hundred meters.
“They’re waiting to start the next race. You can get out at this end. Better not hold the races up.”
I nodded, ducked under the little colored floaties marking the lanes. I emerged from the pool in my one-piece and everyone was watching me. I knew that I should be embarrassed, but I wasn’t. I sat with my towel and my school bag beside me and the photo of the woman with a carrot that I would sneak home and stash under my bed. I had just procured my first piece of pornography. There would be many more.
On the Story Bridge with my husband, I suddenly sat up, rigid in my seat. Twenty-six years later. We had been discussing the preparations for a dinner party — should I do the fish? Hadn’t I done the fish for them once before?
“He was an amputee,” I told him, suddenly. My husband looked at me, confused, and I told him about the arm in the vagina. “It must have been going around in my subconscious, all this time. Some part of my brain has been working on that conundrum since the day I saw it.”
“Which explains many things,” he said.
Krissy Kneen is a writer with an MA in creative writing. Krissy is one of the founding members of Eatbooks Inc, a micro-publisher, and has written and directed award-winning short films, broadcast documentaries and drama for SBS Television and the Austalian Broadcasting Corporation. Her memoir Affection a Memoir of Sex, Love and Intimacy was published by Text Publishing Australia in 2009.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays.