Me and Petra never acted in front of people in any way to show there was something between us. Holding hands, teasing, making faces, none of that. Even Gus and Loren sometimes did the lovey-dovey thing. Not enough to make you sick but enough.
Actually I did try it once, come to think of it. I rubbed Petra’s back as she sat at the table with Loren. She acted like it didn’t happen, no murmur or arching her back or wriggling her shoulders or telling me to stop in a voice that would show really she liked it. She just kept talking to Loren and I felt awkward and moved away, pretending I hadn’t done anything and knowing that Loren had noted the whole thing and that Petra was gonna tell me off later.
You have to get how Petra was. It’s easy to get the wrong idea.
People didn’t joke about sex around Petra cause they knew if you made one of the usual cracks she’d put you in your place as a juvenile and probably a chauvinist to boot. Everyone we knew was down on chauvinism and discrimination against women, all that. But with Petra you couldn’t even call a girl a chick. You couldn’t even make the TV or movie kinda joke about sex being what everyone wants. Petra and her political comrades talked about various kinds of social relations. Even other friends would pick up that way of talking around her. Except Picket who’d just rap on about balling. She’d let him, but only him, like he was a slow kid you had to make allowances for. Everyone else, she’d jump on. Like when I told her Gus and Loren were keeping me awake banging each other every second night.
“Nice image. You mean they’re having intimate relations?”
“No, they’re banging all right.”
“That’s a violent expression,” she said.
“You’re such a goody-good.” Which was a stupid thing to say since I wasn’t the most experienced guy in the world.
“A prude, you mean?”
“No. Well, yeah.”
“You wouldn’t expect me to even know some of those expressions, would you? Banging. Balling. Let alone be able to use them?”
“I figure you’ve heard them before.”
“And how many more do you know?”
“You mean words for making love?”
“That’s another expression,” she said. “So you know two. Banging and making love. Any more?”
“Make Love Not War.”
“You’re funny. You know I’ve always hated that slogan. Detracts from the main issues. But I’m challenging you. Got any other expressions for having sex?
“Bet I know more than you do.”
“You start,” she said.
“Fucking.” I wanted to put an end to this.
“Ooh, tough guy, trying to shock the prude. I’ll match you with screwing.”
“Sleeping. Like I’m sleeping with you.”
“Let’s not get personal. Copulating.”
“Been mentioned already but fine. Fornicating.”
“Okay, it’s a tie,” I said.
“You’re up against a working-class girl from North Ontario, bucko. I’ve hardly got started. You’ve said banging. How about giving it to her? That shows who’s boss. Or putting the blocks to her. Turn it around and you’ve got her putting out and giving it away. Then there’s banging quiff. Oops, never heard that one? Too harsh for your delicate ears? You want goody-good? The biblical knowing. Or lying with. Which no doubt begat the modern laying or getting laid. Then there’s the British expressions. Poking, shagging, having it off, getting a leg over. And, the most elegant, stuffing her.”
“You’ve done this before haven’t you?”
“It’s my party piece. That and running around with my underwear on my head.”
“Somehow I can’t see it.”
“I’m just getting started on the Brits. They’re my favourites cause they make me laugh, they’re so anti-erotic. There’s my all-time favourite, rogering. Don’t know why they picked on that nice name. And boffing, bonking, boinking — all the sound effects. Or you prefer Yiddish? Shtupping. You want legal? Consummation, as in of a marriage. Should be a verb for that — consuming, consumming? Never mind. Having carnal knowledge. And there’s rutting. Agricultural I suppose, along with rolling in the hay. Plus we have all the gettings — getting some, getting it on, getting a bit on the side. Then we have the cute. Playing house. Playing doctor. Plus the downright silly. Playing hide the wienie. Getting nooky. Making whoopee. Bumping uglies —”
“Bumping your uglies. Literary reference but still silly. Which I prefer to the serious literary euphemisms. Becoming one. Melding in the dark. See, the girl’s been to college too. All the literary terms which mean different things depending on the era they were written in, like the aforementioned making love. For a while it meant having sex, then it became a kind of flirting, whispering sweet nothings, now it’s come back to sex. Same with seducing. Joining. Becoming lovers. Sampling her charms. Plumbing the depths and scaling the peaks — ah, the fluttery thrill. Becoming a man. Becoming a woman. Which variously refer to shooting someone, getting your period, or taking someone to bed for the first time. From which, bedding one. Sharing a bed or going to bed with. Slipping between the sheets with. Making her a woman. Making a man out of him. Jumping in the sack and making the beast with two backs. That’s almost a rhyming couplet, isn’t it? And while we’re being poetic, filling her prescription. Giving her what she’s asking for. Having a woman. Having your way with her. Having a go at her. You can tell most of these come from men, can’t you? Dipping his wick, stirring his stick. Sticking it to her. Nailing her, a nice concept I just picked up at work. Getting into her pants. Plus the downright redneck — getting a piece, a piece of ass, getting tail. And the plain doing, as in doing him or her. Doing it. Being with. Any verb will do in a pinch. Making. Going. Going at it....”
I’d stopped counting after fifty.
“And with all that, I still prefer being intimate,” she finished.
“Your intimate social relations?”
“It lays the stress where it should. Regardless of sex or anything else it involves.”
“Kinda cold. Like politics. The relations of production.”
“Yes, the so-called rhetoric. When we call something imperialist and people go, ewww, that’s just unthinking, political rhetoric. So, shall we have a contest to see how many ways we can express imperialism? Many of the same words could apply. Getting screwed.”
Petra had to be the only person in the world who could turn a swearing contest into a political lesson.
Around then she finally asked me how old I was. I skipped over the month and a half to go before my birthday and said twenty. She asked me when my next birthday was and I told her August.
“Then you’ll be twenty-one, all growed up,” she said.
I didn’t correct her. It was better for me to be twenty-one. Both of us officially adults. It didn’t matter that she was older than me — five or six years don’t matter — but we had to be in the same general group. Young adults.
She probably still thought of me as an inexperienced kid. She’d brought me along so gradual-like to that night when we’d finally made love. After that, she’d kinda pulled back. Maybe I’d been so bad at it that she’d realized it was my first time. There was that joke about me bleeding.
The next time we lay down together and I tried to make a move, she just squeezed me, affectionate like, and wouldn’t go further. But a few nights later we made love again and a few nights later again. These times it wasn’t amazing and we didn’t have cigarettes afterwards and walk around the city laughing and kissing and it wasn’t like in a dream. But I was really there. And I liked being really there with her.
I still spent a lot of each day thinking of it, hoping it would happen again that night. I even fantasized about it happening during the day.
But the days she wasn’t working a day shift she was off on some political stuff. The odd day she was available she wasn’t into that. I’d look across a room at her and be amazed to think that we — me and this amazing in-charge person that everyone was fond of, no matter how strong she was — we were together the night before, feeling and touching each other, going crazy together. Boinking, bonking, whatever. If other people weren’t around, we’d sit together, have our long talks. Make love with our minds is how I thought of it. Though I mainly thought of the other ways of making love.
When she wasn’t free, I ran around with Gus or Picket or just on my own. Slept in. Hung out on Fourth. Wandered down to the water. Those daytimes are kind of a blur. Doing stuff, putting in time, until I could see Petra.
Gus was always going for work. I went in once more with him, spent a day moving used appliances out of a warehouse. So we were back in the money. Even with some spending here and there, we were up over a hundred bucks. Another coupla weeks we’d have double that, more than we’d seen since somewhere north of Toronto. Enough to take off down the coast without worrying about starving.
But Gus said to me, “Are you gonna feel like leaving?”
“I feel like it already.”
“I know it’s mainly your money, if that’s what’s bugging you,” I said.
“You shared your money with me before.”
“I’m just wondering if we wanna go. For real.”
“It’s what we’re aiming for,” I said. “Me anyhow.”
“I mean the women,” he said. “The chicks, man.”
I know. It sounds incredible I hadn’t thought it through. I was planning to go all these places and I sorta knew it meant leaving Petra. But at the same time I was building up this dream of being with her without it clicking that I couldn’t do both.