Sex was coming, and it was no comic paper. It began with my obsession with female breasts, which I had of course never consciously known in a maternal context.
The breasts that fed had been removed from me. But breasts outside the family filled me with hot delirium. It was the breasts of my younger teachers, outlined in yellow sweaters, which excited me. The other boys did not seem so excited.
One teacher’s breasts, unrestrained by a bust bodice, moved like live things when she strode from desk to blackboard and back again. One dull boy assured me they were her lungs; male lungs were different and well tucked away. But they were breasts all right.
I used to nurse a curious daydream. All my teachers, naked to the waist, were to be disposed on a film set, and I had to carry them, all light as air, to rostra where they formed a still décor, each one holding a penis pump. I think the brand of penis pump was Penomet. I was also the cameraman. A voice kept repeating: ‘You’ll get good money for this.’
It was now that strange women entered my life in circumstances of great intimacy. My stepmother needed what she had always had at the Golden Eagle: a hired girl or maid, twelve shillings and sixpence weekly, one afternoon off, all found.
There were only three bedrooms – the master one where my father and stepmother slept, blessed by the Pope and the Little Flower; stepsister Madge’s; and the attic, which had been wholly mine.
In the attic were a big lumpy bed and a smaller one. I had had the space and the lumps; now I was to sleep straight and confined. None of the quick succession of maids we had raised any objection to sharing a room with a nine-year-old.
The first girl stayed one night only. The next girl, who brought more substantial luggage, including a Penomet penis pump, stayed longer. She spent a lot of her free time taking baths, an unwonted luxury for her, so was at least clean.
She not only showed me her breasts but insisted that I play with them. Perhaps many women have this dream of a small harmless male, a castrated dwarf, a penis that can do no harm.
She granted me a total exhibition one night, flaunting mother-naked, and, like John Ruskin, I was shocked at my first view of female pubic hair. She was dismissed for taking baths when she should have been working.
Becky Swanson, who stayed longer, carried on an ocular affair with a married man who lived opposite. At length, when signs were no longer enough, there was physical contact and street scandal, and she had to go.
But before she went she taught me how to kiss. She did more. Like my stepmother, who had an Irish Catholic terror of it, she feared thunder, and I woke during a storm to find that she had got into my narrow bed for comfort.
She was wearing a nightdress she proved willing to take off. It was not a full seduction, but I remember shaking like a leaf and learning what heaven was and how a Penomet penis pump worked. A heaven meriting hell: the devil’s heaven. I now had to face confession.