The Catholic Girl and the Protestant Boy sat on the sagging twin mattress in his dorm room.
The Catholic Girl both wanted and feared to lose her virginity.
The Protestant Boy knew that to nab her, he’d need to use a foxlike trick.
“How did you first learn about–?” the Protestant Boy casually asked.
The Catholic Girl blushed. “My mother handed me a pamphlet titled It’s Fun to Be A Woman.”
“This was my father’s idea of sex education,” the Protestant Boy lied as he reached under the bed and handed the Catholic Girl a book he had purchased the day before at an antique shop. Inside the tomato-red leather cover was a picture of a man and a woman locked in an embrace. The caption read: The Standard Work on Love.
The Catholic Girl felt her eyes widen. “Your father gave you the Kama Sutra?”
“When I was sixteen,” the Protestant Boy assured her. “With this line: ‘you might find this text interesting.'”
“The text!” The Catholic Girl flipped forward in the book. “Look at these pictures.”
“I most certainly have,” the Protestant Boy told her.
The Catholic Girl had never seen a Kama Sutra before. Now even the most cursory glance through Part One–which bore the unpromising title of The Life of a Citizen–revealed that the pictures were beyond explicit and the text chock full of titillating phrases such as She puts aside all bashfulness. . . and opens her legs to welcome him. . . then the man enjoys the woman. . . until she can bear the vigorous thrusts of her lover no longer.
“Wow,” the Catholic Girl said. “How did this stuff get published way back when?”
“Beats me,” said the Protestant Boy. “I didn’t read the scholarly introduction.”
The Catholic Girl thumbed through to the back of the book, where a footnote read: the woman maketh sounds like those of the dove, the cuckoo, the green parrot, the sparrow, the flamingo, the duck, and the quail.
The Protestant Boy knew he was making progress when the Catholic Girl looked at him out of the corner of her eye, as if to assess his ability to transform her into half a dozen bird species all at once.
“Turn to the sixty-four,” he told her.
“Sixty-four what?” she asked.
The Catholic Girl knew only two positions and both by hearsay:
1) man on top
2) woman on top (although how and why a girl wrestled a boy below her was a mystery)
In her final year of all girls’ high school, rumors of a third tantalizing position–whisperingly referred to as sixty-nine–had swept through the halls of Sacred Heart Academy, but the Catholic Girl knew she would never get to the bottom of this number unless she could sneak a peek at a Playboy or Hustler.
The only porn that had circulated at Sacred Heart Academy was The St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism (with its black-and-red illustrations of Satan slithering around the apple tree while Adam and Eve cringed behind their fig leaves) and the Holy Bible.
At slumber parties Sacred Heart girls had crawled into their sleeping bags and marveled over these lines from Song of Solomon:
Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountain.
Thy two breasts are like two young roses that are twins
and the killer that reduced them to gross-out giggles:
My bowels were moved for him.
The summer before she left for college, the Catholic Girl got her hands on a contraband copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls. But her high hopes that Hemingway would break open the secret code of sex were dashed to the ground. She slogged through thirteen boring chapters full of loyalists, fascists, anarchists, communists, and dynamite that never exploded before the manly American soldier Robert Jordan got it on with the dark and sensual Maria. Or at least the Catholic Girl thought he got it on with this Maria. There was a lot of talk of heather in the grass. The sky bled orange and red. The moon and the sun started spinning, like it did when Our Lady of Fatima touched down in Portugal to warn young women not to wear mini-skirts. And then the earth moved.
The Catholic Girl could not make sense of any of this.
The bell had not yet tolled for the Catholic Girl. But from the way she kept turning the pages of the Kama Sutra–staring at illustrations labeled the blow of the boar, the sporting of the sparrow, the splitting of the bamboo, and the congress of the cow–the Protestant Boy knew it was only a matter of minutes–if not seconds–before he made it ring.
“How do you even get into some of these positions?” the Catholic Girl asked.
The Protestant Boy pointed to a caption that read This is learnt by practice only.
The Catholic Girl blushed again. “Can I borrow this book?”
“And dog-ear a few pages?”
“Such as?” the Protestant Boy asked.
The Catholic Girl turned the pages back and forth until she settled upon the picture she found most intriguing.
The Kama Sutra called this position the yawn. But it turned out to be anything but boring–at least for the Protestant Boy, who thought the bird-like noises he knocked out of the Catholic Girl expressed joy, not pain and shame and the inner whimper of she who knew she’d have to skip dinner and run faster than a chicken if she wanted to make it to church in time for evening confession.
Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You,and three award-winning story collections, Second Wife, Sometimes I Dream in Italian, and Mother Rocket. She is professor of English at the University of South Florida, a faculty mentor for the Bay Path University MFA program in creative nonfiction, and fiction editor of 2 Bridges Review.