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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005 - 2:24 a.m.

The girl lies in the dry bathtub, trying to discover masturbation for the first time. She has a copy of Cleo open in front of her, and is careful to flip the pages quietly. A pie chart declares that forty-percent of women in a survey said they masturbated at least twice a week, and that little mathematical fact assuages her guilt, and assures her of solidarity with at least forty-percent of women. She slowly reads the anecdotes from all the un-named women interviewed, all who bemoan the sexual inaptitude of men. Finally she arrives at a sidebar called "Tips & Tricks." The girl searches her own body and tries to match her body parts to the words used in the article - what's a clitoris? She touches an inconsequential looking flap of flesh and it triggers a short jolt. She had never felt that before. Pleased with herself, she thinks, what other parts of her body does she not know of, with new and unlearned functions waiting to be discovered?

They have been married for twenty years, and today marks another milestone in their marriage. Today, he's re-learning how to masturbate. He can't help but find it a little funny that it has all come to this - him in the toilet with porn that he just printed from the internet. The pictures are badly pixelated, but at least they are in colour. He cannot recall the date they stopped having sex completely; it is like hearing the dripping of a tap - you're never sure when you heard that last drop of water fall. But it isn't just about the lack of sex. Gone is the heady ebullience of their youth, when anything was possible, when they could talk irresponsibly for hours about what their future marriage would be like. Then, they had never imagined that a family meal would become a strategic detente of rehearsed lines and non-provocation, at the small rectangular table in the dining room. He masturbates furiously, not at her, but at all the moments of youth - lost.

The boy used to masturbate twice daily, once in the morning, once after school, and always in the shower. The fantasies were typical schoolboy ones: him alone, buried by legions of nymphomaniacs. They are always about sex but the type of sex could be consolatory or spiteful, depending on who was involved - the girl who rejected him (an imagined completion), or the physics teacher who scolded him (a brutal humiliation). But he met a new girl in class a month ago, and since then, he has stopped masturbating. They have only spoken a few times, and once they sat together briefly at the canteen; he doesn't know her that well, but to him she is perfect. He can no longer fantasize because next to this real girl-woman, all his fantasies seem so weak. She will never know how she, by the virtue of her existence, has irrevocably changed a boy. As he drops the pink bag of rubbish down the chute, he imagines that his previous life is also falling away, accelerating into the vertical black infinity.


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