Virgins, page 1
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
80 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1101
New York, New York 10011
Copyright ©2012 by Caryl Rivers
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Diversion Books edition June 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-938120-21-3 (ebook)
Critical Praise for VIRGINS
Rivers doesn’t give one time to pause for breath between the bawdy laugh-out-loud and wrenchingly moving moments in her new book. … This glimpse of the chasm separating youthful hopes and realities will affect readers strongly.
Miss Rivers demonstrates her sharp comic form right from the start.
—The New York Times Book Review
To read Virgins is to remember the days when a kiss was two tightly closed mouths colliding and there were definite rules as to where a roving hand could rove… and no, if you are too young to remember those days, Caryl Rivers is not making it all up. Rivers has written a very funny book.
—The Washington Post
Rings with authenticity—and also from a great store of wit and wisdom. Few other writers are as funny as she, and none funnier. Yet she is capable of wrenching your heart and soul. I hope she sells ten million copies of Virgins and follows it up with a book about—about anything she wants.
—Clarence Petersen, The Chicago Tribune
This is a riotously funny book about Peg Morrison’s senior year in a Catholic girl’s school in the mid-fifties. The ending hints at a sequel. Yes, please, for readers’ sakes!
This first novel is a hilarious account of that senior year at Immaculate Heart High School in Crystal Springs, Maryland. But it also includes tragedies, so it is both a laugh-out-loud and cry-out-loud tale of growing up… this fast paced, sassy novel triumphs, managing to be serious and reflective through all the laughs.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
Rivers is in her element. Her descriptions, from the blue serge uniforms and scuffed oxfords to the continuing battle of wits with the nuns, are right on target. Virgins is quick and bright.
—The Los Angeles Times
A novel that is fun, funny, bittersweet and always touching… because Rivers writes with such clarity of purpose and spontaneity, anyone at all can enjoy Virgins.
—The Atlanta Constitution
Caryl Rivers has a good sense of the bizarre and a sharp ear for dialogue. At the Immaculate Heart High School, Sean finds himself, disguised as a girl by Peggy and her friends, face to face with the somewhat suspect Mr. Kasten in Straight Talk for Teens. It is just one of the many brilliantly comic scenes in this outstanding first novel.
—London Times Literary Supplement
The dust jacket of Caryl Rivers new book describes Virgins as a “hilarious novel of Catholic girls on the brink of going all the way.” Well, Virgins is about Catholic girls and for a good part of the novel they are on the brink. And some of the scrapes they get into do seem hilarious. But an important word is missing from the jacket. Tender. If Rivers’ first novel is anything, it is achingly tender…the incidents continue …and they do make you laugh—but almost in comic relief. Because what Caryl Rivers has written is more truth than fiction.
—The Quincy Patriot Ledger
“LET’S neck,” Sean said. I yawned and said, “Sure,” and Sean pulled his father’s car, the white Caddy with the fins that looked like they belonged to an albino shark, over to the side of the road in Sligo Creek Park. The Caddy had special blue plates in front that said YEAR OF OUR LADY on them. They were two years old, a gift to Sean’s father from the archbishop, so Sean’s father wouldn’t take them off. I thought they were tacky. Sean’s father was an assistant professor of communication and speech dynamics at St. Anselm’s Junior College, and he wouldn’t be caught dead with a plastic Jesus on his dashboard like some Puerto Rican cabbie. But he drove around flashing these plates with a picture of the Blessed Mother on them, and she was wearing a startled expression like she’d just been goosed. I told Sean that flaunting the B.V.M. on your license was not exactly what J.C. would want for his mom. When he said, “Come, follow me,” he didn’t mean you should do it in a white Cadillac El Dorado.
Sean pulled me close and started kissing me with his mouth closed. He always started out that way and worked up to opening his mouth in about twenty minutes. I could feel the hard enamel of his teeth behind his lips. I’d done this number before, and it wasn’t exactly thrilling. We were the only Catholic kids in the city who could neck for two hours and still stay in the state of grace.
Sean had it all figured. He even drew a diagram, like those charts they have in butcher shops that show what parts of meat come from which part of the cow. He had me sectioned off like top round, filet, and brisket. Only in this case the parts weren’t stamped approved by the USDA, but by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Anything above the neck was O.K., although there was some question about open-mouthed kissing. Tongue-swabbing, Sean decided, was only a venial sin, but you had to work up to it, not dive right in, tongues a-twirl. Toes to thighs, to within a half inch of you-know-where, also venial. Touching boobs on top of clothes (patting, no squeezing) was probably venial, but even more borderline than tongues, so must be reserved for special occasions, like the prom or graduation. Bare finger on bare tit was Mortal Sin City. Needless to say, genitalia, male or female, was untouchable, the big No No.
Sean was scrupulous about that. One touch of forbidden fruit, he was sure, would turn him into a raging animal and maybe blow his chances for the priesthood all to hell.
Necking with Sean was safe, if not all that exciting. He had that map imprinted on his brain cells, and I could just relax and let him keep on the lookout for Sin. I even sort of liked the non-sin stuff, especially kissing the hollow of his throat, that soft lovely spot just above where the dark hair on his chest started, and smelling the nice, musky male scent of him. My kissing him there really got to him, because sometimes he would squirm and moan a little, and even though I was absolutely forbidden to touch him below the waist, I knew things were happening Down There. I had a somewhat proprietary feeling about Sean’s penis, anyhow. It was the first one I ever saw.
We were sitting, one hot August day, in Sean’s back yard, in the pup tent Sean’s father bought when he started the Catholic Cub Scout troop for Sean’s older brother, Bill. (God forbid that Catholic kids should get their wolf badges with Protestants. You started looking for red maple leaves or toasting hot dogs with non-Catholics, and you’d wind up blaspheming against the B.V.M.) We were both hot and bored, and Sean said, “Let’s play doctor.”
I said O.K. and he told me I had to pull my pants down and sit with my legs open while he examined me. He took a little stick and started to poke around in my privates. I thought it was wonderful and naughty, Sean poking and me sitting there all spread out. To this day the smell of damp, moldy canvas makes me sweat like a horny sailor.
Then Sean said it was my turn and he pulled his pants down, and lifted his lovely pink thing so I could look at it. Those were the days before parents taught their kids the correct anatomical names, so we were stuck with “wee-wee” and “weenie” and “thing.”
Sean’s thing was soft and pink and lovely; I thought it was beautiful, so round and perfect, with the little ridge and the cute little hole in the center. I had just gotten around to a few tentative pokes with the stick when there was the swooshing sound of
“Oh my GOD!” he screamed, and grabbed both of us by the arms, dragging us both out of the tent while Sean struggled to pull up his underpants with one hand. He marched us both off to my mother—the McCaffreys lived next door—and told her what I had been doing to his son. He said I was a slut. My mother took offense.
“She is five years old,” my mother said. “And if my daughter is a slut then your son is a pervert. He was the one standing there with his pants down!”
They yelled at each other, and then Dr. McCaffrey dragged Sean home and gave him a beating, and the next day the pup tent was unceremoniously hauled down. But I always remembered the day as one of my very favorites, and if I had been asked to list the wonders of nature that I had seen with my very own eyes, I would have said the Luray Caverns of Virginia, the Great Falls of the Potomac, and Sean’s penis, not necessarily in that order. From that day forward, though, Sean and I knew that grown-ups behaved in very peculiar ways and that to survive we had to form an alliance against them. We still felt that way, a lot.
“You better stop kissing me,” Sean said, and I knew the lights on his Illuminated Map of Sin were flashing like the bulbs on the pinball machines in the Grotto Grill.
“O.K.,” I said, and I knew what he was going to do next: stretch out on the seat with his head on my lap so I could run my fingers through his hair. Sean liked to be touched and held a lot. Even when we were kids, playing in the sandbox my father built for us, he would curl up next to me and I’d put my arms around him, and I’d put one of the little cars we played with on top of his head and let it run down his nose and leap out into space. Sean could play that game for an hour at a stretch. Maybe it was because his parents didn’t touch him a lot. Sean’s mother was a small, dowdy woman cowed almost into nonexistence by her brilliant husband. Dr. McCaffrey believed that sparing the rod spoiled the child, and sometimes I could hear the smacks of the leather belt clear up in my bedroom on the second floor when Sean or Bill were getting it. I wondered, when Sean was a priest, who would hold him, but I didn’t think about that very much because it sent a sad feeling all through me, the way I used to feel when I heard the sounds of the belt from next door.
Sean must have been thinking the same thing—sometimes I thought we could read each other’s mind, like space people—because he said, “Can you believe it? Senior year. I mean, we were just kids, and now we’re adults.”
“I don’t feel like an adult,” I said.
“Me neither. But we are, almost. It’s like that song, you know, about childhood. Once you pass its portals you can never go back through. There’s a door, Peggy, right behind us. And it’s closing. We’ll never be kids again.”
Sean had a deep streak of melancholy; it was the Irish in him. Irish genes do that to people—maybe it’s from eating too many cold potatoes or listening to all those songs about your mother dying and your father getting hung by the British for blowing up the post office, but every Irishman I’ve ever met has that deep, black moodiness tucked away inside. When it came on Sean I felt it too, because I had enough Irish genes myself. Suddenly I saw the door, closing slowly, inexorably, and when it slammed shut the sunlight and the laughter behind it would be gone forever. I wanted to cry out, “Not yet! Oh, not yet!”
“I wonder if we’ll be like them, Peggy,” he said.
“All of them. Adults. They just seem so tired, like they never have any fun.”
“Not us,” I said. “Come on, Sean, don’t be morbid. You’re going to be the youngest cardinal in history. You’ll have your own T.V. show. You’ll be hotter than Bishop Sheen. God will be green with envy over your Nielsens.”
Suddenly he giggled and sat bolt upright. Keeping up with Sean some times was hard. One minute he’d be brooding like Heathcliff and the next he’d be cracking up.
“You know what I’d do if I were Bishop Sheen?” he said.
“I’d get out there, in front of the cameras, with sixty million people watching me—even Eisenhower would be watching—and I’d twirl my cape around, you know, the way he does. And I’d look right into the camera and I’d say, ‘THERE IS NO GOD!’ And then I’d swirl around again, and I’d walk off. Jeez, can you imagine it! The president would be shitting; the pope would be shitting. Can you just picture it?”
I started to giggle, and that made us laugh harder, and the two of us were cracking up, picturing Bishop Sheen announcing in that deep, rich actor’s voice of his, “THERE IS NO GOD!” while twenty million members of the Sodality of Our Lady gagged on their miraculous medals and the entire senior officer corps of the Knights of Columbus impaled themselves on their swords. Sean had that kind of mind; it honed on absurdity like a heat-seeking missile. It was completely at odds with the side of him that wanted to be a priest–the moody, mystical side. What the other side wanted I didn’t know. Maybe just to sit and laugh and neck with me and almost sin and never grow up.
“Cardinal McCaffrey,” I said. “Will I have to call you Your Excellency?”
“Call me that right now if you want. Show a little respect.”
I poked him in the ribs. He said, “A left jab by Miss Peggy Morrison of the New York Herald Tribune.”
“Peg,” I said. “Peg Morrison. That’s my new byline, I decided. Peggy sounds too childish.”
“By Peg Morrison. Yeah, I like it.”
The nice thing about Sean was that he took me seriously, and almost nobody else did. My heroine was Maggie Higgins, the first woman war correspondent for the Herald Trib, and I wanted to be her. I wanted to look adorable in my fatigues, write tough Hemingway prose, and win the Pulitzer Prize by the time I was twenty-five. Sometimes, when I was being morbidly romantic, like Sean, I imagined that lots of men would fall in love with me, but I’d spurn them all because I carried in my breast this undying love for a Jesuit priest—they called him the Hero Priest of the Amazon—who was out saving souls at his mission in the jungle. One day, war would break out, and of course I would be sent to cover it. I was somewhat vague on the geography of all this, because it was not my good subject. I guessed maybe the Amazon was in Brazil someplace, so America would be at war with Brazil. I would come in with the first wave of American troops, and people would say to me, “You can’t go out there! You’re a woman!” And I’d say, “It’s my job. It’s where I belong, out there!”
One day, the fighting would be raging right near Sean’s mission, and as I was writing tough prose about our glorious victories on my portable Olivetti, a stray bullet would strike me and I would fall to the ground with a groan. The wound would be fatal, but not messy or anything. Just a neat little bloodstain on the front of my fatigues. I would look incredibly beautiful as I lay there, shot, and Sean, in his white robes, would come running out and hold me in his arms.
I would know I was dying, and with my last breath I would say to him, “I have always loved you!” and he would sob and call out my name and then my eyelids would flutter and I’d die in his arms. Later, they’d make a movie about my life and call it The Peg Morrison Story, and maybe Susan Hayward would star in it—except she’d be too old by then—and the last scene would be a gas. People all over the country would be sobbing into their handkerchiefs. The only problem was that I wouldn’t get to see it, because I’d be dead.
“Hey, it’s getting late,” Sean said. “The Nemesis of Smut will be pissed if I don’t get the Caddy back.”
I had to laugh every time I heard Sean refer to his father that way. Dr. Liam McCaffrey had a set speech, which he gave to various sodalities and Knights of Columbus about five times a month, about how dirty movies and birth control were rotting America’s moral fiber. He got the Catholic Layman of the Year award for his unending battle against tit on the silver screen and tubes of contraceptive
When we got back to Sean’s house, his father was in the living room, reading the Saturday Evening Post and drinking his usual Scotch and water. He looked up at the two of us.
“Well, kids, how was the movie?”
“Pretty good,” Sean said. “Jeff Chandler saved Susan Hayward from being raped by Cheyennes. At least I think that’s what they had in mind. They danced around in their loincloths and panted a lot.”
Dr. Liam McCaffrey frowned. He had caught the scent, however faint, of Smut.
“Was there cleavage in this movie?”
Cleavage, according to Dr. McCaffrey, was taking the nation back to paganism. He frothed at the mouth over Jane Russell. I think he believed that each tit took us at least 5,000 years back into prehistory.
“Well,” Sean said, “in one scene Susan Hayward got her dress ripped, and there was pretty much cleavage. It got the Cheyennes stirred up a lot. They danced real fast and stared at the cleavage.”
Sean’s face, as he said this, was as innocent of guile as any third grader in a white Communion suit. I had to turn away to hide a grin. I could never figure out, if Dr. McCaffrey was supposed to be so brilliant, why he never knew it when Sean was jerking his chain. But he never did.
“I’ll get my committee to look into it,” he said. “Thank you, Sean, for that information.” He shook his head. “Eternal vigilance,” he said with a sigh.
And then he looked at me, as if he had just realized I was there, and he said, “Well, Peggy.”