I have this friend who thinks her vagina smells like a wild animal, a possum of perhaps a bat. She seems obsessed with describing it using the smells of things that live in trees, whereas I have never imagined a vagina being something that could fly. I say friend, but really she was sitting across from me at a dinner party. And when you think of dinner party conversation, you don't really think sex organs. Or at least I didn't until that night.
I don't even think she introduces herself by name until the dessert, and by then I've already learned about the washing machine and the spray bottle and all those conga lines, and my head is already so full that it takes all I can manage just to hand onto four letters. G. w. e. n.
We all sat around a fancy onyx table and felt slightly woozy because the host of the party was an architect and had filled his house with so many impossible angles and so much improbable stability that it felt like you were working hard just sitting still. So I sat down opposite Gwen, although at that stage I only knew her as Strange Girl Who Stole My Fork. The thing is, before we'd even spoken, she'd leaned across and taken my fork from its place in an impressive cutlery rank. I tried to look as placid as possible. Maybe this is just what friends of architects did. I considered sampling the spoon of the woman to my left, but I thought better of it.
Gwen (SGWSMF) looked me straight in the eyes and said, Rather you than me.
I nodded my head. Was she saving me from my own cutlery?
I had a cousin, she continued, as if we had been talking for hours, well, she was more like a colleague. She got an infection from a dirty fork. Had a keloid growth in her mouth for like three months. And you can't always cure those.
All through the entree—some sort of horrifying terrine I had to pick up with my knife and translate to my mouth surreptitiously—skin diseases were our sole topic of conversation. And when I say our sole topic, of course I mean Gwen's. Keloid growths, bullous pemphigoids, dyshidrotic eczema, there was not one dermal fault that Gwen was not well versed in.
Which brought us, inevitably, to her vagina. During the main course, which thankfully was a seafood gumbo and therefore able to be eaten with just a spoon, she told me about her morning with the washing machine.
I was just putting some clothes into the machine, right? The same way I've done, I don't know, a million times, but then I see a pair of my undies.
I gazed desperately around the table, but everyone else was in a deep and interruptible conversation with someone who wass not me and was certainly not Gwen. I clenched a forkless fist.
And so I noticed the crotch was completely worn away. Only I didn't think "worn away" when I saw them, did I. I thought, "these panties have been fucking eaten away!".
Gwen explains her theory in great detail, and as she does, less and less of my meal becomes edible.
Yeah, I mean I sniffed it. Wouldn't you? I mean you do, don't you. Because you can't smell it unless you're removed from it.
This is where I laughed. Gwen, it seemed, had discovered a rogue element waiting in her nether regions. I told her this, and she wholeheartedly agreed.
And it had this, oh my god, this smell, and I thought, "How long has this been going on?". Is it so bad that it's eating through fabric?
The host swooped in, taking our mismatching bowls from us. When he had gone, I asked Gwen what happened next. Her face lit up, and it was then I realised she had snared my interest, in a way my interest had not been snared at a dinner party for some time. Stock options, house prices and mainstream movies were no conversational match for monstrous vaginas. And the number of times she said the word that night, vagina vagina vagina, I saw myself saying it casually at a kindergarten or civic meeting some time down the track and not realising the fuss it made.
Then, oh man. I wanted to clean it. The number of things I tried. I've got this chemist who's this lovely guy who won't even speak to me now. This man who's known me since I was 13, who came to my 21st and made a fucking speech, he's now so disgusted by me that I have to drive all the way to a different suburb just to try a new douche. Can you imagine?
I told her I couldn't.
So I'm spraying this thing with bleach in a spray bottle like every single morning and then I realise I have to go dancing this one night.
Sweets arrived. Fucking chocolate mud cake. The forkingest dessert of them all. Thick, crumbly chocolate cake. I sat there with my spoon. Not even any cream to mix with.
I'm Gwen, by the way. Anyway, so I have this sort of dancing class I go to every now and again. It changes venues, and one of them is close to my house, so I only end up going once every three weeks or something. Anyway, so there's this guy that goes, and we'd been sort of doing this whole ... thing for the last few classes, like we'd had a few drinks afterwards, but never anything else, and here I am thinking, "I'm probably going to bag him tonight, and I've got this freak vagina that smells like a dead owl that can eat through surfaces like acid. That's brilliant."
It occurred to me then that Gwen had managed to be talking for three whole courses, and had still managed to clear her plate. I had hardly said a word, and here I was, still hungry.
So I decide I have to go. I mean, like I wasn't going to go, right? So we're there, doing this big conga line like we always do to warm up, and I'm thinking, everyone is just smelling my vagina. All down the line, people holding back vomit, being polite, trying to figure out how to get away. The guy I like is all the way down the other end of the line, so he probably can't smell it yet, but, I mean, it's just a matter of time, right?
I was actually becoming so involved in Gwen's story I didn't notice the sound of ergonomic chairs being pulled out around me, the sounds of farewell. The dinner party was over. I asked Gwen quickly what she did about the dance, about the guy, if he eventually smelled her vagina. These questions were actually coming out of my mouth.
Nah, I mean it was fine. Just my overactive imagination, as usual. Turns out those undies were just old. They'd just frayed away.
What about the smell, I asked her. What about that freaky vagina smell?
This is where I hear that awful nothing sound of people stopping talking all around you. The architect was the first face into my line of vision. His inch-thick spectacles framed a perfectly constructed look of social horror. Throats were cleared, feet were shuffled. Then Gwen laughed, a big black-and-white belly laugh.
The freaky vagina smell is still there, my friend. Don't you worry. By the way, I think you dropped this.
Gwen held up my fork, her excuse to talk to me all night.
What's say we take this fork out of here. These people just don't appreciate the art of fine conversation.
And I really had to agree with her. We took her tree-dwelling-smelling vagina and my empty stomach and our fork and left, with a certain grace.