Clouds and Panties

Blue Sky with clouds

When I was eight or nine, I developed a fascination with our World Book Encyclopedias.  I thought all the knowledge in the world was contained in those 28 volumes, and I intended to read each one.  I knew if I did that, I’d be the smartest person in the world.


The encyclopedias were kept on the bookshelf of the attic that had been converted into one huge bedroom for my three brothers.  For some reason, the “upstairs” was off-limits, unless you went with one specific purpose in mind and left once you’d accomplished that purpose.  This was not an edict issued by my brothers, it was an understood rule of the house, which meant that my mother had deemed it necessary. 


At eight, I paid my brothers no attention.  They were all several years older than me and all in high school.  Greg, the youngest of the three, was sixteen, an age that seemed unfathomable to me then.  I was simply the little pest, and the secrets of “upstairs” didn’t fascinate me at all.  I wanted those encyclopedias.


I don’t remember if Caroletta coaxed me into it or if it was the other way around, but my older sister and I started going upstairs (after Mama said it was okay) and bringing down one volume at a time.  We agreed that the A volume was too big; we’d save it for later.  The Ci-Cz volume was a good starting place – it was thin and, we decided, easy to finish.  We skimmed through it, looking for interesting topics, and Caroletta stopped on the section entitled “Clouds.”

We marveled that clouds came in so many different shapes and served so many different purposes.  And the names!


“C-I-R-R-U-S – how do you pronounce that?” she asked me.


“Either sir-us or sear-us, I guess.  I think sear-us sounds better,” I said.


We would go outside and sit on the porch, trying to see the clouds through the branches of the two big maple trees in front of our house.  We’d argue over whether or not that cloud was nimbus or cumulus, and we were overwhelmingly excited whenever we saw a group that looked “just like the ones in the book!” we’d shout.


Being a more mature ten, Caroletta soon lost interest in clouds and left me alone to study the encyclopedias. She and my older sister Cheryl suddenly had all kinds of things to whisper about, things I wasn’t allowed to overhear.


But I didn’t lose interest in the encyclopedias.  Mama thought it was a wonderful idea, and she began letting me go upstairs to read the encyclopedias instead of having to bring them downstairs.  I think she did it mainly because I habitually forgot to take them back when I’d finished, and half of them would be on the dining room table before I remembered to replace them.  My brothers didn’t mind my intrusions; they were free to evict me without warning.  I decided that “upstairs” was not a magical place after all.


I caught Greg with the magazines by accident.  He heard my footsteps on the stairs one day and tried to shove them back under his mattress before I got to the top of the stairs.  Too late.


“What was that?” I asked.


“None of your business,” he barked.  “Go on back downstairs!”


About three days later, I went back upstairs and pulled out one of the encyclopedias.  Quickly, I ran to the top of the stairs and double-checked for voices in the kitchen, then ducked over to Greg’s bed and lifted the mattress.


Pictures of naked women.  Breasts – big ones – with red and pink nipples.  Some blonde, some brunette.  Lips parted, teeth showing, hands touching their in-betweens.  I wondered why they weren’t all covered with hair down there like my mother and my sisters were.  I glanced through the nameless magazines, was quickly bored, and put them back under the mattress.  Was that the secret?


Lucky’s mattress had more of the same.  I left it alone and raised D.D.’s mattress – he had always been the intellectual, maybe he had classier smut under his mattress.  This time I found books.  I noticed some of the titles:  The Happy Hooker (“What’s a hooker?” I wondered) and Secretaries’ Panties.  The latter looked interesting.  I took it out, flopped down on Greg’s bed, and hid it inside the encyclopedia as I read.


And read.  And read.  I knew the basics about sex – he sticks his penis into her vagina and that’s how babies get here – but this was something else.  How did it get hard like they said in the book?  Could a man really get so hard that it burst through his pants, like what’s his name’s did all the time?  Why would someone want a girl with breasts the size of watermelons?  And this business about her getting wet and him. . . well, I didn’t quite understand what I was reading.  One way to find out, though – keep reading.


“Carolyn, what are you doing up there?”


“Reading the encyclopedia!” I shouted to my mother, hoping she didn’t come upstairs to check.


“Well, it’s time for you to come down from there.”


“Okay!” I hurriedly replaced the encyclopedia and shoved Secretaries’ Panties back under D.D.’s mattress.


I did the same thing for the next couple of weeks.  I thought I was getting away with something.  Although Mama had to make me come downstairs every day, I made sure I always read a little in the encyclopedia so I’d have something to tell her after I came downstairs.


I was destined to be caught, and caught I was just as I neared the end of Secretaries’ Panties.  Mama walked upstairs without calling first; I was so engrossed in the exploits of the latest secretary that I didn’t even hear her.  She stopped in front of me and asked, “What are you reading?”


I was dumbstruck at first.  She took the book from its hiding place in the encyclopedia and looked down at me.  “I thought you were reading the encyclopedia.”


“I was!”


“Get on downstairs,” she said.  It was a long time before she let me go upstairs again.


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4 Responses to “Clouds and Panties”

  1. tori Says:

    u r a really good writer!!! wow!

  2. Miss Sia Says:

    Great imagery in this one! I laughed the whole way through esp with the sneaking around.

  3. sealionwmn Says:

    When I did my Epic Reading Of Your Entire Blog a few weeks ago, this was one of my favorites. I recently lived with a girl from Peru and I’ve taken to using this favorite phrase of hers: “You are made of awesome.” It’s so true, too.

  4. Mark R Says:

    I wonder if your brothers ever were told that you discovered their secret library. If they had, I doubt they would have acknowledged it to you back then. Have you talked to them about it as adults? At what point did the forbidden lit lose its appeal for you? Or is it something that still holds your interest? Do you think about how your daughter would perceive this material?

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