Sophie was ... how old? She was younger than my mother but a few years older than me. This was true at the time of all women with breasts and hips, with skin I imagined soft as butter and lips that needed no lipstick to be kissed. All the women on the bus, the train, on the street.
What was it like, I wondered with desire, to be a woman who need only look in the mirror and see tasty lemons begging to be sucked? At the time it was said that the French Academy would adopt the word “lollobrigidian” for mountainous terrain, after the human Alps sported by the bountifully breasted actress Gina Lollobrigida. I aspired to camp out on such fleshy terrain, traversing the twin peaks and the valley between them.
Some guys spoke of girls who were my age and wanted it; they wanted to kiss and touch and everything. Of course, I did not see any girls at my all-boys school, much less mythical creatures who wanted to sate my passionate desires, who would have been regarded as the handmaidens of Satan by the school authorities.
There were classmates who said they fucked. Who did they fuck? That was a secret. These guys were cool and girls just came to them ... and they humped them all. So they said.
I thought it was just talk. Just like in the novels I read at the time: boys messed a bit with girls a little older but not by much. These characters got rejected when it came to actual sex, but they got me hard just thinking about it.
Sophie was no story.
She was real. She worked at the boardinghouse. She made the beds. Took linen to the laundry room. Hung it. She did everything in that gray skirt that reached her knees and that memorable little white blouse and the beige sweater whose fine wool took the shape of the breasts I would die to hold in my hands. The boardinghouse owner was a chubby Irish fellow who loved tossing out comments with double meaning to make his employee squirm.
“Sophie, I’ve seen you downtown with a boyfriend.” She ignored him. The woman who was attentive was innkeeper’s wife, a petite and bossy redhead with sparkling blue eyes that could shoot looks fiery enough to kill. I had overheard her complaining to a renter about it. How dare her husband show interest in a girl of 23! I tucked that fact away as a treasure.
She was tall, about my height. I passed for eighteen even though I was a newly adolescent schoolboy. She had a Massachusetts accent I found intriguing. Her brown hair and brown eyes matched those of the owner and she was pale white, but not bland-looking, like the other maid. She looked to me more like a princess facing hard times.
Plus she was a tease, as at least one renter, a man in his thirties who had moved in with his wife recently, would gladly testify. One morning he had been stepping out on his way to work, big-city gloom hanging on his face, distracted as his heavy footfalls reached the last step before the sidewalk. He passed Sophie wordlessly, almost tiptoeing as if to avoid her. Big mistake.
“Mahning” reproached Sophie, with a shout, “or ‘ave we slept togethah?”
A leer bloomed briefly on his face, then vanished. His expression shifted to the mild surprise that best suited a man in office garb. He stammered a greeting; Sophie shrugged and continued mopping. That was when I decided I would ... what? I did not know. Touch her.
Following her around at a distance I learned I was not the only one in the house to think of that.
There was a paunchy old roomer, with a seemingly eternal lathered toothpick sticking out of his mouth. He walked along the second floor porch, spit on the left, spit on the right, ptooey here, ptooey there, all the way to his room. I watched as he watched her. Sophie gave no hint she was even aware of his presence, but a veiled look passed between them. She brought tea to his room, which seemed to take much longer than it should. Other times it was dinner. Sometimes it was clothes of his she had mended.
It could not be, I told myself. That was disgusting. Such a man could not possibly get the attention of a woman who in her wake, just beneath the functional essence of soap, left a lingering scent that even I realized was the mystery of a female.
One evening when mother was out with some friends I stayed behind under the pretext of preparing for a Latin test. I followed Sophie to the laundry room, where I had never set foot. I looked at her and my face lit up in a flaming blush.
“Whadyer want, Scooch?”
Scooch? I resisted my curiosity about the nickname and managed to not say a peep. She’d seen me watching her. She’d tossed me an ambiguous look that had emboldened me.
I raised a hand to her and inadvertently, or at least without premeditation, touched her chest. I pulled the hand back. She stopped and stared. I made a second attempt. The tips of my fingers landed around her waist, just a little below the navel. I was on fire. I stroked what was undoubtedly her flat stomach, from which came the heat from under who knows how many layers of clothes. She didn’t move. I was on the right track. My hand moved down in the direction of the pubic area, but clearly wandering without a compass. If her torso had been the Mississippi River, my hand would have been roaming around St. Louis instead of the Delta. I was surprised to feel that the material of her skirt was ordinary wool just a little rough to the touch, rather than the finely spun material I dreamed would caress her skin. She said nothing as she let me continue my silly caresses of her lower intestines. Finally she reacted.
“Lemme see what yeh’ve got,” she said defiantly.
She opened my fly and reached in. To my dying embarrassment, at the moment my penis had withered with fright. Sophie dug around and touched a member about the size of a pinkie; something that clearly only knew how to pee.
“Yer got nahthin,” she said in disgust, pulling her hand away.
“Yes, I do,” I protested. I managed to take in my left hand her right tit, holding it as if groping oranges or tomatoes at the market to see whether they were firm. They were. She had firm breasts that stood proudly, not too large nor too small, a mound of well-contoured flesh that fit in my hand perfectly. I felt myself get hot and hard, but it was too late.
“I have things to do.” She left.
Weeks of shame and penitence followed, a Lent to follow the sinful carnaval of sensuality that had brought me to touch her. I tried to avoid her, even as I also glanced out of the from the corner of my eye whenever she was near. I walked about moping, distressed, confused. Good Catholic schoolboy that I was, I couldn’t figure out whether I should confess my deed or not. Just in case, I skipped communion. But my mind burned at night with the memory of the chest under her sweater, her blouse and her bra and the warmth my hand had felt, if only for an instant.
Did I love her? No. I knew it was not love when my pal Frank declared “I’m in love” every time a girl with swaying hips passed us on the sidewalk. The priests had dark names for what I felt and what I craved to do with Sophie. I had placed my hand on her ... I would have said “boob” to my classmates, the ridiculous boys who spoke of going to the bathroom to jerk off at recess and then to fuck after school. Their motto: what you don’t exercise atrophies. I didn’t bother to tell them, as our biology class textbook taught us, that the love muscle isn’t actually a muscle.
All I knew is that I would go crazy if did not reach my goal. Sophie moved with a grace that seemed make her a queen in a castle, even when performing the most mundane tasks. I had to bed her.
Not long after the laundry room incident, my mother had another outing and I had homework. Sophie appeared by my desk with a plate of meat and mashed potatoes and a cup of tea. It was my mother’s orders, she told me. She put the tray on the table and started to move the notebooks and textbooks to make room for dinner. She picked up a fairly thick paperback.
“Yer’ve read all this?”
I nodded, explaining that it was a book of ancient history, from the Babylonians to the Barbarians.
“Fah’ners from lahng ago,” she said and laughed.
I started to think how she saw it. My mind saw her with a sword, leading the Celtic hordes to battle ... when I woke up from my reverie, Sophie had left. Once again, I had blown it.
In the end, in all my thinking and worrying I fell ill. This had the benefit that someone had to bring me lunch when my mother was at work.
Of course, it was Dorothy, the other girl, who brought my meals. Dorothy was young like Sophie, but she lacked Sophie’s je ne sais quoi. If she had invited me to her bed I would have gone, of course; but I didn’t actually desire it. She was more serious, too. She referred to me as “young man” and you can’t think of fucking someone who calls you that. “Young man” was what the bishop, the priests and the nuns, the bus driver and the whole world of adults called a kid at my awkward age.
The days dragged until Thursday, when I began to feel better. I kept insisting I was sick. One more day and it would be Friday and the weekend! Added to that, this time Sophie had to come because it was Dorothy’s day off. When Sophie arrived I was already hot, hot, hot and it wasn’t from fever.
“Bring the tray to my bed, please,” I asked.
.... There is more of this story ...