Yes, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. It’s that one – that bit of Fifty Shades of Grey that everyone talks about. The bit where he yanks her tampon out. The bit that made everyone think Fifty Shades of Grey was edgy and shocking.
I really worry about people’s sex lives, you know – especially if they think this damp wank-sock of a book is the height of forbidden eroticism. As far as I can tell they don’t even do it up the bum – the characters, that is. Apparently they spend three whole rancid books wittering long and loud about what kinky naughty hypersexual pervmonkeys they are and still he doesn’t once take her up the chocolate highway. Is it really that much to expect a little backdoor action from your twenty first century sex books? Seriously – Mellors was knocking on Milady’s tradesman’s entrance way back in 1928. Are we really that insipid, almost a century later?
I confess I haven’t actually read the sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey – for obvious reasons – so I’ve been getting my information from Cassandra Parkin’s Lighter Shades trilogy, an unsettling and occasionally hilarious dissection of the Fifty Shades books. So I could be wrong. For all I know, in the sequels Christian Grey might have evolved into an adventurous and interesting lover who has learned how to sixty-nine and that not every single sexual encounter has to end with a penis inside a vagina. I mean, I seriously doubt it, but he might.
Anyway – back to the plot, such as it is.
As it transpires, Uncle Tate may have been over-optimistic. Dinner appears to be beige and tastes much the same. My mother keeps giving Crispian man-hater face over the wholewheat macaroni and I have never been more sure that I want to spend my life with this man. Right now I can even face any number of ponies – at least they’re colourful and have nothing to do with macrame, trash-can lids or upcycling.
“…everyone thinks its for kids,” Crispian is saying, enthusiastically. “But there are references that only an adult would get. Like there’s this one episode where they go bowling and there’s like three ponies who look like John Goodman, Jeff Bridges and Steve Buscemi…”
“Wait,” says Uncle Chet, holding up a forkful of what once might have been mushrooms. “A pony that looks like John Goodman? How does that work?”
“He doesn’t look much like a pony,” agrees my mother.
“Steve Buscemi, on the other hand…” says Uncle Tate. “With the teeth…”
Crispian laughs loudly. He’s really taken a shine to Uncle Tate. “Oh my God – totally. They should have a Gary Busey pony – that would be hi-larious.”
My mother sighs and gets up from the table. She hates him. Good.
“Back in a moment,” says Uncle Bob, and follows her out.
“Anyway,” Crispian continues. “It’s a Big Lebowski reference – the three ponies that look like John Goodman, Jeff Bridges and Steve Buscemi. It’s not like eight year old girls are into the Coen Brothers, right?”
“Right,” says Uncle Tate, with a sigh. “Yeah, I get that but…”
“But could we please stop talking about My Little Pony?” says Uncle Chet.
“Oh my God, thank you,” moans Uncle Tate, throwing down his napkin.
Crispian shakes his head. “Wow,” he says, looking hurt. I grab his hand but he brushes me off. “No, it’s okay, Hanna. I appreciate that some people don’t understand Friendship Is Magic.”
“It’s not that they don’t understand,” I begin, but Uncle Tate interrupts.
“…it’s that we don’t care,” he says, and frowns across the table at Crispian. “This might sound rude and I don’t mean to be – I used to be a nurse back in Toronto – but do you often have problems reading social cues?”
Crispian raises his eyebrows. “Social cues? Seriously? You’re the ones being rude here.”
Uncle Tate exhales slowly and rubs the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “Maybe we are. Sorry. It’s just…I’m just really not interested in My Little Pony and it’s been like, half an hour…”
“It’s fine,” says Crispian, acidly. “I understand how some men might feel threatened by it.” He eyes Uncle Chet’s biceps. “Jocks. Gym types. I know they think it comes off as gay – and maybe you’re not secure enough in your masculinity to enjoy cute little pink things…”
Uncle Tate’s left eyebrow almost hits the ceiling. “Oh honey – I am secure enough in my masculinity for any number of cute little pink things, believe me.”
“Hey – less of the little,” says Uncle Tate, giving him a dig in the ribs.
“I didn’t say that.”
“You implied it.”
“I didn’t imply anything of the sort, Chet.”
“You totally did.”
“I did not! You are so insecure. How many times do I have to tell you that you have a perfectly good sized penis?”
“Hey!” I say. “Didn’t we talk about not saying that word?”
“Oh my God, Hanna, shut up,” says Uncle Tate. “Penis penis penis penis fucking penis, okay? I guess he can stand to hear it.” He turns back to Crispian. “I mean, you’ve got one, right?”
“Yeah, I don’t think you’d be interested in it,” says Crispian, pale and nervous all of a sudden. “It’s very small and not at all cute. Or pink.”
My mother and Uncle Bob come back in. They’re giggling and smell like the inside of Kate’s bedroom. I think they must smoke the same brand of cigarettes. “Hey gang,” she says. “Having fun?”
“Terrific,” says Uncle Tate. “Crispian’s just trying to put me off his penis.”
I sink down in my chair. Why do I know these people?
“Seriously, I’m not gay,” says Crispian, trembling slightly. “I’m not. I like ponies but I’m not gay.”
“It’s cool,” says Uncle Chet. “Even if you were we wouldn’t wanna fuck you.”
“Well Tess, looks like we came back just as the party was getting started,” says Uncle Bob, sarcastically.
“We sure did,” says my mother. She bats the Applejack balloon out of her way and sits back down. “Play nice, boys – don’t scare him away. I think it’s sweet that he can overlook Hanna’s disadvantages.”
“Disadvantages?” asks Crispian, the colour slowly returning to his cheeks. “How do you mean?”
My mother peers at him with a nasty glint in her eyes “Her old man was a model, you know – like a hotter, dumber version of Derek Zoolander. Now, I freely admit I was dazzled by his beauty, forgot to make him wrap it before I tapped it and nine months later, Hanna was born. She takes after him – both in brains and beauty.”
I blush. “Oh Mom. Thank you.”
“See?” she says. “Just not that bright.”
“Honey, you thought hyperbole was pronounced ‘hyper-bowl’. You submitted an essay on Jane Eyre in which the word ‘gimpy’ was used. You thought Tess of the D’Urbervilles was some kind of strange late Victorian hybrid of Bridget Jones’ Diary and Nine And A Half Weeks and according to Jesús you thought that Camus was some kind of chickpea based dip.”
“It’s pronounced cammus, actually…”
She sighs. “And you’re also too dumb to admit you were wrong – a fact that probably wasn’t lost on your boyfriend here…”
Crispian snorts. “Well, it’s no wonder your daughter has self-esteem issues…”
“…which you are more than happy to prey on,” says my mother. “What’s your game, Mr. Neigh? I admit Hanna’s maybe been given an easy ride because of my academic reputation, but ever since you showed up on the scene all kinds of strange things have been happening…”
I start to cry. “You don’t understand what he means to me!”
“I do, honey. What I want to know is what you mean to him. Why is my old college room-mate’s wife calling me in tears because Becky is in the process of being deported? Why is my spawn-of-a-Darwin-Award daughter suddenly class valedictorian…”
I jump up from my seat and run upstairs to my room. This is terrible – unimaginable. I want to run away so that there is him – only him, and nobody can come between us and he can tell me that I’m smart and pretty and everything he has ever wanted. I’ll even dress up as a fucking unicorn if that’s what he wants. If only he’ll take me away from all this.
I catch sight of myself in my jewellery box mirror; I look like a raccoon. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, I hurry to the bathroom to repair my make-up.
Crispian comes in, flushed and furious. I throw myself into his arms, sobbing. He kisses me with a fevered passion I have never experienced before and hooks his thumbs into my panties. “Right here,” he whispers, pressing me against the sink. “Let’s do it right here – they can’t keep us apart.”
My Inner Goddess takes a deep breath and pulls up a bucket. My skirt is up around my waist and Crispian has discovered an impediment (Seriously – impediment. Who else would use words like that, except for a smart person?) in the shape of a dangling, blue tampon string.
Oh shit. I’d completely forgotten about my period. “Um…” I prevaricate. “Er…you might find I’ve got a little…er…”
“How do you take it out?” he growls, his voice full of urgency and his eyes ablaze.
“Just pull the string, but you’re not…” I’m about to say that the last time we tried this it didn’t end so well, but he doesn’t seem to care.
“Nothing is ever going to come between us, Hanna,” he pants, and with one smooth motion yanks the tampon clean out of my you-know-what. Oh my. He’s so masterful, or at least he is until he sees what’s in his hand. He goes to toss it into the toilet [Author’s note – Do not do this. Please use the bins provided.] but he’s unfamiliar with the inside of a ladies’ en-suite, in that the toilet lid is closed. The tampon lands on the lid and lies there, grinning gorily up at him like a mouse with a Glasgow smile.
My lover goes down like a felled oak and lands face up beside the bidet in a widening pool of blood. He doesn’t move, so I begin to scream.
I stare at the floor, the antiseptic smell of the hospital hallway stinging my nose and knotting my stomach. “I can’t believe it,” I murmur, for the fourth time in as many minutes. “I just can’t believe it.”
“I know,” says Uncle Tate.
“Seriously,” says my mother, exhaling slowly.
We sit side by side on the plastic chairs, waiting, waiting interminably. What am I going to do?
“I don’t understand how that happens,” says Uncle Tate. “How do you confuse Albert Camus with hummus?”
My mother shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe it’s because they’re both sort of North African. Wasn’t he Algerian or something?”
“Don’t think so, but I think he played soccer for an Algerian team?”
“Ah yeah. I think you might be right there.”
They stop talking for a moment. I grind my teeth loudly but they take no notice of me.
“Yeah, but even so,” says Uncle Tate. “Even with the North African connection, one is a seminal post-war existentialist writer and philosopher and the other is…”
“…a delicious snack made from garlic and chickpeas. Yeah – I know. Who knows what goes on in Hanna’s head, huh?”
She scratches the crown of my head and I grind my teeth louder. Crispian could be dead for all they know, and they’re talking about Algeria.
“You okay, honey?” asks my mother. “You want some more tea?”
I shake my head furiously. I suppose it’s too much to ask for some actual support around here? Tea. What’s that going to solve? Besides, they don’t even have Twinings.
Just then an Indian doctor comes down the corridor towards us.
“Is he okay?” I ask, leaping to my feet. “Can I see him?”
“In a moment,” says the doctor, holding up a clipboard. “I’ve got notes from the front desk but they’re a bit…confused.”
“Sorry – she was a little agitated when we checked him in,” says my mother.
“Understatement,” mutters Uncle Tate.
The doctor smiles stiffly. “Right,” he says. “If I could just clarify what happened to Crispian then that would be helpful. What were you doing when he fell?”
I stare at him. I don’t know how to explain it.
“Miss,” he says, patiently. “I’m a doctor, a member of the medical profession. We have heard more stories of ‘things found in bottoms’ than any other group of people on Earth – I really doubt you could shock me.”
“Depends,” says my mother. “Are you shocked by a sexually active twenty one year old who still calls her vagina her ‘you-know-what?’”
I can feel my face turn hot as I flush harder than a New Delhi toilet in backpacking season. “I can’t…” I stammer, as I contemplate the things I must say. “I can’t…”
“For God’s sake, Hanna,” says Uncle Tate. “Just explain so he can take a full case history. If Crispian did hit his head on the bidet then he needs all the help he can get.”
“What do you mean, ‘all the help he can get’?” I ask, panic rising.
“Tate, don’t spook her,” says my mother. “You know how she gets.”
“I’m not spooking her,” says Uncle Tate. “Not much, anyway. Even minor head injuries can be fatal.”
“Fatal?” I blither, my soul descending into Hell there and then. I have flown too close to the sun of happiness and now I am doomed to fall like Icarus, drowning in the cold, dark depths. Oh Crispian, how will I ever live without you?
“There’s probably nothing to worry about,” says the doctor. “The x-ray showed no fractures. It would just be tremendously helpful if you knew if he hit his head on the bidet or not and how he behaved before he passed out.”
“He’s…he’s alive?” I gasp.
“Yes, yes – of course he’s alive.”
I jump up and hug the doctor, my heart dancing with fifty kinds of rapture, my Inner Goddess shaking her head and checking her watch. “Oh thank you, thank you! You saved his life!”
“Well…we’re trying to,” he says, disentangling himself. “But there’s still a chance of internal bleeding and that would definitely not be good. Perhaps you’d like to try again and tell me what happened?”
I step back and nod. “Yes. Yes, I think I can do that.”
“Hallelujah…” mutters my mother. I glare at her and steel myself to tell my story.
“We were in the bathroom,” I explain. “Getting ready to…you know.”
“No. The other you-know-what.”
He frowns. “Penis?”
I frown back. Why does everyone seemed determined to keep saying ‘penis’ at me tonight?
“I’m guessing both were involved,” says Uncle Tate, sighing. “I think what she’s trying to say is that they were about to have sex.”
“Yes,” I say. “That.”
He sighs again. “Mind if I step in, Hanna? Otherwise we’re going to be trying to tell this story via semaphore in order to spare your blushes while your boyfriend slowly bleeds out into his brain. It’s pretty simple, Doctor – he yanked her tampon out in order to get to the goodies, saw the blood and went down like a sack of potatoes.”
“Oh, I see,” says the doctor. I want to die. I actually want to die. Oh my God. And yet he doesn’t seem that bothered by it all. “Has he fainted at the sight of blood before?”
“And he didn’t convulse or anything when he passed out? He didn’t shake uncontrollably or lose control of his bladder?”
I shake my head.
“Sounds like a pretty straightforward syncope,” says the doctor. “And the x-ray would indicate he’s a hard-headed young man.”
“You have no idea,” I say. “He’s very stubborn. Can I see him, doctor?”
“Very shortly, Miss.”
“Thank you,” I say, and decide to do something for him since he’s been so nice to me. “You know…I don’t think you pronounce the e on the end of syncope. It’s sin-cope. The e makes the o long, you see. I don’t know how you pronounce it in your country…”
“…Hanna…” interrupts my mother. She pushes me aside.
“…no, Mom – he might have difficulty because of his native language…”
“English,” says the doctor. “My native language is English. I’m from England. Leicester, if you want to be specific…”
“I think you’ll find that’s pronounced Ly-cester, actually…”
“Oh my God, get her out of here,” groans my mother.
Uncle Tate leads me towards the snack machine. “Come on Hanna – let’s get some candy,” he says. “You like candy, don’t you?”
“…I’m sorry,” my mother is saying. “She doesn’t mean to be racist. Her father was nominated for a Darwin Award, you know…”
“Nominated but didn’t win? He survived?”
“No, he died. But he was disqualified for already having added Hanna to the genepool.”
I take one look through the glass of the snack machine and start to cry. Staring back at me is a bag of the same off-brand cheetos we ate that night in his apartment. What will I do without him? What if he’s a vegetable? What if he’s all mashed up and gimpy like Mr. Rochester?
The Indian doctor comes back towards me. “Would you like to see him?” he says. “Just to set your mind at ease?”
I nod, sobbing uncontrollably. “I feel like Jane Eyre…” I wail. “Is he…is he…badly disfigured?”
The doctor frowns. “No. No – not at all. It was just a scratch. He must have caught the back of his head on something as he fell.”
“Hanging basket bracket,” says Uncle Tate, shooting a dark look at my mother.
“You put a hanging basket over the bidet, Teresa. Who wants a plant and a bunch of macrame tassels dangling in their face when they’re trying to wash their balls? It’s distracting…”
I walk away, light on my legs, my head feeling as floaty as the Applejack balloon Crispian bought me. His last gift. Well, that and the case of champagne. Oh God, what if he’s not okay?
Crispian sits in a chair beside the window. He looks…normal. Not mashed up and gimpy at all. He has both hands and hasn’t been set on fire. Not like Mr. Rochester. Thank God.
“Hello you,” he says, uncertainly.
I practically skid across the polished hospital floor and fall at his feet. “Oh my God – I was so worried. Are you okay?”
“Think so,” he says, and raises his hand to touch the back of his head for a moment before thinking better of it. “I’ve got three stitches. Am I in the hospital?”
I nod and clutch his hands, my tears raining down on his fingers. “My mother drove us here.”
There is a brief flash of anxiety in his eyes when I mention my mother. I don’t blame him – she’s kind of a bitch.
“So…” he says, slowly. “Refresh my memory…who are you, exactly?”
I stare up at him. “It’s me. Me!”
He squints at me for a moment and then recognition dawns. “Of course,” he says. “Bella!”
“Bella? Who the fuck is Bella?”
“Uhm…not you, I’m guessing? Sorry – you just kind of look like a Bella.”
“Crispian, don’t you remember my name?” Oh my God – he has amnesia. He doesn’t remember me!
The doctor takes out a tiny flashlight. “Well, this is odd,” he says, advancing on Crispian. He shines the light in Crispian’s eyes. “Okay – follow my finger. Good. This way. The other. Good. Look up. Look down.”
He puts the flashlight away and steps back. “Strange,” he says. “All the scans were clear. Who’s the President?”
“Senior?” says the doctor.
“No.” Crispian laughs. “Junior. Dubya. Unless I’ve fallen through a hole in time to 1991 or something.”
“Oh dear,” says the doctor. “What’s two plus four?”
“And you don’t remember your girlfriend’s name?”
I’m torn. On the one hand I want to skip with joy that the doctor referred to me as Crispian’s girlfriend and on other other I’m worried that he doesn’t remember me and may also have some major traumatic brain injury. Still – girlfriend!
Crispian looks at me and shakes his head. “Nope…sorry.”
“Rhymes with ‘spanner’,” says the doctor, helpfully.
“Anna? Blanna…no, that’s not a name. Um…Hanna?”
“I knew it!” I cry, jumping up and down. “I knew you’d remember me eventually! How could you ever forget me?”
“How indeed?” says the doctor. “Listen, Mr. Neigh – I don’t want to release you just yet if that’s alright with you. The memory loss is a bit of a concern – might have to run more tests.”
“Why?” I say. “He’s fine. He remembers me now, don’t you honey? The helicopter and the car and the money and the tiara you bought me and the state of the art laptop computer – you remember all those beautiful things about our relationship, don’t you?”
He nods, but his eyes say no. After everything we’ve been through together how can I lose him and go on living?
“If we go back to Seattle…” I say. “To your apartment. And you can see the girls again! That’ll jog your memory! How can you forget the girls?”
“Yes! Rarity and Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle! They’re your whole world, remember?”
He frowns. “So let me get this straight – we have four daughters together?”
I start to laugh. Even though he’s lost his memory he thinks I could be the mother of his children! We’re destined to be together.
“And for reasons best known to ourselves we chose to give them…those names?”
“No, silly! They’re ponies! My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s your favourite thing in the whole world. Don’t you remember?”
He shakes his head slowly. “Isn’t that for like eight year old girls?”
“Well, yes, but there are…” I start to say, and then realise that I have an opportunity here. It would be foolish just to squander it, wouldn’t it? “Yes,” I say. “Yes, it is.”
“And that’s my…what…hobby?” he says
I nod. “Yes. Only I wouldn’t call it a hobby. It’s more of an obsession really.”
“Right,” he says, nodding. “Okay. Um…that’s a little weird. If it’s okay with you, I’m not going to do that anymore.”
“It’s okay with me,” I say. “Whatever you want is okay with me.”