Jaimy Gordon


This book is for

Karen, Hilry, Adam and Spencer

and in memory of Marion Gordon


Mere life, with its mere hunger.



Tough Paradise for Girls


I’m the Bogeywoman. Maybe I belonged in the bughouse. Anyway it was Doctor Zuk who got me out, and then the fuddy dreambox mechanics kicked her out right behind me. But first she saved me, and that’s when I lost her-if I ever had her-unless I am her. Am I Zuk?


I mean how I ended up at the age of sixteen in the loonie bin, when I wasn’t even buggy.

It happened at Camp Chunkagunk, Tough Paradise for Girls. At camp I was always the Bogeywoman, but the true meaning of Bogeywoman only came to me in my sixteenth year, and that’s how I landed in the bughouse. It was a good camp that Merlin found for me and Margaret, a rare camp, a tough camp, but what normal girl goes to camp for nine summers? (Margaret had had it in four.) I was out beyond the White Caps’ rope, doing the dead man’s float, stringbean style. Dangling straight down, I mean. So I was staring not at the sky but at a certain girl also doing the dead man’s float-my Lake Twinny, Yvette Deaux was her name, one of those tall, broad-shouldered French girls from up around Sourhunk Lake, with a small head like an ostrich, handsome, strong, kinda dumb, I didn’t even like her much. I was seeing how her thighs were filaments of neon-green electricity under the lake, and all at once I got the idea I wanted to slide my hand between them. From that moment I saw everything in a different light, murky, as through a dark lake. From then on I was a Unbeknownst To Everybody, and that was the meaning of Bogeywoman.

At Camp Chunkagunk I had been the Bogeywoman ever since I dropped a black snake, during Quiet Hour, through the roof of the counselors’ cabin. I’m the Bogeywoman I rumbled in the chimney hole. I was just a Chipmunk then, age seven. And they had come rushing out into the dappled light, uttering pleased shrieks. See up there! on the roof! It’s that Ursie, Ursie Koderer. And I did not disappoint. I was their toy bad guy, their boygirl, their bogeygirl, no front teeth, smudge on the edge of every camp snapshot, always tearing around under a cracked, white-hot roof of blond hair. I was the Bogeywoman from that day on, even to the Big Bears.

(Big Bears wore their bathing suits strapless-their smooth-muscled shoulders gleamed, their slim rib cages held up their heads like bud vases over those shiny “latex” bathing suits we all wore, one-piece and boned like girdles, the opaline grosgrain plate of them cut mysteriously straight across the upper thigh, the knoll of coochie hidden under that ledge, in deep shadow.)

Then at sixteen I found out my love of Camp Chunkagunk was a hunger. And always had been, I guess, only in the beginning I ate like a bird. Now I saw the same things I had always seen, but I was afraid to leave them alone with me.

(They already had some fluting there, the Big Bears, at the clavicle-and that sunny prickle, a rash like eensy roses climbing up the throat, and half of them had a pigtail, soaked black by lake water, wrapped around it, and drops of water rolling drunkenly into the baby-oiled gulley between their momps under the latex, the iridescent breastplate slipping down just slightly.)

I was a Big Bear now myself. I was an older girl and a so I did not. Was mad to but would not. Lemme die first. Yvette Deaux never even knew. I have always been the boss of my hunger, the chef of my starvation, so to speak. I can read the sign. Does it say DO NOT TOUCH? I don’t touch. I have never (except that once) driven away a scared girl with a stray hand across the border. She’s gotta put a hand on me first.

And she does. That’s why my luck is good. That’s why I’ve had nothing, well, almost nothing, to do with craggy-jawed bus station hags, broken-toothed gym teachers with whistles around their necks, or crewcut WACs. I prefer ladies-like Margaret, my first love. Margaret loved me. Margaret, you might say, trained me to be loved. But I am seldom as shocked by the sheer piggery behind fine fingers and fluted hipbones as anybody would be with old Margaret. Ladies are prone to first touches and second thoughts. I am not a lesbo, they announce, and I say, a?! Whaddaya mean? Me neither-I, er, just kinda like you.

Yes, it’s a tracker’s nightmare, girlgoyle sex, and naturally the great wood wizardess, Willis Marie Bundgus, forgot to leave me a map. A girl floods, to her own surprise, in some forbidden place (like my mouth) and ducks underground. A lizardly muscle, a girl’s love, strong but small. Small but strong. How to get her back? I try to know where she is even when she isn’t here, isn’t mine, that’s wood wiz, but I never was the wood wizardess. Still, there must be sumpm about me, at least at first. At first I had sumpm-even if it put me in the bughouse-with Lou Rae Greenrule.

So. That last summer at camp. The girlgoyle in question. To start with, her hair. Her hair was the kind that requires an engineer of a mother in the wings, or so I had always thought. At P.S. 149, a few girls came to school day after day with heads piled in ringlets sky-high-jiggling towers of them that ambitious moms had whipped up. This mother had taste Merlin regarded as sugary, it is true. We, motherless, were raised to despise that, and so were only distantly covetous-compared to girls in boiled-icing ringlets, Margaret and me were of some third sex and we knew it. Us Merlin’s Suzette swept off to the barbershop once a season, got rid of the stuff. But Lou Rae Greenrule had hair a hundred times more done than any of those girls, and yet her mother was a cockroach of a person in a hard-shell permanent wave and slacks, no ass and a sad little potbelly in front, one shoulder permanently lower than the other from going everywhere she went with her right hand hooked in a six-pack.

Besides the hair she did herself, Lou Rae had amazing breasts for such a small girl, not only real but hard as babies’ heads. You’ll want to know how I found that out. I’m getting to that-how I found out.

Camp Chunkagunk, Tough Paradise for Girls, had no cabins but double rows of army tents set on high wooden platforms weathered to pearl. Their green tent flaps swung wide of them like wings. You could sit on the spars and yardarms with a sense of nothing under you. Even your swinging feet were too high to

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