A Gift of Knowing

By Stephen Frame


I saw a naked woman when I was maybe eight or nine. Her nakedness was given, not taken by accident or with furtive intent, as it so often is.

I already knew what a fanny looked like (men's bits had a whole lexicography all to themselves but back then, women had fannies and there it ended). Now and again, one of our gang would find a scud book, usually up the old railway that ran past the field we played in. It would be spread out on in the grass, hunkered over and flicked through, shared. Until somebody would start to laugh, maybe a strained laugh, and grab at the pages. So somebody else would grab back. Then we all would and the scud book would be torn and scattered, its power broken, as we sent tits and bums aloft in the breeze.

That was the way of it, in our secret world away from the adults. It was the early Seventies and our world was 'away ootside and play', so our world was the street and the swing park and the coo's park.

I was in the cadre of little brothers that hung around with our big brothers, who all hung around together. Our big brothers were worldly-wise Olympians of eleven and twelve, who could out run, out fight and out football us minnows. Any day, right? So their opinion on matters was fact.

Like the fact that one of the older brothers, Jim, had an older sister, June. Who was a ride, as we used to say (crude but it got to the heart of things without wasting too many words). June had long black hair. June was a teenager. What a ride might involve was a hazy concept, but the older brothers held it in high regard, so it was treated with due gravity by all.

I don't remember exactly how it started, I just remember what happened after it started. And it was so far off the chart, so far off the radar of my eight or nine-year-old experience...

We were always doing stuff, mostly kid's stuff but once in a while, our imaginations would lead us into darker territory. “It's deid. Tie some fishin' gut roon its leg. Fling it ower the phone wire. When a caur comes, pul it up in front i' the winscreen.” What else would you do with a hedgehog's corpse?

It must have been Jim who told us his sister was in the shower. He was the betrayer but we were all the conspirators. We would sneak into his house for a look.

We piled through the front door, into the hallway. Which arrowed straight to the bathroom at the end. Where the door was a bit open. We could see the shower curtain pulled across the length of the bath. We could hear the shower running. Somewhere behind it was June. With nothing on. Naked. In the scud.

As a squirming scrum of bodies, we edged forward, pushed back, eagerness warring with trepidation. June heard us. It would have been impossible not to. Her head appeared from behind the curtain, hair draped in wet strings. She didn't say a word. She didn't have to. We broke and ran.

Only, not me. I was small, I got pushed to the front and I didn't know what to do, caught in that hallway. Frozen. Alone. June looked at me for the longest time, not angry or upset. Thoughtful maybe, considering. Then she said, “Would you like to see?” So far off the chart, so far off the radar. Way, way, way beyond answering. She stepped out of the shower. She stood. She let me look. She silently disappeared back behind the curtain.

I didn't run out of the house screaming “Ah've seen June's fanny!”, I didn't tell the gang. I didn't tell anyone. Why not? This was like scoring the winning penalty in a Scotland vs. England match. Well, mibbe no that good.

I remember I wasn't excited, it was a calm moment. I looked with wonder, at something you're not supposed to see, that you're not yet ready to see but are suddenly presented with. Something secret. Something important. Not with guilt or shame. With honesty.


Maybe the years have put a patina of meaning on it, that never existed. But something passed between us that day, I'm sure. A gift given. A gift of knowing, in water-sheened flesh.