This is completely unsexual, but ever since the ex left, Jennie has gotten into the habit of sticking her hand down her pajama pants and cupping herself to sleep. It started in week five or six of the lockdown. One day, she woke up and her hands were in her pants. Both hands, under her pants, resting on top of her underwear. This happened occasionally, even before the ex moved out. Usually around the middle of the month, when she could feel her body beginning to slush. Whenever it happened, Jennie would periodically stick her finger into the folds of her vagina, to check if her period had come early. This time, too, she brought her hand to her nose and sniffed, expecting the scraping smell of pre-blood. But, nothing. If anything, her fingers smelled a bit like Cheetos.
The next day, she woke up in the same position. And the day after that. After four successive days of waking like this, she started sliding one hand into her underwear before falling asleep, letting it rest there all night. Jennie did wonder if her body was trying to tell her something, and once or twice, pushed her fingers further in, to see if her body would respond. It didn’t. Jennie’s sex drive had evaporated in the last year, and the ex leaving hadn’t changed anything. After awhile, she stopped thinking about it, and it has since become a nightly routine for her to cup her vagina to sleep with her right hand, like a baby with a blanket.
It feels like a betrayal, then, when she wakes one day to find it sore. There is a mild but insistent throbbing, and when Jennie runs her fingers over the surface of her skin, she finds a slightly inflamed bump on the inner folds of her labia. Jennie prods it tenderly, then gets out of bed and tries to get a look at it by sitting pantless with her legs wide open, in front of her mirror. But the bump is too far back and she goes cross-eyed trying to twist herself into a proper viewing position. She uses her phone’s front camera to take a picture, so she can see what she’s dealing with, but even with the flash on, the picture comes out a blur of skin and hair.
Jennie goes online and orders a handheld mirror for two dollars, then wonders if this is the ex’s doing, if he’s left her some kind of venereal disease as a parting gift. She wants to ask, but he hasn’t called in days, and won’t pick up when she does. The last they’d spoken was the last time he’d called, a week prior. The ex rang often, to work through the break up. He was almost done processing it. “The important thing is not to focus on the six years we had together,” he had said, “but to be thankful it didn’t turn into sixty.” Jennie thinks about this as she turns on her computer and fiddles with the settings on her Netflix account. Half an hour later, the phone rings.
“Did you put an age lock on my profile?”
“What? Let me see,” She taps at her computer keys randomly, the phone pressed to her face, his breathing in her ear. “Oh, sorry. Must have been an accident.”
She can almost hear him rolling his eyes. “Jen,” he says. He hangs up.
The mirror arrives three days later. Jennie can’t stop touching the bump, even though it hurts. She’s completely given up on wearing pants at home, and there is very little stopping her from fingering it, when she’s working, watching TV, or stalking the ex. It’s gotten a little swollen and the pain hasn’t let up.
Jennie sits cross legged on her bed and angles the mirror under her bum. It’s the first time she’s seen her lower landscape in such clear detail: the darkened inner thighs, the hairs on her butt, the wrinkled frown of her vagina. And the bump. She takes it between her thumb and forefinger, and squeezes lightly, wincing despite having expected the pain. A sharp white blot strains against the surface of her skin, and she increases the pressure, watching her skin stretch and threaten to split. Ah, a pimple. Jennie burns in shame as she puts the mirror away. She cannot help but feel like this is a personal failing, of sorts.
The phone rings again. She knows what it’s about even before she picks up.
“Is there something wrong with your Netflix?”
“Now I’m logged out. Can’t seem to sign in. Can you check?”
“Alright, hold on.” Jennie puts him on loudspeaker and googles “vagina bumps.” It’s apparently super common. She makes it through two pages of search results before the line cuts.
The best thing to do would be to leave the spot alone. All the websites—be they dermatologist sites, online magazines, or beauty blogs—concur that no matter what, one mustn’t pop it. If it really bothers you, Women’s Health Online says, you can visit a trusted dermatologist and have it safely lanced. Teenage Magazine is more assertive. Under NO circumstances should you deal with it on your own. You will make it WORSE. Jennie reads this with one hand on the bump, rolling the little spot of pain between her fingers, squeezing occasionally but never pressing down firmly.
The next time he calls, she starts talking first. “Sorry babe,” she says, trying to sound as perplexed as possible, “it looks fine on my end.”
“I still can’t get in. Jesus. Jen. If this is some passive aggressive bullshit you’re pulling—”
It is, of course. “It’s not.”
“It’s not like I can’t pay for my own. You know that. It’s just that the algorithm is already stored in that account. Six years of preferences. I’d have to start all over again.”
He exhales violently against the mouthpiece. “Okay, can you please just look into it, please.”
Jennie sends him a text after, saying that she’s reset the password, can he try it again and let her know? He never replies to her texts, something to do with drawing boundaries. He doesn’t reply now either. But she can see that he’s posted a new status on Facebook. Takes a special kind of crazy to withhold netflix from a person during a GLOBAL QUARANTINE. There’s a comment under that, from a new Facebook friend Jennie doesn’t recognize, a Chelsea. Ugh, the new Chelsea says, what a MONSTER. She looks at the comment for a long time, hovers over the like button but doesn’t click.
In her email inbox, there is a reply from a dermatologist she’s written to. Look, the dermatologist says, you can come in after the lockdown lifts, if you want. But I’ll be honest with you. If you leave it alone, it’s likely to go away on its own. She looks for a second opinion, but they’re all the same. A skincare blogger attempts to analogize: Haven’t you had a pimple before? Think of the pimple as your skin trying to heal. You might feel like you’re getting the gunk out, but what you’re really doing is interfering with the healing process!
The phone is ringing again. She counts the rings—one, two. The most she’s let it get to is eight. She watches his name vibrate aggressively before her, then flips her gaze down to the bump. She’s given up on wearing underwear too. She applies a little bit of pressure, watches the white tip reappear. What would it be like, she thinks, to be the sort of person who could press down? Three, four. She squeezes and watches the skin redden, then blanch, the white becoming ever more insistent. Five, six. The pain makes her gasp, she’s never come this close to breaking before. There are tears in her eyes. Seven. Come on, she thinks. Come on. Eight.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower