summer night, 1962
It’s at the McMurtrys’ this time, the biweekly barbershop quartet practice. Mark is the baritone. They start tonight with that old chestnut, “Aura Lee”. “I think Elvis ruined that song,” opines Bob, the tenor, in his chirpy voice.
They’ve thought about entering the SPEBSQSA competitions. The national this year is in Detroit. But they’ve decided against it. “We’re not exactly great, and it’s just fun,” as Harry Pulver (bass) has said. Plus, their voices are too dissimilar to blend well enough.
The wives are in the kitchen. Ethel has pumps suctioning both nipples, milk dribbling into the little bottles below. They’re light plastic and, Ethel’s breasts being so firm, there is no sag. The pumps are amazingly quiet, just a constant chunka-chunka-chunka sound. A windup mechanism fits over her neck so they’re hands-free. Ethel reaches around the equipment attached to her “udders” (as she jokingly called them just now) as she spreads cream cheese into the celery stalks. The bottles wiggle a little with her motions.
Elaine’s baby needs natural milk (the formula makes him colicky) but for some reason Elaine is not producing. She’s undergoing treatment for it. Meanwhile Ethel, having read up on it at the library, volunteered. Dr. Cerrazones ordered the pumps and after a week of suctioning Ethel’s body responded, like he said it would.
Ethel’s cake is done and Millie gets it out of the oven. They sit around, Ethel and Millie and Georgene and Liz, and chat while the cake cools, idly watching as milk is “expressed”. [chunka-chunka-chunka] When Ethel gets tapped out she pours into a bigger bottle in the refrigerator. Elaine’s husband Billy comes by every night to collect it.
They’re talking about the new book, Sex and the Single Girl, which Millie and Georgene have read. Georgene and Liz are on their third cigarette each, and smoke fills the kitchen. Millie says the book talks about the importance of (she lowers her voice here) orgasm. [chunka-chunka-chunka] At Ethel’s puzzled expression she says that means “sexual climax” which Ethel understands, though she blushes. Millie and Liz discuss the importance of penis thrusting and the right angle. Ethel, embarrassed by this conversation but playful about it, smiles as she holds her hands up to her ears. [chunka-chunka-chunka] With the raising of her arms the bottoms of the bottles rise up to a 45-degree angle, seeming to stick in everyone’s faces. With that, the chunka-chunka gets a little louder.
The cake cools and Ethel rises to cut it. The men are now on “Lida Rose” as the women bring out the cake and the celery and the soda. Barbershop songs all seem to be addressed to women that the men are chasing. Millie and Liz go out onto the porch. It’s a nice warm night and the men’s harmonies waft through the screen door. Liz lights up another out there as the two women chat.
Back in the kitchen, Ethel and Georgene sit back down. [chunka-chunka-chunka] As Georgene fiddles with her cigarette she notes the broken nail polish on her index finder. “I have to find a better acrylic.” Ethel, of course, doesn’t wear polish.
Ethel sits back, a little flushed. Pumping tends to have this effect on her. She exhales and feels like she’s run dry for now. She reaches up to turn off the switch behind her neck and the chunka-chunka stops. It is at this point, with the kitchen silent, that Georgene says, “I wish I was like you. I’ve never been able to . . .” She clears her throat, and now a little smoker’s cough. “You know . . . climax.”
“Really?” Ethel, who is in the middle of taking off the left pump, looks concerned.
“True. Bob tries and tries. He has a nice big . . . you know, and he holds back. Sometimes he tries for an hour. I get a little close, and I know it’s there, but I never get there.” As she watches, Ethel takes off the second pump -- the seal is tight, so she has to do it carefully -- and then she says, “Bob thinks it’s his fault.”
“I’m sure it isn’t,” Ethel says quietly. She says nothing as she detaches the bottles from the pumps and goes to the refrigerator. She is thinking of what she will say next. Ethel’s body is turning right next to Georgene who pulls back her cigarette so that it doesn’t burn Ethel’s butt.
When Ethel sits back down, cradling her sore nipples, she says, “I can only get there with Mark if he -- licks me.”
“What?” Suddenly realizing what Ethel means, Georgene says, “That’s . . . dirty!”
“No it isn’t. If anything the mouth is dirtier than the . . . [low voice] vagina. That’s what I read. Then when Mark’s done with me he puts his penis in and finishes in . . . the usual way.”
Georgene, her eyes suddenly wet, stubs out the cigarette in the big ashtray. It’s for guests; neither Ethel nor Mark smoke. Now the coffee is ready. “Excuse me,” Ethel says, leaving, though not before putting her hand on Georgene’s shoulder.
As Ethel brings out the coffee to the men she notices that her nipples are swollen, big (bigger than usual that is), red and protruding. They’re always like this after a pumping session but this is the first time in front of people. It’s embarrassing. She feels like a bank robber in a movie with both guns out saying, “This is a stickup!” After she goes back to the kitchen she gets a couple of ice cubes out of the freezer. She holds them against her nipples to shrink them as she and Georgene sit in silence, thinking about what Ethel has just recommended.