My First Diaphragm

Sometimes you meet someone when you’re twenty who has such an effect on you, you remember what they said and how they talked. If you’re lucky, you have a picture.

PK Melanson

August 30, 1968, 5:00 PM

This week doesn’t start out so lucky. But it sure ends that way.

I meet PK.

I wake up after four hours sleep, but I still have to go to work or I can’t pay back my father. The kingpins on my VW are shot, so it’s in the shop, therefore I’m grabbing the bus. Good thing my summer job as tour guide at the Valmont Power Station is so easy, because I’m fogged up the whole day. I even make up a name when a visitor asks what some lime-green pipe attached to some meter is. “Oh, that’s the triculator. Very important, runs the whole show.”

At 5:00 Larry, my fellow tour guide, drops me off at the Boulder bus station and there’s this long line of passengers waiting. The doors aren’t even open, we’re going nowhere it seems. The bus’ back hood’s open, and a mechanic futzes around with the engine. I turn to a young woman next to me and say, “First thing that you learn is that you’ve always gotta wait.”

“Oh yeah! The Velvet Underground. I got that album too.”

She tilts her head and smiles at me, almost like we know each other – but we don’t – more likely it’s because she’s just connected with someone who likes Lou Reed. She’s about my age with mixed-up hair, half straight at the part and half curly at the bottom like Da Vinci’s “Portrait of Ginevra de Benci.” Maybe it’s intentional and she knows Renaissance art. She’s wearing a long dress with an empire waist below her breasts, like they wore back then.

We introduce and start chatting in line. I tell her about how I took a cross country train to New York last summer with Mike to see the Velvet Underground at Andy Warhol’s Gymnasium. Brought blankets and slept on the train in the regular seats. She laughs and says she used to live there with her ex-husband, a guy named Murray.

“He was the kind of artist who painted his whole bedroom black. To make a statement, you know?” says PK.

“C’mon, black?” I say.

“Flat black and right above the headboard he paints this long squiggly dagger and under it these words: ‘Life. Consider the Alternative.’” Then she laughs and flips her magenta scarf behind her like Isadora Duncan must have done on that fateful day.

She says she lives in Windsor too, two stops beyond me, with her parents and “straight-arrow sister.”

“It’s only temporary. I gotta work through some stuff.” She’s been out of college for a year, and has been “busting my derriere trying to find a job — illustrator, painter, something.” We talk about everything: music, politics, the scene in Windsor, “which,” she says, “doesn’t exist.” We moan about our terminally unhip parents, but not for long. We get interrupted. My stop comes up, we’re still chatting so she gets off with me and we plunk down under a tree close to the stop. She finds a roach in her pocket with two puffs left on it. She says she’s only been back for a month, having just split from Murray and I tell her the entire story about Candace. Including the abortion.

“Oh wow,” she says. “Sounds like you have a tiny contraception problem.”

I smirk. “Ya think?”

“I assume you’ve tried the diaphragm?”

“What’s that? Some kinda breathing technique? That supposed to help?”

She laughs again, kind of a chuckle, quick and high-pitched. “Here I go again, assuming. Never assume, they tell me. Do I listen?”

“C’mon, tell me. What is it?”

“It’s this thingy a woman sticks up her pussy before sex and it’s kind of a barrier to the semen. It’s incredibly flexible. Works like a charm for me. Every time so far.”

“What’s it look like?”

“Ever have ravioli? Not the square kind, the round ones?”

“Yeah, like once.”

“It looks like one of those, only twice as big.”

She must sense I’m having trouble visualizing, so she whips out a sketchpad from her bag. In less than a minute, she draws one. It’s completely accurate, I later find out.

“Where you get . . .Where do I get one?”

“Sigh, she says. They’re prescription only.”

“’Aye, there’s the rub,’” I say. “There’s always a rub.”

“A doctor’s gotta fit one to you. I mean to her.” She gets up. “Think I hear the bus. How about this? My parents and sister’re going to some dumb play tomorrow night. In Denver.”

“What play? I’m into theater.”

“You’re the Hamlet-type. I can tell. You’d hate this. Her First Roman. It’s a musical comedy about Caesar and Cleopatra. The only thing good about it is it’s long. They’ll be gone a long while.”

“All evening?” She nods and the bus comes into view.

“Time enough for you to come over and encounter your first diaphragm.” She touches the tip of my nose with her finger.

“Yeah,” I say. “Sounds good. Sure like to see one.”

She nods. “Maybe we’ll do one better than that. So. You up for that?” I nod and the bus pulls over to the curb. “Hold it!” she shouts and it obeys.

“Of course,” I said. “What time?”

“Whenever. How ‘bout after the sun sets? Kind of like now but in twenty-four hours.” I nod, she hugs, then runs to mount the bus steps.

August 31, 1968, 7:03 PM

I make my way to PK’s house, a good mile and a half away. I could have taken the bus, but this time of night walking’s faster.

She’s so happy to see me.

“Hey you’re here! I didn’t think you’d come.” She’s wearing a white shift with no sleeves. It wafts back and forth like willow tree branches in the wind.

“You look nice,” I say. “’Beauty’s self she is.’”

“Ha! Good one. Who said that?”

“Nobody knows. But I just did.”

“Thanks. Just something I threw on. It’s actually pretty ratty.” We enter a bedroom.

I sit in a straight back chair, she on the twin bed. The room has a desk and chair but is otherwise unadorned except for a tacked-up drawing of Jim Morrison that looks demonic. Lots of bared teeth and squinty eyes.

“Nice picture.”

“It’s from a photograph,” she says, “one that was way way too tame . . .” She smirks at me, “so . . . I corrected it.”


“Yeah, I know. Damn, I’m good. So, you’re into quoting stuff. Which Morrison quote reminds you of me?”

“I . . . I don’t know. Maybe I’ll think up one later. How ‘bout I let you know?”

“Fair enough.” She leans close and inspects my face, as if I’ve got a spaghetti sauce on it. “You know, you have a very interesting profile. You find me that quote, and we’ll make a trade. I’ll draw you.”

“Sure. Why not now?”

“Why not indeed? I like people owing me.” She begins drawing and stops. “I’m doing this with a pencil in case you don’t like the way I draw your nose, you can erase it.”

“What? I’m not allowed to touch anything you do. That’s clearly in violation of the law of creativity.”

“I’m just kidding!” And then she laughs for the first time. It rings out so clear and pretty. “You’re funny. I like that. In a new friend.”

She hands it to me. It’s a really good likeness, I think. I look poetic.

I’m not sure what’s about to happen next, but now she has my complete attention: everything she does, everything I think from now on will be “unfix’d with baser matter.” How she moves in her bare feet. That swaying thing she does. How she looks at me sideways with her head slightly turned. All “will live within the book and volume of my brain.” Who knows for how long.

“First, let’s relax a little.” She lights up a joint and we drag on it a few times. I say “good stuff,” she agrees. She opens a bureau drawer and takes out a white clamshell case and shows it to me. Then she removes the diaphragm and squeezes it in and out. I touch its ridge in and it springs back. She’s right, it’s incredibly flexible.

“Not too much now, I washed it before you came.” Then she gets a tube from her drawer that’s slightly bigger than a toothpaste tube and squeezes jelly onto the diaphragm. “Spermicide,” she said. “Zaps those little buggers dead.” She moves it around slowly, like she’s fingerpainting in third grade.

“All of them?”

“Now that I have to assume. Okay, after that, the woman puts it in her pussy, following the instructions in this booklet I kept.”

“It’s got little drawings that show how to stick it in.”

“Aren’t they cute? Very discreet, not at all dirty. I figure I can draw at least as good as that so I sent them my résumé. The people who make the diaphragm? Haven’t heard back from them yet.”

“You probably will. They’ll know how to recognize talent.”

“Hope so. Oh, make sure you watch closely the first time she puts it in. You gotta make sure it’s in there right, sometimes they can slip a little. Those spermies are tricky devils, they’ll slither by they see a breach in the dam.”

“They can see?”

She tilts her head as if to say “very funny.”


I’m sitting there with my shoes off, gazing at her. Not knowing exactly what’s supposed to happen.

“So” I said, “when we met last night, you said that you’d not only show me the diaphragm, but we’ll ‘do one better than that.’ That meant you were also going to show me how to use it?”

“Which I just did. What’d you think I meant?”

“Nothing.” Actually, that’s true. I wasn’t thinking anything when she said it last night. It was my cock that was thinking. And plotting. Like right now.

My cock: OK, you’re all alone with an attractive woman in her bedroom. So make your move.

My brain: I can’t take advantage of her like that.

My cock: She wants it, can’t you tell?

My brain: But Candace. She’s so insecure, even gets jealous. What happens she hears about me screwing PK?

My cock: Who’s gonna tell her? You?

My brain: This would be cheating.

My cock: Naw, you’re just conducting research. Learning about diaphragms so you can use one with her.

My brain: Go away. You’re not running the show.

“Show you something else,” she says. She takes out this long plastic thingy and attaches it to the top of the spermicide tube. Then she fills that and give it to me to examine.

“She shouldn’t remove the diaphragm just yet, you might go extra innings.” She smirks at her baseball reference. “Before you do, she’s gotta plunge this inside her.”

I laugh too and thank her profusely for the demonstration. Then we hear the garage door opening. She goes into the bathroom and I hear the faucet running.

She returns and takes out the diaphragm and holds it in front of me. “Question. Think this would fit her?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I guess.”

“Well only you would know. Doesn’t matter, it’s worth trying. Here, this is for you.”

“Oh no, I can’t.”

“No time to argue, they’ll be here in a minute.”

“Are you sure?”

“You need it more than I do. I can get another one, just have to tell the groinocologist it developed a tear or I lost it or something. Okay, quick hug.”

She hugs me and I feel her breasts slide against my chest and thoughts start swirling through my mind like deep-sea squids. How long will I have to deal with memories of them wriggling around my mind?

“Oops! Don’t forget the booklet!”

The door opens and her sister and parents enter. I stand there and try to look more innocent than I actually am.

“Hello parents and sibling,” she says. “This is Paulie. I met him on the bus. Paulie, my parents and sister Jennifer. How was the play?”

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Author: Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog The Bodega Project.

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