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Riddle me This

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Anne collected her knitting then turned the armchair with the wobbly leg and the ripped covering to face the window rather than the centre of the common room. Her class mates usually avoided it, preferring to cram two or three into one of the other chairs when they wanted to talk. With any luck, everyone would leave her alone. She was sure her cheeks were still red after Miss Fraser’s senior hygiene class, and she knew the others all want to giggle and snigger about everything.

It wasn’t as though she didn’t know about the changes going on in her body. Two years ago, Aunt Fanny had sent the boys on an errand to Kirrin Farm. George had argued that she should have been going with the boys, but Aunt Fanny had been surprisingly strict and refused permission. She had something she needed to talk about with George and Anne, and that had been when she explained puberty, such an awkward word, to them. Vagina, menstruation, fallopian tubes. Anne couldn’t say any of those words without blushing and stammering. Actually, she couldn’t even say any of the names the others tended to use.

Clare referred to hers as her minge. Anne smiled; Miss Fraser would never say minge, or even beaver. Last holidays, Lucilla overheard her older brother describing his girlfriend’s beaver to a friend, and had taken up the term with alacrity. Anne pondered for a moment as she wondered what names Julian and Dick used for down there. Margery's affected Lady Jane was just plain silly, in Anne's opinion.

Monica, Jennifer and Susan entered the room and headed straight for the table by the window. They were working together on a five-hundred-piece jigsaw. There was an hour until dinner time. Their voices were too soft for Anne to overhear their topic of conversation, but she could guess.

“Hey, Susan.” Lucilla, Clare and Margery had come in and joined the others at the jigsaw table and Lucilla's greeting rang out clearly.

Unashamedly, Anne pricked up her ears, but she dropped a stitch and had to concentrate on picking it up, thereby missing completely whatever was said to Susan and her response. It must have been some joke, judging by the hoots of laughter. She risked a glance in their direction, and saw Susan's bright red cheeks.

"Look, there's Anne, hiding in the corner." Lucilla, Clare and Margery abandoned Susan and the others, and sauntered over to Anne.

"Nice scarf," remarked Margery.

"It's a cardigan," replied Anne dryly. She tightened her grip on the needles to hide her shaking hands.

"It's time for a riddle," announced Clare.

"What's long, and stiff, and carries see-men?" sing-songed Lucinda.

Anne felt her cheeks burn. "You know the answer. We were all in Miss Fraser's class."

She wants me to say p-p-penis. I can't say it. Lucinda even said semen. It's a wonder she didn't call it jazz, or pearl drops. Rotten bunch of meanies.

"You should always answer a riddle, Annie," said Clare.

"Don't call me 'Annie'."

"All right, Anne. Then answer the riddle!"

"I forget the question!"" said Anne defiantly.

"What's long...and stiff--" repeated Lucinda.

"And carries see-men?" the three finished together. They looked expectantly at Anne.

"A submarine!" George had joined them unnoticed. "Something that's long, stiff and carries sea men is a submarine."

"Spoilsport," groaned Margery.

"You couldn't have got here five minutes later?" said Clare ruefully.

"Come on, Anne. Put your knitting away. I've a letter from Mother I haven't shared with you yet."

"Thanks, George," said Anne gratefully. She looked up at the trio. Suddenly, she knew what she wanted to say to them. "Penis!" she exclaimed. "Penis, penis, penis! That's what you wanted. Now go away and leave us in peace."

Open-mouthed, the girls backed away from Anne and George.

George clapped Anne on the back. "Well done! Wait till Julian and Dick hear about this."

Anne flushed. "You're not to tell them, George. Promise me."

Reluctantly George promised. "It would have been so good to see the looks on their faces."

When it was time for bed that evening, the cousins stood at their adjoining cubicles and wished one another good night.

"Penis," George laughing whispered in Anne's ear before she slipped behind the curtains.

Once in bed, Anne pulled the blankets over her head. She would practice these words every night until she could say them without blushing. "P-p-p-submarine."