Like most wars, the battle waged with my sister during the summer of 1994 was fought over resources. We didn’t fight over land. We didn’t fight over oil. We didn’t even fight over who got to choose the TV station during the afternoon cartoon peak hour. We fought over something that in the pre-internet world of the mid-nineties was a scarce commodity. We fought over porn.
Like the Great War of 1914–18, our battle was sparked by a single unexpected occurrence. One sunny November afternoon I was outside our dilapidated house, shooting my mother’s succulent plants with a BB pistol (watch that sap ooze!) and generally feeling destructive. Quickly bored, I wandered over to the garden shed to look for a hammer, and maybe some flammable liquids.
I opened the door and cast around for something suitably dangerous. After my eyes adjusted to the dimness I noticed a thick plastic bag jutting out from underneath a shelf covered with battered paint tins. Hoping for some lethal toxins, I tugged the weighty bag out into the garden and opened it.
What I saw inside was to a spark a vicious, silent conflict.
Sitting in the bag was a magazine. But it was no ordinary magazine.
No Women’s Day, no Who, no ménage of recipes or photos of celebrities exiting nightclubs. The cover featured a chesty woman wearing only white socks, her legs artfully arranged to protect the last remnants of her modesty. I froze in shock, my 15-year-old heart racing, and peered around the garden. I was alone. This wasn’t a set up. I riff led through the magazine’s pages. A flickering parade of smut passed before my eyes, like a silent film about naked women who enjoyed grasping their ankles with both hands.
My hands now sweaty, I reached into the bag and pulled out another magazine. And another. And another. I grabbed the bag and tipped it upside down. Publications with names like Mayfair, Knave and that diamond of pre-internet porn, Penthouse, spilled to the ground in an unconscious foreshadowing of many enjoyable afternoons ahead.
This was big. Really, really big.
For a moment I sat still, silently digesting the importance of my discovery. Each of these magazines was worth five to 10 dollars on my school’s underground-porn distribution system, where frustrated boys had their lustful needs met and their developing sexualities warped.
I had sourced a magazine through this black market once, but after several pleasant weeks I had thrown it in the outside bin (never the inside, Mum emptied that) during a transitory moment of self- disgust. The next day, disgust had been displaced by horniness, and I rushed out to retrieve my contraband. But the bin had been emptied. The garbo had come early, and I was back to relying on my impoverished virgin’s imagination.
I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. These magazines weren’t going to leave the house, regardless of how dirty they might temporarily make me feel. Taking my plundered mags inside the house, I opened my wardrobe, scanned the bookcase within, and tucked them behind a volume on volcanoes.
While I briefly wondered how the magazines had come to be inthe shed, I was too excited by my discovery to dwell on the whys and whos. My greed for girly mags got the better of me, and I claimed them as my own with no real thought as to the consequences of my actions. I had taken the property of another and, as I would soon find out, that other would stop at nothing to reclaim its sordid prize.
It was some time before I realised how much trouble I had wrought. The magazines stayed stashed, coming out only to be camouflaged in a towel and taken to the bathroom for one of many long ‘baths’. The next two weeks of summer proceeded blissfully. The sun was shining, school was almost finished for the year, and I had so much porn that I hadn’t even looked at all the magazines yet.
And then, inevitably, the first salvo was fired. The original owner of my precious porn struck back.
One day, grabbing a fresh towel from the laundry cupboard, I sauntered to my room and reached into the wardrobe. My blood ran cold. The space behind the volcano book was empty. I tore the wardrobe doors open and, stomach somersaulting, frantically searched the bookcase. Gone. The magazines were gone.
I panicked. Had my mother found the stash? Was she now looking at me as though I had the words ‘incorrigible self abuser’ tattooed on my forehead? How would I ever know? There was no way that I could safely broach the subject.
A day passed. Then another. Mum did not appear to be treating me any differently, or casting any disappointed sideways glances in my direction. A vague suspicion began to grow in my mind, and I resolved to turn the house upside down in the hunt for my missing mags.
As soon as I found myself alone at home I began my forensic examination. I searched my mum’s room first, heading for the space under the drawer where, before he moved out, Dad had kept his dirty mags and even dirtier videos. I searched the chest of drawers.
I searched the cupboards. Finally, I searched my mother’s bedside drawer. I reached in and pulled out a cylindrical plastic object. It took me a couple of moments to figure out what it was, and after putting it back in the drawer and washing my hands – twice – I resolved never to infringe upon her privacy again.
My second stop was my 12-year-old sister’s bedroom: a sea of junk with her bed, drawers and giant pink dollhouse serving as navigation points for those adrift in the mess. I didn’t really expect to find anything in among the Barbies, the My Little Ponies and the stuffed toys, and my search was half-hearted. After a desultory check of a few drawers, a glance under the bed, and a quick look in the wardrobe I lifted the top of her dollhouse. There, nestled amongst the tiny doll’s furniture and the fluffy stuffed cats, was the massive stack of nudie mags.
The malevolent force that had taken the porn, nay the porn’s original owner, was my little sister.
I stood stunned for a minute, my mind racing. My sister was a cheerful, talkative, well-balanced girl who spent most of her spare time wholesomely bouncing on the family trampoline. Where did she get a bag of hard-core porn magazines? Why did she even want them? Was my little sister gay? These were all important questions, but they could wait for now. I had to find a new hiding place.
Over the next month, a silent, high-stakes game of hide-and-seek was waged. A few days after I opened the dollhouse and reclaimed the magazines, the stack went missing again. I found it in the back of my sister’s wardrobe under a heap of toys. Emulating my father, I hid the magazines under my chest of drawers. Days later, they were gone.
And so it went over the following weeks. As each hiding place was discovered, my sister and I became more and more cunning. Under the mattress, wrapped in clothing, in an old suitcase, behind the dresser, sandwiched inside other books, inside a pillow – we tried everything.
After a month I had the skills of a veteran narcotics cop: I was able enter a room and spot every potential stash spot in seconds.
In the meantime, everything else continued as normal. My sister and I watched TV together, ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together, stayed at my grandparents’ house together, and never hinted at the secret battle raging between us. Summer began to fade, and the days cooled, but our conflict only seemed to heat up. The interval between thefts shortened until there was no guarantee that the magazines I stole in the morning would still be in my possession at sundown.
Eventually, after two months of theft and re-theft I unilaterally ended the war. After a particularly long and vigorous bath, my normal post-smut guilt and listlessness reached a crescendo. I pulled the magazines out from within a box of toys and stared at them, counting the many hours lost to their glossy temptations. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and resolved to end my dependence on two-dimensional depictions of women’s bits.
I walked to the outside bin and dumped the entire stack into it. With the heady rush of bathroom generated-endorphins still echoing in my system, I knew I wouldn’t need to turn to pornography again. I believed that my disgraceful habit was one I had grown out of.
Needless to say, the next morning I dashed outside, praying that the garbo was behind schedule. But I was too late. The magazines my sister and I had struggled to possess were gone. Every last magnificent one of them.
I never told my sister I had thrown the stack out. I can only assume she kept searching my room, and came to believe that I had found the ultimate hiding place.
In the years since our war ended I’ve met several of my sister’s boyfriends. I’ve watched her rise through the world of accounting, and we’ve remained close friends. I’ve never asked her where themagazines came from. I’ve never asked her why she wanted a pile of magazines filled with explicit photographs of naked women.
We haven’t avoided the topic out of embarrassment. We both know what happened that summer and, so far, we’ve never felt the need to talk about it. One day we will, and after apologising for stealing my little sister’s porn, I’ll thank her. Our battle taught me things which 15-year-old boys will never learn in a world where a hundred magazines like the ones we coveted can fit into an email attachment.
I learned that my lovable, innocent little sister was just as curious as I was about what adults did behind closed doors. Like me, she got her early anatomy lessons not from teachers but from centrefolds. And I learned that even though we’ve never discussed the Great Porn War of 1994, my sister and I can’t really hide anything from each other. Not even in the space underneath the drawers.