For the Dag, knowing the name of a thing isn’t nearly as important as understanding what it is. Names don’t always lead to understanding, after all; Joe gave them names like “Splendid” and “Fragile,” and he didn’t know who they truly were at all. She doesn’t need to know the names of the things in soil to understand that they let her plants grow green and tall. She doesn’t need to name what she feels for her sisters to understand that they’d die for each other. She doesn’t need a name for the world they’re building to know that it will be better than the old one.
No: what troubles her is names without knowledge. Words that are empty when she tries to crack them open. Knowledge that should be hers’ by right, but isn’t, because people (Joe) took it away and turned it into something wrong.
She’s sitting cross-legged in the vault, fingers tracing over one of Miss Giddy’s old books. It’s an anatomy text, filled with diagrams and pointing arrows telling her what each part is called and the scientific terms for what they do. Her fingers tap the letters as she mouths them under her breath: clitoris, labia, uterus, vulva. All the things they were prized for Before, their value in a world where just being human wasn’t enough. They’ve left that world behind, and Dag knows that there’s more to it than what they were taught- that there’s value in her body that bears no relation to the child taking shape inside her- but without hands pawing at her, the Organic Mechanic spreading her open and nodding approval at what he sees, she’s having difficulty finding it for herself.
“What are you doing?”
Dag looks up. Cheedo is standing in the doorway, head cocked to one side. She doesn’t often come to the vault; she’s found purpose elsewhere, and she doesn’t need to read the words they painted when they were still Joe’s property. She has nothing to draw her back like Dag does- no burning need to take something unknowable that was left behind, even though she doesn’t know how.
“Reading,” Dag says, gesturing vaguely at the book. Cheedo comes across the floor and sits down across from her, crossing one knee over the other and propping her chin on her hand. “Reading what?”
The Dag turns the book around so that Cheedo can see what she’s looking at. Her mouth falls open, finger tracing the illustrations for a long moment before she looks up again. “Miss Giddy never showed us this.”
“She wasn’t told to,” the Dag says. “He didn’t want us knowing too much, or else we might-” She draws a finger across the swell of her stomach. “No taking chances with the goods.”
Cheedo’s quiet for a moment, then asks “is that why you’re reading it?”
“No.” Dag pulls the book onto her lap, flipping through the pages. “I just- I’m trying-”
Words often fail her, or maybe she fails words; it’s hard to make people understand. Cheedo has always been the exception, the one who listens and nods even if what the Dag is saying doesn’t fit quite right in her ears. But now she’s sitting across from Dag, head cocked curiously to the side, eyes unknowing, and all Dag can say is “I want to know.” She gestures wildly, sending the book spilling out of her lap. “I want to know what’s inside us, what he didn’t want us to see. The Vulvalini women, Furiosa’s friends, they tell stories like- like what he did to us should feel right, if it’s not a bad man doing it. If it’s a kind man, or a woman, or someone- anyone- I want to know how.”
She doesn’t say- because she doesn’t know how to, and everything in her mind is tangled up in snarls and knots- that she doesn’t just want to know, she wants to feel. She wants to feel these good things she’s heard about, hands on her skin that don’t make her pull away in fear and disgust. She’s touched and been touched in love before, of course- holding Cheedo close, Angharad’s hand on her arm, Capable combing her hair. But it’s not the same, and she knows it, but she can’t say how, and it makes her want to scream.
“Miss Giddy told us stories,” Cheedo says slowly, “about- what it was like between men and women before the world fell. Do you remember? The ones with all the funny words, that didn’t make any sense. They would . . . touch each other, and kiss, and-“
“Do what Joe did,” Dag says with a twist of her mouth.
“No,” Cheedo insists, “it wasn’t- it was what he did, but it wasn’t like that. They both liked it.” She frowns. “I think.”
Dag never paid much attention to the old storybooks Miss Giddy used to teach them from; the made-up exploits of people from a world that was day to their night never felt like something she should care about, or wanted to know. But now she watches as Cheedo stands up, walks to the bookshelf, and returns with one of the old books. It’s barely holding together, pages drifting to the floor like leaves as Cheedo opens the cover and begins to read. “Now doth she stroke his cheek, now doth he frown, and 'gins to chide, but soon she stops his lips; and kissing speaks, with lustful language broken, 'if thou wilt chide, thy lips shall never open.'”
The Dag wrinkles her nose. “Doesn’t sound very fun. He’s not enjoying it anyway.”
“Still.” Cheedo closes the book and sets it down. “They seemed to have written about it a lot, back then. And if the neither of these books will tell you, I don’t know how you’re going to find out.”
Dag sighs, and drops her head into her hands. “Neither do I.”
Cheedo moves to sit next to her, patting her hair lightly. Neither of them speak. The Dag thinks again on what her book said, and what Cheedo had read aloud; there was something there, maybe caught between the two, but she couldn’t quite say what it was or how to bring it out into the light. “What else does it say in that one you were reading?”
Cheedo shuffles back over to where she dropped the book, and picks it up again. “’Look how he can, she cannot choose but love; and by her fair immortal hand she swears, from his soft bosom never to remove till he take truce with her contending tears.’ So they just . . . touch each other a lot, I think.”
“Huh.” Dag reaches out and lays a hand on Cheedo’s shoulder. “Like this?”
“Sort of.” Cheedo glances back down at the book. “But . . . more, I think? And they move their hands around. And they seem to be kissing while they do it.” She licks her lips. “If you want, I could . . .”
Dag shifts a little closer, moving her hands so they’re both resting on Cheedo’s upper arms. “I’d like that.”
Cheedo licks her lips again and leans forward. It’s barely even a kiss at first: just a dry, chaste brush of lips against each other, neither woman moving. Then Dag’s hands tighten on Cheedo’s arms, and Cheedo leans in with more purpose, and her lips part, and suddenly it’s new: nothing she’s known before, nothing she could have anticipated (Joe and his slimy, probing tongue flash briefly across her mind, but she pushes the memory away) because Cheedo is so warm and soft, and her lips even taste good, and it’s difficult to concentrate on kissing and touching and breathing all at once. She pulls back, gulping for air, eyes wild. Cheedo looks at her nervously. “Did I- was that wrong?”
“No.” It’s still a bit hard to speak; her head is reeling. “No, not wrong. Just . . . different.”
Cheedo nods shyly. “I didn’t expect it to be so . . .”
“Yeah.” She doesn’t need to finish the sentence: there’s no proper word for what they’re both thinking, although exciting and better and burning might come close. “Can we try again?”
Cheedo barely has the chance to nod before Dag leans forward, this time slipping her hands around Cheedo’s waist instead of her arms and pulling her closer, the better to reach her mouth. Cheedo’s sitting on Dag’s lap now, with a leg on either side, and her hair is falling around both their faces like a curtain. This time, they both open their mouths right away, and it’s wet and hot and good. Cheedo’s squirming back and forth on Dag’s lap, and she feels a fire start down low in her stomach and her face and the tips of her fingers and toes. She’d once hated the heat, how it beat down on her until she felt wilted and limp. Now she can’t get enough of it. She slides one hand into Cheedo’s hair, cupping the back of her head so that she can guide her mouth. Her back is to the wall: lucky, or she’d have toppled over by now.
Cheedo’s the one who pulls back this time, and the loss of her mouth makes the Dag’s head spin, so she misses the first part of what she’s saying “-next?”
“What happens next?” Cheedo’s hair is mussed, sticking out at odd angles, and her face is red. “There’s . . . there’s something after kissing, isn’t there? In the books? But I don’t know what.”
It occurs to the Dag that she would be happy with just kissing; it’s turned out to be so much nicer than she thought it would, so why stop when they’ve found something that works? But it’s also possible that whatever comes next will be even better (hard to believe- but she wouldn’t have thought it about the kissing, either) so she asks “what does it say? In the book, I mean.”
“Umm,” Cheedo picks the book up again. “’by her fair immortal hand she swears from his soft bosom never to remove.’” I don’t know what a bosom is.”
“Breasts,” the Dag says. “Or just his chest, I guess, since it’s a man. But it means breasts.” Her own breasts are bound- as they always are- in cloth, but now that they’re Women rather than Wives, she’s permitted to wear a proper shirt over the cloth instead of just being covered in flimsy gauze. Cheedo is too. It was a relief to wear them, to be able to cover herself as much or as little as she wanted, but just now she finds that she’d prefer to have it off.
Cheedo reaches out shyly, touching the hem of her shirt. “Can I?”
No one’s ever asked her that before. She almost wants to say no, just for the sheer giddy joy of being able to refuse, but she checks that impulse: there will be other opportunities, and just now she wants Cheedo more than she wants to be untouchable. So she says “yes,” happily, and lifts her arms as Cheedo pulls the shirt over her head, then reaches back to untie the knot holding her binding cloths in place. While she’s doing that, Cheedo tosses aside her own shirt and cloths, and there they both are, bare to the waist.
“Oh,” Cheedo says, almost reverently. “You’re lovely.” Dag would say the same, but she seems to have lost her words again. It’s not that she hasn’t seen other women undressed before- they lived in such close quarters, how could they not? - but now it’s different, because Cheedo is undressed for her, and she’s so beautiful it’s hard to take in. She barely has time to anyway, because then Cheedo’s hands are on her and she’d never known her skin could be this tender, or this sensitive. Cheedo’s fingers feel unaccountably hot and lithe as they dance across her skin, and she finds she has to grab hold of Cheedo just to steady herself. She wants to touch Cheedo herself, but there’s so much happening that she can barely even see, and she has to fumble to find the place she wants. When she does, Cheedo’s hands falter for a moment before they keep going. It feels almost as good to touch her as it does to be touched, warmth and softness underneath her palms. Cheedo’s kissing her breasts too, now, hot and wet and lingering, and Dag can’t get enough of it. Every time Cheedo shifts again, or makes a noise, it sends a spike of pleasure through her, because she knows she did that, she made Cheedo feel so bright. Shiny, like the War Boys might have said, but shining is a wholly inadequate term for this: something that shines is only reflecting the light cast on it. What she’s feeling now is catching sensation from Cheedo, then casting it back at her so that the fire burns between them, uncontrolled. It’s spread to all corners of her body, but most especially in the place between her legs that she never thought she’d let anyone else touch again.
“Mmhm” she says against Cheedo’s mouth, trying to nudge herself closer. There’s no room left between them, but it still doesn’t feel like enough; she wants more. “Can I- can we-”
“Yes,” Cheedo says, and if neither of them knows quite what they’re talking about, that’s all right. They’re being led by their bodies now, the rhythms of nature taking over where their knowledge falters. The Dag’s hands go to her own waist, untying the wrap skirt she’s wearing and casting it aside. She’s almost tempted to just touch herself, just to speed up the process, but that’s not really what she wants: she wants more of Cheedo’s hands on her. Cheedo seems to understand, though, because her hands slide down Dag’s stomach, through the thatch of hair- it tickles, and she says so, giggling- and then skim against her most inner part, just barely grazing her. “Is this all right?”
“Yes,” the Dag says, “yes please,” and she takes hold of Cheedo’s wrist, guiding her movements. She doesn’t want anything inside her- not now, maybe not ever- but just having her run her fingers across the surface is more than enough. It still tickles, but in a different way, one that stokes the fire inside her to almost impossible heights. She thinks it can’t possible get any better, but then she pulls Cheedo’s hand a bit too far up by accident and her thumb brushes against something that makes a scream jump from her throat.
Cheedo jumps. “What was that? Did I do something wrong?”
“No.” The Dag shakes her head. “No, it was- it’s good.” She closes her fingers back around Cheedo’s wrist. “Can you do that again? Touch the same place?”
“I don’t know if I can find it,” Cheedo says, but she does, and quickly. The Dag groans and leans her head back. They’re not kissing anymore, mostly because she thinks if she tried to stuff any more good feelings inside herself, she might explode. She thinks it might be leading up to that anyway: the feeling in her stomach keeps building, and she thinks it’s going to have to break at some point- she doesn’t know how it’s supposed to be, with women and sex, but she knows that there comes a point when men know they’re finished, so it must be the same for women. The stronger the feeling grows, the harder she rocks against Cheedo’s hand, but even then she barely has time to gasp out a warning before it breaks over her in waves, hot-cold pleasure like an explosion of electricity that steals the breath from her lungs. She shudders all through it, making wordless, incomprehensible noises, still holding tight to Cheedo’s wrist. It’s only when the sensation starts to recede that she lets go and shifts backwards. Cheedo’s looking at her with one part shock, two parts love, and one part hunger.
“Do you want-” the Dag starts to say, but she doesn’t get the rest of her sentence out before Cheedo surges forward in her lap, skirt already discarded. She doesn’t take Dag’s hand, but she still finds what she’s looking for, and holds Cheedo secure with one arm around her waist while she uses her other hand to stroke her. She finds the same spot that made her scream mirrored on Cheedo- it’s a little piece of skin, no larger than the nail of her little finger, and she tucks that information away for future use- and she rubs her there, feeling the muscles in her legs twitch and flex until she too is crying out, muffling her face in Dag’s shoulder as she rocks herself through it. The Dag holds her close and kisses her shoulders and breasts over and over, whispering fierce endearments, telling her how lovely she is.
When they’re done, she takes her hand away, letting Cheedo lean back. She lets herself tumble over until she’s lying on the floor, and that seems to the Dag like an excellent idea, so she joins her. Both of them are still breathing hard, flushed all over, like they’ve been burning themselves under the sun. The Dag rolls over and puts her head against Cheedo’s, their shoulders bumping together.
“Is that what you were looking for?” Cheedo asks, when their breathing has slowed enough to speak. “Is it- did you think it would be like that?”
“Yes,” the Dag says, then “no.” It is what she had been searching for in the books, but she hadn’t expected the intensity of it; she’d never known her body could feel so good. It’s like the first time she ate a full meal, how the sense of fullness had been so foreign to her that she could barely describe how it did feel. And food hadn’t involved Cheedo beside her, beautiful and warm and loving. “Did you like it?”
“Yes,” Cheedo says immediately, more vehement than Dag’s ever heard her before. She even seems to surprise herself a little, giggling. “I never even thought of it before. I didn’t know- I hadn’t thought-”
“I know,” Dag says, because she does. Words aren’t necessary here, not when they both understand.
Cheedo snuggles closer. “Should we tell the others?” She pauses. “And can we do it again?”
The Dag hides her face in Cheedo’s hair to smother her giggles. “I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe they should find it out for themselves. Or we should write our own book, so they don’t have to find out from that.”
Cheedo nudges her. “And the other thing?”
“Oh!” Dag blinks. “Yes. Of course. Lots. Maybe not right now, but lots.”
The throbbing waves of pleasure have receded, but she can still feel the after-effects: she’s warm and loose and relaxed all over. More things she’s never felt, didn’t even realize she could feel. She’d ask if Cheedo felt the same, but she can feel the way she’s relaxing into her and already knows the answer. This, she thinks, is why they weren’t allowed to read that book: Immortan Joe never meant for them to feel like this, never wanted them to know they could. But he’s dead now, and that died with him: she can read all the books she wants and learn all the right words, and touch Cheedo as much as she wants, and if anyone tries to stop her- well, she thinks, just let them try.