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Forever Virgin

By Helen Nguyen

Helen Nguyen was Highly Commended in the 2023 Women of Colour Mentorship program in partnership with Western Sydney-based literacy movement Sweatshop. She has worked on a short fiction piece, under the guidance of Sweatshop judges and mentors Winnie Dunn and Sarah Ayoub. The work was written in response to Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement as part of the All About Women festival. 

Helen Nguyen is a Vietnamese Australian writer from West Melbourne. She is a member of Sweatshop literary movement and her writing has been published by SBS Voices, Pedestrian TV, Story Casters, and Sweatshop’s upcoming anthology “Povo.” She is currently based in Sydney and finishing her law degree.


Helen Nguyen Recipient

Kerastase nutritive hair mask foams silkily from my tongue. Yuck. No time to spit. Mum’ll barge in any minute and I want to finish my shower without her seeing my pubic hair, which was trimmed but full bush, like the fake lawn in front of our double-storey Footscray house. I am breathlessly dabbing a Dove soap bar across my limbs with the speed of a careless RAT test swab. No wonder I’ve never had COVID. L’Oreal purple shampoo bleeds from my eyes like vampire blood. Nam mo a gi da phat… nam mo a gi da phat… Buddhist chants spout from my tongue nervously. What if Connor heard me now? He’d probably lol. I swear Mẹ* is tiên thần! One sniff of perfumed air and she’ll know I’m a slut. Conditioner drips in eggplant shaped globs down my waist, the colour of lemon cream.

‘Hannah!’ Dove soap plings on my toe like the crack of a durian. This is it. I’ve been caught. But for what? Mẹ barges in, bolstering my plum-red bullet vibrator to the sky like a bottle of sriracha sauce. ‘What the hell is this?’ Mẹ screeches.

A silicone LoveHoneyX bullet bruising my IKEA underwear drawer, full of nude seamless briefs and tan, full-coverage spanks. Mum must have found it while folding my laundry, striking hot-red bullet blinking like a chilli in a white person’s banh mi. Mẹ made a point of washing my Catholic school girl dresses, probably to check if my hymen broke on any of the plaid skirts. ‘Who made you buy this? Who forced you to use it? Are you a prostitution? A lesbian?’ Mẹ is screaming. She moves towards me, and I flinch, spine hitting the cool charcoal wall.

Three weeks ago. Bluetrain Pizza in Southbank. Connor and I sat at a two-seated table by the window, overlooking a twitching brown river. His pinkish face was riddled with acne and a metal chain twisted around his beaky neck. Connor was unfortunately ugly, according to my best friend Bella. She insisted I should be with Aaron Nguyen instead, who had a crush on me since ninth grade and whose biceps were beginning to bulge underneath his navy polo sleeves. I wasn’t sure how much Bella’s insistence was due to me also being a Nguyen, or whether she thought Aaron was cute. But she was blonde as Barbie and so maybe she found Connor’s blue eyes and light blond hair familiar and boring. Not me. Connor, any White boy really, was always going to be my first choice.

Something warm and pulsating pressed between my legs. I blinked at Connor, confused. He told me to order my pizza. I couldn’t give the waiter the slightest clue what was happening. What was happening? Suddenly, I felt a strong buzz reverberating through me like I was on a scooter. ‘Shhhhhhh,’ Connor hissed. With his spare hand, he fiddled with his phone, pulling up an app. I’d only seen vibrators in Sex and the City. I assumed I was supposed to enjoy this. Connor’s thumb, stamped with a metal signet ring, slid the setting up high… higher…highest. He must have thought that highest equates instant pleasure. My legs jittered uncomfortably. My clit hurt. If only a closeted Catholic school girl taught me about sex! The waiter arrived, a stringy Indian dude with a silver hoop piercing. I ordered our lunch easily, forcing my calves still. From the edge of my double-lids, I kept a gaze on Connor’s unchanging face. The waiter left and Connor raised his bushy blond brows at me, as if to say ‘Not bad.’ I exhaled and removed the bullet. At least he sounded impressed. I pushed it towards him but he pushed it back to me, patting my knee. ‘Keep it. It’s for you, for being a good girl.’

Mẹ stands by the shower door, blocking my exit. I cannot get out to grab a towel. She is a wild mix of Vietnamese and English now, sounding like scrabbling crabs. ‘How you do this to us? How dare? Fifteen and already knowing sex stuff. Who make you? I call the police.’

Outside our cramped bathroom, Footscray flutters with Sunday haste. I hear aunties dragging trollies of spring onions and radishes across the walkway, their flipflops spanking a fallen rau maung leaf into the fishy floor. Footscray is the fake name for this Viet-filled suburb. I sometimes called it Vinhcray.

Mẹ and Ba do not socialise with this community. When we first moved here, Mẹ and I watched Lan, the Asian grocer’s daughter, stand on a cubic crate at the grocer, shiny black hair tumbling over her maroon school uniform jumper as her little fingers organise bundles of bok choy. A smaller pimply-faced freshie stood next to her, periodically kissing Lan on her greasy forehead, making her blush. He smelled of fish. A silence fluttered between Mẹ and I. This cannot be you.

Ba arrives now, sighing. “What is going on?” Ba’s bubble tea pearl eyes lock on the bulge of my breasts, before flicking awkwardly away. My cheeks flush. I am too old to be naked in front of my father. Ba removed all the locks in our house when I was thirteen. He huffed and puffed, complaining about his arthritic spine under buzzing screw drivers. Mẹ did not trust outside tradies in our home, not with her 18 carat diamond rings. She didn’t trust me either, an adolescent and in her mind a forever virgin.

I imagine Connor standing here, Stussy jeans dragging over his Vans, acne popping like bun bo hue oil rings. ‘You’re seventeen!’ Ba would exclaim with a tone of injustice. ‘What is this? Are they abusing you?’

I step out of the shower, pushing Mẹ aside. It’s time I get a towel. 

‘Did you hear what she did!’ Mẹ screams at Ba. Avoiding my body, Ba picks up a worn-down novel on the bathroom table.

 I stand, a dripping rat. I watch as he reads the first few sentences of my favourite novel. “I didn’t do anything!’ I exclaim. 

‘Nothing? Ha, tell me about nothing, I found this!’ Again, Mẹ holds the erect LoveHoneyX to the sky. Ba doesn’t meet eye contact with it. 

He continues reading Lolita until his face erupts. His tanned hands lacerate Lolita’s spine. He throws her down the stairs, Humbert’s precious testimony on the sexual maturity of nymphets, fluttering like flecks of dead skin. I whimper as I look away. ‘This is why she doing naughty stuff! All she reads is this…this…porno!’ Ba yells before stomping down the stairs. He doesn’t imagine me. He doesn’t realise you can’t say the words as a Nguyen. You need to read them. 


‘So, are you enjoying the vibrator?’ I can hear the smirk in Connor’s voice over the phone. 

‘Shhh,’ my swollen eyes blink through the black closet, checking my perpetually open bedroom door. Incense follows. Mẹ is at her altar, praying to our ancestors for our salvation.

‘Sorry, I keep forgetting. Wow. You really do have an odd family. Remind me why I am seeing an Asian bird again?’

‘Fire of your loins?’ I whisper back with a chuckle. It feels terrible – the fact that I have been crying for hours and am now force-laughing. Either Connor is ignoring my borderline hysteria or just can’t pick up on it. I don’t know which is worse.

‘Right. Speaking of loins. That bush babe. It’s getting in the way and I find it hard to get hard to it. Can you shave it off?’ I bite my lip. I want to tell Connor goodbye – that our premature romance is nothing but decaying weeds. Perhaps somewhere, sometime, we will see each other again, but it will never work so long as I am a Nguyen.

‘Babe?’ Connor’s voice is gentle in the dark, nudging. I sigh, itching at my pubes. Mẹ is going to kill me.


*Mẹ: Translates to Mother or Mum