I had one Barbie in my lifetime. I found her in the back garden when I was about four, and although I wasn’t sure why she was so important, I was sure she was; important enough to keep secret. She was naked, alone, stained with the osmosis of back-yard desertion.
She hadn’t been treated well by her previous owner. She was missing one arm. Half of her hair was chopped off in a most horrid bob my childish tonsorial skills could never have rectified. She had a hole poked between her legs from which she peed the first time I picked her up. Mama insists she also had little scribbles there in blue ball-point pen, but I don’t remember that detail.
Jungle Barbie was what I named her. She was half buried in mulch beneath some rather tall crocuses when I found her and it seemed like a good name. Mama had unaffectionately referred to the bulb garden in the back yard as “that God-forsaken jungle” when we first moved in, and so Jungle Barbie it was.
Underneath the same tall crocuses where I found her was where Jungle Barbie and I played. She was safe there from ending up in the garbage with so many other things I considered important at that age. So it was there, in The God-forsaken Jungle, in a patch of soft dirt, that Barbie and I found them. We lifted a rock out of our way in our jungle exploration. One of the bulbous roots lifted with it, and there before us was the most curious collection of little swirly-shelled aliens ever.
I knew what snails were. I had just never seen them so small, or so many of them all in one place before. Jungle Barbie was braver than I was, so she ventured into their nest first with her one good arm. It was then that I discovered two bigger snails, symmetrically opposed to each other, perfectly complemented like yin and yang. I picked them up and tried to pull them apart and observed to my horror that they were locked together in mortal combat. Their insides were intertwined as they seemed to be disemboweling each other with little white swords.
Afraid to pull the snails apart further, I left Barbie to guard the nest. “Mama!” I shrieked, running into the house. “They’re killing each other! They’re killing each other!”
I was completely in panicked tears by the time I found Mama and handed her the embattled mollusks. “Make them stop,” I sobbed.
I had no idea of course. I was four. Given into consideration the pee-hole and the ball-point pen, I think Jungle Barbie probably knew more about that kind of thing than I did, but she never said very much. Poor Mama had no idea how to explain.
“I’m sure they’ll stop on their own,” she said, reluctant to touch them.
“But they’re killing each other!” I tried my best to describe what I’d seen.
Mama took the snails and inspected them. “They’re not killing each other,” she assured me. “They’re just, um, hermaphrodites.” She took the two snails apart easily and handed them back to me as they retracted into their shells. “There, see? They’re fine. Now take them out of the house and put them back in the garden where they belong please.”
I took the snails back and stared at them in wide-eyed wonder. There was no sign of the vicious visceral protuberances, nor so much as a scar from wounds of their heated battle. “Whose maphrodites?” I wondered, as I stared at them in confused disbelief.
“Hermaphrodites. It means…” Mama was unsure how quite to proceed. “It just means, they were probably very happy snails until you pulled them apart.”
I was already feeling guilty that I’d pulled their guts out trying to separate them. “I didn’t mean to,” I whimpered. “I thought they were killing each other.”
“Quite the contrary,” said Mama. “That’s just how they make little baby snails.”
My mouth fell open. The nest of snails I’d left exposed under Jungle Barbie’s watchful guard! I couldn’t tell Mama for fear she’d come out to see. I hurried back outside, dazed by the puzzling new information.
“I’m sorry, little snails,” I apologized, trying desperately to push the two reluctant creatures back into the blissful baby-making state in which I’d found them.
Of course the snails had no such intentions. I’d quite ruined their mood. After a while I gave up and let them go. We carefully buried the nest again, and then Jungle Barbie sat nodding knowingly as I explained to her all about how snails make babies, and how mommy snails have maphrodites.
© 2014 Anne Schilde