June 10, 2007

“'A special treat for any occasion!'”

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I have an all-encompassing love for food as a whole, instilled at a very early age by my well-meaning mother who grew up poor and wanted her kids to have the luxury of all the wonderful things she was so deprived of as a child. What this came to mean to her, ultimately, was providing us with really bad food that she thought was incredibly delicious. We’re not talking the fruits and vegetables that would make us healthy, we’re talking the lard-laden naughty treats that would make us happy. We love you, Mom.

Thusly, and betwixt moments of swimming in a sea of Oscar Mayer and Buddig “meats” sandwiched between Miracle Whip, Wonder Bread and crushed Lay’s, I pursued chocolate and various candies with a zest and zeal not many would expect from a lazy, overweight girl who only showed any sign of life in P.E. class when the ball was thrown “to” her. It was, of course, by accident or for laughs that the ball entered my expansive sphere of existence, as running away from fast moving objects and/or falling to the ground in fear and wailing like a beast was my forte at those moments.

Every day after school, I gathered my quarters and whatever was left over from my allowance and set off for the mall. After an hour or so of working up my appetite with Galaga at the Jolly Jester, it was time for my jaunt to the SupeRx, the most wonderful place on earth. Of course it was just a small-town drugstore, but it held massive amounts of candy and that, my friends, was my reason for living.

As I browsed the gloriously endless options in the candy aisle, I would every once in a while pick up something that brought up fond memories: a king-sized Nestle Crunch, a 20-ounce bag of chocolate raisins, a ridiculously large slab of Hershey’s Special Dark. I smiled as I ran my finger across the fresh, unopened wrappers. I imagined the bliss I would experience as I pulled the paper off an 800-calorie bar of chocolate, inspecting it and crafting my plan of attack, as there was always a method to my consumption of anything. Crunch bars were particularly fun: first, munch the thick, raised edge, work your way around the letters, break off the letters, eat the letters. I sighed and shook my head in that sweet way parents do when their fantastically annoying children are being amazingly obnoxious and they think it’s really quite cute. People are so clueless.

I moved on, delving deeper into the land of my happy place. And. There. It. Was. At the end of the aisle. The mother lode. The Whitman’s Sampler. Spotting the pastel yellow and cross-stitch flower print with the swirling green script made my heart skip a beat. It had its own display, naturally, because only something so heavenly could warrant such an honor. As I read the tagline, “A special treat for any occasion!” I knew I loved the Whitman’s people, and that they loved me, too. They knew me, and they also knew that today was, in fact, a very special occasion. It was a very special occasion indeed. The occasion was that it was a Wednesday in the 10th year of my existence, I was obese, and I was hungry. Now, I’m not one to do anything half-assed if I really care about something, and I really cared about eating. So it was not the little wuss-sized box that piqued my interest; oh no, my sweet children, not at all. My eyes were set on the savior of all Samplers: the double-decker, 16-ounce, options-abound world of wonder Whitman’s Sampler. As I gazed with love at my gorgeous new friend, I realized that if the people at Whitman’s knew of my devotion, they would surely adopt me into their chocolatey coven. I would be The Chick in Charge of All Things Chocolate. Perhaps I’d be a spokesperson of sorts, offering my extensive knowledge of each chocolate in the box, citing my favorites, handing out samples, and eating them constantly. I closed my eyes and imagined the television commercial that would be an instant hit: I’m laying on a chaise lounge, preferably on my side, decked out in Gloria Vanderbilts and my favorite OP polo, with my Whitman’s box placed ever so strategically in front of my stomach to hide the fat rolls. I’d gaze into the camera, smile like Farrah Fawcett, conjure my inner Brooke Shields and say, “Nothing comes between me and my Whitman’s.” Perfect.

“Excuse me, but are you going to buy that?” I was jolted from my blissful state by the little old woman who was always there. I swear, didn’t this woman have anything better to do than bother me? I blinked a few times and stared at her name badge. “Uh, yeah.” And fuck off, JUDY. “Okay, honey, I just wanted to make sure.” I glanced at her as she said this and noticed her look at the box and smirk. I turned beet red as I looked down and realized I had crushed part of my Whitman’s in the throes of my dream-state clutch. Sweet Jesus, I have problems. I released my kung-fu grip and headed for the cashier.

I couldn’t wait to get home. If I had any athletic ability whatsoever and didn’t jiggle so much every time I upped my pace beyond an old-man shuffle, I would have run. Once home, I headed straight for my bedroom and settled in for my own version of happy hour. I got comfortable on my bed, peeled off the plastic, and opened my treasure chest of love. I picked up a caramel square, hunkered down with a book, and went far, far away. Some time later, I heard my mom’s car pull into the driveway, which was my cue to strategically hide my treats under the bed and continue reading. She always came in to check on me.

“Hey there Sunshine!” Uh-oh. My mom never spoke in exclamation points unless she was in a rage. Today she was all smiles and happiness. Something was definitely wrong, so I put my book down and waited.

“I have a surprise for you.” She waited for my response. I gave none. She continued, ”I talked to Dr. Elghammer today and it just so happens that they’re starting these new meetings every week at his office. They’re on Wednesday nights.” She kept waiting for me to respond, to ask her what all the excitement was about but I knew she was just doing the dance at this point, trying to talk me into something I just knew I’d hate, like church group. She took a deep breath, looked at me all hopeful and serious-like, and said, “It’s called Weight Watchers.”

I wanted to die. I knew she was talking about me, wanting me to go and be fat and heinous with all the other fat and heinous people. I also knew she was just trying to help her overweight daughter, but I felt completely betrayed. She was the one who started it! She was the one eating Suzy Q’s every night after dinner, serving them up to her chubby little children with a smile. She was also always rail-thin and never managed to gain a pound. Not fair, okay?! I looked her right in the eye without missing a beat and muttered, “Well, that sounds really good, Mom. I hope that works out for you.” She didn’t think that was very funny. As a consequence, I was forced to weigh myself weekly in front of a bunch of gigantic people I thought were repulsive. I was also the only one in the group who never lost a pound. My mother finally chalked it up to my “big bones” but that wasn’t it at all—only my friend Judy and I knew the reason, and we knew it very, very well. Very well, indeed.

contributed by Kim Foster

"'...Just bitch slap me. Go on. Do it.'”

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Once upon a time, I had a stalker. Not a cute, leaves-me-notes- with-hearts-on-them stalker. A shows-up-where-I-am-and-says- crazy-shit stalker. And just when I thought her ass was gone, she’d turn up again. She’d go into hiding for a day or a week or six months and then one day she’d be right back at the coffee shop where I worked, ordering a brownie and a Diet Coke and giving me that leer of equal parts lust and panic. She is thin, pale, and very, very twitchy. She’s high-strung to the point that everything she says and does makes it seem like there’s a gun to her temple. Her voice sounds like Will Ferrell impersonating Janet Reno. And her crowning achievement in crazy-stalkerness is also the best story ever, even if it was terrifying at the time.

So, it’s three years ago. I’m at the bus stop, waiting calmly for the bus to take me to the airport where I will collect Tom, the guy I was dating at the time. I see out of the corner of my eye a twitchy, evil figure that can only be my stalker. I tense and consider going to a different bus stop, but decide to simply stare intently away from her in that manner that says “I am looking for the bus and I do not see you.” She walks by me, waits for the stop light, crosses, and keeps walking. I figure I am safe. Then suddenly she is turning around, waiting for the stoplight, crossing again, and oh shit she is in front of me.

“Hello,” she says in her Janet Reno voice.
“Hello,” I say in my I’m-afraid-of-you voice, not making eye contact.
“How are you?”
“Where are you going?”
“To the airport...” and here I had a stroke of genius, “...to pick up my boyfriend!”

Because clearly now I am gay and taken and she has an easy out. She can just end the conversation and go on her twitchy way and all this will be behind us. And surely her gross infatuation with me can not overcome such an obstacle?

Oh, but it can.

She starts asking me a series of questions about this boyfriend, how old is he what does he do where is he from la la la and she is given one-syllable answers, all without my ever looking directly at her. She ends this litany with: “It’s nice that you have someone.”

“Um... yes?”
“I don’t have someone.”
“What I’m trying to say is... I love you.”

Yes, she actually says this. And I just gape at her openly for quite some time. When I finally recover my ability to think, I stammer, “I don’t know you.” And it was true; up to that point she has just been a crazy girl who had been in my dance class at college even though she went to a different school, and then started showing up at the coffee shop too frequently. And now she is officially my stalker. The story, sadly, continues.

She launches into this litany about how she’s a bad person and she only likes gay men and how if she threw herself in front of a truck right there I wouldn’t care, and I can’t remember word-for-word what she said but I know she ended with the stirring: “...I’m a fag hag and a horrible person and you should just bitch slap me! Just bitch slap me. Go on. Do it.”

And here she bends forward a little and juts out her spindly neck, just to punctuate the invitation. And part of me really wants to just backhand her, but the idea that she might enjoy it stops me. So I just gape at her some more before finally saying, “You’re embarrassing us both, and you need to go.”

She sort of processes this, then nods and mumbles “Okay,” and turns away from me. But there is only the briefest moment of respite before she turns around again, facing me and saying, “Can I just kiss you?”

“No! No!”
And then she reaches out her white, spidery hand.
“Can I just touch you?” The hint of sex in her whisper is unmistakable.
“No! No! You need to go now. You need to go now.” At long last, she mumbles and nods and dodders off.

At this point, I turn to the woman sitting next to me (who has this whole time simply been staring off into the distance, waiting for the bus to come) and apologize, explaining something or other about how she comes into my coffee shop and is clearly unbalanced. I don’t remember what I said. But I know exactly what she said back: “I don’t have a car, so I ride the bus a lot. And I see her sometimes. She seems really... intense.”

And at that exact moment, the bus pulls up. And we get on, and the story finally ends. Now that I have moved halfway across the country, I’d like to think I’ll never see my stalker again. But sickly as she is, she’s a crafty little bitch, and part of me will always keep an eye out for her beady eyes peering around the corner. I’m almost positive she’ll attend my funeral.

contributed by Chris Kelly

"'What's the quickest way to make this man go away?'"

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I asked out a girl who works the register at my local health-food store; she said no. Embarrassing. There's a sort of multilayered regret that spans the whole event, from thinking it was a good idea in the first place to its actual implementation. Particularly cringe-inducing is my decision to double back to ask her out after initially getting flustered. Should have waited for another day. No: should have waited until the heat death of the universe.

There's a lot of shame built into interactions like this. Implicit admissions of loneliness and longing. Because of course asking someone out takes some degree of courage, often built up over a series of days and imagined poppings of the question. What did my invitation truly say? Not just that I want to drink coffee with you. So much more: That I'm single and lonely. That no one sleeps next to me at night or hugs me when I come home, and that my life as it stands has become objectionable enough to make me break the softly decreed boundary of propriety that separates strangers. That I've probably thought about you a great deal more than you've thought about me. And in fact for the past couple weeks you've been kind of a constant fixture in my mind. I've thought about what we could give each other, how you could make my life more whole. All this has led me to study our interactions, and I have projected an interest in me onto you by systematically misreading every smile you've ever given me, for you see, I am inept at reading social cues. How do you think I got so lonely in the first place?

The grievousness of my error is clear to me now as I notice that your reaction to my invitation is not a happy one -- that the smile you give me now has a tension beneath it, a resentment for my having crossed the boundary uninvited (especially when you are trapped behind a register at work and thus denied freedom of movement or expression). As your eyes focus on the horizon it is clear that you are thinking of an answer to the question "What's the quickest way to make this man go away?" The dent that my projections had made in my perception, allowing me to see you in the fun-house mirror of desire, suddenly pops back out and I see that that friendly smile is really a pitying, embarrassed grimace. Here I stand, King Ass, surveying his stinky domain, his subjects averting their eyes, but not in reverence. My crotchless pantaloons, which, though firmly wedgied, somehow still exaggerate my fundament to monstrous proportions, swish with each step I take as I slink off stage to my moldy bedchamber. "Shit. Head." the swish seems to whisper. "Shit. Head. Shit. Head. Shit. Head. Shit."

contributed by Galen Menzel

"The Jobstress is clearly about to do a job."

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I’ve never waited with someone else in a Hand Job waiting room.

There is always a waiting room at a Hand Job.

There never seems to be a queue.

I walk in.

Personally, I’d like a couple of minutes to look around some more—to touch the fake plant in the corner, to look at some of the furniture that someone in China in the 80’s wanted to make someone in America in the 80’s think represents “Asia". To watch the daughter of one of the Jobstresses as she watches cartoons in the “office” area, which is separated from the “waiting” area by the type of wooden screen I usually only ever see in gardens. In other words, I’d like to snoop around.

I won’t get to snoop around. I’m not saying there’s a lot to look at. To me, it’s similar to walking into a Chinese Buffet—it’s impossible for me to imagine that the Chinese Buffets I’ve patronized could have purchased their buffet items from different vendors. Are you Chinese, Chinese people? I think you are. I have only one way to check: “Ni hao.” I’d like to make it clear now that the Jobstresses who have provided there services to me have all been or, at least, have presented themselves as being Chinese. Other areas of Asia seem, to my perpetual disappointment, to be underrepresented. The areas of primary interest to me are Korea and Japan. Where are you, Korea and Japan? Never mind that for now: Someone has greeted me too soon for me to really snoop around. I’m about to infiltrate the Chinese Buffet’s sister enterprise. And on an empty stomach no less.

“Have you been here before?”

That was my tactic for a while. If you lie about your experience, you might be able to pay less—if you’ve been before, you ought to know about what to expect they’ll charge, right? The last two times, I’ve just left, though. The women are never beautiful (although one was close), usually aged, and always try to overcharge. By the way, a Hand Job can also be called an Asian Massage and yes, I am referring to the place and not the act. They give themselves the function-performing name. I contribute the somewhat more honest name.

So, how much is this vital service worth? Fifty dollars at most, I say. There are a few criteria the Jobstress needs to fulfill before she deserves all fifty, though: one, no scented oil—it gives me a break-out every time. Two, give me an actual massage—for Christ’s sake, I gave you forty dollars and you’ll probably try to overcharge when you offer your actual service. (I assume that really wealthy folk are able to find better prostitutes.) What do they want to receive? Between eighty and a hundred dollars. This fee, I feel, ought to be reserved for the outright hunchbacks. I consider myself a very pleasant and extremely fair fifty-dollar client. To date, though, I’ve never paid less than fifty-seven dollars for The Service.

It’s a rare instance where I have found myself in the company of a different woman than the one that greeted me in the “waiting” room. This Jobstress is unlike all others I’ve Entrusted With. In fact, this isn’t a woman. This is a young woman. She’s, at most, in her late twenties. This is fascinating and, as most things tend to be for me, somewhat arousing. There is more fascination than arousal in this case, though, because something is not right about her demeanor. I can’t ever tell if the geniality with which I’m usually greeted is sincere or not. There is a decided lack of true or even false geniality with this young woman, though. The Jobstress is clearly about to do a job.

Each time I visit a Hand Job I wonder whether or not I will actually be aroused when the time comes to turn genitals-up. To date, I’ve never been (or, perhaps, never felt so distinctly like) a job. This brings the question of arousal that much nearer the crest of my thoughts.

What the massage ends up lacking in passion and presence it more than makes up for in scented oil. It’s now genitals-up time and I’m more completely flaccid than I may ever have been before. I peer down to check. The hypothesis is proved. I’ve saved the seventeen dollars that I was planning to offer for The Service. Then, she starts lightly touching my inner thighs and hips. I can see the dispassion in her face and what is probably a sickly perspiration that has formed along her hairline. “How can I possibly still be getting aroused,” I wonder aloud. (No, I don’t.) Next, she has offered The Service and I’ve guiltily Jewed her down. (I really only have another seventeen dollars anyway. How could I give her more? Stop looking at me like that. Jesus.)

What commences is among the most somnolent hand-on-semi-flaccid-cock action to ever set fire to a Hand Job. When the ordeal is taking longer than we both know it should, she dutifully places my hand on her left buttock. It’s no good, though— more perspiration and more guilt. I decide then to concentrate on climaxing to end the poor young woman’s misery. In another minute, I succeed. She inspects the bitter fruit of our combined labor. Looking at me with a bit of perplexity she says, “That’s it?”

I nod apologetically.

contributed by C. Wayne Smith

"I was doomed before I started. Possibly even before I was born."

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In seventh grade I suddenly found myself with a real live girlfriend. Completely identical in uncoolness and pre-pubescent unattractiveness as well as equally bashful, Frances and I wrote each other long, friendly letters on notebook paper every single night. Each morning we'd exchange the letters before school and glow as we read them during Algebra 2, and every afternoon the dread and delight of holding that hand as we walked to the bus was almost too much for me to bear. I considered kissing to be a huge step, highly invasive and personal-- it was nothing I would spring on a lady before we were both completely ready. I was not ready. I hid in my image as a gentleman, and did not think that my male contemporaries who boasted of frenching and "dirty dancing" with their girls were of my caliber. Frances and I shared the easygoing comfortable love of retired lesbians, the kind that travel in RV's and put photos of their dogs at Old Faithful on their Christmas cards. Ours was a rarified world of respect and inner beauty and real human feeling that was in total opposition to the status quo, and at that time I still had only the dimmest idea of how tragic and fatally pathetic it was.

One morning I received not a letter delivered by hand, but a note in my locker, and I knew even before I opened it that something had gone impossibly wrong. It had: her parents had decided she wasn't ready to be so serious about someone at such a young age, Frances wrote, and she had no choice but to obediently bend to their pressure. I grew numb, and broke into a sweat of relief that we hadn't kissed
how cheap it would have seemed to me now, to have thrown away such a valuable, intimate gesture on such a weak-willed Delilah! We would, of course, remain friends.

The entire community rallied to support me in my time of crisis. Nobody liked to see a cute nerd-couple break up; it violated a sacred tenet of the middle-school universe that we all clung to, in which the barest minimum of conformity assured even the lowest of the low a chance to take solace in the arms of an equally disadvantaged other. Beautiful girls who were stratospherically out of my league would approach me to offer condolences and helpfully reassert the social order by pointing me in the direction of girls that were appropriate matches to my own undesirable self. My attention to hygiene placed me a cut above some of the more scurrilous and even less physically developed males. I did not reek or pustulate; an added bonus, I was no longer in any special education programs catering to either the gifted or the handicapped. The attention was nourishing-- I'd had no idea I was such an eligible bachelor, and after wasting months not kissing Frances I was suddenly dizzied by how many equally underwhelming girls with inner beauty I was now free to not kiss.

I set my sights low and began to cultivate new love-interests. The most surefire method I knew of was to survey the girls who sat directly adjacent to me in all my classes, as they were the only females I would ever have the slightest excuse to talk to. I could compile those girls into a list ranked by desirability and cross-sorted by availability, and then select the one squarely in the middle. Even by such middling standards, chances are I would still be outclassed by whomever this formula named as my new objet d'attraction.

To my surprise and delight, I needn't have bothered. I was breathily informed during lunch that week that Elaine Reade "liked" me. Elaine sat next to me in science class, and had a lot going for her as a potential girlfriend. For one thing, she looked a lot like Frances. Same basic hairstyle, same glasses, a little more athletic perhaps, but basically familiar terrain for me. In fact, they were friends. I scanned my memory feverishly trying to recall whether I had ever done anything deeply humiliating in front of her, and immediately hit a snag: one day Mike and I had discovered that we could fire staples with surprising accuracy by squeezing them like springs between our front teeth, and we spent an entire class filling the back of Elaine's puffed-out ponytail with glittering missiles as she obliviously studied the periodic table. (This experiment wound up providing me with a fashion maxim that I stand by to this day, which is that one should never have a hairstyle too stiff or thick to keep them from detecting projectiles being fired at one's head.) Having never been caught in the act, I figured I could begin my courtship of Elaine in good standing. As I lay awake that night, exhausted with excitement and longing, I prayed to God. If you let me have Elaine as a girlfriend, I will never ask you for anything else, ever. Please, God. God probably knew then what I only suspected: that I was driving blind, with nowhere to pull over and no help that I could trust. During this tender time, when it came to love
and just about anything else I was doomed before I started. Possibly even before I was born.

Elaine and I started "going out" a few days before Christmas vacation. How cruel it seemed, to be torn apart for two weeks when our couplehood was just blossoming! I had been panicking over choosing an appropriate Christmas present for a girl that I barely knew; my mom was the only real girl I had on staff, and in such situations she always tried to steer me toward our neighbor, the Avon Lady, for some nice-smelling soaps. I could never tell for sure whether this indicated playful malevolence on my mother's part, or was simply a ploy to keep from having to drive me anywhere. At least time was on my side: Elaine's family were Mormons, and very devout-- we would not be allowed to see each other or talk on the phone for the entire two weeks. Perhaps a lovely card might win them over.

On the eve of our parting, Elaine took my hand as we walked to the buses. I gulped, feeling like a pervert: it had taken Frances and I weeks to start holding hands in public; at this rate we'd be having babies in high school. I should have gotten her the soaps. "I have something to tell you," Elaine said with a smile as she got on the bus, "I'll write it to you in a letter." "I'll write you too," I said. We exchanged addresses; her handwriting was small and rational, nothing like Frances's at all.

I spent my vacation resting on my laurels. As far as I could tell I'd handled the transition from first girlfriend to second girlfriend stupendously, and now I had two whole weeks to get used to the idea of liking her. This, I realized with awe, was how one laid the foundation to growing up: what seemed strange and uncomfortable at first felt more natural over time. Perhaps eventually I would actually feel enjoyment, not just anticipate and demonstrate it. No matter what Elaine's letter might have to tell me, it all seemed too good to be true. God had answered my prayer.

Two days later the letter arrived. I skimmed it urgently, too excited to read every word, and then suddenly I froze. At first glance, Elaine's letter was not much different than anything Frances might have written, arid little details about holiday fun. And then two paragraphs down, it all cracked like a plate. In plain terms, Elaine explained that for months her older brother had been coming into her room and sexually molesting her. It so happened that her parents had recently uncovered this atrocity, and having spoken to the church, they decided it was best not to punish the brother or get the police involved-- they would handle the entire situation through the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints. Meanwhile, the older brother had been thoroughly reprimanded and was no longer allowed to enter her room. "Please don't tell anyone," she wrote, "Everything will be fine now. I just wanted you to know... I hope this doesn't change how you feel." Incidentally, her parents loved my card.

Elaine had basically laid more real-life Greek tragedy on me than I'd ever heard in my entire life. I knew that I should be feeling something specific, but I had absolutely no visceral reaction except a general caved-in feeling. Was I supposed to feel protective of her like a man, or gently sympathize like a friend? Was she in danger, was this the kind of emergency situation that called for Telling A Grownup? Or was this one of those divulgences that pass between people unacknowledged, like gas passed in confined spaces? I sat there, dull and restless. I was 12 years old. I had never even kissed a girl yet, but had suddenly been defeated by an incestuous sexual rival (an older man!) who had ruined the perfection of this girl that I had only days ago begged God to give me. And perhaps I really had grown up, because at that moment I was flooded with instinct and hidden wisdom, and for the first time in my life I knew exactly what had to be done: I must never speak to her again. Ever. And just like that, I became a man.

I sent a reply affecting a sort of held-at-arm's-length tone of concern. It was easy to lapse in communication during the days we spent on vacation. And it was surprisingly easy to write that note once school was back in session, and to leave it in her locker; I was shocked that matters of the heart could be resolved so bloodlessly. She chose not to write back. Afterward it was as if we had never spoken at all, as if we had never held hands. As if she had never exposed her sordid and frightening secret to me in a letter that I had handled like a used tissue. As if she had expected as much, having grown used to no one helping
or perhaps she too wised up in a flash, just as I had, and learned to scream "Fire!" instead, which they say people are more likely to respond to than "Help". Now, but not then, I have the luxury of wondering what it was like for her, becoming a woman.

We would, of course, remain friends.

contributed by Tom Blunt

"...He was wearing gold Versace loafers."

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aylah and Anthony
first met a year before they would become friends.

At the time, Taylah was dating Mack who was doing graphic design work for a boutique called Purple Rain. Mack took Taylah into the shop one day to drop off some specs. It was fantastic: antique chandeliers hung from the lilac painted ceiling and the walls were wallpapered with gold-and-lilac striped paper. Oddly enough a Weezer album was blaring at top volume from cleverly-hidden speakers. A huge table of neatly-folded designer denim filled the middle of the shop and the walls were lined with racks of beaded couture bodices and dresses. There were several glass cases packed with exquisite costume jewelry, and belt-buckles and shoes that would break the heart of any footwear addict were lined up on the floor around the perimeter of the shop. Taylah was intrigued, especially when Anthony, who owned the shop with his mom came out of a beaded doorway in the back.

Anthony had pale skin, as if he stayed indoors for most of the day, and a face that wore a constant expression of mockery. His dirty-blonde hair was incredibly messy, and Taylah suspected that he spent a lot of time trying to get it to look this way. His clothes were quite disheveled: a Black Sabbath t-shirt and tightly worn grey jeans. And he was wearing gold Versace loafers.

Taylah had learned long ago that you can tell a lot about a person from the shoes they wear. She sneaked glances at him while he spoke to Mack and pretended to shop. Most of his fingers were clad in huge silver rings and on his wrist he wore a massive platinum watch, that looked suspiciously similar to the "Rolex” her dad had just purchased in Mexico for fifty bucks. His arms were covered in Ed Hardy style tattoos.

"Is this the girl?" he asked Mack, nodding toward where Taylah was standing pretending to inspect a handbag. Mack just nodded and didn't offer any introductions.

When Mack and Taylah were back in the car, Mac asked her what she thought.
"I think that Anthony is a poser," she offered, giggling.
"He's an eccentric rich kid. And I meant, what did you think of the shop?" Mack said sternly.
"Oh, it was… cool. I guess."

A year later Taylah found herself single; Mack was entirely too jealous, which she found entirely too exhausting. She’d bought a car she couldn't afford on her publishing job salary alone, and had begun working nights at a local bar, Sonny's.

Sonny's was a dive. Instead of chairs and tables, the place was filled with old couches and coffee tables that they'd found at St. Vinnie's. Sonny's looked like what your parent's basement might have looked like when you were a kid: dingy and stale, decorated with bargain basement velour paintings and tragic lamps. But, like your parent's basement, it was a laidback place to party.

During Taylah's first week waitressing at Sonny's, Anthony came in and sat on a sofa in her section. She recognised him straight away. He didn't seem to recognise her. Anthony had his same simulated messy hair-style and was wearing the same gold loafers. He was with a very short guy whose head was completely shaved and extra shiny. The guy was wearing enormous wrap-around black sunglasses despite the fact that it was 11:30 at night and he was indoors. He looked like a miniature bodyguard.

Taylah approached them, but before she could ask what they would like to drink, Anthony cut her off, “Where is Jordan? I want Jordan as my waitress,” he demanded. The cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth moved up and down with each word.

Taylah spit back, "Jordan's not here, so you're stuck with me-- what do you want?" He sighed, sat back in the sofa and began to visually inspect Taylah. "Who are you?" he asked.
"Taylah. What would you like to drink?"
"I will have a Ketel One and Cranberry and Wayne here, he'll have a soda water with lime." he ordered. Taylah turned around, rolled her eyes and headed over to the bar to drop off his order.

As she stood there waiting for the drinks she thought: What a sleaze. And then she turned around to get a better look at him and noticed he was staring right at her. Their eyes locked and he smiled crookedly, making her very uncomfortable. She returned his smile with a look of disgust, and he laughed out loud and then continued a conversation with his driver or bodyguard or whomever this Wayne character was meant to be.

When Taylah returned with the drinks, Anthony shoved a fistful of cash into her hands. She counted it-- he had given her forty dollars too much and she let him know. "Keep it." He winked. "No, thanks," Taylah shot back and dropped the bills on the table.

When he got up to leave a few drinks later he left the forty bucks on his table along with twenty dollars more.

Scenes like this went on for months-- Anthony and Wayne came in every Friday and Saturday night. Instead of asking for Jordan, Anthony now asked for Taylah. He would be embarrassingly rude if he didn't get what he wanted.

Taylah would serve him drinks with the minimal amount of courtesy and the maximum amount of disdain and Anthony would leave her obnoxiously huge tips. She was less than impressed and thought that Anthony had no idea about what kind of person she really was. The other waitresses had started to ask her questions like: "You guys are fucking, right?" Taylah would swear up and down on family members' graves that they weren't and that she was telling the truth.

One Friday afternoon, after Taylah had got home from her day-job and was getting ready to go to work at Sonny's, her roommate convinced her to smoke a joint. She hadn't had a Friday night off in weeks. Taylah decided, “Fuck it”. Why shouldn't she? She was sick and tired of working 16 hour days, and she was actually considering setting her car alight and collecting the insurance.

But that night Taylah went into work anyway, with a buzz that made work a thousand percent easier. In fact, she was better at her job than ever before: she was relaxed and confident and had chats with the customers, and that night she made well over $200 in tips. It wasn't until it was 30 minutes until closing that Taylah realised Anthony and Wayne hadn't come in.

As Taylah did her sidework, wiping down tables and cleaning out ashtrays, she figured that Anthony was probably at some bourgie party somewhere drinking ketel ones and cranberry, with fake-breasted, skinny girls in low rise jeans with hair extensions glued into their heads. Of course Wayne would not be far off assessing the situation, remaining emotionless.

She was bent over a table trying to peel off a sticker that some stupid drunk had put there when her fantasy was interrupted. Someone had their two hands on her two hips and was standing quite close behind her. She stood up and reeled around - it was Anthony. He was standing very close and reeked of vodka.

"Are you alright?" he smirked, and Taylah stepped out of his reach. Taylah wasn't even angry. Actually she felt like she felt years ago when she was caught making out with the captain of the basketball team on her dad's leather couch. "Yes," she replied indignantly, while she thought, No, I wasn't just having a dream sequence of you chatting up skanks. He just stood there and winked.

Taylah hated it when people winked it made her think of grandads or music teachers.

"We're nearly closed, what do you want?" she spoke slowly trying her best to sound angry, while feeling as if a million needles were poking into every patch of her skin. Anthony stood there for ages before he spoke. For some reason he looked different tonight. Something about his eyes.

A couple of hours later Taylah found herself sitting on the floor of Anthony's apartment. They were both sort of on edge. If she wasn't busy hating him, how was she to behave?

"So you're here." he said rather cockily, or at least Taylah thought so. What does he want, she thought. She couldn't logically explain how she had gotten to his apartment. Somewhere in time a verbal invite was extended. She remembered getting off of work and he was there waiting with a cab, but she opted to follow. On the drive over to his place she had cranked her Beatles White album as loud as she could stand and refused to think about anything.

"Do you want to listen to some music?" he asked. When Taylah didn't answer he said, "You like music, right?" She still didn't answer, "Well, you wear that Clash t-shirt to work a lot." "It's my favourite shirt,” she said.

Anthony smiled and nodded, went to the stereo, sat on the floor and sifted through some cds on the floor. He quickly found the one he was looking for and put it in: the Strokes. The intern at Taylah's day job loved the Strokes and played them all the time at the office. She really liked that intern-- she had cute hair and glasses. Taylah smiled to herself and stretched out her legs, rolling back on to her elbows, relaxing with the music.

"You like, you like." Anthony accused. He rarely ever got to see her smile, and when she did it was always at someone else.

They watched “Rich Girls” on MTV with no sound on, listening to the entire Strokes album. They made fun of the silly girls with unrelenting insult-upon-insult, and when they were doubled over laughing at Tommy Hilfiger pretending to be straight and fatherly, something happened and they kissed.

Taylah's first instinct was to push him away. He looked at her and something in his eyes just said, Come on, I dare you.

And Taylah, well, she never looked back.

contributed by Angela Wick

June 9, 2007

“Do you ever think about guys? Like…you know…that way?”

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It was two in the morning. We had been “asleep” for an hour. Keith was in a sleeping bag on the floor next to my bed. My bed was, naturally, a mattress on the floor as well: for whatever reason, I had instinctively equated not having a proper bed with being bohemian. My mother was crushed but something in my guts knew having a bed frame put you in bed with The Man. Being on the floor put you right next to the earth, closer to where it all happens. Man. Even if you’re thirteen, in suburbia you look for the Kerouacian wherever you can find it. Seek and ye shall find. Lost but now I am found. Etc. etc.

“…Are you still awake?”

I had been going through the petite révolution. My mind was held hostage by a body on fire. Everything that was me was suddenly not me and all I could do was make awkward decisions that had little relevance anyway, since a certain amount of predestination was pulling the reins. One day is just like the next until suddenly it’s not. This was one such day.

We had been friends since middle school started. Argued endlessly about whether the Beatles or the Grateful Dead had more cultural relevance. Whether Zen was a cop-out. Was Michele or Stephanie hotter? We stayed at each other’s houses several nights a week. Discussions on acne, how much cologne is “too much”, premonitions of divorces.

This particular day had started like the rest. Winter, after school, my house this time because his sister was in town with her husband. We came home and dropped off backpacks, ate microwave pizzas, and called around looking for people. Eventually it was decided that Stephanie’s was best, considering she had a trampoline and a mother who didn’t care what the kids were up to. Let me take a moment to encourage you all to buy trampolines and leave your kids alone from age twelve to fifteen…the world seems limitless, and precious, and benevolent. You know good and well what I mean, and how later it will never seem quite the same again.

The usual gang was there, pubescent refugees sticking together in a pack, hopeful that the sheer number of our tribe compensated for our collective lack of physical strength and prowess. There were more conversations about the Beatles, while the girls in the group tried various antics to monopolize attention. For Stephanie this meant smoking (since her mother wasn’t around). For Tracy this was hugs, thousands of hugs, hugging anyone and everyone, any opportunity to take her giant breasts and press them into someone who either wanted to touch them or was jealous that they would never have them, at least not like hers; Tracy was light-years ahead of the rest of us, God bless her. For Michele this was a complete rejection of our pseudo-intellectualism and a full embrace of pop culture triviality. Ironically this worked because it made her ‘different’ from us and therefore somehow more exotic. She made TRL sexy.

We boys had various attributes of our own. We perfected the one thing we had control over and wielded it like a weapon. For me this was my slowly forming dreadlocks and the air of credibility they carried. For Steve, it was his uncanny ability to impersonate big tent preachers, and for Keith it was his peculiar ability to drive, despite being thirteen and a little too short for the steering wheel.

The gang of us spent the evening as we spent most evenings, making out on the trampoline under a big sky in the Texas winter. My dad would pick Keith and I up around nine and tease us endlessly about the make-out party. Three guys and three girls – it didn’t take a detective.

There was dinner, followed by TV, until my parents went to bed. Keith and I stayed up till one talking about the events of the evening and crafting strategies that would get the girls past making out and into more pressing affairs. Then “sleep”: until that night, I though I was the only one who did this. Sleep was technically the moment when we agreed to stop talking and turn out the lamp. But I never went to sleep immediately. I would lay awake for an hour or so after we went to bed and watch Keith breath. I would doze off to the rhythm of his chest.

So that night I was stunned. Rhetorical questions weren’t Keith’s style. Was I awake? Well, yes. Was I “awake”? I wasn’t sure. What were the implications? Did he know I was watching him? Why did I watch him sleep, anyway? Was he mad? Why would he break the treaty? Value is determined by the scarcity of resources, and friends like Keith were far and few between, so the pressure of the situation was tremendous. I heard him roll onto his side facing me. My eyes were closed as I evaluated decisions. I was left with two options, stay very still or run like hell. I had turned into an insect, or a reptile. I awoke from “sleep” and opened my eyes to find Keith looking at me. We faced each other like two curled S’s. I did my best impression of being woken from light slumber and answered him.

“…Yeah, I’m awake.”

The vacuum of silence that followed began to drink down my house, my neighborhood, Fort Worth, Texas, America, the Earth, and all of history. The absence of any sound turned my ears into radar. Beyond Keith’s short breaths and the settling of the house I heard cars several blocks away, and satellites in orbit broadcasting ABC into the homes of all the good people. Whatever Keith had to say, he was taking the long way around to get there. I don’t believe I have ever been so aware of the present since that day.

I wasn’t sure what came next. I wasn’t sure why I was dizzy and drunk either. I knew that saying even one word wrong would bring our house of cards down. If you want a bird to sit on your hand, you have to be very patient and not make a sound. I looked at Keith and watched him arrange the necessary words in his head. I fought back the urge to provide the scaffolding. After several minutes he cleared his throat and eliminated other possible futures from his head. I was aware of the exact moment he made a decision to move forward. I felt sad for the little deaths we all die.

“Do you ever think about guys? Like…you know…that way?”

Had Judas been half as brave, all of history would have been turned on its side. I weighed the responses carefully and opted for selective honesty, partial disclosure at least, with the precarious absence of any details about our sleep ritual, which I saved for myself. I told him I did, occasionally, and that I didn’t think much of it really. He said he did as well and wasn’t sure what it meant. I wasn’t sure what came next after we reached this point. I felt like Magellan, or Atlas. There was no time for relief, or excitement, or fear – only the placing of one foot in front of the other. I didn’t know what to say really so instead I reached out and touched his hand. Tonight we would not have sex. Tonight we would not kiss. We held hands and talked until we both fell asleep.

contributed by Michael Delacroix

“Doesn’t Jesus say to love your enemies?”

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remember taking the picture. She wriggled and rolled about, trying on one face after another, crawling limb-over-limb from one pose to the next, and periodically broke character to ask how she looked. I remember how she looked but I don’t remember how I looked at her. And Ben, the boy in the bushes, how did he look at her, and how did he come to see her? I should wonder about him but I don’t. I wondered at the time how God could be love, and I wonder now only why in my memory Ben’s baseball bat has distended and grown the alternating rings of a piñata stick. How its end has swollen like a healthy cucumber’s. The only questions that matters are what she was doing and why it didn’t work? I don’t know how to ask. Instead we will talk about the Polaroid, where it is and how it got there.

At 11:15 on a Thursday night in an Illinois March, Ben was laying in the bushes with cracked brown gloves that stank of transmission fluid and the baseball bat lying beside him. He had the Polaroid pinched between his enormous sausage fingers. For us it was only misguided, but for Ben it had become illegal on his eighteenth birthday, just weeks before he received it. Laying there, in the stinking mud under the rainspouts, in the soft week-long absence of snow, his whole posture was as graceless as his oven mitt hands or his cubical jaw.

The picture he was kissing and rubbing as he waited for me was a cropped Polaroid of a sixteen year-old girl sitting on a bed, hands gripping her knees. No matter what we made her or she made herself, despite the precocious nose piercing (it was only 1995) and the reputation that followed the picture, it was a photo of a thick-waisted, corn-fed, prairie princess. Stripped of her t-shirt, necklaces, and her obscenity, her yellow freckled body was only secured against its own flabby sweetness by what she had cultivated as a menacing smile. As she leant forward and dropped her gaze just beneath the viewer’s, her freed undercut dyed hair fell in a straight line above the ears and across. Her unmade eyes gazed down at what must have been my shoes. That gaze was averted, but bracing her knees, she aimed her pussy directly at the camera as if she was going to piss a stream of Greek fire at the men who passed the picture around. Laying in the bushes, Ben somehow returned that stare as he waited for me to emerge.

As the town Satanist she was a public functionary, so it made sense that our romantic entanglement left pictures in other people’s wallets. In a smallish town, the duties of a town Satanist were almost entirely limited to owning a copy of Anton LaVey’s spicy purple book, and attending church more than twice a year, never without a quiet sense of ironic indifference. She told me once that she and I believed in the same God and the same Jesus, and I figured she was right. The rest of her was mere garnish to most of the city. That her father was a Cuban refugee and a cripple, and that she had smoked Pall Malls since she was eleven, playing a tiny woman whose ID was always in the car, were rarely discussed. That she identified with Penny from Inspector Gadget, and that she wanted to be a reporter, that she collected pewter teaspoons with inlays of different national monuments, that she had an uncanny facility with mazes, were actively hidden.

By the time the night of the piñata bat came to pass, I loved her as much as Jesus would ever allow me to love anything—but the picture was a relic of a different week. I had not loved her then, I was driven by a motivation which is apparently much easier to find in Jesus: The idea was to become rich. The walls that had kept America Online a safe city for exchanging text-based screensavers and visual basic games had fallen, and the news warned us that in this larger world there were men who would pay for pictures of children. The news told us that those men were out there, but not how to contact them. As children, we thought we could send up a silent flare. They were tricky and ever present, these men, and they’d find us no problem once we had pictures to sell. The value of these pictures was beyond dispute. Across the slow invention of masturbation it had become clear that the television channels, the books and the magazines, both scientific and recreational, grew more and more expensive as they drew closer and closer to exposing the pussy. Even the public school curriculum was arranged in concentric circles around that day in sex-ed when English, science, gym and art finally conspired to reveal the great line-drawing projection. We knew from how clothes were cut, from the way television husbands joked about marriage, and from the tickertape parade of censor blocks that began to fill public television during that time, that the vagina was a currency, the sign of a club. They called it the “money-maker”. Aside from the great encouraging crowd of panting boys, there were three of us: a boy with a scanner, my young self (the only one willing to look at a vagina at close range), and Andrea herself, who possessed that mystery.

As I stood there with my father’s Polaroid camera, her body argued against itself about itself. She stood and sat, made face after face into a blue hand mirror. She crawled on all fours, stood, squatted, and posed as if walking. In every pose her breasts were clumsily askew, they received no more attention than her belly. Through that experience which she never clearly enumerated to me, those secrets for whose silence I am still bashfully grateful, she knew that her breasts were not the point of these photos. Finally she sat down and said, “Okay, count to ten.” One, two, three, she finished her tiny adjustments, pushed her hair straight, four, five, six. She grabbed her knees, seven, eight, and glared down at my shoes. Nine, she held her breath, and smiled.

Ten, snap. Immediately, she jumped up and snatched it from me, throwing it on her dresser—“Let’s go outside. I have to smoke.” I put down the camera and continued to stare. There was one of those light-spots on my eye and as she pulled on a pair of jeans I thought about it. Andrea laughed and punched me in the back, “What the fuck, man? Cheer up.”

Outside, I wished I knew how to smoke. “Hey Andrea...”
“Call me Penny, I fucking hate my name.”
“Hey Penny, do you have a boyfriend?”
“No,” she put her elbow on my shoulder and blew smoke over my head, “Why?”

It was true, I guess, Ben was never really her boyfriend or anyone else’s. Periodically the scandal would emerge that one of the fifteen year-old skater girls he drove around had been fucking him. Among these girls, the teasing was somewhere between what she would get for a night of embarrassing puking and a bad haircut; it was stupid but no one cared. Until that night that was all he had been to me. As the friend of a friend, I knew he had a car and all of the prestige that it brings among ambitious, economically-disadvantaged freshmen.

At first Penny hid the Polaroid in her cigar box stash under her bed, but she knew that her mom knew about that one, and decided not to break a tenuous harmony by adding new crimes to it. So we placed it in an enormous gray suitcase instead and called Ben to drive us to the scanner kid’s house. The elegance of a well-cleaned Corsica arrived in minutes and Andrea and I got in the back seat silently. The scanner kid stared and panted but wouldn’t touch it: “I was thinking, maybe this is illegal.”

“Hey, Ben,” she pointed at the suitcase, “in the case is something we want to sell, but can’t keep in our houses. Can you keep it in your car for a bit?” He nodded and she kissed him on the cheek.

A boyfriend, in high school, is not a friend with whom one has dates, but a stranger who becomes stranger because he rubs you with his little sweaty hands and kisses you. Over the next month she and I played at being a couple, occasionally going to movies, and I became a public functionary somewhat less important than a town Satanist. As a self-proclaimed Christian and regular church attendee, I became a precious and greatly threatened thing, a healthy boy too close to a sick and sickening girl. I was required to stand for eight minutes about once a week in a deep hallway at church or school to receive instruction from one of our city’s willow-stick matriarchs. She would approach, pulling the hair back from her eyes and softening her features, “Vince, I’ve been praying [alternately, ‘thinking’]…”

My response was consistently successful within the rules of flat-headed high school theology, the same ones that made the Jesus/rock-music problems compelling. That is to say, it quickly brought about a throwing up of hands, and released me back to what I was doing: “Doesn’t Jesus say to love your enemies?” The response was the most surprisingly consistent, given the hundreds of tiny variations which no one ever made: “I don’t think Jesus meant like this.” It seemed unlikely to me that Jesus only meant that we should refrain from physically beating our enemies, and offered no more comprehensive system for loving. The consensus of the women who taught me about love in hallways was that Jesus did not have any general rule for love, but a series of particular rules for particular sorts of people. Jesus would have us be yoked equally with believers; Jesus would have us respecting parents and political leaders, love being a sort of contractual agreement sometimes as well. Beyond this, loving enemies meant that those who we may want to electrocute should instead be given fair trials and dispassionate punishment, but I maintain that it was not ridiculous to think that Jesus may also have supported bettering our favor towards those who are not our enemies. Perhaps we could extend tenderness to people who may seem better passed in silence. This, I argued, did not compel, but did leave room for, romantic love with Satanists. How the phrase “God is love” also inevitably found its way into my argument is no longer clear to me. Perhaps it was merely a flourish after the references to Mary Magdalene and the life of David in the hills among the disaffected and the debtors. But I was right.

In the theater darkness Andrea would mouth hotly on my ear or tooth on my neck and I would freeze staring at the screen. Sometimes she whispered, “You were so brave with the camera.” It didn’t matter. I could kiss her because I had done that before, but when she began to slide her whole softness all over me, placing my palms on her tits or belly, the contrast of her heaviness would remind my body that it was balsawood. Just kissing strained me to the edge of my abilities. You could tell that it was a point of pride for her: she kissed wildly. She ran her tongue over and around my molars. I had become better at these kisses since we started dating, but she told me that she had been kissing them since childhood. It was a kiss that kept me from seeing Ben that night, I remember: she had driven her tongue into my mouth as if to choke me with it, to press out my teeth. If she hadn’t been crushing my cheeks into my jaws, and if my eyes hadn’t been watering with the force of her tongue and the cold, I would have seen Ben there lying on the ground, waiting.

After he received the photo, the skinny girls with their sandwich breath had begun to murmur, and the heavy-handed and heavy-metal kids began to rattle about how Andrea and Ben were fucking. This, unlike his usual acts of reciprocal desperation, seemed worth talking about if only because she might be someone who could actually love him, and of course because she was my girlfriend. He began to follow me in rumor. Under the same weedy overpass where she and I kissed, and where she first grabbed me through my jeans, they had been fucking regularly. The rumors put them on the park benches and in the movie theater. I can not say why, but the rumors never triggered any emotion like the accusations of Jesus’ disappointment in me did. Every time I defended our relationship I loved her more, and as we drifted towards the game that the teachers assumed we were already playing, I can’t say why I didn’t mind that everyone said she was already playing it with him. Or that it was true. I didn’t see Ben much and I didn’t mention it to her at all.

Instead, we went to the Spring Turnabout Dance, a yearly festival made dangerous by the very suggestion that girls should invite boys, though there were no reported cases of this ever happening. We went in a sort of low commitment drag. At the filthy card table in the middle of her kitchen, she brought me a black floral dress and sat on my lap in a business suit, softly creaming on my lipstick. I sat quietly, amazed by her perfect weight on me. The costumes were her idea, though I also broke the official tradition by doing the inviting.

We were only away from that table for three hours, and when we returned she had kissed off my lipstick already, and Ben was hiding in the bushes with his club. Myself being sleepy and she a little shiny off of tiny bottles of vodka, we must have stumbled right past him up the back steps. This time she cleared the card table of her mother’s ashtrays, remnants of fast food, and her father’s crutches. Smiling another carefully crafted face, Penny turned on White Zombie, kissed me, pretended to look down the front of my dress, and asked me to wait a minute. She was back before the guitar solo, wearing a long black t-shirt and gray cotton shorts. We were still in costume for the dance. It seemed I should run off to some secret room and return in a comfortable nightgown. “The parental units are asleep. They sleep hard, you know,” Penny sat on the counter and smiled.

Everything that had never happened, happened at once. I remember so little. I remember the cold of the folding metal chair against my still mostly-hairless ass, my boxers around my ankles and my dress pulled up. I remember the way she threw herself up and down whisper-shouting, “Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me,” into my face. I remember being aware of our strange hand gestures, her circle and my double line, and wondering why she wanted it so bad. I wondered how it would make it so different. She could see it right there, my splotchy, skinny dick, she could feel its tiny redundance. To actually press that tenuous cane into her seemed like the only idea worse than the one our hand’s breadth of separation allowed. “Fuck me.” As it was 1995, I remember sincerely wondering “What Would Jesus Do?” Would Jesus fuck her? The harder she bounced against my hand, the louder she panted, the less sure I was. Maybe.

A partial memory hangs over the door, something very particular about the moon. I was wearing my jeans again. It was nearly three in the morning, frost covered and silent. She held a hand on either side of my face and kissed me.

“I won’t ever forget tonight, Penny.” She stared. It was awkward, but it must have been true. Maybe the feeling I had just then, the tingling and humming, was of the needles running over the tin plate in my chest. Nonetheless, true or not, she stared at me blankfaced, unclear as to what this was a request for. She took me again and kissed me again. She kissed me to split my lips. She ground the slick stones of her teeth into mine, she wound her tongue to crush me. I gasped into her. Somewhere behind me Ben was laying there with his bat, and with my chance for a real memory of it. Maybe it was like a roll of silver dollars, but I only saw it through a wince, and through tears of confusion and cold.

On Monday the same kids who usually talked about where Ben had been fucking Penny were laughing instead about how he had fallen asleep in the bushes with a bat waiting for me. I imagined him there, leaning against the bat, watching us, the banality of our clumsy intimacy and the cold lulling him into a trance. I had been reminded so often that Jesus was watching and for a moment I worried that he, too, may have been bored by the whole affair. The snapping of gossiping braces-wire stopped as Penny approached. Not really sure which babble about herself she was missing, she threw the middle finger into the crowd, and grabbing my ass stuffed a folded sheet of paper in my back pocket. I opened it and gasped.

“Take care of it,” Andrea who I called Penny kissed me and went back to her class waving a yellow hall pass. I nodded furiously.

Of course, within three nights we were fucking furtively with some consistency. Of course too, my tragic virginity lost all of its appeal after it was gone, and she soon left me for a boy who had a car and a goatee. But she never asked for the photo. Not sure what to do with it, I hid it inside of the Daniel volume of my blue-bound Book and Bible Story collection. It was a moment, deciding where it belonged. I considered the great narcissism of placing it in front of the picture of the lion’s den, and smiled at the spear of the guards closing it with a stone. It was out of the question. I thought maybe she should have held her knees and pointed her pussy straight at the ghostly image of Jesus floating in the furnace. Again, it was wrong, an insult to a woman I had loved only days of hours before. So I put her in front of that great statue with its clay feet. I put her with that image in a dream, that image ringed with bands of alternating color, its great headdress bulbous like the end of a healthy cucumber.

contributed by Vincent Gonzalez