ISSUE 1 / FALL 2004
Issue 1
Fiction
"And So It Begins..."
My Flaming
by Heather McDonald

The Phoenix
by Ericka Lutz

Seed
by Debra DiBlasi

A Valuable Girl
by Lisa McMann

Dredging
by Judy GeBauer

Flash Fiction
Recovery
by Dan Coshnear

Correspondence
by Dan Coshnear

Laundry Day
by Elizabeth Bernstein

Walking Through Walls
by Emily Spreng Lowery

Short Stories
Mandelbaum in the Movies
by Jack Goodstein

First, Second, First
by Rachel Koppelman

First, Second, First
by Rachel Koppelman

It’s the day after your fourteenth birthday. In one week, you will start high school at a new, private school that your parents insist you attend, despite your wishes to remain with the people you grew up with. You are scared, but somewhat grateful for the opportunity to make a fresh social start—you don’t actually have that many friends, and the friendships you do have are strained and awkward, as volatile and ephemeral as the moods of early adolescent girls. At the new school, you will be charming and popular.

You even get a head start. A girl from your town, who you know vaguely, called you up a few days ago. She started attending the private school a year ago, and has kindly offered to hang out with you and even introduce you to some of your soon-to-be classmates. You are touched, and leap at the chance, which is today.

Your mom drops you off at Jen’s house. You haven’t seen her for a year, but she looks the same as she did when you last saw her: skinny but athletic, with a fierce Jew-fro spiraling ebulliently from her scalp. She’s lost the glasses, but she seems to be the same, slightly geeky nice-girl you knew her to be.

Jen informs you that instead of the previously scheduled social gathering, the two of you will be going to her aunt’s house to spend the evening babysitting for Jen’s cousins. You are slightly disappointed by the change in plans, but at least you’ll have more time to bond with Jen one-on-one, which is easier for you than dealing with a whole group of unfamiliar people.

While you’re waiting for her aunt to pick the two of you up, Jen suggests that you start watching a movie to pass the time. You make yourself comfortable on the brown upholstered couch while Jen puts an unlabeled tape into the VCR, and the next thing you know, a naked couple behaving rather curiously appears on the screen.  

“Oh my God!” you yelp, and giggle nervously. “What is this?”

“Oh, it’s probably my brother’s,” Jen says, blas”. “Or maybe my parents’. They’ve got a bunch more in their bedroom.”

“Yeah, but what movie is this?” you ask, bewildered.

“It’s a porno,” says Jen, looking up at you in amazement. “What, you’ve never seen one before?”

You shake your head. You’re not even allowed to watch R-rated movies yet.

You’re not quite sure how to handle this, but there’s nothing to do except stare idiotically at the screen, trying to figure out what’s actually going on. At some point, it strikes you that they are probably having sex, although it’s not exactly how you pictured it.

Jen lets you squirm for a few more minutes before removing the tape from the VCR and choosing another movie from the pile next to the television. This time it’s Short Circuit. You only get to watch about 15 minutes of it before the doorbell rings and Jen’s aunt picks the two of you up. You arrive at their house half an hour later, and after another half hour of introductions and instructions, you and Jen are in charge of the two kids.

While you are preparing dinner—Spaghetti-Os for the youngsters, TV dinners for the teens—Jen tells you in an excited tone that her boyfriend, a guy she met at basketball camp, is coming up from Connecticut to hang out with the two of you after the kids are in bed. “Don’t worry, he’s bringing a friend for you,” she says off-handedly.

You’re not really sure what this means, but you’re pretty sure you don’t like the sound of it.

At around 9 or 10, there’s a knock on the windowpane on the back door. Jen gives a squeal and rushes to let in two boys a few years older than you, who are grinning excitedly through the glass. Her boyfriend, Justin, is handsome in a straight-laced, athletic kind of way. But his friend, Matt, your prescribed date for the evening, instantly repulses you. He has yellow greasy hair, and his face would have the wholesome blandness of a 1950s Midwesterner were it not coated with large, pink pustules.

Jen and Justin kiss their hellos. After introductions are made and small talk exchanged, Matt produces a videocassette from his bag. You recognize it as one your parents own: Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood, and you say so. The boys laugh, and you wonder what you said wrong. Matt slides the tape into the VCR, and a few seconds later, the reason for their laughter becomes clear: it is not Bill Cosby on the screen, but your second porno of the evening, featuring another naked couple, doing things that until only hours earlier, you’d only heard giggled about during recess or read in books from the Adult section of the library.

Almost immediately, Jen and Justin disappear into the next room, closing the door behind them. You find yourself on the couch, with this obscenely ugly guy sitting next to you, trying to sneak his arm around your skinny shoulders, while the second porno of your day—the second porno of your life—plays out on the screen before you. You are too overwhelmed to do much of anything, and so you sit and try to look like you’re not interested in what’s on the screen, even though you do glance up every few seconds, you can’t help it, you’ve never really seen a penis before, and you’re still trying to figure out how this all works. But you’ll be damned if the hideous, testosterone-fueled beast next to you plays any greater role in your instruction.

It’s not long before he swoops his pimpled face toward yours. You quickly back off, apologizing. He asks firmly, but nicely, and you refuse nicely, but firmly. He tries to reason with you, but you stand your ground. The awkward advances and rebuffs continue for about an hour, with the porno providing an ironic soundtrack, during which you pray for something, anything, to put an end to this ridiculous scene you were tricked into playing out.

You are cautiously relieved when Jen and Justin finally emerge from their love den. The genders regroup, huddling like football teams at halftime, and with all the bravado you can muster, you tell Jen that while ordinarily you’d have no problem making out with a random guy in such a contrived fashion, this guy disgusts you so much that you cannot bring yourself to do it. Jen seems to understand, but after consulting with Justin, the two of them begin to plead with you. They beg you to just give him a little kiss, because he’s a nice guy and he came all the way up from Connecticut. Although you are more polite than you should be in this situation, you are firm, and make it clear that Nasty Matt will not be getting even a little piece of you that evening, or ever.

Everyone is disappointed with you, but you don’t care. You just want to leave, but the only possible way out would be to take a cab that you cannot afford. You have no idea where you even are, anyway, lost in the suburbia of southern Massachusetts, held captive in a porno palace.

Jen’s aunt and uncle stumble back in at around 1. They’re clearly not sober. You wonder how they got themselves home—surely, as responsible adults, they didn’t drive home drunk—but more importantly, how they will get YOU home. The answer becomes apparent when Jen’s aunt produces a pile of blankets and pillows so that the four of you can crash in the living room. Although the couch you have claimed for your bed is not that comfortable, you manage to sleep somewhat soundly and without further incident, bothered only by the occasional sound of Justin’s snoring.

The next morning you are determined to get out of there as soon as possible, and although the gang is planning a day of mini-golf, you say that you’re not feeling well, get directions from Jen’s aunt, and call your parents to pick you up. On the way home, porn scenes replay in your mind, with would-be pimply kisses and Jen’s horny disapproval.

Safely home, you run to the bathroom to release the contents of your bladder, which you’ve been holding since last night because you have a strange phobia of people hearing you pee. Although you know what it is—you’ve been expecting this for years now, in fact—the dark stains in your underwear make you forget how to breathe for almost a minute. The stains are reddish-brown, and look more like mud than blood. Your entire body seizes and you start to tremble so hard that you cannot even get up off the toilet. Even though you know better, it crosses your mind that this is somehow the result of the events of last night. You know better, but you also know nothing, this is all new to you, and so maybe this is how it works. Fortunately, your rational mind remains in control for the time being, long enough for you to fumble your way to the cabinet under the sink, where your mom keeps the sanitary supplies.

You show up at the new school the following week. You see Jen pointing you out to her pals behind cupped hands and not-so-subtle glances. She doesn’t introduce you to anyone.


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