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In this story, there was a fat boy I liked. (A surprising range of stories start that way.) This boy had curly, close-cut hair and a pair of narrow green eyes which should have been a warning.

We both worked at the animal shelter. It was one of the places that seemed right for me, along with karate class. Dogs were very appealing when I was twelve. They’d look right at you, and you could give them the crookedest smile back and whisper whatever endearments came to mind, and it wasn’t going to unbalance the universe.

I liked the boy because it impressed me that he liked dogs, too, but he wasn’t just there for the dogs. He bought himself a uniform to be just like the animal control officers. It was tan all over, so he looked like a sandstone cliff. There was something so awesome about it that I watched him whenever I could. We’d be called to wash dogs together; I didn’t watch where I was shampooing. Sometimes I made my hand brush his through the suds. He cooed baby names at the dogs. You couldn’t say we ever made conversation.

He learned the code the officers spoke to each other on the radio, and, because this made the code more mystical, I learned to speak it too. Only one of us could work the radio at a time, so when he was there, I would watch him frown at the bad news. Sometimes he would casually ask me to get him a Pepsi, staring nonchalantly at the map of the city above the radio.

One day he grabbed me around the shoulders and we walked all the way from the back of the shelter to the front. When it didn’t happen again, I asked his favorite officer whether he ever talked about me. He’s young, said the officer. I think he gets confused about girls.

The boy rode along with the officers; I followed. We hung around after hours. I heard things the officers didn’t say on the radio. The most senior officer sneered jokes about black women menstruating. The youngest shared tips on making explosives. The boy talked with the officers about shoot-em-up movies. I usually didn’t get to stay as long as he did.

I stopped working for the shelter when I stopped believing the fundamental dogma that any animal is safer dead than homeless and roaming the streets. Or maybe it was because one of the officers commented on my breast size. I was fourteen, anyway. I didn’t need dogs; a guy from another school started phoning in with endearments. The boy from the animal shelter turned fifteen. One day, trembling with adrenaline, he tried to choke my best friend for turning off his computer before math class.

Our high school had an inter-grade Rivalry Day, whose purpose was to remind the freshmen that they were smaller and frailer than the seniors. There was a pie-eating contest and a tug-o-war over a pit of mud. It was a great day when I figured out the teachers took that afternoon to go drink margaritas and gossip at a local Mexican restaurant, and tagged along. But my first year, I was on the field with all the other wretched half-grown kids in the rain of water balloons, trying to sidestep the weapons of the worst boys, who filled their balloons with urine.

Someone grabbed my arms and pushed me roughly towards the mud pit. Twisting, I tried to get a look at the abductor’s face. Hands and front covered with mud and pie. The torso like a wall, trembling mad.

I could struggle; I could claw; I could yell; but I had learned about calculated disinterest by then, and it pleased my center of gravity to do its own work. I slid softly out of his arms.

Sometimes this scene deserves another observance. I go to rallies and watch protesters being taken away, screaming, I am not resisting. Sometimes a friend puts out a hand to help me up, and I say the same thing, as a joke. Sometimes in bed, I gather my various parts away from my partner, thinking, Not yours to own.

* * *

From The Vaults:

Well, in a fit of frustrate procrastination, I just declared to my modmates that for the rest of my life I’ll do nothing but write email and eat pie. (We love our mod kitchen. Eric cooks. He made us apple pie. We love Eric. Sing praises to Saga– whence we steal our apples– and to Eric and to mod life and to pie!) Marian paused for a moment in putting away groceries, and looked at me in the obliquely disapproving way she’s perfected. “Your messages would get kinda boring,” she said, bluntly. I found this to be astute. So my message for this evening is:

If you’re gonna write, you gotta do more than eat pie.

With that, I gotta go start my paper for my Latino Poetry class.

Lovies to all,


–to xq 10/15/96

One Comment

  1. Anonymous wrote:


    Wednesday, April 14, 2004 at 10:43 am | Permalink

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