Back Talk


When the boy who barely speaks says to you, it’s too bad, who you are, into your ear at a party, you know better than to turn your head. You know who he is. It’s when he whispers, too bad, who you belong to—this word: belong—that your body responds, a shiver he can’t detect but that makes you step back towards him. Because damn, he says then, what I wouldn’t do to you. Next he says it dirty, in detail, so quietly no one else knows it’s happening. Is it? Do you, after listening, still as a statue while he leans into your ear from behind but doesn’t touch you, yet—go with him to a stairway outside the party, slipping out that side door in the kitchen, knowing you’ll have to come back for your jacket later, alone? The boy you are dating is his friend. Not his best friend. He is dating a freshman on your track team, but you don’t hang out with her. Her first boyfriend. Her first heartbreak.

You don’t answer him. You don’t even look at him but he knows to leave his beer behind on the counter, to sit down on the steps a flight up from where the party continues, everyone you know in that packed, parent-free apartment, neither one of you remembering to care. Has it happened? Have you unzipped his pants, plunged your hand in before you’ve even kissed, your name falling from his mouth like a plea, a spell? In your memory, the stairwell is bright, too bright. And your hand, your mouth around him, a reward for him even speaking to you, for saying what you didn’t know you wanted to hear. Your boyfriend doesn’t talk either. He doesn’t talk about your body or your friends or his friends or his family who you have seen from a distance of fifty feet but never met, the family he is away with right now. Has it happened, you kneeling on the landing, his zipper against your chin, his head thrown back in surprise, how goddamned loud he is all of a sudden, the shock of what he asked for, how much more he received. When you stop, he asks for a tissue.

Has it happened? Of course it has. The boy who does not speak has told everyone by Tuesday. You, though, choose to stay silent: to your boyfriend, to that asshole, to his girlfriend, who believes him, because it’s easy to believe what you hear when there is no back talk.

Now, your boyfriend is talking: Was it worth it? Did you like it? Did you think you could get away with it? And you, too, have questions: Was it worth it? Did you like it? Did you think you could get away with it? The questions are for the asshole, the one who, by the time you graduate fifteen months later, single, you realize you’ve never said a word to. In the stairwell, you just shook your head.