Fiction by Briar Ripley Page
Cw: sexual assault, rape
You’re walking up the road. The man beside you isn’t talking. He grabs your arm, but lets you wear his coat. Your shoes are gone; your feet are cold on the street. Dirt shifts between your toes. The streetlights turn you both ashy yellow, and then you’re in the dark again. Light, dark. Light, dark. You’re not talking. You think you might be bleeding in your underwear, but you aren’t sure. So that’s it, you think. That’s how it is.
Earlier, you went to a gay pride parade by accident. You’re a visitor in the city. You meant to see some sights, buy some cheap sunglasses from one of the vendors’ carts. Instead, you walked into a confusion of waving flags, drag queens, balloon animals, and excited, sweaty people your own age with green hair and nose rings. A girl who looked like a boy nudged you with her hip and passed you a thermos full of vodka. You smiled. You tried not to stare at her. She told you her name, and you told her yours. She asked what your deal was, if you were gay, bisexual, trans, just watching, what. You chugged the vodka like it was beer so that you wouldn’t have to answer.
A man in a knit cap watched you from the shadows between fat brick towers.
He found you later, leaning hard on a grave in the old cemetery, feeling dizzy but almost sober. He was dirty, and much older than you. He wasn’t not handsome, though. You considered his face. He said he’d been following you all day long. A cute kid, he called you. A beautiful boy, or are you a girl?
You turned around and stood up. He grabbed your arm and you allowed him to lead you away, thinking about everything you’d never done, how you hadn’t had time to learn what you were or what you wanted.
You kissed in the bushes and it was okay. He forced himself on you, but you allowed it. You let his tongue go in your mouth, a snail coming home to the shell of your wet flesh. You did not gag, the way you usually did when meat slithered towards the back of your throat (pork, chicken, dentist’s latex fingers). You thought about other people. He wanted to go down on you, and you said no, but then he got angry, and then he begged, and so you let him, after you’d moved to a more secluded copse of foliage. Then he fucked you, which you did not want, weren’t ready for, but he pointed out that he had a knife in his coat pocket and that probably no one would be able to hear you if you screamed. It had gotten late, and you were deep in the park
by now. It was as dark and lush as a real forest.
So that was how things were. He put his coat down on the ground for you, but your legs trailed off beyond the ragged hem. He had you take your shoes off, for some reason. The shoes got lost in the leaves, hurled aside to make space. It hurt, and then it really hurt, and then you came, scared and humiliated, surprising yourself. His hands shook on your hipbones.
Now you’ve got dirt smudged between your toes, and your flesh is goosebumped and jaundiced beneath the streetlights. You’re not a virgin anymore, you guess. You guess you must be something else.
You close your eyes. Light, dark. When you reach the hotel, you will shrug off his hand like it’s water, like it’s easy to pull your flesh away from his grip, like you know what you’re doing, like nothing has ever made you afraid.
Tomorrow they will ask you, the other teenagers who are not your friends, where you’ve been, and you will say nowhere. They will ask what you’ve been doing and you will say, I don’t know, man, I was loaded.
The new thing will beat inside you like a parasite heart, latched onto your soft inner machinery with hundreds of tiny needle teeth. You will know that you’re not supposed to speak about it, that speaking is shame in myriad ways. You will carry the new thing in silence, and it will grow every time you go off with another man, or woman, willing or not.
In the far future, you will meet another person with a parasite heart inside them, a livid, living thing, a red tick sucking on their guts. You will not tell them you can see it, as they will not tell you that they can see yours. Speaking is shame. You’ll touch them carefully around the painful swelling and the old wounds and the place where the parasite draws life away from them with its ugly little mouth, beneath the skin.
You will both be thinking, We cannot exist this way forever. We are more than snail shells for the unspeakable. We are not what we’ve lost, but the loss belongs to us; we should be allowed to acknowledge it. Someday, we’ll have to gag it up. A new bright truth emerging from our throats.
Briar Ripley Page lives in central Pennsylvania. They have short fiction, essays, and poetry published or forthcoming in Underbelly magazine, Beestung magazine, the Blood Orange Poetry Tarot, and the Wellcome Collection’s personal essay series.
Photo by John Paul Summers