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Today's Story by J. Linn Allen

“Oh yes,” she says. “It’s okay. Boys are tectonically strange.”

The Usual Dumb Stuff

Tim is sitting alone at a lunchroom table doing his Latin homework, putting ablatives together over great divides of nouns and verbs, when she sits down next to him with a scrunch of chair on the gritty black linoleum.

“Hi, I’m Savannah.”

He looks up, irritated at the interruption. He has Latin next period and he has to be better than everyone else. It’s expected. He’s the king of Virgil.

She is rumply, as if her brown eyes just got out of bed and the rest of her was groggily following, round red cheeks coarse from the pillow, hair a dark brambly arbor. She’s wearing black jeans, a grey T and a wrinkled black sweater and has a small silver ring in her right nostril, nothing flamboyant, just an ID thing. She sits cozily close.

“We’re in Outloud together.”

“Yeah.” Outloud is an annual production of student actors staging student writings chosen by a teachers’ committee. He’s seen the selections, and she’s written a series of short poems in which the narrator is a selection of sexy vegetables – like a banana, an avocado, a red cabbage. He wrote a short story about a mother, father and son who suddenly find at breakfast they’ve haven’t seen each other for 10 years.

“I liked your story.”

“It’s stupid. I just did it on an impulse.”

“That’s pretty good. You write a lot?”

That’s how it starts, the usual dumb stuff.  Except her mouth. It’s small but amazingly supple, sort of rumply like the rest of her. It curls and ripples and quivers with assessment and evaluation, like a graph of her brain. It’s usually the eyes but with her the mouth that’s a window, or maybe more of a door, to the soul. He wants inside.

But he’s got a problem. He’s already got a girl, sort of. He trails along with Savannah to her house after school and when they get to her bedroom he tells her so.

“I’ve never seen you with anyone.” Her lips purse skeptically.

“It’s not really a public thing.”

“Not public? You meet in some secret place?”

“I guess you could say that.”

“You’re not sure? Wait a minute. This is an imaginary person?”

“No. Definitely not.”

“I know. This is someone you met on the Net.  She’s an IM lover.”

“She’s not. This is a stupid guessing game.”

“Not imaginary, not cybersex. Wait a minute. Is this Second Life? No. That counts as Internet. A video game? Cool.”

“Yeah. But that’s not it.”

“You said this is a stupid game. So stop. Tell me.”

“I can’t, really.”

“Are you gay? I’m in the Gay Straight Alliance, didn’t you know? So you can tell me anything. You’re safe, I promise.”

“I’m not gay.”

“So what’s the deal?”

“It’s me.”

“You are tectonically weird. What is me?”

“I’m my own girlfriend.”

“Whoa.” She sat down on the bed, her mouth doing stretches.  “You have to explain.”

He’s wanted to tell someone. Why not her? She has so much texture.

It starts one day after school when he’s 12, reading War and Peace because it’s the biggest book around and no one he knows his age has read it. He’s into the part Princess Natasha is dancing with Prince Andrei and is suddenly possessed – the word is hardly strong enough – by the urge to go to his sister’s room and put on her clothes. His sister is away at college but she’s left a closet and bureau drawers full of stuff. He dresses up, goes to the bathroom and smiles mysteriously into the mirror, his long, brown, wavy hair falling half-hiding his face. His erection sticks out from the panties and skirt. He tiptoes to his room, throws himself back on his bed and masturbates, trying to keep the come off her clothes. He has a moment of blankness. Then he undresses as fast as he can, still careful of staining, goes to the bathroom and washes off. He drops to the bathroom floor, does 10 pushups, then flexes his biceps in the mirror. They are scrawny like the rest of him, but they are male. He goes back to his room, puts on his own clothes, puts away his sister’s clothes exactly where he got them, and resumes reading War and Peace.

He’s been doing some version of this, even after finishing War and Peace, every month or so for the last four years. But he’s not attracted to men, he knows that. He’s attracted to the female version of himself.

Savannah is still and solemn. Then she grins. He sees she can’t repress it. “So you’re Princess Natasha? Or Audrey Hepburn?”

“I’ve never seen the movie.”

“But you’re not gay?”



“I don’t think so.”

“Okay.” Her face settles down, reflective, receptive.

He’s been wandering her room as he tells his story, looking out her window at a rusty swing set, examining a peacock feather in a vase, a Jane Avril poster and a lumpy purple, green and yellow wall hanging. Now he sits on the bed near her.

“Why did you tell me?” she asks.

“You kept asking me.”

“Yeah but. You wouldn’t tell just anyone that asked.”

“I don’t know. You seemed like somebody I could tell.”

“That’s cool. I mean not cool. It’s good.”

“What about you?”

“Me what?”

“What’s your big secret?”

“I’m not playing truth or dare.”

“Just truth. Like why are you in Gay Straight?”

“I’m not gay. I mean I did go out with someone of a couple of weeks.” She laughs and reddens. “Way back freshman year.”


“Not telling. She’s over it too. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“Okay. What else?”

She leans over and kisses him, her hands pressed down beside her on the bed. The touch of her rattles him, like just being missed by a car you didn’t see coming. He kisses her back, first tentatively, then pulling her to him with his hands on her shoulders. After a moment, she leans back and he lets go.

Then she says when she was 11 she and her brother touched each other one Saturday morning when they were watching Power Rangers just for a joke. It was just that one time and now he’s in college, but he was embarrassed about it and still doesn’t talk to her much, which really sucks because that’s like it was her fault or something.

“How far did you go?”

“He had an orgasm. I mean I’m pretty sure.”

“Are you embarrassed?”

“I don’t think so. I bet it happens a lot more than people let on. You know how a lot of stuff happens and then it just fades away like it never did? Like someone you were best friends with in elementary school and don’t even talk to any more?”

“I guess so.”

“Maybe Natasha could fade away?”

“Maybe.” He wishes she hadn’t said that, but he doesn’t know why. He feels like he should kiss her again but doesn’t. Why did he tell her? His mind suddenly freezes.

“I’ve got to go,” he says, jumping up and extending his arms to see if his body is working normally.

“Okay.” When her mouth isn’t moving her face just hangs there.

By the time he gets home he’s terrified she’s already telling everyone what he said. Why did he do it? He doesn’t talk to his parents at dinner and says he’s got a lot of homework. He goes to his room and does two days worth of AP calculus and translates a page of the Aeneid into rhyming couplets, the Greeks ravaging Priam’s palace. That kind of thing comes easy to him.

For the next week he avoids her. He finds empty classrooms to eat lunch in. There’s an Outloud meeting he has to go to, but sits away from her and writes in his notebook the whole time, only looking up when Mrs. Adamczyk the faculty advisor says Sally Mobley is going to adapt and direct his story. Sally doesn’t know much of anything but she’s a plugger, she’ll get it done, and he doesn’t really care anymore, he should drop it, but he just says okay and goes back to his notebook, the angry genius in full creative paroxysm.

But Savannah catches up with him in the hall after the meeting. “Hey,” she says. “What the fuck?”

He stares at her. He tries to stare through her. Mrs. Adamczyk walks by and he almost follows her but opts for paralysis.

“Can’t you talk?”

“I’m really busy.”

“You can’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“Shut me out.”

“I’m not. I’ve got to go.” He turns and walks away. Mrs. Adamczyk is down the dim corridor, about to turn a corner.

“Fucking freak,” Savannah yells after him.

So now it’s war. Okay. What is she, class rank somewhere in the 30s? He’s 7 last year, and ahead of him are a bunch of nerdy girls and a math weirdo. And where did she get that trashy name. He bet her parents named her Savannah after someone in TV soap. And the vegetables in her Outloud piece, they had to be from some writing exercise a teacher gave her. What vegetable are you? Ha.

But he keeps seeing her mouth as she confronts him, shifting, trying to hold still, failing. He goes home and starts to read Bleak House, but can’t concentrate, tries playing Bach preludes on the piano, but they don’t flow from his fingers. He goes out again, and ends up walking towards her house.

From behind a tree across the street, he looks up at her second floor window, watching for an image or a shadow or a shimmer in the glass. He’s there for a half an hour. Then he realizes she’s coming down sidewalk a block away. He feels stupid and exposed hiding behind a tree, so he retreats back down a walkway leading behind a house. A blond woman in jeans and a purple sweatshirt with a picture of the Virgin Mary is taking garbage out to a can in the alley.

“Do you want something?” she says with a wary smile.

“Let me help you with that,” he says, dashing over to her and grabbing the garbage bag. But she resists and the cheap white plastic bag splits, bleeding orange peels and marshmallows.

“Shit,” she says, and he runs out the back gate and down the alley.

He can’t go back there again, but he does, the next day after school, this time going in the alley behind her house, looking up at the window from a different angle, think vaguely of her floating up the stairs, down the hall, into her room, opening a closet, claiming things around her. But he sees a group of kids down the alley, noisy freshmen, and he hurries away, not looking back.

Back home he goes upstairs to his room, turns on his iPod and puts in his earbuds, listen to his favorite Gregorian chants, then to Plushgun, but he wants something deep and eviscerating, something not on his playlists. He flips off the buds and looks out his window. He thinks if he had a gun, he’d shoot something, maybe a robin. It wouldn’t be missed. Suddenly Savannah appears, walking towards his house. Now he really needs a gun

She turns up his front walk and rings the bell. For a second he considers not answering but he can’t not. Besides, she’s probably seen him.

He shuffles down the stairs and opens the door. “You’re stalking me,” she says.

“I am not.”

Her lip corners stab her cheeks. “Oh yes,” she says. “It’s okay. Boys are tectonically strange.”

“What do you want?”

“Can I come in?” He shrugs and backs up. “Where do you hang out?” she asks.

His eyes flick upwards and she heads for the stairs. He follows, thinking the stairs with their worn maroon carpeting will never look the same again. She gets to the top and looks back at him, head tilted down, eyes tilted up. He motions, and she walks towards his room. They pass the open door of his sister’s room and she glances in, then goes into his.

“It’s sort of a cell,” she says.

She sits on his bed and takes off the floppy gray sweater shirt she’s wearing over a black t-shirt. Then she takes off the black t-shirt. As her hands fly up to take it off he sees above her left breast in its black bra the words, “Without imagination there is no reality” tattooed in small, neat black print.

How does he get out of here? Maybe he can persuade his parents to move somewhere else. He sits beside her on the bed. Maybe he can get into college really early. He searches her mouth, then the words on her breast.

“Show me what you did with your brother?” he says.


J. Linn Allen is a former journalism teacher at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and have had stories in publications including Long Story Short, ThievesJargon, Hamilton Stone Review, Taj Mahal Review and Green Silk Journal.


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