I jumped back and sat on the edge of the pool table, trying to be cute, trying to get Ruth Nowicki to kiss me. She said, Don’t you know I don’t like girls that way. I said, I know. She smiled and she had lipstick stuck on her teeth. We had gone to church together when we were younger, had colored on our church bulletins, shaded letters out to spell bad words. Instead of kissing me she reached for my hand and started digging her fingernail into mine, into the skin below my cuticle. I laughed so I wouldn’t pull my hand away; I didn’t want her to know how bad it hurt, and I didn’t want anyone else to know what she was doing to me. A group of boys we knew stood by the bar, drinking beer from cans, swallowing their burps, watching us.
I woke up and remembered nothing from that night except when Ruth hurt me, when I finally said, No, and she said, I like that word when you say it, No. My room smelled like perfume, hers, I hoped, and vomit. In the dark I didn’t want to be alone in my bed. I dug my own fingernails into my other hands cuticles.
I was trying to find Ruth at the bar again. I saw the boys instead. They were playing pool. When they aimed they shut one eye, opened their mouth. One of them did an imitation of me—sitting on the pool table, crossing his legs and talking in a high-pitched voice. He said to me, You know before Ruth Nowicki got so weird we used to corner her outside school, against the wall, and blow smoke in her face from our cigarettes. Another boy added, Yeah, she would curl up in this little ball, like that was going to save her from anything. His face getting softer, remembering, he said, So I bent down and uncurled her. I told her to hold my hand.
I asked, Did you do anything to her fingers?
They went back to playing pool. They were holding cubes of blue chalk.
A few weeks later I finally found Ruth Nowicki, not at the bar but at church, mass on a Saturday night. We prayed together on our knees like we had when we were young. Down the road there was a shrine to the Black Madonna, it brought pilgrims to our town, crowded our churches—I whispered, Ruth, When you ask for something, do you imagine Mary’s skin looking like that? Dark from soot?
She said she would go to bed with me. My room lit up for a second as a car drove by outside the window. She kissed me. Then she spit in my face. When it was morning, my mouth tasted rotten inside and she did other things to me that I stopped putting into words. Before I felt it I heard my head hitting the floor, a sickening thud.
I tried to stand. I asked her, Did those boys at the bar used to fuck with you? At school, when you were little? She said, her arms around me, helping me up, That’s none of your business. It wasn’t. I had marks from her on my hipbones that later turned into scars and then disappeared.