At 13, a friend and I crammed
into a hotel lobby phone booth
to call the boys we liked then hang
up when they said hello.
It was the year we lived by the ocean,
my stepfather’s welding gigs gone
from the dying iron mines
to a New England freighter’s hull.
Shrieking laughter, lips slick
with bubble gum gloss,
sucking in our cheeks to pout
like the MTV models sprawling
on yachts with Simon LeBon.
Then came the knock.
A 50-something man (at least)
outside the smudged glass gazing in
with seaglass eyes beneath the stiffened
brassy waves of his toupee.
A shark-toothed grin.
Are you good girls? he asked.
We smiled because we had to
smile, then saw the stack of bills
he fanned out like a pervert’s poker hand.
I’ll be in the bar he winked
and turned away. The knowing
crashing in his wake, a cold
black tide that swallowed all
the moment’s innocence
and spat us on a littered shore.
Our reflection in the sliding door
mirrored back our strip
mall haircuts, smeared mascara,
knock-off jeans. The shame,
as if our budding bodies
spilled a secret, something
men like him could buy and cast
By summer, I would never
see that town or friend again,
as seaside vistas faded back
to Midwest hills over the 12-hour drive.
But it took me years to learn that being bad
is how you stay alive.
Christina Kallery is the author of Adult Night at Skate World, now in its second edition from Dzanc Books. Her poetry has appeared in Rattle, Failbetter, The Collagist, Gargoyle, and Mudlark, among other publications, and has been included in several anthologies, including Best of the Web and Respect: The Poetry of Detroit Music. She has served as submissions editor for Absinthe: A Journal of World Literature in Translation and poetry editor for Failbetter. She grew up near the woods in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before living in the Detroit area and then New York City. She currently resides in Ann Arbor, where she co-hosts a paranormal podcast called Shadowland.