Sanctuary

used to be a time when you would pimp for me

With headphones on I’m safe. No one can tell I’m listening to Janet Jackson. 18-year old boys don’t listen to Janet Jackson. They don’t fantasize about being her back-up dancer.

used to brag about it all the time

I’m walking along the edge of Lake Harriet after school. I’ve started walking everywhere lately. Can’t seem to stand still for anything, not even a bus. I need to move. I walk the mile and a half every morning and afternoon.

A cool breeze cuts through the spring sun. Dark April water lapping at the edges of the thin, stubborn sheets of ice in the center of the lake. I walk to Janet’s beat, exhaling my pent-up winter breath. I made it, my last winter before I get the hell out of Minnesota. I tug on the straps of my backpack and smile at the dogs passing by.

I pass the concession stand. It’s still boarded up for the season. Soon on warm summer nights I’ll walk down here and share a cigarette with Emily and Tanya on their breaks. They’ll open the back screen door and hand me a dripping cone of strawberry ice cream, telling me to wait up. After closing time the two Jennies will join us, maybe Amber if she can ditch her asshole boyfriend. We’ll take one of the pontoons out. We’ll split a case of Leinenkugel under the night sky and they’ll sing all the lyrics to the Replacements. Our laughter carrying over the water.

I cut across the empty parking lot towards the woods. There’s a shortcut home through the Bird Sanctuary, between the boulevard and the sprawling acres of Lakewood Cemetery. I push through the rusting metal turnstile, into the dark and quiet woods.

I like the solitude, the dirt path under my feet, the trees sprouting pale green buds overhead. The woods open to a small marsh where red-wing blackbirds cling to waving stalks of cattail. Patches of snow in the shade.

soap opera says you got one life to live who’s right who’s wrong

Sometime in the last few months I’ve figured out that men cruise each other here. I’m always walking past some guy feigning interest in the wildlife, sauntering slowly down the darker trails. The bolder ones lean up against tree trunks and watch me pass. They all make me nervous. But not enough to stay away. It’s an honest shortcut, I tell myself.

I wouldn’t know what to do with them, anyway. Never touched another guy, though my raging hormones don’t want to wait any longer. I’m too scared to stop, to give them more than a glance. Sometimes I wish I could.

who’s jamming to my nasty groove

I hide behind my headphones and my purposeful gait. I pass them, as though I have someplace better to be. I don’t really know what men can do to each other. My fantasies are vague and shadowy. I imagine what another man’s body would feel like, how I could merge with him. A flash of underarm hair, sweat, Fruit of the Looms. A heavy weight against me.

A thin path diverges from the trail. It points towards home. I follow, ducking under a low branch, into the shaded woods. The path runs along the edge of the cemetery, skirting a tall chain-link fence. I look out at the lines of pale headstones curving over the green, manicured hills. Up ahead there’s a gap in the fence. Sometimes at night I’ll squeeze through, walking with my headphones and smoking cigarettes, hiding from the patrol cars that crawl the curving roads. Every night I climb out of my bedroom window and I walk with my music and I smoke. I can’t fall asleep until I’ve walked. All year long, for miles. In the summer I lay on the hill above the rose gardens, looking up at the stars. In the winter I navigate the icy sidewalks, following my clouded breath. My parents don’t know. Someday they’ll bust me, but until then I walk.

I see someone ahead on the path, shrouded by the trees. A man, broad-shouldered, looking out at the cemetery. He hears me approach and turns. Weathered and handsome, something about him reminds me of a football coach. Not the fat ones who teach at my high school, more like the ones in the NFL. He’s even got a windbreaker on. Solid build, dark hair graying at the temples. A little rough around the edges.

He watches me walk past. The path is secluded, thick woods separate us from the road. We’re barely a hundred yards from my house. I walk past him but for the first time I allow myself a glance back. He’s watching. I look away but slow my pace. My body’s in conflict, wanting to flee, my hormones surging. I stop a few yards away from him. I look dumbly out at the cemetery’s hillside and the rows of headstones. I can feel him watching me, and again I glance back, blood screaming in my ears. I take a few steps and sit down on the peeling trunk of a fallen oak. Remnants of a campfire underfoot. I pull off my backpack and set it against the tree. I look back at the cemetery as if studying a particularly beautiful landscape. Out of the corner of my eye I can see him walking towards me. He stops a couple of feet away and I look up at him. He smiles. “Hi there.”

“Hi,” I answer, giving him a brief smile. I pull my headphones down around my neck. I can’t seem to look him in the eye.

“Nice uh afternoon we’re having.”

“Yeah.”

“Mind if I sit next to you?”

I shake my head and scoot over a couple of inches. He sits down heavily next to me. I can smell tobacco and aftershave. “You live around here?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“It’s nice over here.”

I look down at the sooty remains of the fire. I kick at a charred log and it splits in two. Ashes rise in the air between us. Someone has thrown a crumpled can of Miller into the underbrush nearby.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“Mike.”

“Mike, nice to meet you. My name is Carl.”

I nod mutely, nearly offering my hand as an introduction. I feel strangely paralyzed. I want to run, but I can’t. Suddenly his hand’s on my shoulder and I jump. He laughs. “Didn’t mean to scare you.” His hand is warm, rubbing clumsy circles. My skin tingles under his uncertain movements. “You sure are cute.”

I smile weakly. “Thanks.” I glance up at him and he leans towards me and at the last second I close my eyes. He kisses me and he tastes like stale cigarettes. I wonder if I taste like that, too. His wet tongue searches my mouth. I can feel the coarse stubble of his chin. I open my eyes while his mouth moves awkwardly against mine. Suddenly he doesn’t seem as handsome. Suddenly he seems much older than before. Up close his windbreaker is cheap. He’s wearing polyester slacks. I pull away. He kisses my forehead then takes my hand. “C’mon,” he says. I grab my backpack and he pulls me further down the trail, closer to my house. He stops and turns to face me. He reaches out and grabs my belt, unfastening me. He gets down on his haunches and he pulls my jeans down my thighs then lowers my briefs. I’m not very hard. I worry about this for a split second and then I feel the warmth of his mouth, the surprising wet softness around my cock. I can feel the cool spring air on my legs and ass, and I worry that someone can see us through the trees. I look out again over the cemetery and rows of headstones. An angel carved from marble stands over a grave, her head down as if grieving. His hands clutch the back of my knees and his head bobs up and down. I’m not getting very hard. Suddenly he rises back to his feet and he wraps his arms around me, his hands traveling up and down my back. “I’d love to take you home, Mike, I could just eat you up.” I stand awkwardly in his embrace. He lowers his head and speaks softly in my ear. “You just want someone to love you, don’t you?”

I’m too startled to answer.

He squeezes me once and then steps back. “Take care, babe,” he says. Then he turns and walks away, back into the bird sanctuary.

I watch him until he disappears among the trees, my jeans around my thighs. The cold metal of my belt buckle against my leg. I pull my jeans up and refasten them. I smooth out my clothes and pull on my backpack. Then I walk in the other direction, towards home.

I feel both sick and aroused, and strangely empty. I trudge up the hill, past the neighboring houses. I wonder what people are doing now, this moment, in their houses.

I unlock the door and step into the dark, cool living room. Nobody’s home. I walk through the quiet house and into my room. I dump my backpack on the floor and close the door behind me. I wonder what I should do. I think of movies I’ve seen, where women sob in the shower after being raped. But I haven’t been raped. I don’t take a shower. I take off my shoes and turn on the stereo. I think of skin and the hot wetness of his tongue. A weight holding me down.

funny how time flies when you’re having fun

I lay on the floor, listening to Janet, watching the afternoon light fade from the room.

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