I. She attends my juggling audition for a madrigals dinner show, and later flirts by tossing bean bags about the stage, demanding I play fetch. On opening night, I bring her catered supper behind a pleated jabot. I unfoil her Yukon Gold and spoon potato onto her tongue. She wrinkles her nose at the suggestion she might eat the skin. In December, at the Minneapolis wrap party, she slides into the hotel whirlpool. Her foot, sleek as sealskin, seeks my chin. Gaze austere—eyebrows summarily arched—she climbs her pink toes past my lips and into my mouth. At 11:00, management shuts the jets off. I go to my room, dress, and meet her in the lobby. She conducts me out to her Honda. It seems entirely reasonable when she drops me off in a Denny’s parking lot, dry snow skittering about, with directions to order dessert. She herself needs to meet some friends she hasn’t seen since high school. She returns at two in the morning, long after I’ve finished my pie. Sweeping into the booth, she pokes a fork at her weepy meringue. I sulk. She reaches across the table and digs the tines into my forearm. They don’t break skin, but I hitch like an unprimed engine. “Apologize. And tell me you didn’t mind waiting. Can you do that for me?” I nod, and she presses the fork deeper. “No, no, sweetie. Use your words.” Sent to the car while she settles with the hostess, I find her Accord locked. Overhead, a flag snaps sharply in the wind, grommets rattling against the hollow pole.
II. In the few minutes preceding my baptism, she at last deigns a scansion of her form; permits me to mind each metered rise and fall of her breasts; indulges my servile compulsion to reproduce her prosody: Her hair pours over her shoulders, India ink spilled from a well; her cursive touch beguiles with the precision of arcane script; chips of brilliant diamond glisten from the shallow of her philtrum; and in the prominence of each vertebrae, I trail a surfacing dolphin. There too is the physics of our coupling, pelvic geometry, my own unversed rhythm—a delicious quickening. And in the time it takes to insert a space between stanzas, she’s rolled off the bed. Shivering, I watch her dress in the faint light framing the door. She leaves with no further instructions.
III. She is 18, a first-year music major. I am undeclared, a nineteen-year-old stranger secreting herself in closets. When we get back to Bemidji, a mutual acquaintance points out the apartment she shares with three girlfriends. It perches above a threadbare motor lodge, at the top of a yawning stairwell hammered to the side of the building. I prepare to summit, hesitate. It isn’t that she has so readily dismissed my proffered virginity. My intentions are covetous: I want to breathe her poise—steal the very self-possession which empowered her to puppet me. She is a glyph of who I might be. And I hunger to slip inside again. But next time I will delve deep beneath the mystery of her skin and know the thew of her iron conviction; feel the printed page as I slide my finger along its rough edge; savor the musky density of mango on my tongue; draw a razor across the gentle concavity of my shins; and brush my hair, luminous in the earthy warmth of a flowering garden.
IV. Of course I never speak to her again. And it isn’t until much, much later that I learn to nurture more pragmatic visions of womanhood. V. But in these selfsame wee hours, I ache for the admonishing pinch of her fork: it christened an awakening more enduring than my sorrow in forgetting her name.
-- Gina Marie Bernard is a heavily tattooed transgender woman, roller derby vixen, and full-time English teacher. She has completed a 50-mile ultra marathon, followed Joan Jett across the US, taught creative writing at a medium-security prison, and purposely jumped through a hole cut in lake ice. She lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, own her heart. Her poetry collection Naked, Gettin’ Nuder is a 2018-2019 Glass Chapbook Series finalist.