an online magazine of fragmentary writing



Spring 2010 :: Current Issue


A. J. Tallman


Jeremy is the owner and main bartender at Mallory’s Taproom. He rides a Harley. His hair is frizzy and the color of sawdust. His wistful eyes are a Mayan blue, and an untamed goatee creeps over his cheeks into bushy sideburns.

By the time I am five, my parents have brought me with them to Mallory’s so routinely that its boozy stench and raucous atmosphere are familiar and commonplace. However, what I can’t seem to get used to is Jeremy’s obsession with me, which plays itself out in the same scenario on each visit.

The instant Jeremy sees me, he stops what he’s doing, no matter how many customers he has. He emerges from behind the bar and sits in a chair so he’s at my eye level. He stares at me. Then half-whispering my name with the anticipation of a man aroused by the presence of his lover, he opens his arms.

My parents, usually already sedated by beer and wine, are entertained by Jeremy’s display of enthusiasm for me. My mother nudges me toward him, and when I don’t move, she suggests, “Go see Jeremy,” a sliver of irritation in her voice. My father chuckles, amused by my wariness. He sarcastically proposes that I “step into Jeremy’s office.” Ambushed, I obey.

Jeremy crushes me in a fierce embrace, wedging me between his thighs. Then he lifts me up onto his lap. His huge hands clamp my tiny arms as he plants two or three wet kisses on my cheeks in slow motion. His wiry facial hair painfully scrapes against my skin. The spots where his lips touched remain wet and cold, like open wounds.

“Look at you,” he exclaims, shaking his head in awe, his smile euphoric yet aggressive. “Wow.”

I’m baffled as to how I am capable of evoking such a dramatic reaction from a grown man. Whatever I’m doing, I desperately wish I could stop it.

“The boys are going to go crazy when you’re in high school,” he assures me. “You won’t be able to fend them off.”

His breath reeks of gin. I can sense my parents behind me, but far away. Are they even in the same room?

Jeremy’s face suddenly grows stern, and it looms closer to mine like an oversized moon. “If any guy ever gives you trouble,” he says, his translucent eyes narrowing, “you let me know.”

When he leaves to fetch my parents’ drinks, I am exhausted and fluish. I stumble to the table where my mother and father have been watching from afar.

“See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?” my father says.


In second and third grade, I masturbate in school. I don’t touch myself; I just lock my feet around the front legs of my chair and repeatedly press my crotch up against the seat. My teachers assign me a desk facing the wall at the back of their classrooms after evaluating me as being simply “disruptive.“

I’m not sure my teachers are aware I am having orgasms while my peers work calmly and cooperatively in a cluster of beige-topped desks only ten feet away. But they basically understand what I’m doing. I don’t have to worry they’ll inform my parents because they can’t really be bothered.

I try to do my classwork while I masturbate, but once the good feeling approaches and is right upon me, I’m mesmerized by it. My number-two pencil goes from writing legible words to bearing down on a single spot, coloring over the same circle in repetitive counterclockwise strokes. The pencil lead dissolves into fine sparkly grey dust that smears across my paper. When I come, I nearly drop the pencil, as helpless as a junkie.

Once the good feeling dissipates, I examine the metallic circle on the paper gleaming like an evil eye under the florescent light. I’m horrified. What have I done? I frantically rub my eraser over the mark in a desperate attempt to make it white again. The eraser grows warm, and the paper begins to tear. To my dismay, all I can manage is a lighter gray.

One morning as my teacher and classmates file out the door to go to gym, I remain seated, too close to orgasm to join them. I watch everyone leave. The last kid in line is Philip Maynard, the boy who puked in the hallway one time. He turns out the classroom light and watches me for a second, confused. Then he waves his hand at me. “Bye bye!” he calls out before he dashes down the hall to join the others.

I sit there in the darkness and push against the chair until I come. Then I stand up and go to gym alone.


Two weeks shy of my thirteenth birthday, my parents and I attend a wedding. After dessert at the reception, single women and girls are invited to gather on the dance floor for the throwing of the bride’s bouquet. I have no interest in participating. My mother insists.

“Of course you should!” she says, her eyes watery and heavy-lidded from too much champagne and pinot noir. “It’s a rite of passage!”

I don’t know what she means, but because she’s drunk, I don’t question it. I glance at my father for his reaction. He stares through me in an inebriated daze. I escape to the dance floor.

As the drum rolls, the bride throws her bouquet in the air. The flowers sail above the heads of all the women and directly to me. When I catch the bouquet, there’s a deafening cymbal crash followed by a celebratory little song. Some of the women hug me. I beam in surprise.

I skip back to the table clutching my prize and show Mom. She’s laughing. “It’s not exactly over,” she admits.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

She explains that next, the single men gather to catch the bride’s garter. Whoever catches it will put it on my thigh—in front of everyone.

Anxiety floods my body; suddenly I can’t breathe. I rush to the bathroom and lock myself in a stall, where I hide for the duration of the garter toss. Minutes later, my mother weaves her way into the bathroom and says that Sam, the 28-year-old engaged guy at our table (whom I’ve been harboring a secret crush on for the entire evening), caught the garter. This makes it even more humiliating.

“Why didn’t you tell me!” I demand.

“Tell you what?“

I want to scream. “About the garter!”

She smiles coyly and shrugs. “I thought you’d enjoy it.” Before she leaves, her mouth twists in a semi-scowl. “Be a good sport,” she says.

I leave the bathroom, and the band is playing slow, sexy music. I head tentatively to the dance floor, where Sam is standing. A circle forms around us. A few of the men leer, their laughter grimy and slightly vicious.

I sit on the metal chair, and as Sam kneels at my feet, we avoid each other’s eyes. He stretches open the baby-blue satin garter adorned with plastic mini pearls. I lift my foot and bite the inside of my lip so hard I taste blood. The garter travels up my shin, past my knee, and to my thigh. I make an effort to resist any and all sensation. But where the garter stretches across my thigh starts to burn.

I spot my mother in the circle, watching and smiling. As the wedding photographer stands beside Sam and me and snaps two or three pictures, I am momentarily blinded by the flash. For a brief instant, everything around me, including Sam and my mother, vanishes in an ethereal whitish-blue light.


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