Try as I might to stay another way, my face arranged into mops and mows when he called from the corridor to show me his beaut, how he built his bike. Beckoned, more, a leer from his undeniable knife. That neck.

I labeled when my mouth saw those fine files. Yes, shock-still stare; yes, snail-shell pomp.


His rat coax: my one try.

“Do you want to feel a fifty-five pound ride?”   

We’d peel. I’d straddle the teaserly seat while he unleashed ccs and mgs over streets and up steepings, cruising around downed rubble, sound bleeding for me and my dithery—my hinter gyring his engine, a grinning weighty granted just one. For one, I would writhe until he culled the heat from the sun, bought me thumbs of milk, melted my throat.

“Look,” he said.

Words wended their way into my silence. He was hardly a boy.

“No one wants to live in Springfield.” 

I fled.



But then in flesh, I faced the racer, chained to an aging pole and more meant for a tyke, no one hard in his meat, a minikin without. Motor-robbed, argent-spoked, domed in a fog; I had never been exactly head-right.



Others I’d cozened to druthers: bled-out hearts volunteering their hunkly urge; arms on any-man given to vigor and work; a lappy-lipped lad, heir to glue, who played with my inviolate cards—shuffle, shuffle, cut, fold.

He could join those men, jack of hearts and nine of spades, ticking every turn of my kepper’s spoke. He could be shammy flash, my fidelity’s drooping hem, tanned nattery or pale latency, but, eventually, I’d discharge his name.

Bad teacher.



My manner remained only mildly demanding, merewhile banter or quiet thunder, ragged sputters clearing the corners of whatever rectangle. Nothing I knew kept twigging my craw; eyes glazered or cheeks pudged, all those laity staled was my supper.



Gray gloss bricks or green splotched stalls, 4-5-6, passcoded dark, dry erase crumbs or blackboard dust, aisles and rows and semi-rings and half-thoughts, pen-gleeping and paper-chaffing, my blear bore on; I only minted my mouth. Toothbrush on a paper towel. You could say I supplied, yes, surprised, my liver.



At night, my madder mind scrabbled to demass. I didn’t go without a partner. He kept his curling head, or shaved, level in either, every sense.

“You remember,” he said, office in his legs, and visible in the chest, trying to out my bore. He spent days, all his pay, smiling away.

“Do I?”

“You like this chardonnay.”



I knew one day I’d unzipper, disappeared by drove, or driven, nailed to plane or lapel, in my nude shoes and class jacket, hair plus hands wrapping off my throat, but until then I would end on, rude under and demure overt, chalk murdering my thumbs. No longer polished, I sandered them none.

Continue. I would wait for an offer that refused my goodwill.

JoAnna Novak is the Pushcart-Prize-nominated author of two chapbooks: Laps (Another New Calligraphy, 2014) and Something Real (dancing girl press, 2011). A finalist for Sarabande's 2014 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, her work has recently appeared in DIAGRAM, Guernica, Hobart, and the New Orleans Review. With Thomas Cook and Tyler Flynn Dorholt, she publishes and edits Tammy. She lives in Massachusetts, where she is working on a memoir and a novel.