The first time I told a boy no, I lathered the word along the reddened lines of my palm like soap. Wrung it out with fervor. If guilt-ridden sputters could take form, they would be the wrinkled fabric of the t-shirt I doused in cold water, tiny droplets dripping into the tawny-colored pail.
A white hoodie. He was languid in movement, his fingers picking at the thick fabric; he wore the hood up, though I could no longer read the words on it. It’s almost like the darkness seemed to ricochet, hollowed-out like the string of no’s that rushed out my pursed lips in wavering exhales of breath.
Imagine treading among a grove of oak trees and feeling the persistent prick of overhanging branches and brush. Now, feel the coarseness of the bark and notice its unrefined texture.
That is the boy’s skin.
The second time I told a boy no, he coiled a mussed curl around his finger, smacked his lips together and spat. “Why?” he asked.
I took his whys and smothered them with becauses. His whys soon came careening back, pinning me against a wooden dresser, one that made the becauses tumble into the back of my throat. He stuffed a wad of whys into my mouth, peeling strips of autonomy from my body and hurling them into the wastebin sat outside the brick building.
“Is there a yes?” he combed through my mouth, but my lips remained stitched, teeth severing gums until the taste of copper drowned out whatever syllables were left.
The third time I told a boy no, I had already grinded the word ‘prude’ inside the mortar. Pestle slewing in my clutch, drops of sweat I did not know were mine collecting in specks. I wore a tattered bandage on my arm, not due to injury, but in hopes of healing the vulnerability incised into my skin.
The fourth time I told a boy no, he cradled fear in the crook of his arm and wore a slight snicker. Fear quivered in his grasp, eager to gnash onto no’s until they remained stiff in my mouth. The boy’s onyx pupils narrowed into lifeless slits. The rifts of his tongue gave way to something far more grisly, shifting and molding into that of a serpent’s. His mouth tautly asked why but his hands, ashen and scabious, did not wait for an answer.
The television screen met my gaze with a blank expression. The sheet beneath me lay crinkled, the filaments of my words dispersed in the form of bread crumbs–hardened and incorrigible, like how neglect must taste.
The last time I told a boy no, he swallowed me whole.