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  • Note to Readers: this story is an experimental blend of truth, some from my own experience and some from a friend's.

    Shame clings to me like a second skin, reeking with a lurid odor that won't scrub off, though six decades have passed. I can't bear to speak of it, not to my therapist and certainly not to my priest.

    Sixty years ago, in our last summer of innocence, Debbie and I hung out together almost every day. During the school year, we had different friends, Debbie in junior high and me a year behind in sixth grade, but we shared best friend secrets that summer.

    We liked to sprawl on the floor of the storage closet behind my bedroom, beneath the sharp slant of the pitched roof, and sketch nude bodies that speculated on all the permutations and combinations of adult female anatomy, full front and profile poses.

    Would our buds and fuzz ever become real boobs and bush?

    We made a pact to go to a strip show as soon as we reached an appropriate age (sixteen, we decided). Then we listened to imaginary music and practiced taking our clothes off, tossing each item to our cheering phantom audience. A dangerously thrilling tingle spread through my body like a hot current emanating from some mysterious source inside.
  • Debbie understood when I started wearing a bra I didn't need, one I borrowed from my mother's dresser, cups safety-pinned and stuffed with tissues. I liberated a tarnished tube of coral lipstick too and a black eyeliner pencil stub.

    We applied our makeup in secret before we walked down to the village to sit on the bridge and watch the passing cars. We made a game of telling the make and model of each car. We got extra points if a driver waved back at us.

    When a two tone '55 Ford Fairlane stopped beside us, I assumed the driver would ask for directions. But no, he didn't need directions. He had stopped to offer us a ride. His passengers, three other teenage boys, stuck their heads out and shouted, "Come on!"

    What possessed us? Debbie and I didn't pause. Side by side, mesmerized, we danced to the tune of the teenage pipers and slid into the car.
  • The boys seemed nice enough. They asked us our names and told us theirs – Slick the driver, Ace riding shotgun, Bud and Rusty bracketing Debbie and me in the backseat. They said they had come out from the City to see what's cookin' in Nowheresville.

    When Slick turned off the highway onto the road to Carver Lake, I tried to catch Debbie's eye. She stared straight ahead, her face unnaturally pale with garish crimson splotches on each cheek. The back of my neck prickled and I squirmed against the sticky vinyl upholstery.

    I tried to sound calm and confident, "Hey, uh, guys, this road doesn't really go anywhere good, I mean, there's a swamp and people get stuck there all the time. Better turn around right here and get back to the highway."

    Bud snaked his arm around my shoulders. "Cool it, Baby, Slick never gets stuck."

    The other boys snickered. I reached for Debbie's hand. She flinched.

    As if on cue, Slick gunned the engine and the car fishtailed on the gravel, throwing me against Bud's chest and Debbie into Rusty's lap.

    "Yous owe me one for the C.O.D." Slick's lewd sneer filled the rearview mirror.

    Ace craned his neck around to verify Slick's success. "Come-Over-Dear," he said, in a menacing falsetto parody of feminine guile.

    While we were still off balance, Slick stomped the brakes and slammed us forward and back like crash test dummies.
  • The engine clicked off and Slick jingled the keys to get Ace's attention. "Time to tank up, Daddy-O."

    All four boys got out of the car and sauntered to the trunk. I heard the unmistakable metallic crunch and sibilant hiss as one by one they punched open four cans of beer. Slick said something low and slow, and they all laughed in mirthless, thrusting barks and sharp snorts.

    Debbie and I tried to run away. The boys chased us through the slashing sword grass. They ran us down, four on two…. Debbie cried and begged…. I thrashed and flailed…. They….
  • They abandoned us where we lay.

    Eyes clamped shut, I heard the slam of both car doors.

    One of the boys shouted, "Burn rubber!" The Ford's engine roared and spinning tires sprayed a stinging swath of gravel across my shoulders.

    In the echoing silence Debbie and I pulled ourselves together. Side by side, on parallel planes, we trudged a wordless trail of tears to our separate homes, our dislocated lives. I withdrew into books and academics. Years later I heard that Debbie got pregnant in her junior year and quit school.

    Now, sixty years later, I confess to my vodka, deceive my therapist, and lie to my priest. I am alone, trapped inside an impenetrable shame that suffocates my life.

    Music by Mr. & Mrs. Smith -- Scent of Empathy from Free Music Archive
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