An excerpt.

Christmas, 2002 / No. 9
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Men always think that a woman alone at night is a whore. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing or how she’s walking, if it’s late on the streets and she’s all by herself, he’ll roll down his window and stare at her ass. It’s like he’s waiting for something. Some tiny click. Her jump in the car saying “yes,” saying “more.”…And if the woman didn’t think about it, then maybe she really would do it. I mean get in the car and believe she’s a whore. Because all women could do it—complete that kind of bravery that it took for the guy just to stop and show off his dark little smirk. She probably should just get into the car, to get rid of that smirk that’s making her blush. Because when she’s sucking his dick he’s not going to smirk. Not when she’s letting him get in her either.

Men started smirking at me when I was pretty young. It happened for the first time when I was at the supermarket with my father. I was around twelve, and the guy at the cash said, “You better keep a close watch on that one.” His eyes squinted down at my chest when he said it, those two lumps pressing up under my shirt. Then the guy made a noise, a grunt laugh through closed lips. My father looked down at me and laughed quickly too, but it sounded like he didn’t really mean to. Then, when we got in the car, my father didn’t say a word. He just turned up the news and started driving really fast. I put my forehead against the window and watched us pass all the cars. I could still feel that guy looking right through my shirt. I thought for a second that my chest had pushed out more when the guy was staring at it. I heard my father’s breathing go loud, air scratching past the hairs of his moustache. And something started happening….Between my thighs on the seat I felt hot little beats. Like a pulse or a bird was whipping down there. It started going harder. I had to squeeze my thighs tight. I was trying not to make any sound from the pulsing, trying not to let it fall out in those breaths….But when we finally got home, I kept hearing what that guy had said, how it made them both laugh. “You better keep a close watch on that one.” I didn’t really know what it meant. I thought the guy meant, maybe, I was pretty, but when I tried to think more about really what he meant, I felt strange. Lying on my bed, the feeling wouldn’t stop spreading. It started filling up my underwear, hot little beats. It felt O.K., it felt good, but I didn’t want it to keep happening. Because I thought that my father knew what had happened. I thought in the car he could smell it.

Things started to happen more often after that. I started getting that feeling around men, older men, men in stores, on the street. It was always when I thought I saw men looking at me, the ones that I thought I’d never meet in my life. The construction men working in crews on the road. Men who were with their kids and their wives. The best looking men were the ones who were biggest. The ones who were furthest, darkest, steepest. That beating between my legs started happening so much I thought that those men could see right through me. Just how my body was standing or walking. I thought that it meant that I wanted them to see. All those beats from my body, hanging there loud.

Sometimes I’d imagine a man at my house, a stranger in the bathroom, watching me shower. His two dark hands would open a towel when I stepped out. Then he’d dry me, rub me, move the towel really fast back and forth behind my shoulders, behind my back and all the way down. My flesh would be shaking close to the man’s face. My ass red behind me. Eyes blooming wide. The man would follow me into my bedroom, his footsteps sounding in time to my beats. He’d stand over my bed while I pretended to sleep. With one of my feet sticking out of the covers, then one arm, leading up to my chest. If I rolled on my side the man would see more. How my breasts were starting to grow from my body, my nipples getting hard, my hair down there thick. If I rolled on my back the sheet would fall off and the guy would see straight up between my two legs. I’d spread them for him. I knew I would. I was pulsing so much there I’d have to. Because I thought that if the man could see me naked like that, just silently watching, then it would be O.K. That I’d stay quiet while he touched me, anywhere he wanted. I’d want him to come back every single night, too. So he could tell me how much bigger my breasts were getting. How much more hair he was seeing on my vagina. How much more stuff he was feeling down there.

I’d never even really touched myself where I imagined a man doing it. Maybe if I had, then everything would’ve been different, I don’t know.

Tamara Faith Berger writes fiction, non-fiction, and screenplays. Her novel Queen Solomon was nominated for a Trillium Book Award. Her work has appeared in Apology, Canadian Art, and Canadian Notes and Queries. Last updated summer, 2021.