He was thrilled when she moved to his neighborhood. No longer would he
have to wait for the off chance to see her at a show or a bar. The mere
thought of her landing just around the corner from him, when she could
have moved anywhere, made him feel less lonely, more favored by fate;
even though he never really thought of her when she wasn’t around.
His first thought, one he tried to suppress as his first thought, was
that he was going to sleep with her. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know
when. He didn’t even know why. Sometimes you just know, he thought.
While he did bed women with sufficient frequency, this wasn’t some blind
arrogance; nor was it presumptuous—he couldn’t assume she even wanted
him. It had more to do with his accumulated knowledge of the past and
expanding laws of future averages colliding into the fact she was now
Because she was a tomboy. He loved tomboys. Tomboys often liked him,
too. Whether he was protector/enabler/endangerer to them, a tomboy would
often feel more comfortable with him than a pretty girl would. That
comfort to be rough excited him, to scrape their knees on the ground of
any pit the night might open. Ever since he was little, obsessed with
Pippi Longstockings, the Linda Manz’s, the Jodie Foster’s. Though he was
too self-conscious to tell any of his friends, tomboys came naturally to
him. Their attention was accessible. They were comfortable to be around.
He didn’t have to try too hard. He found their physical ambiguity
thrilling. They either didn’t know or didn’t care how pretty they were,
or if they were even pretty. They were tougher than the pretty girls, so
he could care less about their safety; and the older he got, the more he
loved tomboys because he, himself, was becoming more dangerous.
But today, he only focused on her, this tomboy; because she was new, and
he liked new things. And the new tomboy’s close proximity meant they
were definitely going to have sex. He didn’t know why, or if he even
wanted to. He just knew it was going to happen.
The tomboy invited him over. She was standing on her porch in her
Israeli combat boots, waving to him as he walked up, big eyes peeking
under her curly mop hair. She wore green olive pants, the rest of her
adorned in browns and blacks; strictly earth-tones to compliment her
Persian desert-punk vibe. He brought beer and whiskey, lots of it, more
than two people should drink in a night even though they both knew they
Sometimes, you just know.
As the night darkened, the night grew blurry, obstructing; hazy enough
for the two of them to surrender to kiss. They made out for hours,
perhaps even too long—because as his tongue darted round the tomboy’s
tongue, hers felt somehow detached from his, despite their entanglement.
He even wondered if she had ever kissed before. Or, if she had kissed
before, if she knew what was supposed to come next.
But the frequency of their make-outs told him she at least wanted the
practice, so he was her teacher. But he wondered when she would
graduate, if she would graduate.
One night he did more with his hands other than running his fingers
through her hair and feeling her subtle breasts. He unbuckled her belt,
unbuttoned her green pants: his last memory for a while. Until he
regained consciousness a minute later to the tomboy asking politely for
him to get out of her. Knowing that sex is only sex when both people
want it, he quickly removed himself, otherwise it’s called something
He woke up the next morning alone at his apartment, wondering why she
would kiss him every weekend for a month straight, then not want to go
further, deny the primitive, climactic beyond-language of sex. Until he
remembered: all the things he did that he didn’t necessarily like to do,
just so he could feel something, anything, just not everything. Maybe
that’s what kissing is like for this tomboy, he thought. A way to pass
the time so she doesn’t have to think. A way to convince herself she
still possesses sensitivity, in certain places but not in all the
places. But what about all those other places, he thought. So many
other, much lonelier places, further places where there were deeper ways
to be sensitive. He decided he would stop calling her, cease returning
her calls, he was embarrassed.
But the phone rang. He was relieved it was not the tomboy, but one of
the pretty girls. Until the pretty girl spoke:
“Did you have sex with the tomboy last night?”
He had to think about it. Instead, he stuttered something, neither a yes
or no. He wasn’t sure what to call it since he only knew sex to be long,
passionate, and mutually ecstatic. And he should know – he had a lot of
it, with pretty girls who knew it and with tomboys who had no idea how
pretty they were.
He decided the answer was no.
“No. We just made out.”
“Really? Because she is telling everyone you had sex.”
“So, you did. You sound concerned.”
“No, I didn’t. But yes, I am concerned.”
“Why would you be concerned if you didn’t have sex with her?”
“Because, it’s weird that she would be telling everyone that.”
“Are you calling her a liar?”
“Yeah. I mean no. I mean, we tried, but we stopped.”
“We tried. Or you tried?”
“We. It was two of us making out for hours, so of course it was two of
us. We tried, but we stopped.”
He couldn’t understand if it was a sincere I see or a check-mark
interrogation I see. But he was beginning to feel bad for the tomboy if
that was her definition of sex. Maybe she had never had it before. He
asked the pretty girl in a covert way.
“Did she seem… uh, I dunno, happy? Like she was telling everyone she
had sex ‘cause she was glad it happened or that she felt violated?”
The pretty girl had to think about it. Instead, she stuttered something
that wasn’t a yes or a no.
“I don’t know. Maybe both?”
“I don’t know. It was kind of scary, the way she was acting, that’s why
I called. But I think I have all the info I need. Sorry to bother you.”
The way the pretty girl hung up left him with bad swirling thoughts. He
broke his decision not to contact the tomboy, now more concerned than
embarrassed. He dialed her number a hundred times. She answered zero of
It was like the tomboy just disappeared.
He gave up trying to contact her. He went on with his business.
Suddenly, the pretty girls—the ones who knew they were pretty—were
easier to be around. He had long, passionate, mutually ecstatic sex with
the pretty girls. But while the pretty girls were uninhibited with their
volume, his exclamations grew silent—the unfinished memory of the
tomboy unsettled him, like he no longer knew how to completely surrender
to a moment since the one who couldn’t surrender to his, vanished.
If he were to show more abandon, he feared he might be abandoned.
He saw the tomboy once more, passing by on a busy sidewalk; either she
didn’t see him or pretended he wasn’t there. But he saw her, one last
time; a time that resembled a blurry photograph, when someone turns
their head when they shouldn’t have. The ones that turn people into
Only rumors made their way back to him: How the tomboy was now stalking
his friend the next town over, a good friend of his she had never
actually met; even though she insisted they were meant to be together,
that she loved him and that somehow, he loved her, so she wanted the
whole world to know. His friend laughed it off until she began showing
up to his work before his shift, remaining outside writing poems about
him until he got off work. She tried following him home to see where he
lived, but he ran faster than her. It’s okay, she said. I know where you
work, I’ll just see you there tomorrow.
The next day, she went further, to deeper places. When she saw him
through the window at his work, she jumped over the counter and wrapped
her arms around him, pressing her face into his. I don’t know you, he
said. Stop. Call the cops, he told his boss. But his boss didn’t believe
he didn’t know her. Instead, he stopped going to work.
But then, the tomboy really, really disappeared.
(Not before her last three friends who thought they weren’t scared of
her began to be scared of her, so they disappeared first.)
When he heard the tomboy died, he was all the way across the country, so
it couldn’t be real to him. Only strange words he didn’t have room for;
therefore, he could not focus or surrender to the moments he was being
given, as he traveled the wide swathes where the laws of averages go up,
so in order to continue, he convinced himself that’s why she died: her
time advanced without him. As he traversed the country, he removed
himself from the path of details, he’d rather not know.
But in the back of the van, he could overhear them say: she was gone for
three days before they found her body, full of all her sensitivity, in
some of the places but not all of the places. But what about all those
other places, he thought. Then he realized: she had gone to the
furthest, deepest place, where even he was afraid to go.
Gabriel Hart lives in California's high desert. His new poetry book Hymns From the Whipping Post is out now (First Cut/Close to the Bone). He's the author of neo-pulp collection Fallout From Our Asphalt Hell, and the dipso-pocalyptic twin-novel Virgins in Reverse/The Intrusion. Other works can be found at Expat Press, Misery Tourism, Shotgun Honey, Bristol Noir, and Rock and A Hard Place Magazine. He's a contributor at Lit Reactor, Los Angeles Review of Books, and a co-conspirator at The Last Estate.