We are all sitting around the fire pit, talking about how not to get raped. We have advice, opinions, instructions because we are the adults and Gertrude is the kid, and we’ve been to college, so we think we know what we are talking about. She lets us talk at her all night, ruining her graduation present because she’s an exceptional kid, an obedient kid. She’s not an eye roller. She doesn’t text while people are trying to talk to her. She’s not the kind of kid you’ll overhear calling somebody a cunt or her mother a bitch. Whatever is not in her vocab. She’s super adjusted and polite and so “she deserves everything she gets,” her parents say all the damn time. And this kid gets a lot. Always has. Therefore, like an idiot, she believes that everything in her life, her brand new Prius, her house that her parents bought for her so she could have a place to live when she gets to college, this vacation to San Diego, because she saw a picture of the house and the beach in a fucking magazine, and everything leading up to this moment, sitting in front of a fire pit with explicit instructions on how not to get raped, all of this, is what happens to people who are good. “Why does she get under your skin?” her uncle, my husband, is always asking me. “It’s not normal,” he says. He thinks it’s because I’m middle-aged. That I’m jealous of her flat stomach and eyes with no bags underneath. Her ability to do the splits. “Jealous of a teenage girl,” he says. “You really need to figure that out.” And then I roll my eyes and say, “Whatever.”
Talking about rape is something we can do because her little sister and brother are in bed now, upstairs, tucked away in their kids’ room, the ceiling and walls blanketed with stars, the universe at their fingertips. Because it’s Southern California, the day started out warm and the night is cold. The fire pit is nestled in the front yard, which jets out toward the San Diego ocean, which nobody can see because of the fog that’s rolled in. We can hear it though, big waves coming in like big feelings, roaring and then breaking up, like talking big, big shit with nothing to back it up. Catastrophic crashes turn to hisses you can barely hear, but still. You hear.
Gertrude’s dad is drunk, so he’s starting to talk to his daughter like a bro, saying stuff like, “Some dude, some rando, is going to try to hook up with you and you need to know what to do—”
“I know,” Gertrude says. She nods and her red ponytail sways all over the place. “You can trust me.”
“He’ll try to put something in your drink—”
“Give you a roofie,” her mother says, tilting up a Corona and then putting it down with a loud clink.
My husband, her uncle, says, “Do not, under any circumstances, let some asshole buy you a drink. Get your own drinks. Tell him you’ve got your own money and that you could buy him drinks for a year, if you wanted to. You know why?”
“Because. I know. Mom already said.”
“You have to be really, really careful,” I say. Nobody’s ever tried to give me a roofie, not that I know of. I’m talking out of my drunk ass. “Never trust somebody who says they’re going to take care of you. Nine times out of ten they’re full of shit.”
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Luc Sante, Robert Caro, Jensen Beach, Chris Bachelder, Witold Gombrowicz, Benjamin Hale, Dana Johnson, Craig Morgan Teicher, Anne-Laure Zevi, John Ashbery, Mary Jo Bang, Erica Ehrenberg, Amit Majmudar, J. D. McClatchy, Morgan Parker, Mary Ruefle, Frederick Seidel, James Tate, Cynthia Zarin.
John Ashbery, This Once
John Ashbery, Hillbilly Airs and Dances
John Ashbery, Sitting at the Table
Mary Jo Bang, An Anatomical Study
Mary Jo Bang, Self-Portrait in the Bathroom Mirror
Mary Jo Bang, Admission
Erica Ehrenberg, Pause at the Edge of the Country
Amit Majmudar, Nostalgia
J. D. McClatchy, Sunflowerws in October
J. D. McClatchy, My After-Dinner Drink
Mary Ruefle, The Woman Who Couldn’t Describe A Thing If She Could
Frederick Seidel, Paris
James Tate, Untitled
Cynthia Zarin, Japanese Poems