Abstinence Only by Meghan Phillips
Associate fiction editor Jane Wagar on today's bonus story: “Abstinence Only” haunts. It starts funny, then builds to an image that has stayed with me ever since I first read it. The story makes big use of a small space and asks us to consider how much we value young women in our society, and what young women can do to fight back.
After the girls left, the school started to stink. The fug of boy bodies. Old onions and sprouted garlic, a weeks-old Arby’s beef and cheese, dirty socks and cum-crusted gym shorts. The girls were all sweet mint gum and cherry blossom hand lotion. Sun-warmed laundry fresh. Shampoo like the ice cream case at the farm show—creamsicle, black raspberry, cake batter, cherry vanilla. After the girls left, the health teacher’s warnings took on new meaning. Abstinence was the only way to protect yourself, the only way to really be safe. We thought the girls were playing with us. Some new coy shit to to get us hard enough to rent limos for prom. To surrender letter jackets and chess tournament pins. To make it Facebook official. No fooling around in the percussion closet in the band room before school or soft hands down our waistbands or tongue-sucking, lip-mashing in the parking lot after school. No signs on game day, “Go #14” with a big heart. No texts--I <3 u, bb. After the girls stopped touching licking holding loving us, we were so lost in our sweaty-fisted longing we hardly noticed the girl-shaped gaps in our days. The empty chairs at quiz bowl, at debate, in choir, at lunch. The field hockey field, all unmarked turf. The softball diamond, chalk lines pristine. The stacks of papers passed to the front of the room were half as thick as they once were. Stuck in an endless wet dream, we didn’t know on that last day when the teachers had finally had it with no homework, no essays, blank test papers and closed mouths, when they told Allie and Fatima and Bethanne and Liz and Rebecca and Shantae to take their chairs to the hall and sit until they were ready to participate, that the last thing we’d hear from the girls was the scrape of metal legs on asbestos tile. That the last thing we’d see of them was their chairs piled high on the school’s front lawn, like branches waiting for a bonfire.
Meghan Phillips is the fiction editor for Third Point Press and an associate editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. Her work has recently appeared in wigleaf, matchbook, Hobart, and Paper Darts. You can find her writing at meghan-phillips.com and her tweets @mcarphil. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.