An unwanted embrace in a high school stairwell.
Image by Benjamin Busch
By Patricia Smith
The Kiss is a bimonthly series curated by Brian Turner.
There were two ways up and down Schurz High School. The front stairs were lit insanely, huge banks of florescence unleashed to bathe scurrying students in a blinding blue. I took the creaky and shadowed back stairs when I tired of being the school’s official colored girl, when I wanted to get in a little weep between classes, when I was late again for algebra and its confounding reams of hokum.
The back stairs, also unofficially known as “Makeout Row,” was where young love—in all its overwrought, conjectural glory—went to messily implode. In the shadows were hitched and squirming bodies, rushed and fevered hands. There was much smacking and slurp, the moist soundtrack of curiosity’s little engine.
But the knowledge of all that fluid being exchanged didn’t register in any carnal way. I was fifteen, scrawny and bumbling. The dozen black students, in a class of 800, were publicly derided as love (or lust) interests—we walked those halls like little raised fists, portents of the world outside pushing to get in. It was 1970. We were enthralling and terrifying.
One Tuesday, when Makeout Row was eerily unoccupied, I was rushing down while Dan Mikros (his name has been changed to protect the dull-witted) rushed up. Dan Mikros with the exactly two errant mud-brown hairs popping from the jut in his chin. Dan Mikros, that chin peppered with whiteheads (haha) and scarlet blotch. Dan Mikros, linebacker, thick head, thick neck, thick chest, and all the stupid that suggests. Dan Mikros, usually huddled outside a bank of lockers with other Bulldogs, making snarl face and hissing the n-word whenever hive mind mustered the guts. Dan Mikros, who suddenly saw his chance to covertly integrate The Row, striking a blow for civil rights while answering the question his fidgety dreams couldn’t stop asking.
I hissed, hefted my little fist, and mused for a second about the consequences of bringing it down.
My head was down, as usual. (All through high school, I was not a fan of eyes.) I moved to pass him, and a thick hand, nails bitten to blood, pressed resolutely against my chest. I lost my balance, stumbling backwards into one of The Row’s prized crevices, and then his open mouth was on my face. That boy damned well knew the clock was ticking. So he made me know that frenzied mouth—the morning’s Bazooka, flecks of tobacco, a vague eggish stench, and spit, sluggish like an oil across my tongue. His ham hand pumped my budding left breast like it was trying to extract information from a mute prisoner.
I knew this knee-jerk tryst was the biggest risk of Dan Mikros’s muscle-headed little life, and when his bedeviled thing went kapow! behind his zipper, I was all the reason. I shoved him, hawked admirably, and watched my spittle drip from a stunned blue eye and cascade through a pimpled landscape of cheek and chin. I hissed, hefted my little fist, and mused for a second about the consequences of bringing it down.
Then I brought it down.
Patricia Smith is the author of seven books of poetry, including Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize, and Blood Dazzler, finalist for the National Book Award. Her next book, Incendiary Art, will be published in February 2017. She is a professor at the City University/College of Staten Island and in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College.