I was sixteen, working late at Hested’s department store
pressing clothes on their hangers
with hot mist from an ancient machine.
You had to be careful not to burn yourself.
The boss asked if I wanted to get a bite to eat,
and then he’d drive me home.
He was our neighbor, my mom said she guessed it would be okay.
Back then I was wildly pursued by boys.
But the boss was thirty-five, an old man,
out of my league, but I didn’t know it until
I was sitting in a bar, what I thought was a restaurant
since I didn’t know the inside of a bar.
He ordered a steak for himself, a hamburger for me.
I had on a blue polyester dress and nylons
I’d just gotten my paycheck.
The waitress, dressed in a bikini with fringe,
even though it was snowing outside,
slammed the food onto the table, and gave the boss
a look, then looked at me and shook her head sadly.
He let me sip his whiskey sour, and ordered two more.
I stared into the chipped mirror on the wall across from me.
Heavy red drapes parted behind me,
I didn’t turn around, but suddenly I knew.
She had a blonde ponytail and long red tassels.
I sat waiting for it to end, my own face
red as the twirling tassels and the nipples that held them.
Blood of my hamburger, and cherry floating in sticky sweetness.
The boss smiled at me and licked a crumb from his lips.
My mother had never told me any of this would happen.
On the way home, we slid across icy streets,
as his big Pontiac lurched toward our neighborhood.
The tires skidded and the car stopped. Silent snow.
We weren’t there yet.
He lunged quickly and his mouth tasted like smoke and meat.
He pushed up hard against me, and I started to cry.
He said, “Don’t cry, baby. It won’t hurt.”
I put his hands away from me, turned to the window,
opened it all the way,
and let the snow fall on my face and tongue and hair.
Kathy Stevenson’s essays and short stories have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and literary journals including The New York Times, The Writer, Newsweek, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Clapboard House, Red Rock Review, Tishman Review, and many others. Her short story “Homeland Security” was featured in a recent issue of the Same. She has lived in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, and is now (hopefully) settling forever in California. She has an MFA from Bennington College. You can read more of her work on www.kathystevenson.com, or follow her @k_stevenson01.