Content Warning: misogyny, violence
“She looks like a whore,” I say, covering my mouth with my hand in case the lady can read lips. I lean back against the wall, hiding my unlit cig behind me.
“It’s her lipstick,” says Danny. “Nobody’s wife wears that colour lipstick. It makes her mouth look like a pussy.”
Danny pulls a cig out of his pocket and lights it right there in front of the lady sitting in the car. He doesn’t care who sees him. Danny takes another cig out of his pocket and hands it to Albert, who’s sitting on the curb. Albert is my little brother. He’s in a school for kids who are slow because he doesn’t know how to read. Danny hands Albert his naked lady zippo and Albert lights up, just like Danny.
Albert holds the zippo out to me, looking at me like I’m a pussy.
The alley behind the gas station is where we always come to smoke. Danny steals cigs from the bag his dad keeps in the freezer. We come here because there’s never anyone here, but today there was the lady in the car. She’s just sitting in the passenger seat staring out the side window. I’ve never smoked in front of someone older than me before.
“She doesn’t give a shit, Thomas,” Danny says. He says it like he doesn’t want me to embarrass him. He waves at the lady but she doesn’t move; she just keeps staring, looking past us at the wall, maybe even past the wall.
“I know,” I say. I take the zippo from Albert but I leave the cig behind my back. Danny’s zippo has a hula dancer on it and when you flick the cap open her head comes off. Mine just has my grandad’s initials on it.
“She looks kinda like Ms. Glover,” Danny says. “Ms. Glover was a babe. Remember last year when she left school and Mr. Plummer got arrested?”
Everyone remembers when Ms. Glover left school. The lady in the car does look like Ms. Glover, except for the lipstick.
I take the cig out from behind my back and flick off the hula girl’s head. I run it along my jeans and it lights the first time. When I was 10 like Albert, I thought you were supposed to swallow the smoke and I’d cough every time, but I’m better at it now. I was scared of sea monsters and boogeymen; I was scared of the dark. Now that I’m 12, I’m not afraid of anything.
Albert flicks his cig out into the alley. “She’s trying not to cry,” he says.
word by Leah Mol
colour by Luis Sipion
From the author: “Youth is a time of naked tribalism, a time when language and behaviours stand as shibboleths. In this story, boys are pretending to be men in order to fit in, but they believe part of being a man is oppressing others. Thomas doesn’t want the lady to see him use the word whore, but he also doesn’t understand the weight that word carries with it. Danny brings up Ms. Glover and hints at the reason she left school, but they don’t explore the importance of that.
This story is about fear and reactions to fear. Fears of children vs. fears of adults. Fears of women vs. fears of men. Fears of imagined monsters, of not fitting in, of getting caught somewhere you shouldn’t be. And fears of the very real monsters that make people cry every day.”