When he was five, he lived in a clearing of bungalows in the woods a mile from the one commercial lane. Older white houses, where his best friend Barry lived, circled a hill with their backs to the newer houses down below. Two foundation pits, one filling with cinder blocks, the other wild and wooly, separated Karl’s house from that of a pretty girl who lived on the other side of this no man's land.
Sometimes he saw her on the walk just beyond her door while her father got the mail, or wading out into the vertical grass on the edge of her lawn where it bordered the dirt lots. No matter how long Karl looked in her direction she never came closer and he didn’t dare to wander so far from his own house. Her bobbed hair and sunny limbs were his first encounter with sensing himself fated to be an onlooker in life.
On the other hand, his days with Barry were filled with high dudgeon: toppling walls of bricks, launching wheels of copper wire towards points unknown, or crossing beams over the steadily rising maze of cinder blocks. One afternoon when Barry didn't show, Karl followed the tractor cleats into the mountain of soil hardening in front of the second pit. Uprooted rocks lined his path. Before he could fully enjoy the sun's warmth and think what to do next, his pretty neighbor was already there playing in this newly discovered bower. Her pleasure at finding a playmate matched his own and he was delighted by how ready she was, as she turned from a slab of rock in the sunlight, to dispense with formalities.
“Do you want to play house?” she asked.
He was ready to do whatever she wanted.
Moments later she was lying across his lap with her pants down. The scenario they had mapped out called for a mild spanking but before each hesitant smack he tried to capture for memory’s sake the warmth of her skin and sweet smell. There was no hurry and she was content let him take his time. He couldn’t recall if he ran his hand over her cheeks, he didn’t think that was part of the plan, but he did feel the press of her weight on him and see her bobbed hair swing forward about her face. He still hadn’t resumed normal breathing while he tried to fix in consciousness a scene that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
The cleft between her cheeks had been there to see, but the moment was already so charged that he lost the ability to take further pleasure from it. He didn’t think to do what he would have done as a man, he didn’t look closer or appraise her legs or take more than a moment’s notice of the tartan skirt around her ankles; he just hovered in a kind of reverie.
After she had honored her part of the deal, it was his turn to do what she asked. He was absolutely unprepared to reciprocate in kind, that was unthinkable; he was deeply ashamed of a birthmark and wasn’t ready to humiliate himself in front of a playmate in that way. He felt cornered and knew that if she wanted to see his bottom, he would refuse outright, vowing secretly to end the game then and there.
She took him by surprise again. All she wanted to see was his peener. She proposed that he come home from work with his fly open and his thing hanging out. She would call it to his attention and that would be that. His relief was immediate and absolute. In fact, it seemed like a poor trade: he had just luxuriated in the sight of something precious to him, and all she wanted in exchange was to see his pee-pee, almost nothing to see, a little mushroom cap on the tiniest of stems that barely made it past his zipper.
Once they got started, he set down his imaginary toolbox and she snuggled beside him, leaning closer and cupping it in her hand. They had their lunch, newlyweds chatting away, with it still peeking out. She looked at it from time to time and asked questions about its welfare. He felt a tiny bit awkward but it didn’t embarrass him. Her touch itself was no different than a nurse’s touch. He didn’t feel lust or think how honored he was that she had singled him out as the one with whom she would share her wedded bliss.
Nor did it occur to him that the girl of his dreams was taking an interest in his gender, since at five he had no awareness of sex, only a lustful appreciation of beauty, a sense of longing that sometimes clouded his heart and an overriding joy in anything having to do with bottoms.
If there had been a better day in his life, he didn't remember it.
Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Assigned reviews incomplete
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