Jackie Sabbagh | Flash Fiction
I was nine years old and I was in love with my best friend Max, I would watch him spread his baseball cards over the bench press in his basement as he explained the rules, he would shoot hoops in his driveway and I’d be the courtside announcer calling out That’s why he’s the best in the league folks, we would walk to the convenience store and buy Hot Fries and Potato Stix and Starbursts and when we returned home I’d give him mine, we would walk his golden retriever Apollo in the cemetery and try to avoid eye contact with the groundskeepers driving leaf-blower carriages, we would play a wrestling game on his PlayStation and he’d make fun of me for always picking Chuckles the Clown, we would read the same Calvin and Hobbes books over and over and see if we could recite the forthcoming lines, we would eat dinners of spaghetti and meatballs and milk with his mother who’d ask us what we’d done that day, we would lay quietly in the dark with him in his bed and me in my sleeping bag, I would watch his face for signs that he couldn’t sleep like I couldn’t, and his blue face in the moonlight was like some pearl in the sea, and I would realize he was sleeping and I would try to sleep too, enveloped in satin like I was a little thing swimming through his blood stream.
One day at my house Max led us into my upstairs bathroom and locked the door behind us, he sat on the bathtub ledge and patted the ceramic next to him and I sat there, and I said What’s going on and he said I want to ask you something and I said Okay, and he said I figured out how to feel good and I want you to help me, and I said What do you mean feel good and he said When you do things to your body it feels good, and I said I don’t want to do that and he said I know that you do and I said You’re wrong, and he said Well you’re gay anyway so you’ll probably like it and I said I’m not gay, and he said Everyone knows you’re gay and I said I’m not gay and he said Fine you’re not gay, and I said You’re the one asking me to touch you and he said That doesn’t make me gay and I said It makes you more gay than me, and he said I’m your only friend so you have to do this or I won’t be friends with you, and I said Then fuck you I won’t be your friend and he said You’re doing this, he said If you don’t do it I’m telling everyone at school you asked to do it, and I said But you’re the one asking me and he said Yeah but it seems like something you would do, and I said Why are you doing this and he said I think you just don’t know how good it’s gonna feel, so I did what he wanted me to do in the empty bathtub with the sun coming through the window, I felt my back against the ceramic and his knee pressing into my thigh and his hand on my hair, I felt skin in my mouth and heard a distant moan like someone was remembering pain, I heard the moan come closer and my back was sweaty and some birds chirped outside, I was shaking and I put my face in my hands and I heard him slump down beside me, there was a dull sharpness in my stomach like I had swallowed a set of keys, there was a flat warmth on my hand and it was Max’s hand resting on mine.
Max and I continued our intimacies as often as we could without getting caught, we kissed each other sitting on the bench press in his basement, we held each other in the dugout of the out-of-use softball field, we leaned into each other inside the massive industrial cabinet below my dad’s office, and the more we’d done it the more reckless we were with our concealments, we did it in my backyard behind the garbage cans and my mom caught us, we did it in Max’s bed when we thought his parents were asleep and his parents caught us, and once we were doing it out in the open in his computer room, and we heard his mother descend the staircase and we panicked rushing to throw our clothes on, and when she appeared she said Let’s go to Bonkers and I knew she was getting us out of the house where we couldn’t do it, and once at Bonkers we climbed into the plastic play-structure and in a crawling tube without windows we did it again, and finally one day all four of our parents sat us down in Max’s living room, the four of them were sitting together on one couch while Max and I sat on the floor, and his mom said You two are to stop what you’ve been doing or you will not see each other again, and I said We haven’t been doing anything and my mom said It’s a little too late for all that and I said Whatever, and his dad said You’re too young and my son isn’t queer and you shouldn’t even be thinking about this shit, and I said Well actually I can do whatever I want and there’s not really much you guys can do, and my dad said We can keep you apart and we’ll keep you in the house and you won’t be friends with anybody, and I turned to Max and said Max are you even going to say anything, and Max was closing his eyes a little in the sunlight and he shrugged almost imperceptibly and said It’s fine, and I said This was your idea and he opened his eyes fully and I repeated This was your fucking idea, and I shoved his chest and said Are you fucking kidding me Max and my parents yelled and held me back from him, I was crying and screaming You made me do this and everyone was dragging me away, and the farther away I was led the smaller and smaller Max became in my vision.
Max and I stopped being friends after that and fifteen years later I became a woman, and I hear updates on Max from my mother who’s still close with his, and I hear Max works as a financier in Texas and is moving in with a girlfriend, and in thinking of him I wonder if he ever thinks of me, does he worry what we did as boys makes him gay or is it okay since I’m a woman now, does he worry him coercing me into sex makes it rape or was it okay since I said yes, does he worry what sort of child wants what he wanted or is it okay because he was just a child, does he worry he abandoned the first person he ever loved or is it okay because he’s older now, does he worry he ruined the person who loved him the most or is it okay because we’re just people, and why now that I’m a grown woman do I think about the boy whom I loved as a boy, why do I think about loving him again as if my first memory wasn’t him making me sad, why do I dream of reuniting with him as if all it took to undo something was wanting to, why do I dream of loving him as a woman to prove he never had anything to fear, why do I dream of him when all I knew of being a girl was loving him, and why do I think of this person who I know does not think of me, why do I think of finding his email and telling him about this story, why do I think of telling him our story’s finally coming out but I changed his name, why do I think of telling him I think his fake name suits him even better, why do I imagine him responding It’s okay and I’m sorry and I love you, why do I wonder if any of this even happened in the first place, why do I wonder if this wasn’t a story I made up to survive.
Jackie Sabbagh is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing can be found in publications including Passages North, Southeast Review, The Pinch, and SmokeLong Quarterly.