J.B. is quiet, talks in a soft voice. Built like Olive Oil, Popeye’s girlfriend, he could probably hide behind a flagpole with room to spare. Hair dirty and hanging in dreads, he suffers from an obvious lack of coordination. I think he’s cute, though not strikingly handsome. When he grins, full fleshy lips pull up over his teeth. He’s got a crooked kind of smile, and this makes me like him all the more.

I will let him kiss me today.

This is what I’ve decided on my way to see J.B. and my best friend, Joanne.

In the street, I almost run, passing the glorious mess of an old Pajero resting on four flattened tires, paint peeling, windows cracked, and chassis rusting. Red clover stems are braided through the grille, and some small animal has made a nest in the backseat upholstery. One day the Pajero will return completely to the earth, leaving nothing behind but a faint rust shadow on the grass.

When I finally walk into Joanne’s living room, J.B. is putting a videotape in the VHS. Soon, on the TV screen, a funny-looking man is picking up a woman at a club. I am flabbergasted when they get naked in the parking lot. The woman has shaved her pubic hair.

Joanne and I are Catholic school girls—protected girls. We still burst into hysterical laughter at the word “penis.” And suddenly, here we are, getting an education in sexual possibilities on the living room couch. Joanne will probably tell her parents later that we watched President Clinton on National Television giving a speech about the embargo against Haiti.

I suddenly realize that J.B.’s face is buried in Joanne’s neck, and she is laughing at his ticklish blowing kisses. I just sit there, staring at them. He is supposed to like me.  And my best friend knows I like him, of course. I catch Joanne’s eyes briefly; she looks away and whispers something in J.B.’s ear. His head jerks up and whips around. I look away quickly, as if I am the one who’s been caught doing something wrong.

When Joanne’s mother walks in, the man on the screen is holding his erect penis.

J.B. insists on walking me home. We leave without saying goodbye, run through small roads that do not have names, ignore the dirty children who shout “tifi wouj” at me, small children and big children, all with distended stomachs protruding. I feel my head waggle on my shoulders and have to force myself slower. I count my steps because I have an unhappy life. I place one foot in front of the other and assign a number for each step. It calms me, helps make life tolerable.

J.B. tries to explain, but I don’t want to listen. Anger turns and knots my stomach. My throat is burning with tears. When I get home, I let him leave without a word. It is hard to realize that you are no longer necessary, that there is nothing you can give to make people want you.

In the kitchen, Mother is in an impatient mood. She’s inspecting a couple of spoons the maid has scrubbed and making angry whispery grunts. She grabs a fistful of silverware from the wooden drawer and hastily examines each utensil. She’s shaking her head, glowering. She dumps them in the sink, making a cutting clang, and walks away. The ringing lingers in my ears like a tuning fork.

Soon, my parents are arguing at the kitchen table. Eyes shut, Father’s head is thrown back as he breathes heavily through his stuffed-up nose. Mother, a chaos of brown hair lashing her shoulders, leans across the table with a letter in her hand. I want to know what this is about, she says.

Father tilts his head further back, as though dodging a blow.

When Joanne’s mother calls about the porn video, my parents are too busy fighting that night: a few shoves, loud words, slaps, and then a beating that extends even to me. I can feel the cold marble floor on my kneecaps when my father drags me around the house. His hands are broad, sweaty and cold—hands which try but somehow never succeed in smashing my mother’s jaw and breaking her ribs.

Later, in Papa’s study, I discover a sex book left on his desk. I study the various drawings. One shows a man and woman coupling, the man’s buttocks exaggeratedly disproportionate to the rest of his small body, each swollen cheek looking as if it will soon birth some heaving beast.

Another shows a woman’s reproductive organs, the ovaries like rotted potatoes, the fallopian tubes ending like wires cut in an angry fit.

Outside, a dog gives a sharp bark and I imagine J.B. at home, his lips split into a canine grin.

TAGS: , , , , , , ,

Born in Port-au-Prince, M.J. FIEVRE is an expat whose short stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Haiti Noir (Akashic Books, 2011), The Beautiful Anthology (TNB, 2012), The Southeast Review, The Caribbean Writer, and The Mom Egg. She graduated from the Creative Writing program at Florida International University. She loves coconut shrimp, piña coladas, her dog Wiskee, and a good story. Anton Chekhov is one of her favorite writers. Her author website is located at www.mjfievre.com.

30 responses to “Anger and Pubic Hair”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Oh, MJ, you take my breath away.
    You start with one thing, which is enough in itself
    and then you morph into something else entirely
    something huge and painful
    and I can see it all.
    I can see all of it.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    Wow, MJ.

    You have this fabulous gift of laying out your words in such a way that they literally (like Irene) take my breath away. Your phrasing is just beautiful and you are able to give a history, or a dissection, in a simple sentence.

    ‘I count my steps because I have an unhappy life.’ Perfect.

    Such a talent, you are. Such a gift. Thank you.

    • M.J. Fievre says:

      Thank you for your generous comment, Zara. I never thought I would write nonfiction until I moved away from my home country. Sometimes, you simply have to leave to find out what’s in you–I’m trying to tame the past.

  3. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    I’ll second Zara’s “wow”. You have a talent for distilling words into power and this piece came on like a summer downburst. Well done.

  4. Judy Prince says:

    Such a rich, evocative, descriptive, emotion-laden post, MJ!

    You went from a girl deciding to let JB kiss her to the last sentence: “Outside, a dog gives a sharp bark and I imagine J.B. at home, his lips split into a canine grin.” And in between those two pronouncements were a girl’s sharp debuts into sexual attraction, mating, jealousy and her parents’ frustrations.

    Each scene powerfully fed us the girl’s confusion, frustration and anger. The scenes are pure cameos.

    Wonderfully written.

    • M.J. Fievre says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Judy. Confusion, frustration and anger–yup, that sums it up. Love and sex still confuse me.

      • Judy Prince says:

        “Love and sex still confuse me.” Well and honestly said, MJ.

        I think most people feel the same way, given that love and sex are near-universally sought—-and that everyone seems to have an opinion as to the ways to get and keep love and sex. Furthermore, religions, educational systems, legal systems, media, parents, siblings, friends and neighbours tell us what to do or not to do about love and sex. Good thing the drives are so strong, or we might not survive at all!

        As always, one of my main mantras is: Seldom is an issue harmed by more information.

        Another main mantra: Usually, there are many more than 2 sides to every issue.

        Thus, knowing more information from many varied sources will help us better understand the nature of love and sex. Your silent, pointed pleas as a girl in your story were to *understand* the conflicts you experienced, to sort out what they meant and how you could (should?) react to confrontations about love and sex. Your strong, image-clear representation of those conflicts is already going a long way towards readers seeking and gathering information. Nice, that.

        • M.J. Fievre says:

          I love your mantras! I think I’m going to post them by my desk 😉 Thanks again, Judy.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Thanks, MJ. You hit a hot topic with this post, and it’s not an easy, straightforward one to address. One senses two streams of “answering” love and sex questions: 1) the psychological/clinical; and 2) the “hack”-written/literary/OTT-romantic.

          But, mainly, most folks try to avoid addressing their most personal concerns about sex…..and NOBODY seems to “get” what love is all about. 😉

          This little bit always makes me smile:

          An author, for his book on “cuddling,” interviewed long-standing loving couples. One of his set questions was, if their sleeping together was less “convenient” at times than sleeping apart, why didn’t they just sleep apart? The couples looked at him as if he were mad, and that quite surprised him. It didn’t surprise me.

  5. Don Mitchell says:

    I admire this one, MJ. And because I admired it, I went back and read the postings of yours that I hadn’t read.

    You have a real gift for writing about forbidden things. The porn in this one, sure. Technically forbidden to the young, but wink wink, they always get at it. It was no different in my day, when some of us almost got caught using the middle school Camera Club’s enlarger to project a picture of a couple going at it. When one of the teachers opened the door it was lucky that he turned on the light, thus washing out the image on the easel. But that’s the easy forbidden stuff.

    No Fancy Drawers is a beautiful (yes, that’s how I think of it – beautiful) piece and I do think that reading it (and Bones) in conjunction with this one shows how well you handle events, objects, situations that we know exist in the world but that are forbidden to most of us most of the time.

    They aren’t technically forbidden, the way porn is to kids. We forbid them to ourselves.

    We know the morgues are out there; we never visit. We know that other religions use objects and perform rituals not to be found at the corner churches in our North American suburbs, but we’ve never seen these things.

    Thanks for taking us there.

  6. zoe zolbrod says:

    I found this while procrastinating on a piece of my own that touches on first exposure to depictions of sex and chafing under a parent’s rule. Your piece blew me away. So universal but so particular. Thank you.

    • M.J. Fievre says:

      Hi Zoe,

      I hope you’re done procrastinating 😉 I just finished reading “Haven’t I Seen You Here Before?” Good stuff! Thanks for reading my piece.

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    “When Joanne’s mother walks in, the man on the screen is holding his erect penis.”

    What a wonderful tableau that must have been.

    And what an awful day the whole thing must have been.

    But at the least, you’ve written a strong piece about it. I’ve enjoyed all of the pieces you’ve written, MJ, and this is no exception.

    • M.J. Fievre says:

      Yes, it was quite a tableau 😉 “At the least, you’ve written a strong piece about it.” That’s what I tell myself all the time, on those days when I feel like moping about the past. Thanks for reading this, Simon!

  8. Bravo! I loved reading this.

  9. MJ, you have a fearless voice, incredibly self-aware, stark and yet lyrical at the same time. I loved this. It should be in a book someday. Active Beauty activated, indeed.

  10. More praise from me. I’ve read your previous posts–and I look forward to reading more.

  11. Are you compiling all of these little vignettes into a collection? If not, you should! They’re always fabulous. You have such a subtle way of layering on the subtext. “His lips split into a canine grin” — wow, great last line!

    • M.J. Fievre says:

      Thank you, Cynthia! Great encouragement. Many of these stories are excerpts from a(n unpublished) memoir. Ah, publication… the big dream…

  12. Laura says:

    Awww, honey…xo

  13. zoe zolbrod says:

    MJ, I tracked down some of your other posts after reading this one, and I want more and more. They should totally be published. I’m pre-odering now!

  14. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Ooh! It’s the brace of J.B. grins at beginning and end that gets me. Sureness getting stretched to completely into shock in the space of a single day…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *