(Content Warning: Sexual and Physical Abuse)

First time you kneel for a man—non-related, non-religious—is freshman pre-algebra. You’re fourteen.

50-something, teacher, JV defensive line coach, places mint green progress reports on the left-hand corners of desks during a pop quiz. Guessing half your answers, you peek. Yours says D. Throat constricts. Skin burns like leather licks, anticipated pain, explaining failure to your father. Grade less than C means beating. Beating means touching. This D guarantees all of this tonight. 

Pencil falls to paper with tears – numbers, wet blurs. You’re terrible at math. Why when the bell rings, you make the pitiful path to his desk to... request? Confess? Horror but less than what you’d face at home. 

Students fling quizzes on Coach’s desk, filter through doorways to greenery or halls—except three who play football. Approach Coach, inconsequential unfinished quiz below quivering green calamity gripped in fingertips.

“Is there a problem?” Oldest of four jocks at his desk waits for what is small and shivering to speak, seek something. 

“I can’t bring home a D, Coach Dyer. My Dad he’ll”—green paper makes good cover for disgrace, your face blubbering; though, you know, from experience, it’s what he’ll want to see. Drop pride with papers. “You don’t understand. He beats me.”

He’s squinting, not warm/cold/sympathetic/sold just studying. He says, “Are you asking me to change your grade?”

It’s there. What you need. Best hope? Earn extra credit. Salvation never comes free. Its price today – four pairs of panting, wet, unblinking eyes. Blonde with puppiest-blue pair, belying full-grown frame nearly the same as pit bull Coach, nods. Coaches you to emulate.

You cooperate. Nod shyly but wily, unfortunately acquainted with wanton wishes of middle-aged men.

“Yes. I’d like you to change my grade.”

Leaning back, rolling chair, he leers at your profile. Three pairs, adolescent eyeballs stare. You’re their Nintendo game, some seminal serendipitous pornography.

He says, “Beg me.”

His words reduce you to holes, your voice something between whisper, wheeze. You make lips move. Hear yourself saying, “Please.”

He says “Knees.”

You appease. Industrial khaki carpet scratches quaking knobs where socks end, and you are bare porcelain. Your three classmates, gold-rimmed letters on adolescent chests, snicker.  Puppiest bites his lip approving how quickly your little body behaves -– would do anything to save itself a beating.

Low, sweaty, single thought now: will they touch you? Here? During school? It seems they may – the way they all look like your father, older and younger variations, while you wait, kneeling to obey. 

A door bounces off a wall stopper. Another female enters dismayed. Waif locker wall commentator on your weird religion, compulsory long skirts, watches, nothing to say. Doesn’t look or walk away. Makes it safe to stand, flee, after his desk—green paper D you divest. You watch his red pen amend it to a B.

B, tonight, makes you untouchable. No one will feel. Tomorrow, three teenage boys know you’re a girl they can make kneel. 

Kristin Garth is a poet from Pensacola who occasionally, in a fever dream or ear infection, writes a little prose. Her prose has stalked magazines like X-R-A-Y Lit, SCAB, Sidereal Magazine, Trembling With Fear, Mojave Heart Review, Rhythm & Bones and Luna Luna Magazine. Her poetry chapbook Pink Plastic House is available from Maverick Duck Press and she has two forthcoming: Pensacola Girls, (Bone & Ink Press, September 2018) Shakespeare for Sociopaths, (The Hedgehog Poetry Press, January 2019) as well as a full length poetic collection Candy Cigarette womanchild noir (The Hedgehog Poetry Press, April 2019) Follow her on Twitter: (@lolaandjolie) and her poetry column The Sonnetarium (spidermirror.com/the-sonnetarium).