When it Happens by Tara Lemma

When it Happens

When the grocery store cashier loses her virginity, she isn’t thinking about the rush of heat between her legs or the boy planking on top of her, eyes closed and screwed up at the ceiling, chanting his God’s name. She’s thinking about the tiny black hole inside of her, and she isn’t thinking about this metaphorically, isn’t thinking about how many things she wants and how when she gets them they are never enough. The grocery store cashier is thinking about the tiny black hole literally, because there is actually a tiny black hole inside of her vagina, swirling with bits of debris and streaks of purple, looking how they look in sci-fi movies. If the boy planking on top of her had bothered to spend any time down there, he would have noticed, but as her friend Mara would say, boys never do.

The grocery store cashier is losing her virginity late, in her mid-twenties. She just finished college and moved back home — only temporarily, she’d emphasized — and resumed working at the local grocery store she’d worked at when she was young, the one that was good for pocket money. When she was young, she’d thought the boss, Drew, was cool. Older and married and still handsome, he’d flirted with her, made her feel powerful, like she wasn’t just a girl in a smock but someone. Someone with ideas, someone worth listening to. Now, the grocery store cashier knows about the women Bill Cosby drugged and assaulted and the college boy that raped an unconscious girl behind a dumpster and the married senator that pressured his mistress to get an abortion, before voting for pro-life initiatives, again and again. Now, she knows this all has never been and would never be about listening. Lately, the grocery store cashier likes to flirt with customers in front of Drew, to remind him that she isn’t a young girl anymore, to signal that she’s no longer interested in the vintage car he’s restoring and the car shows he plans to take it to, and no she would not like to tag along even though it could be “educational.” She flirts to show him that $10 an hour does not entitle him to anything other than $10 an hour’s worth of work.

The boy on top of the grocery store cashier, the one huffing and puffing and taking her virginity, is a customer. That morning, he’d asked her if anyone had ever told her she had beautiful eyes, and she said, “No, never,” and without a hint of irony he’d said, “Well, let me be the first,” but he never actually told her that her eyes were beautiful, had just implied it with the laziest sort of flirting. He asked her what time she got off work and she told him, loudly, as Drew was within earshot, and then she gave him her phone number. The boy took the grocery store cashier to dinner, at a Chinese place right around the corner from the grocery store, in a strip mall between the Hair Cuttery and the tanning salon. The grocery store cashier had been there hundreds of times throughout her childhood and adolescence, as had everyone who had grown up in this town. The boy asked the grocery store cashier questions, but she could tell from his posture, leaning forward with his chin in his hand, and from his slightly parted lips, that he was just waiting for her to be finished so it would be his turn to speak. For fun, she started to try and set him up for the self-important responses he craved. “I guess I’ve never been on an official date before,” the grocery store cashier would say, though it wasn’t true, and the boy would respond, “You must not have been out with many good guys, then,” and the grocery store cashier would say, “No, no one like you.”

The grocery store cashier moans into the boy’s shoulder. She isn’t totally faking pleasure; it does feel good, though not good enough to warrant a moan. The grocery store cashier moans because it is what girls do in movies and she is comforted by movies, their reassuring frames, the way they tell her what should happen next. The grocery store cashier doesn’t know what will happen next, if the black hole inside of her, the one her mother told her solemnly was “the curse of the Williamson women,” will do what black holes do — draw in any matter that comes too close and compress it into a singularity. She’d once asked her mother how, if the black holes were the curse of Williamson women, how any babies had been born. Her mother took another sip of her drink and with a wave of her hand, said, “Well, sometimes it skips a generation. Eat your soup.”

The grocery store cashier has waited a long time for this. She isn’t having sex with the boy because she hates him and wants him to be sucked into a black hole, penis-first. The boy, though selfish and obtuse, probably doesn’t deserve to die that way. She didn’t choose him for any particular reason. She is doing this because she feels like it. Because she is ready. Because she wants to have sex and he is there. Because she wants to know if all the fighting and negotiating and persuading and assaulting for this experience is worth it.

The boy speeds up. “It’s happening, it’s happening,” the boy says, sweat dripping from his nose, and the grocery store cashier feels a foreign sensation, like maybe something is happening to her too, and when the boy gets closer and closer, his body pressed so firmly against hers that it almost hurts, the grocery store cashier closes her eyes and waits.


When it happens


Tara Lemma is a Fiction MFA student and First Year Writing Instructor at Temple University. She also works as an Assistant Fiction Editor at Barrelhouse Magazine. Her work has been featured in Maudlin House, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and elsewhere. She tweets at @ilovetaralemma. She thanks you for reading!


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