In school, they teach about the Orgy of Actium, where Mark Antony made Octavian his power bottom, while Cleopatra, for posterity’s sake, hieroglyphed the whole thing. They show us baroque oil paintings of galleys eee–err-ing and say, note the sit-bone-like shape of the ballistae, the detail in each legionary’s ecstasy. The next year, Octavian came again to Egypt, bearing biblically shameful kinks. His fetish proved fatal. A few students moan. The pale one won’t stop staring. I know his name but we don’t speak. His eyes storm, beryl.
Next period is biology. We talk DNA. Our closest animal ancestors, genetically, are great apes of the genus Pan, consisting of only two species, says a stout, bald, bespectacled man. The first is the common chimpanzee, a violent, hierarchical, faithless thing. Imagine if we’d evolved from those brutes. Came down to a percentage point. Dodged a genetic train wreck didn’t we? The other is the gracile chimpanzee––the bonobo. The teacher is interrupted by our broad-chested principal. There’s communal Chipotle in the atrium. In their excitement, the two kiss with quite a lot of tongue. The girl in the back wearing leather over her polo grabs a fistful of pony tails one seat over and joins in. The rest of the class finds a neighbor or two. Monkey see, monkey do. I pack my book bag and leave the room.
By my locker, the pale one hangs with Brock. I look twice. Usually they spend their skipped classes outside. There are two trees sprouting out of bounds by the lacrosse field and the cool kids will dangle from them while bumping their khakis’ stiff crotches until one of them drops. It’s not meant to hurt I don’t think. They laugh the whole time. It seems all in good fun. Apparently at parties they do it with their pants off. Brock is so well-equipped he once wrapped around his opponent like a snake on a herald’s wand, then pulled him off his perch with a sharp contraction of his buttocks. Or so the story goes. I’m not invited. I don’t know.
Bet her clit’s not even big enough for tribbing, Brock is saying. Am I right my guy? He slams a single eyelid shut in my direction. My guy knows what I’m talking about.
He’s being facetious. I don’t know and I’m not his guy. Everyone knows I’m weird about sex. They probably believe I’ve never seen a clitoris. If they do they’re correct. It’s unusual. Most kids my age are lucky if they’ve yet to sire a child.
What do I know? I say anyway, just to say something.
Oh! Look who’s got a big cock! Brock laughs, happy with a reaction. Talk of clits piqued your interest my guy?
Lay off him, the pale one says.
I turn away, my thank you drowned out by my breath. I try to stuff my bag in. It does not fit.
Maybe I should lay on him if he’d be so interested.
Brock leans in next to me with a bang. It wouldn’t be unusual. Most disagreements with him, I’m told, end sweatily, amicably in the janitor’s closet, another mess for the custodian.
I lean into the bag and get it in, then pull out my athletic clothes.
Thanks, I say. No. I walk a few feet before I feel the hand. I turn. It’s not Brock. It’s the pale one.
Don’t listen to Brock, he says. He’s just an itchy finger fucker. You cool?
He turns and points his ass at me, spine slightly crooked. I’m surprised, put off, almost. But who am I to snap an olive branch? I sigh, assuming the same position. We rub backsides. The act brings me no more pleasure than a rhythmic conversation coming to a natural close. When the pale one turns I expect to see him grinning, flaunting his raging boner. But his crease, like mine, is flat, his eyes, eyes, like a hurricane’s, empty, glowing.
P.E. is held in a wide, deep room where sneaker squeaks echo and students grunt and sweat, handling balls and poles. Everything we need to learn to live long, healthy lives. Today, self defense. We pair up and practice different positions used to diffuse conflict and awkward situations. For me, it doesn’t work. My palms and soles lay flat on the floor, hips and belly skyward, trembling, while the girl I’m partnered with tries to make herself light on my groin. I keep shaking and saying sorry. She keeps asking if I’m okay. Maybe because my bridge is architecturally unsound. Maybe because she feels nothing through my gym shorts. Across the room, students thrust and gyrate, normal behavior. Imagine one day you get in an argument with a superior, have geopolitical differences with a radical actor on an international scale, short the pizza boy a tip. How else would you resolve it? I don’t know––just that I’m out of luck. The shapes in the room look wrong. I focus on the space between them until the bell rings.
Outside, I wait for my bus. The pale one comes up.
So. You’re not into all this fucking––
He trails off.
I suspect he’s looking for a word.
I realize that’s all.
In the silence, my heart beats, like a war drum keeping an orgy’s rhythm. I have no words to fill it. I shake my head just enough for him to see.
Yeah. Thought so. Me neither really.
Those words dislodge the dam in my airway and I can breathe again. I look into his turbulent eyes, feeling, thinking nothing.
I thought it was just me.
Often do, he says. Never is.
The bus comes.
Sit with me?
I’m not going home.
From a red car across the street, Brock honks.
No, I say. Duh.
I get on the bus. No one sits with me. The driver sexes his phone. I rest my head against the empty space and feel very full.
Cas Stone has no concrete sense of self outside of work in M/U, HAD, hex, and other cobwebbed corners of the earth and internet.