“Like a Bull” by Katie Burgess

In biology class you focus on the video, not that you need to, not while your teacher practices his putting stroke out in the hallway. Parents here frown on biology for the most part—all that Darwin and reproduction and whatnot—so your school doesn’t stress it too much. Instead you watch tapes about drug abuse or personal hygiene or self-esteem while Mr. Davis hits balls into a plastic cup.

Craig Kimbell, who sits beside you, reaches across your desk to swat Missy Grant on the arm. “Hey,” Craig says. “Hey. I talked to Nate this morning. He said he enjoyed last night.”

Missy keeps her eyes on the video, as if anxious to know what happens next to the angel dust kid.

“He said you rode him like a bull.”

Heads turn. Missy’s jaw clenches. It takes you a second to understand. At first you hear it as, “He says you rode him likeable,” which makes no sense. Then it hits you. The class quiets, anticipating its first ever actual biology lesson.

Craig grins. “Yeah. He said you rode him like a goddamn bull.”

Missy whips around and glares. Her face reddens, but not, you think, from embarrassment. You slouch, trying to get out of their way, but neither of them even notices you. “My sex life,” Missy says, “is none of your business.” Craig laughs but can’t seem to think of a comeback. People go back to their conversations and games of hangman. The moment ends, for everyone but you.

You attend the same Baptist church as most of the town. They teach that lusting in your heart counts as sin, which is why you constantly replace all your dirty thoughts with images of trees or the ocean. You know that Missy has gone astray; still, you can’t help admiring her a little. My sex life is none of your business. No denials, no shame. My sex life. Missy, while only fifteen, like you, has had sex. Has a sex life. One that involves riding someone like a bull.

Years later, in college, you find yourself entwined with your boyfriend in his narrow dorm bed, which smells of nachos. After months of wheedling, he’s managed to get your top off.

“Baby, tell me your fantasies,” whispers the naked, freckled boy, a sophomore in public relations. Your actual fantasies, though, thanks to years of repression, tend towards the abstract. A single wave caressing the beach, the wind blowing against your skirt. Then you remember a certain phrase, one you sometimes repeat to yourself at night, the closest thing to a bona fide fantasy you can muster. You say, “I want to ride you like a bull.”

You expect it to please him, but he pulls away. He stares at you, as if some succubus has replaced the Baptist virgin he’d hoped to seduce. He goes limp.

“Or, you know, whatever,” you say, pulling up the covers.

He kisses your forehead. “Look, you don’t need to impress me,” he says. “I love your innocence.” In two weeks, he will leave you for a Catholic.

Later, as he falls asleep, you think about Missy Grant and wonder what she’s up to these days. You imagine her in a red dress, blowing kisses. You wait for your boyfriend’s snores. You reach between your legs, saying to yourself, like a bull. Like a bull.

ktburgessKatie Burgess earned her PhD in creative writing at Florida State University, where she received the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Dissertation Award. She resides in her mother in law’s dining room.