nikolidakis_fangs_500We ran for ringing phones. Loitering in front of Sbarro, sweating through our bomber jackets, our hair partially shaved and streaked blue. We looked tough in our Docs (though not so tough as we thought), and at one ring, maybe a two hundred-foot clip, we’d abandon the food court to get there first. More often than not, it was Stevie.

His voice was warm and low, breathy as a runner’s, and we’d smash our ears against the receiver to hear him say pussy. He’d ask, What’s your pussy taste like? The stuff of predictable porn. And we’d erupt into giggle fits, the insufferable noise of fifteen-year-old girls, a laughter made possible by the public safety of the mall. Sometimes we’d tell him he was gross. You wish, we’d say. And then we’d lean in for more.

When I was six and alone in the kitchen, the man on the phone said I’d won a beauty pageant. Do you know where you live? he asked. We have to deliver your trophy. I told him I lived near my school, but before I got another word out, my mother had the phone. I coiled the long cord around my arm and unwound it as she cursed into the receiver but stared at me.

We didn’t want to be virgins, so we feigned a loose coolness about sex, and in those moments when we listened to Stevie describe the size of his always-hard penis, we also looked at one another closely, a who’ll-flinch-first test that teen girls are terrifyingly good at. And so we ran to the phones, we ran to Stevie, and listened without blushing, without asking what some of those words meant.

For years I stole change from the Deer Park jug in my parents’ closet, tipping it over in increments so no one would hear my petty larceny. After I’d lifted the quarters, I’d bike to Terry’s Deli for penny candy—gummy tooth-decayers like Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids. One day on the way there, I saw a man, tan coat to his knees, sitting on the open grass at my former elementary school, and he watched as I cut through the patch of woods that we all took when hustling to the store. On my way back, he was in the woods, closer, and I knew instantly that he was waiting for me, but out of fear, or maybe out of an embarrassment that I can’t quite explain, I moved toward him. That’s when I noticed the cock in his hand. I peddled faster, and to avoid his masturbation, I looked at his face, at his easy, easy smile.

Almost a month had gone by without a call from Stevie, and we should have thought jail, but more likely we assumed that he’d grown bored with our game, bored with us. And it was summer, the walls of my bedroom warm to the touch, as if the heat were closing in and swallowing the house. When the phone rang, I expected one of the girls, but the voice asked, Are you wet, little girl?, and I sat up meerkat tall, suddenly aware of my pulse throbbing in my wrists. Stevie’s voice was harsher now, his question at once condemning and bitter, and I hung up without a word. When he called back, I stared at the single word on the caller ID, private, and I let it ring and ring as I choked on that word, private, the two, tiny syllables that gathered everything that was wrong: In my private house. On my private phone. Questions about my private parts. I was too young to think violation, to think stalker, so I sat there, at once scared and empty, the ringing phone on my bed like Stevie reaching out his dirty, familiar hand to fondle my thigh.


Lisa Nikolidakis’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus[PANK], HobartThe Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. Her flash fiction won A Room Of Her Own’s Fall 2014 Orlando Prize and is forthcoming in Los Angeles Review. She teaches creative writing in the Midwest.

Photography by Laura Frantz