Good Girls Don't Use the F Word
by Annabelle Carvell
1. Your best friend slips you a little pink Post-it Note that says Do you know what sex is? At 8 years old, you’ve never heard the word so reply Yes. She sends a note back: It’s when two people lie in bed naked with each other. You write I know and spend the rest of the afternoon in detention together.
2. You’re 10, and Suzy in the class above used a bad word in the playground and your best friend told on her. You didn’t hear it. Mrs Pritchard tells Suzy that the duck word isn’t allowed in school, good girls don’t use it. You are sure Suzy didn’t said duck.
3. At 13, you sit in church not listening to the sermon. You sing the hymns, open your palms to the sky, and let the priest place a tiny white moon on your hand. Amen you say, taking the little dry disc on your tongue. You go for the wine afterward because you like the taste, not caring about the other mouths that have been on it before. You sing for funerals, you sing for weddings, and while they say their vows, you stare at the page boy, hoping he has noticed you and not the other girls in the choir. Love does not envy you hear but this isn’t love.
4. It’s cool to say fuck at 15. Your friends bandy it around when they mean to say extremely or seriously or honestly. You learn to use the phrase your Christian mother taught you: Can they not broaden their vocabulary? You want to date an older boy.
5. You’re 19 with A-cup breasts. There’s a girl on top of you counting the freckles down your side. Nineteen, she says, one for every year you’ve been alive. She links her fingers with yours. She blows air down your body, across the curve of your hips, and you wonder if Jesus is watching you. You begin to clam up at the thought until you think Jesus can wait.
6. You start dating an older boy.
7. Your mother finds condom wrappers in your room when she’s helping you tidy up. You both know she’s found them and has thrown them into a rubbish bag. Your neck blotches and you can’t meet your mother’s eye. No sex before marriage is what you told yourself at 13. That’s what the church says. That’s what your mother’s never said out loud but you know she’s disappointed by the way she says Come down for dinner when you’re ready.
8. You get scared when you wonder what you believe in—you’re confused when you say I don’t know. Your mother asks you to go to church with her on Sundays and you tell her Not today, not today until she stops asking. Only good girls go to church you tell yourself.
9. Jesus goes away.
10. The older boy lays kisses on your collarbone that leave petals behind. They make you sigh and moan and you want him to open you up like a pomegranate. He wraps your legs around his waist and brings your chest to his, skin to skin. It’s dizzy, it’s rush-of-blood-to-the-head primal. He’s whispering I want you and it’s like you’ve never wanted anything so bad. When his tongue reaches your navel, you hear 1 Corinthians 6:19: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. But your body is your own and you’re a woman not a good girl so you tell the older boy Fuck me I want you to fuck me, the friction of the letters exploding across your lips like dynamite.
I suppose my flash pieces begin with exactly that: a flash of an image, a moment, perhaps some dialogue. It was the same for this piece—that little pink note marks the moment I first heard the word “sex.” But it was taboo, and I don't think it should have been. Taboo subjects fascinate me, from those that are entirely “normal” topics that people are just too scared to talk about to the darker secrets that humankind carries. Ian McEwan is my primary influence when it comes to short stories—they're as taboo as you get.
Annabelle Carvell runs the literary magazine, Synaesthesia, which fills her evenings with color splashes. Her favorite word is licorice, and when she's not writing, she's trying to figure where home is. You can find her tweets from @AnnabelleCsyn and her art on the wrists of best friends.