about the author

Kevin Richard White’s fiction appears in such places as Grub Street, Hypertext, The Hunger, Barren Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Door Is A Jar, Crack The Spine, Lunch Ticket, and Ghost Parachute, among others. He reads fiction and nonfiction for multiple magazines such as Quarterly West, Vestal Review, and The Common. He lives in Pennsylvania.

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Thicker Skin  

Kevin Richard White

When she was biting my neck, I thought of the time that I wasn’t allowed on the merry-go-round because I was too tall. She tried to draw blood but I pushed her away. I wasn’t into blood during sex yet. I looked at her but she started to move down to my chest.

I remember the white horse with the chipped-paint eyeballs, the burning feeling of standing there and having the carny tell me, are you kidding me, dude? I was barely thirteen, but I guess that’s more than enough reason for some people.

She asked me if I was all right.

I said yes.

She said, do you want to try candle wax?

I said I would try anything once, except blood.

She nodded and got up, went to the dresser, lit a candle, waited. Her bony, off-white back, her short haircut, the veins visible, the skin glistening, all from me, from a desire of something new.

I remember staring at the carny and balling up a bony fist but knowing full damn well I wouldn’t strike him. I remember him sneering. He said, keep going, there’s other people in line.

I heard her say something but I did not ask her what she said. I rubbed my neck, numb from her love. I guess it wasn’t too bad. Maybe a little sore. Enough to make me know I wasn’t in some weird dream. She came back with the candle, ready to drip. I closed my eyes, did not want to see it fall.

When the wax hit my neck, I thought back to the horse, its old, ordinary mouth teeming with splinters and bugs, begging for a rider. I went up to it and the carny grabbed my arm.

Don’t wince, she said, it’s all right.

I remember seeing the carny grow tough, mangy. I shook him off and got on the horse.

She let the wax harden on my neck and I felt her kiss my cheek, her perfume encircle me again.

The carny said, get the hell off there. I kicked him in the shoulder. I remember thinking that this would get me in trouble.

She picked the wax off, rolled it into a orange ball and set it on the bedside table. She said, do you want to try it again?

I said, let me try it on you. She was eager.

The carny regained his composure and grabbed me around the waist like he was going to slam me to the dirt. The music started up, the creaky organ wailing its creed in the sharp sunlit air, its sprawl spilling out to all others there. Hey, I said out loud. I’m young again. The carny tightened his grip and we began to revolve.

She was on her back now, clutching the sheets, anticipating the pain. I took the candle and I let it drip onto her chest. Her muscles tightened. I didn’t realize I was licking my lips. She asked for me to do it again. I said I didn’t want to burn her. She said, who cares.

The carny screamed to the operator to stop and out of the corner of my eye, a blurred form appeared, a man, security. I told them one more minute, I’m young again, damn it. The carny lifted me off the horse and he nearly dropped me and I almost hit my head on the horse next to me. The acne on my face hurt. I felt security climb on and he smelt of cotton candy.

I let it drip on her ribs, the tiny flame so close to my hand it was singeing my knuckles. I set the candle down in a glass holder and I kissed her as she murmured the pain she needed to murmur for years, never close to this pain ever, needing to have it in order to have more. I was glad I could help, but I began to think I wasn’t doing this right. I wondered why our first time couldn’t be normal, by the numbers. But I needed to stop thinking because it wasn’t proper. We were both into growing thicker skin, so there was no better way by making a scar or two.

They both got me off the merry-go-round and I may have elbowed one of them by accident because I smelled blood, saw it on my T-shirt afterwards. They picked me up and threw me as far as they could, the carny sneering, the security wannabe growling because I tested his mettle, or lack thereof. They told me to both to leave. I pointed back at the horse and told them that they needed to paint it.

We kept kissing. I made my chance count. We finished rather quickly, but it didn’t matter really. She told me she loved me, which I’m pretty sure was her moving too fast, so I nodded and told her that I wasn’t too big into the candle wax after all.

I called Mom. She picked me up and she had grocery bags all over the back seat. She said she was going to make dinner and she asked me why I had blood on me. I tried to tell her the story but I choked halfway through. We got home and I went upstairs to change my shirt because she said we had company. When I came back down, I saw my older brother and a new girlfriend sitting at the table. Mom started to make dinner. The girl introduced herself to me, her hand smooth. My brother got up to help Mom. I sat down to talk to her. The girl started to light the candles on the table, and she smiled as she did so. Picking up old pieces of wax, she asked me if I had a good day.

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