Please, I Don't Want You To Say It
fact was this: Sixteen-year-old Yesenia Porter wanted to get pregnant. It
wasn’t an issue of lack of resources or poor sexual education—though Yesenia
certainly dealt with both of these issues; no, Yesenia knew what she was doing
and knew what she wanted: She wanted a baby.
English teacher, Gabbi Davies, thought of her while listening to a woman named
Louise explain things—things like income inequality and racial profiling and
the societal causes of teen pregnancy. Louise was working on her thesis for her
master’s degree in social work—so she knew these kinds of things.
Wayward Lighthouse was closed, and Gabbi sat at the bar. Josephine, her
girlfriend with slightly kinked hair and narrow hips, tattoos on her arms and a
piercing in her cheek—Josephine hunched down behind the bar, stocking the
refrigerator. Louise, the waitress, sat on a stool next to Gabbi, talking and
the beginning of the previous school year, Yesenia’s white English teacher—Ms.
Davies, who wore a light-brown pony tail and never wore dresses—handed out
journals to each student to keep throughout the year. As assignments, they were
to complete one journal entry per week and hand it in on Fridays. The journal
entries could be about anything: school, sports, family—anything. Yesenia wrote
once about her Latina mom and black dad—neither of whom were present in her
life; she lived with her father’s mother. She often wrote about clothes and
concerts. And then some of her entries were about the guilt she felt after she
had an abortion: Yesenia wrote of nightmares and of waking to a phantom child
surprised Ms. Davies was that instead of pages devoted to crushes and boys,
like the other girls, some of whom had also had abortions, Yesenia often wrote
of her desire to rectify her abortion by getting pregnant again and having a
baby. Lily. She wanted to name her baby Lily. She had sex with many
boys—Anthony and DeAndre and others—hoping each one would impregnate her so
that she would have someone to care for; but Ms. Gabbi Davies was fairly
certain that what Yesenia really wanted was for someone to love her
unconditionally. That made more sense to Gabbi.
the dim bar, Louise asked Josephine for another glass of wine—one of the new
kinds, the tempranillo. Louise took a big gulp, but didn’t like it, so she
placed the full glass of wine on the bar and slid it toward Josephine. She
walked around to select another bottle herself. She opened one of the sealed
ones—the Syrah, Grenache blend—and poured a glass for herself. Then she placed
the bottle on the bar and left the cork next to it. The wine had a complex
flavor—a smoky, slightly spicy taste. It was medium bodied. Gabbi liked this
Louise came back, she began to talk at Gabbi about other people: people who
derived a sick pleasure from seeing pain in others. Gabbi nodded as Louise
continued on about how, at her other job, a couple weeks ago, the night of the
first snow, how there was this accident and how everyone at her other job just
stared at the accident, unable to turn away, engrossed with the disaster. She
shook her head with disgust as she sipped her wine again. Then Louise connected
the accident with her master’s thesis in which she examined countries in
Central and South America where dictators dumped their waste into the drinking
water of the poor. In her thesis, Louise was tying it back to American culture.
She was very impressed with herself.
you don’t understand is that there are people in America who didn’t have access
to the same education as you and me,” said Louise. “I mean, it’s like a third
world country in a lot of places in America.”
I know. I teach here in—”
the income inequality is just as great in America as many places in the third
continued to talk. Gabbi looked to Josephine, busy screwing caps onto the
garnish jars. She tried to find Josephine’s face to share a look. Josephine
avoided looking at her, and Gabbi thought of how distant her girlfriend had
been lately. But then she figured that she was just being insecure.
know Esteban?” said Louise.
a moment: “Oh. I’ve met him be—”
our bus boy and from Mexico. And he has this other job working for a carpeting
company—or flooring or something like that. And he told me one time that he
couldn’t believe how disgusting some of the apartments of black people—I mean
African Americans—but how those people could even live in those apartments,”
she said. “And Esteban’s from Mexico; and he thinks people here are living
terribly. That is not right.” She took a big sip of wine. “I mean, people need
to be responsible for how they live, but there’s a lot wrong with our society—”
interrupted herself with another slurp of wine. Then she stopped talking for a
felt a discomfort and hoped Josephine wasn’t listening to the conversation.
Wanting to change the topic, Gabbi said, “What do you think you’ll do with your
I could work for an NGO or non-profit. I’ve done that before, so I think I
would be good at that.” Another gulp of wine. “But I don’t know. I may just end
up working as a consultant for some company. I’m getting old, and I need to
make some money.” Then she finished the glass.
Gabbi smiled and nodded. And as Josephine pushed
through the double doors leading to the stairs, finalizing her closing, and as
Louise kept talking—Yesenia sat on the toilet in her grandmother’s apartment.
peed on a plastic pregnancy test, the cheapest one she could find at the
drugstore down the street. Her brother banged on the door telling her to hurry
up. She yelled back at him that she would be just a minute.
slept with many boys—some her age, some older, one younger. The teenage boys
were fine when she never suggested using a condom or pulling out. When they
were close, they always hoped she wouldn’t say anything—and she never did.
During, she would lay on her back and turn her head to the side, her eyes open;
her body would be rocked back and forth on the bed or couch or floor—wherever
they decided was best at the time. The smell of barely pubescent armpits and
crotches would move into her nostrils; she would feel a sweaty stomach on hers,
pushing her shirt up to her chest. She always kept her shirt on, and she always
kept her eyes open. When the boy on top of her tensed and trembled and let out
a gasp, Yesenia would lie there and think about Lily.
the restaurant, Louise went to the bathroom. While on the toilet, she opened
her pocketbook and reached around the tissues, the wallet, the pregnancy test,
the expired condoms—she pawed through her purse and pulled out her iPhone. She
opened up a dating application; it was an app that synced up with her Facebook
account and had her photos on it.
application was called Tinder, and it worked like this: Pictures of men in her
area code would pop up on the screen. The only information available, aside
from the photo, was the man’s age and a self-describing sentence. (She loved
her self-description: JUST LOOKING FOR A GOOD TIME...AND THEN MAYBE A LITTLE
MORE.) If she liked someone, she would swipe the picture to the right; if she
didn’t, to the left. If she swiped someone’s picture to the right, and they had
swiped her picture to the right, the application would display a message:
CONGRATULATIONS. YOU HAVE A MATCH. Last Tuesday she had explained—over and
over—to Josephine how Tinder worked while trying to talk her into downloading
opened the application on the toilet; a picture of a man was on there. She
looked at his age—twenty-four. Too young. She swiped the picture to the left.
She finished peeing and swiped three more to the left and one to the right;
then she wiped herself, rinsed her hands and returned to the others.
had returned from downstairs. She walked around to ensure Louise had done all
of her closing duties. After corking the open bottle of wine and double checking
the gate in front of the restaurant, she picked up her bag and said bye in
broken Spanish to Antonio. Then they all left the restaurant.
you guys want to grab some drinks?” said Louise. “I’m thinking of going over to
Alibi.” When she said this, Josephine’s face tensed for a moment. Then she
forced it to relax.
don’t think so,” said Gabbi. “I’m kind of tired. What do you think, honey?”
don’t want to go out,” said Josephine. “Sorry, Louise.”
that’s okay. I guess I’ll see you—”
thin man with dark skin and toned biceps, wearing a Brooklyn Nets T-shirt and
jeans torn in one knee, had approached Louise. She stopped talking, and he
asked for directions. Louise didn’t answer or say anything. Gabbi told him
where he could find the closest B-10 bus stop.
asked Josephine when she worked next. Josephine told her, and then they hugged.
Josephine and Gabbi walked north on Duncan Street, and Louise started east on
Eastern Avenue. But when she had to decide, she turned left on Collington,
walked north a few blocks and entered Alibi. The first time Louise had been to
this bar was the previous Tuesday with Josephine.
had spent that night trying to talk Josephine into the dating application that
she used. While Josephine was in the bathroom, Louise ordered a vodka-tonic and
downloaded it onto Josephine’s phone.
had been very busy at their restaurant, and Josephine had needed a couple of
drinks and didn’t want to go home yet. She ordered a Natty Boh and spoke with
the bartender. Louise left a little after midnight, around one o’clock, the bar
had slowed down. A little later, Josephine received a text from Gabbi asking if
everything was all right; Josephine responded a few minutes later. She then
ordered another Boh.
bartender’s name was Brandon, and he was a short, black man with a thick beard
and a Mohawk.
your name?” he said.
going to take a stab and guess it’s your mom who is the black one.”
surprised Josephine. Not that he was correct—but that he even noticed her being
mixed at all. People often made comments about her dark skin as a year-round
tan, but never considered her black at all. It was a constant frustration in
her life, and it was one of those things that Gabbi didn’t understand, which
made everything even harder. Sometimes, Josephine felt that Gabbi didn’t even
try to understand what it was like to not be white.
one student in her AP English class told Ms. Gabbi that he didn’t want her to
say it. DeAndre, a student she was teaching for the second year, and one that
she felt she was developing a strong relationship with, told her that when she
read aloud to the class from their book, To Kill a Mockingbird, he didn’t want
her saying that word: Nigger.
Gabbi didn’t know how to approach it with her class, but she thought it best to
open up a dialogue before even beginning the book. “In this book, there are
parts where there is very harsh language used. Very racist language that was
common at the time. Some characters—even ones that you may like—will say words,
like the N-word.”
told the class that if anyone had a problem with her using the language, she
wouldn’t say it. She wanted to make sure they were all comfortable with moving
forward. It seemed like the right thing to do—a mature approach that no matter
what they said would endear her to the students and empower them.
said one of her students, Sofia, with the big hoop earrings and jet-black hair
tied tightly back. “You say what you want, Ms. Davies. We know it’s just a
anyone is uncomfortable with it, I won’t—”
fine,” said Anthony, and Ms. Gabbi wondered if that was the Anthony that
Yesenia mentioned in her journal. “We all fine with it. We know you not a
racist or nothing.”
she said. “If that’s how you all—”
stopped talking at DeAndre’s stare from the back corner of the room. His face
was tired—not tired from the night before but tired from too many years of just
too much. She looked just at him and said, “If that’s how everyone feels—”
don’t want you to say it, Ms. Davies,” said DeAndre. When he said this, Gabbi
was hurt, though she wasn’t sure why. She wanted to know why DeAndre said this,
but she couldn’t ask.
she began to nod, Sofia said, “Why you gotta be a bitch, DeAndre.”
don’t want her sayin’ nigga in class. She white.”
Davies not a racist. She a dyke. She can’t be a racist.”
class laughed and Ms. Gabbi said, “Sofia! Language. That’s fine DeAndre.”
cool, Ms. Davies. I’m a dyke, too. We can say shit like that.”
ordered another Boh; Brandon had stopped charging her. He was pretty
light-skinned, and she wondered if he ever felt like he wasn’t black enough.
She didn’t ask him. She felt this way, sometimes. As she continued to drink she
started to feel a little floating sensation and thought the evening was
becoming very significant.
mostly talked about bartending and about Brandon’s black lab, whom he was in
love with. It was tough having the lab in a small apartment. The dog always
kept him up, especially if Brandon hadn’t given him any exercise. Hearing this,
Josephine felt sad.
kitten used to pitter-patter all around the apartment. He’d always keep me up.
But he was so cute.”
long have you had him?”
she said, pulling back. Brandon took her half empty beer and topped it off. “He
actually just died a couple of weeks ago.”
shit. I’m sorry. What happened?” he started. Then: “I’m sorry. We don’t have to
talk about it.”
a sip of beer, she said, “It’s just that we—I—I used to have a cat. But I
opened the window—the one to the fire escape. And—and I like to read out there.
And William—his name was William, it’s a stupid name, I know—and William would
always stick his little nose out the window and nuzzle my arm. And I didn’t
think anything of it. But one day, while he was rubbing his forehead on my
elbow, he looked up and saw a bird sitting on the railing. I looked at him, and
he was wiggling his butt and crouched on the ledge of the window, further out
than he ever had been before. I looked up to where he was staring—and—and I
really tried to push him back into the apartment—or I wanted to—but he jumped
wiped the beginnings of tears out from her eyes. She thought about how much
Gabbi had cried when William fell four stories and died. William wasn’t even
Gabbi’s cat. She didn’t even live there. Josephine was angry at Gabbi for her
Gabbi cried about everything. Josephine was frustrated by this, too; it made
her impossible sometimes.
everyone else had left Alibi on that early Wednesday morning, around two
o’clock, just after last call, Josephine finished her beer and went to the
bathroom. The room tilted some as she guided her way through the long bar. When
she left the bathroom, Brandon was at the door. He brought her hips into him
and kissed her—hard, pushing her up against the door jamb. She stood passive
for a moment. Then she grabbed his back and pulled her fingernails across his
someone come in?” she said.
locked the door.”
lifted Josephine onto the sink, and they glowed in the red, bathroom light. She
wrapped her legs around him.
a little while, he bent her over the sink, and pulled her underwear down to her
then he stopped.
is it,” she said between quick gasps.
don’t have a condom.”
you on the pill?”
you have AIDS?”
you have anything else?”
pushed her between the shoulders and held her down against the sink. Her body
shook, and she felt an electric release—one that almost hurt, that was almost
too much—start from inside her and shoot through her body. This happened
quickly; before they finished, she came once more.
she left Alibi hastily, feeling him slide into her underwear as she took long
strides home. She entered her apartment, took off her underwear, and threw them
away. Then she took a long, hot shower.
next morning she went to the pharmacy.
watching Josephine and Gabbi walk around the corner, Louise walked to Alibi and
ordered a beer from the bartender she vaguely recognized from the last time she
was there. She looked at the time, and seeing that it was midnight, she
realized that the next night, she’d be working at Sip & Bite now. Louise
ordered another beer after a little bit. And then, a little while later after
swiping two to the right and seven to the left on her phone, and not receiving
any matches, she ordered another beer. Then she paid and left the bar.
her bedroom, building up courage—finally looked at her test, then to the box.
squeezed the pregnancy test and began to well up. She hugged herself and
crumpled to the bed. She heard her brother shout something from outside her
room, and she got up and opened the door and hugged him tightly. She wept.
Taken aback, he asked if everything was okay.
continued to weep into his shoulder. Then she went to the living room and
hugged her grandmother and cried. They sat there, holding each other without
saying anything for a long time.
sat on the toilet in her apartment and hiccupped. She swiped two to the left
and then stood up to look into the mirror. Her pale face had new wrinkles
around her eyes, and her stomach stuck out a little farther than it used to.
She still had nice breasts, but she didn’t fit into her pants as well anymore,
a stubborn role hanging over the edge, her pale skin visible when her shirt
crept up. But she refused to buy a size up. She told herself: She’d lose the
took off her clothing and further inspected her body. She had new wrinkles on
her ass and blue veins visible on her legs. She thought about going to a
tanning salon; maybe that was how Josephine stayed so dark all year.
took out her phone and took a picture of herself in the mirror, leaving out her
bottom half, focusing on her face and breasts. Then she sent the photo to a man
named Sean with a text:
TO COME OVER?
minutes later: I’M KINDA TIRED.
minute later: WANT ME TO COME OVER THERE? ;)
was no response.
I GUESS YOU WENT TO SLEEP. SEE YOU SOON. HOPEFULLY...
then put on a tank top and panties and got into bed. The room spun a little.
She reached into her drawer by her bed and pulled out a little vibrator. She
closed her eyes and turned it on and placed it between her legs while she tried
to think about nothing. After she was finished, she put her vibrator away and
rolled over, a large empty space filling the other side of her bed. Feeling
dizzy and lonely, she cried about both as the room spun. After a little while,
she fell asleep.
and Josephine went home. In Josephine’s apartment, they brushed their teeth
together and flossed and changed into t-shirts and pajama pants. Gabbi moved
over to spoon Josephine in bed. Then Gabbi started to rock her hips against
You always think it’s funny when I do this—like I’m a boy. I’m using the boy
move to seduce—”
stop. We can have sex. I just don’t want you to do that.”
rolled over and laid on her back and sniffled. Josephine apologized and kissed
Gabbi. They kissed for a while, and Josephine moved down and put her head
between Gabbi’s legs. Afterward, Gabbi turned Josephine gently onto her back,
but Josephine said she was tired and that they could have sex the next night.
Josephine rolled onto her right shoulder, and Gabbi spooned her again.
love the way you smell,” said Gabbi.
felt Gabbi’s breathing slow down and her arm a little heavier across her belly.
Josephine’s eyes were open wide, and she looked at the black curtain that would
not keep the light out the next morning. And that light would wake her up very
early. She looked right at the dark, black curtain.
she began to feel drowsiness creeping up on her, she heard a faint
pitter-patter—in the hallway or maybe the kitchen.
she thought she heard it again, she rolled Gabbi off of her and moved through the
hallway, by the couch, into the kitchen—the sweat of her bare feet sticking
slightly to the laminated floor. Then she thought she heard the little foot
steps behind her.
went back into the hallway. She got down on her hands and knees and looked
underneath the couch.
stood up and looked down the hallway, back through the apartment and found
nothing, but she kept hearing a faint scurrying of steps, an incessant
pitter-patter, a fervent scampering, running away as fast as it could.
Covey grew up just north of Boston and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
He has been previously published in Metazen, Twenty-Something Press, and Press
Board Press. He is attending Columbia University's School of the Arts.