During the summer after seventh grade, when we were alone for an afternoon, no chance of being caught, silk was what we sought in Ted Needham’s older sister’s room. We held her silk and named girls we knew who might be slipping off the slick things we touched: Negligees, panties, lace-trimmed slips with straps designed to be nudged by passionate hands. Always three of us together in that bedroom, we turned alike, drawing silk things over our skin like fingertips, lifting our shirts, opening our pants in a unison of desire that ended with refolding those things, replacing them exactly in order.
In late August, school about to begin, Rick Kantz, while we watched, undressed and slid that silk over his head to bring himself closer to pleasure. Without speaking, Ted and I dressed, too. For a few minutes, we were girls. We looked at ourselves in the mirror, our faces smooth, flushed as if rouged. When we lifted those slips, we turned away from each other. Replacing them in her drawer, we said we had been lesbians, girls who had secrets and could never tell them to anyone.
When school began, we never said a word about Sylvia Needham’s room. Before long, we chose new friends. Eighth grade was years before any of us knew the history of silk, the way taming turned the silkworms from tan to white. The way, defenseless, but unharmed, they stopped trying to escape. The way, become moths, they didn’t fly, how they mated and died, without once opening their damp, pale wings.
Gary Fincke’s latest collection is The Out-of-Sorts: New and Selected Stories (West Virginia, 2017). A winner of the Flannery O’Connor Prize for Short Fiction for an earlier collection, he is co-editor (with Meg Pokrass) of Best Microfictions 2019.