Paris corners June in their shared bathroom with a tale of her latest romantic disappointment. Really bad sex with a really good man. He was kind and generous, but shockingly overconfident in bed. “I mean, it’s obviously something I can work with. But has this ever happened to you?” she asks. “I don’t think it’s ever happened to me.”
“I’ve never had that happen before,” June says. Because she’s never had any sex, good or bad, happen to her at all. Then she says, “That’s crazy,” which is her universal response to things she doesn’t or can’t understand.
She loses her virginity two weeks later and Sheryl, not Paris, will have to be the first person she tells. Sitting in the waiting room at the CityWell Brooklyn office, she employs a coping mechanism she developed in childhood. Sometimes when her anxieties seemed insurmountable, she reminded herself that she was inherently small.
In elementary school, Mrs. Mabel introduced June and the rest of her class to Aristotle. She asked, “Do you think the earth is the center of the universe?” And June’s instinctive answer was no. Even then it made more sense to her that their planet was one in a collection of planets. Orbiting one in a cluster of stars. Within yet another cluster. All suspended in the black bottomless void of space—
In a recent iteration of this, since starting her enfeebled writing career, she likes to consider a novel. A very long one. If “humanity is a comma,” as an old professor once said, then she must be the microscopic space before it appears.
When Sheryl finally calls for her, she’s feeling a lot better.
They head to her sterile, vanilla-scented hot desk of an office and get right into it.
“So, you said something happened recently in your email,” says Sheryl. “And you’ve been thinking a lot about high school?”
“Well, they’re related. I’ve been thinking a lot about high school because of something that happened recently,” June says.
Sheryl waits for her to go on, which June appreciates. Paris and her coworkers and even her mother are the kind who talk over silent people. Sheryl’s silence is so nice, June dares to take her time.
“I used to save my nudes on a micro SD card in high school,” she begins. She looks at Sheryl intermittently, but mostly she glances through the window at the slate gray building across the street.
There were nearly a hundred nudes, a hundred contortions of her skinny brown body, and the full scope of her overeager sexuality, all contained in a mechanism the size of her fingernail.
“And there was a boy I’d give the card to every now and then,” June says. “But I had to be smart about how I got it to him.”
Once, she taped the micro SD to the inside of his math textbook. Another time, she wrapped it in tissue paper and tucked it into an envelope containing a Christmas card. For his birthday, she baked him cookies, which was the only thing her high school income—her allowance—could sustain. He was somewhat grateful for the cookies. But at the bottom of the Tupperware container was the SD card in a plastic baggie.
Her coyness was palpable and embarrassing in retrospect, but worth it for how happy he was with her product. Upon receipt, he would plug the card into a special drive and download them to his own phone. The next day, he would give it back. Whenever one order was completed, another was wordlessly submitted.
She loved the ease of that business. It was a whole lot simpler than anything she’d tried to accomplish since. “Everyone else just sent their nudes through the cloud,” she says to Sheryl. “And I thought by using the SD card, it could never be traced.”
“But?” Sheryl prompts.
June had been wary of having a Black therapist at first. She felt like she couldn’t be honest enough with Sheryl. Like if she spoke too harshly about her Trinidadian parents, Sheryl might turn out to be West Indian and take offense. She expected there to be more shame involved, initially. Sheryl feels familiar to her, but that hasn’t been a bad thing. When she says, “But,” June is comforted. Like in some past life, she’s told her this story before. Like this is permission to tell it again, unrestricted.
“But,” June says, “he lost it during junior year. It was wintertime. I remember because it snowed. We got a day off from school and I spent the whole time worrying about my nudes. I could picture the SD card buried in the snow.”
“But if it was buried in the snow, the files were probably destroyed.”
“I never thought about it like that. I spent the rest of the school year looking for it.”
Sometimes she’d forget and she’d be happy before the threat of exposure loomed again and she’d be back to scanning the ground, imagining what her mother would think or what her father would do. “I never found it,” June concludes.
The unnamed boy stopped looking. June is twenty-four now and still sometimes looks down at the sidewalk, half-expecting to see the tiny black SD card camouflaging itself amongst clusters of aged gum.
Sheryl asks, “What did you mean about your father? What did you think he would do?”
June hadn’t intended to mention him out loud. It’s too soon to talk about her father, but of course, he’s the thing Sheryl fixates on. This is only their third session. In her hand, Sheryl holds a pen with the CityWell logo across it and June is reminded of Paris’s warning to her. That this whole thing is a scam. To what end, she didn’t say.
June is curious how many more like her jumped at the offer of free therapy sessions. The ads and the flyers were everywhere, at all the subway stations, on the local coffee shop bulletin boards, on Youtube and Twitter. CityWell is funded by some tech billionaire, who probably doesn’t give a shit about her city or her wellness, and must surely have something to gain from this exchange. She wonders how many more folks like her could easily be baited if that billionaire leveraged things like free food, free housing, free subway cards. Everyone, probably. Even Paris.
Sheryl checks her notes. “Last time, you were really reluctant to talk about your father. I think if you did, that could be helpful for us both going forward.”
“There’s not much to say. I don’t think he’s very interesting, but it’s because he doesn’t have to be. He doesn’t have to try. And I think that’s fucked up,” June says. “I think he has so much power because he drains it from my mother. Men, in general, are like that.”
Sheryl scratches that across her notepad. “Why do you say that?”
June shrugs as if she can’t be bothered to work all that out, although she already has.
Whenever her father goes home, he has his dinner, which he knows is always waiting for him, sitting in a seat that is always clear for him, surrounded by people who intrinsically show him love. Her father earns the most money (and the Bible commands it), so he runs the show. But it’s her mother that is the smartest of the two. If she had been able to go to college, if she married a man who regarded her opinion more highly, maybe she would make the most money and they would live in a different house, making different but less detrimental mistakes. For example, Alt-Father would never have left her in a car one summer when she was eleven months old. Alt-Father would never have cheated on her mother with their family “friend,” Vera. Alt-Father would apologize when apologies were needed, but live in a way that they scarcely were.
Whenever she looks at her real, non-alternative father, she feels none of the tenderness and heartache that she does for her mother. She feels angry. She feels foreign. But she’s not foreign. She is his. That’s the catch. If Alt-Father was real, an alternate daughter would have to be too.
“Anyway,” June says. “I saw the boy from high school again recently. He was at a friend’s party in the city. Afterwards, we got drinks and he came home with me.”
In the glow of the living room’s recessed lights, he looked the same. Hair freshly cut the way his mom maintained it in high school. Slightly chapped lips. A scar that divided his left eyebrow that he sustained during a basketball game. She didn’t have to squint to picture him in his uniform. He hadn’t grown up in a noticeable or admirable way at all, but as the sun slipped low and their night’s end seemed inevitable, she got excited thinking about what he would do to her later and about how willing she was to let him do it.
She feels a little shy talking about this, but it’s too important not to share. “I wanted to be controlled by him. But he wasn’t worthy of controlling me. Just like he hadn’t been worthy of my SD card.”
“Did you enjoy it in the end?” Sheryl asks.
“I wanted to enjoy it, so I did.”
“You willed yourself to enjoy it?”
“Is that what you typically do when you have sex with men?”
June pauses. “I can’t say. It’s been a long time since I had sex with anyone else.”
This is what she told him, so that he would go slowly. She couldn’t dare to mention to him that she remained a virgin. It’s disappointing, but she decides in that instant not to mention it to Sheryl either. There’s always next time.
“How much longer do we have?” she asks.
“About five minutes.” Sheryl folds her hands on top of her notebook. “June, why do you come to these sessions?”
June says, immediately, without thought, “Because they’re paid for?”
“But why do you feel you need therapy?” says Sheryl. “I ask because it seems like you’ve already made up your mind about yourself and everything else. That’s fine. I can work with that. But the question is if you want me to? Are you interested in bettering yourself?”
“Do I have to be better?” June asks. Because she’s not sure where there’s room for improvement. Or how to change the size of the universe in conjunction with herself. “I didn’t think that was the point.”
Sheryl jots that down. “Then what is the point?”
June thinks about tearing a tab off the flyer in the subway. She tries to remember exactly why she did it. Or why she called the number, even after Paris said it seemed suspicious and exploitative. Or why she showed up that first time and every time since then.
Sometimes she wants someone to watch her as she exists. Sometimes she wants someone to touch her and confirm she does. Sometimes she wants someone to listen.
“I have a lot to say,” June admits, which is the one thing there’s no reconciliation for. No mental tactics to employ. Sometimes she’s resolved to being small, but her thoughts and her hopes and her fears are relentlessly big.
“That’s all,” June says. “Someone should listen.”
Chelsie Nicole Hinds is a first-generation Barbadian-American author. She earned her MFA in fiction at The New School. She has written for Brooklyn Magazine and was shortlisted for the 2018 Disquiet Literary Contest. She currently resides in Brooklyn where she’s working on her first novel.