To this day, it amazes my friends and colleagues if I confide to them that I slept with a prostitute at age eleven. I am quick to qualify my statement by telling them I wasn't raped or abused. I didn't know at the time what was actually happening. Anna and I were simply friends.
I met Anna one spring day at the neighborhood park that was on the route I walked to and from school. It had a playground, but I rarely availed myself of it. My schoolmates and other little friends would ride roughshod over the jungle gym and other equipment, screaming at one another, forming teams, and making all manner of commotion. Normally, however, I just tried to be alone in a corner on one of the benches, lost in a book. On this particular day, I had with me a book of poetry. My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Appleberry, had given me the book earlier that day. She sensed that I would appreciate it. Suddenly, I was distracted when a shadow loomed over my book and me.
"Excuse me, young man, may I share this bench with you?"
Looking down at me was the most beautiful woman I had even seen in my life! She was even prettier than Ms. Appleberry. Anna must have been in her mid-twenties. She sported long, blonde hair, fixed in a long ponytail. She wore tight blue jeans and a plain, white blouse along with bobby socks and tennis shoes. She smiled the prettiest smile. I must have appeared dumbstruck. I think I managed a nod. Perhaps I even grunted, "Uh-huh."
"Wha'cha reading there, sport?"
"Ah! My favorite!" She looked at the cover. "Whitman, huh? You must be a very smart boy to be mastering poetry-especially Whitman."
Thanks to Anna's easy-going nature and gorgeous smile, I quickly found where my tongue had gone to hide. My heart was no longer pounding excessively in my chest; I began to open up and engage her in what I thought was a charming conversation. I explained in my "grown-up-speak" that poetry was a "window into the soul" and it was full of codes and hidden messages. I repeated something that Ms. Appleberry had told me: if you can understand poetry, you can understand any kind of writing. Anna seemed impressed with this nugget of wisdom. She pondered this statement for a few seconds, and slowly nodded.
"Yes, I suppose you're right. Poetry is full of hidden meanings, just like people. Maybe that's why I enjoy poetry so much. I meet a lot of people in my business, and I think reading poetry helps me to figure them out."
For a moment she was lost in thought.
"Hey, my name's Anna. What's yours?"
Anna asked if I had any friends. I was embarrassed to admit to her that I hadn't any.
"Well, we can be friends. That is, if you'd like."
Of course, I liked it. At that age, I don't think I had ever had a grownup as a friend -- especially someone as pretty as Anna. I told her that, too -- not the part about her being pretty, though. I was too embarrassed to say that out loud, but I'm sure she probably knew I was infatuated by her looks. Anna pointed out the house she lived in. It was an older triple-decker across the street from the park. Anna said she had lots of "roommates" and they were always having "friends" stop by.
We had talked for over a half hour. She glanced at her watch.
"Shoot. I have to go. It was great meeting you, Adam! I look forward to seeing you here again, soon."
She gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze, smiled at me, and stood up to leave. But before doing so, Anna said, "Hey, Adam, would you ever like to stop by and visit? I'd love to have you over. Come up to the back door, and rap on the window next to the back porch. Then I'll know it's you. That way, I won't have to share my new 'favorite friend' with all my nosey roommates."
* * *
After our initial encounter in the park, Anna and I met several times each week -- both in the park, as well as at her house. I was careful to follow her instructions to the letter. I walked around back and rapped softly on her window. She would meet me at the back door and lead me to her room just a few steps away. Her roommates were never the wiser.
During our secret meetings, our friendship blossomed. Anna wasn't like anyone I'd ever known. She didn't talk down to me like I was a kid. She took the time to listen to what I had to say. She even told me that she had learned a thing or two from me, despite the fact that she was the grown up!
Whenever I visited her in her room, Anna always appeared much different physically than in public: she wore silky bathrobes and smelled of wonderful perfume. Inside, Anna also dispensed with her ponytail. Instead, she let her hair down; it was radiant and flowing. During one afternoon visit, I was feeling especially poetic, and I recited a few sentences I composed on the fly comparing her hair to a golden river. Afterward, I was so embarrassed I was sure that my cheeks had turned a bright shade of red. She just beamed at me with that gorgeous smile, and thanked me for the beautiful stanza. Then she kissed me on the cheek. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven! I remember thinking: this must be love - the kind of love that you see between grown ups on the TV and in the movies.
* * *
It was late in May, and school was almost out for the summer. I visited Anna right after classes. It was to be my last visit with her.
Anna was radiant as always, but I noticed that she had a cut above her left eye. She tried to be her usual cheery self, but a part of her seemed distracted. Or distant. I asked her if she had fallen down.
"Oh, no. It's -- well, you know how I told you that I work as a 'physical therapist' right? Sometimes the clients -- well, when you ask them to pull hard one way, or push another -- they get confused and -- well, if you don't duck at the right time, you can get clobbered."
I remember telling her I was sorry that had happened. I suggested perhaps she should consider some other line of work that didn't involve the risk of getting clobbered. She just laughed, and said, "What else would I do, Adam? This is what I was trained to do. Besides, I like it. And I'm good at it. Most of the time, anyway."
Anna quickly changed the subject. We talked more about poetry and about William Shakespeare and how his plays always seemed to end in tragedy. After a while, Anna started to cry. I was a bit alarmed. I had never seen her sad before. I went over to the side of the bed and sat down next to her. Not knowing how to console her, I put my arm around her. That's when she reached out and embraced me. I was both alarmed and excited. I had never felt a woman's breasts squeezed against me like that - certainly not my mother's. Anna held on to me on for what seemed like an eternity. She continued to sob. After several minutes, she got up, blew her nose, and wiped the tears from her eyes. She sat down on the bed next to me again.
"Want to cuddle?"
I didn't know what to say. I was dumbfounded. A part of me thought we were going to have sex -- whatever that meant. To say 'no' to her might mean going my whole life, never knowing what it would be like to love a woman. I decided then and there.
Meekly, I replied, 'yes.'
Anna lifted up the blanket and sheet and slid under. She reached out her arm invitingly to me. I complied.
"It's okay, Adam. Just friends, all right? You can keep your clothes on."
I was again a frightened little boy. In fact, I was afraid Anna would notice that my teeth were beginning to chatter. As I lay with my back against her, she engulfed me with her warm, wonderful body, surrounding me like a cocoon. I could hear her sniffling a little still, but she seemed to be over the worst of the sadness.
After a few minutes, I began to feel less scared of our carnal embrace. In fact, I remember feeling rather proud of myself at the time, thinking, 'I enjoy sex!'
I was so comfortable with 'sex' that I dozed off. So did Anna. I woke up about an hour later with a start, still snuggling with warm Anna at my back. I pulled back the covers and blanket to climb out of bed. I received the shock of my life! Anna was lying there, still asleep, but her robe had come undone. She was fully exposed to me, including her genital area.
I was frozen in my tracks. It felt surreal. Until then, I had lived a sheltered life as a child. I had not been exposed to even so much as a drawing of a nude female. There was my Anna, with the radiant, golden hair. She looked so different from me, physically. She was now something very alien, something disgusting. I was repulsed. I was ashamed. I tiptoed out of her room, never to return.
All summer long, I avoided the park. And when school began, I intentionally walked a long, circuitous route around the park for the entire fall semester. At Christmas time, I screwed up my courage and walked by the house to see if I could spot Anna in the window. It was then I noticed the entire house was vacant, and a "For Sale" sign was planted in the front yard.
During my teenage years, I often thought of Anna and our friendship. I wondered if she missed me -- if she pined away her lonely afternoons, wondering what had become of her young poet and confidant. I felt badly that I was such a coward, that I felt those feelings at the sight of that naked goddess. Later, after college, I made a special trip back to visit my hometown newspaper to confirm my suspicions: the house was not, in fact, a practice for physical therapy, but rather a house of ill repute. I also made inquiries with the police as to the possible whereabouts of a sex worker named Anna, to no avail.
Nowadays, I teach the works of Shakespeare and the other great literary figures to college students. And in those large lecture halls, I occasionally catch a whiff of a particular perfume one of the young ladies happens to be wearing. I don't know its name, but it's a fragrance that is so reminiscent of the one that is forever seared into my olfactory memory. Whenever I encounter that smell, I'm brought back for just a moment to that special time in my life, to a time of terror and (almost) lost innocence, and to my special friend and my first love, Anna.
Phil Temples grew up in Bloomington, Indiana and has lived in Boston for the past thirty-five years. He is the published author of over forty short stories featured in print and on-line journals, including: The Zodiac Review, The World of Myth, Bewildering Stories, Bleeding Ink Anthology, Stupefying Stories, Indiana Science Fiction, The Literary Yard, and Boston Literary Magazine. Blue Mustang Press recently published his first novel, The Winship Affair.