Illustration by Sophie Casson
by Timmy Reed
I was the only boy in Baltimore that had to go to summer school for Sexual Education. I knew nothing and had mostly avoided the class. I hadn’t expected to meet any girls.
Girls were far away, impossible. I’d never really touched one. I’d been riding the same fake kiss from summer camp for the last four years.
Summer school was in the classroom of a lower school in Hampden. There were ducks and the letters of the alphabet on the wall. An old man with a big orange afro was my teacher. I forget his name. I thought of him as “Ronald McDonald.” He was a nice man. He taught me awkwardly, alone, about the ways of a woman’s insides.
I had a girl in mind though: Harriet Hurtt. Not for sex yet, that seemed so far off and impossible. For whatever romantic options boys think of when sex is off the platter. I dreamt of those options. I dreamt of what they might be.
Harriet was the toughest person in summer school. She was there for every class, all day long, except Sex Ed.
It was July, boiling, and they shut the school down for our safety. We were all given bus passes so we could get on the MTA and go home. I bought an egg custard snowball first, then went to my stop.
Harriet was across the street, headed south on the same line.
“Hey, Kid!” she called across, looking all sweaty and important. I had never been called a nickname by anyone that mattered. “I’ll trade you a cigarette for some of that snowball.”
The ice melted off her spoon as it touched her mouth. I would follow her anywhere.
“Let’s go swimming,” she said.
We wound our way down Falls Road until we hit the waterfalls left over by the mills. My father had shown them to me once on a hike, but warned me against touching the water.
“Dirty,” he said. “Keep yourself clean as long as you can.”
The falls were a postcard, half-round like a horseshoe, gushing toward the harbor in a sweet, liquid song. There was garbage stuck to the banks. Harriet went in fully dressed. She eased herself into the water. I pushed sick-yellow foam away with a stick.
She flicked her wrist.
“On my way,” I told her.
Now we were next to each other. We paddled back toward the falling water, holding hands, treading. The falls tried to breach us, but couldn’t. We were pushed forward, but held strong. I tasted love like filthy water in my mouth.
Our exit was too soon. I could have stayed in that brown stream until fall, holding this bad girl’s hand. It was a new kind of classroom. There was still so much to learn.
Timmy Reed edits fiction for What Weekly.com and recently self-published a collection of stories called “Tell God I Don’t Exist.” His debut novel, “The Ghosts That Surrounded Them,” is forthcoming this winter from Dig That Book, Co.