I am a woman men tell secrets to. It is one of the things that makes me dangerous.
I listen to them. Their voices, hushed, raw, attempting to hide their blind need behind
bluster and violence. I will fuck you so hard, they say. Yes, I say. Please. So hard, they repeat, not sure of where to go next. What to request. My men are not accustomed to getting their way.
Sometimes they need coaxing. What do you want me to do to you, I ask. What do you
want to do to me. My voice breathless with need. My hands busy with daily tasks: the sponge circling a dirty plate in the sink, the scissors cutting leaves out of construction paper for tomorrow’s bulletin board. Tell me.
I used to have a sleek headset, hands-free. Janet Jackson in Rhythm Nation. Operators are
standing by. I kept the microphone close to my lips, knew how to work it to my best advantage. The better to hear you pant and moan, my dear. The better to keep you from hearing me fold laundry, my dear.
I want you to touch yourself, they say, and sometimes I do. The nights are long here.
I want you to touch yourself, they say, and sometimes I don’t. Yes, I say. God yes. My
fingers wrapped tight around fat colored markers, writing in big round strokes. Good job, Brianna! Way to go, Sam! Oh god, I want you inside me.
During the day, they lose their mittens, spill their milk, fall down on the playground and
run to me crying. At night they call me from dark offices, empty parking lots, lonely apartments. They all want the same thing. They want to know someone is paying attention. They want me to make it better.
These days they want to text, mostly. It is more discreet. They text me from their
couches, their kids’ soccer games, their beds next to their sleeping wives. I will fuck you so hard. They send me pictures that make my heart swell with pity and tenderness. They like to pose their erect penises next to other objects so I can see how impressive they truly are. As long as an executive’s ink pen. Longer than a can of soda. Almost as long as a bong.
The children bring me pictures of their pets, their grandparents, their smiling faces, wide
mouthed and missing teeth. They bring me shells and pebbles and feathers. Mugs and tiny bear figurines that say I heart teacher.
I look at all the pictures. My poor, lovely men. My poor, lonely men. I look long enough
to honor them each and then I delete them, each one.
At the end of the year, I make the teacher next door throw the bears and hearts and mugs away for me. I can’t stand to do it myself. My lovely, lonely children.
I wish I was inside you right now, they text. I forgive them their misuse of the
subjunctive. Oh god, I type back. Yes. On a list near the fridge, I write: carrots for class hamster.
They want to be wanted, all of them. They long to be longed for. They ache to be seen.
They say the same things, mostly. I want to fuck you from behind. I will bend you over
and take you. I will cum all over you. They want to feel like they’re in control. They want to feel powerful and hard and in charge.
It’s a shame we don’t talk much anymore. I’m so good at being breathless for them.
They tell me about their dreams, their families, their adventures, their play. They tell me
things their parents would never want them to say. Sometimes they call me Mom and I never tease them for it. I tell them I take it as a compliment.
They tell me about their jobs, their bands, their families, their fetishes. Texting makes
them bolder. They don’t have to say their desires out loud. They tell me they want to feel the silkiness of women’s stockings against their rough legs. They tell me they want to be tied up, to be humiliated, to suck on my toes, to hide in my closet and watch me masturbate. They don’t surprise me.
Until they do.
What do you want me to do to you, I ask him. What do you want to do to me. I set the
phone down and go back to counting jelly beans. It is almost the 100th day of school. We are collecting hundreds to celebrate. One hundred buttons, one hundred kernels of unpopped popcorn, one hundred links in a long paper chain.
Tell me what you love, he types.
Whatever you want, baby.
I want you to tell me.
I love what you love.
Forget about me. What do you love?
I put down the jelly beans, pick up the phone. Lose count. We don’t have to do that, I tell
I want to. I want to know.
It doesn’t matter. Tell me about your cock. I bet it’s huge.
It’s fine. I want you to tell me one thing you honestly love.
I push the phone away, start counting again. I don’t know what he wants to hear and it
throws me. I always know what they want to hear. I lose count. I try again. Threesomes.
Try again, he writes. What do you love when you’re alone.
My fingers push at the jelly beans, small and hard. I don’t have time for this. Stubborn
I type, When I’m alone I touch myself and think of you.
No. Tell me one true thing. What do you love.
What the fuck. I push the phone away again, pick up a fat marker. I have a stack of
certificates to fill. You’re a hundred days smarter, ___________! Brianna, I write. Sam.
Ashleigh. Fuck it.
I love the way the trees look in winter. Black branches in the snow.
Is that what you want to hear?
Is that what you want to tell me?
I want to tell you whatever you want to hear. That’s my job.
I don’t hear from him again. I go back to counting jellybeans.
Sometimes they cry without reason, their hot faces streaked with tears. What’s wrong, I
ask. Use your words, I tell the children. Tell me how I can make it better. They want hugs and kisses for their boo boos. They want someone to hear how bad it was for them, how scary it was when they fell down. I listen.
Use your words, I want to tell the men. Sometimes they are shy. I don’t know what to
say, they write. Say whatever you want, I tell them. Say everything.
Do you like poetry, he asks. He is back.
Do you want me to like poetry?
I think you do, he says. I think you love it.
I do, I say. Because he wants me to. Not because it’s true.
Maybe because it’s true.
Tell me a poem you love.
Ginsberg, I say.
He doesn’t respond.
The children bring me their stories and their pebbles, the men send me their secrets and
their cocks. I cut flowers out of construction paper, thick and pulpy. I sit in a rocking chair with the children below me, wide open faces and brand new thoughts.
I don’t think about the one who wants to hear poetry. I don’t wonder why I pushed him.
Why I didn’t give him what he wanted, something nice. Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Or even the truth. I could have told him the truth.
I don’t think about it.
They send me their dick pics and their dark wishes. I will fuck you so hard, they say. I
forget to answer. Oh yes. Please. Fuck me. I want you to.
Tell me a secret. It is him. I haven’t been waiting to hear from him.
I have been waiting
I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any secrets to share.
I only have secrets to share.
I don’t write back. I don’t know how. At school we are learning time and I spend a whole
night attaching paper hands to paper clock faces with shiny gold brads and I don’t think about him and I don’t tell him my secrets and I don’t wonder if he’ll ask me again.
The other men send me their cocks and their dreams and I forget to cradle their fragile
desires like fledgling birds, precious new things. The children tell me their dreams and their stories and I nod blankly and wonder which of them I love most. If any. Surely I love them. Of course I do.
Tell me a secret he says in my dreams and in my dreams I do, I tell them all.
Tell me what you want he whispers and I do. I do.
M. Molly Backes is the author of the YA novel The Princesses of Iowa (Candlewick Press), which was named Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Fiction for Teens (2013), Forever Young Adult’s Best YA Books of 2012, and was a finalist on NPR.org’s Best-Ever Teen Novels list in 2012. She has performed her personal essays at a number of Chicago reading series, and is a frequent guest at writing conferences and festivals across the country. She currently lives in Iowa with her retired racing greyhound, Zia.