“And Peggy Paula let him, she let him, because if no one is there to touch you are you even really there?”
Oh man. “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula,” written by Lindsay Hunter and recommended by Roxane Gay at Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, is a sharp bright slash of blood on the milky, obedient thigh of conventional contemporary fiction:
One. In high school Peggy Paula worked as a waitress at the Perkins. Night shifts were her favorite, kids from her school would come in after games or dances with bleary eyes and messy hair and Peggy Paula knew they’d been drinking and smoking those flimsy joints she’d see them passing, the girls with smudged makeup and rat’s nests in the back of their heads, proud unblinking eyes, scanning the dining room like I dare you, I dare you to guess what I just let Jared or Steve or Casey do to me, I let him and I liked it and I don’t care, and Peggy Paula felt honored just to be near these girls, envious, taking their orders for French fries and ranch, keeping their secrets and the sticky lipgloss tubes they’d sometimes leave behind, watermelon and cherry and berry and once a spicy cinnamon that burned Peggy Paula’s lips for an hour, what kind of girl wanted burning lips, poison lips, Peggy Paula’s heart pounding at the thought of such a girl, of the boy who went after such a girl in the backseat of his father’s sedan, the girl stinging his lips, his neck, moving farther down, burning that boy up with her mouth, Peggy Paula going into the bathroom stall and wanting to touch herself but not knowing where to begin, wanting to begin everywhere, standing with her fists clenched and breathing hard, and then needing to be out from the stall and moving and so going back to the dining room feeling every inch of her skin, her lips cherry red and raw when she saw her reflection in the toaster, and three weeks later asking the redheaded dishwasher to drive her home and directing him to the spot she knew those girls went to, her lips aflame when he pulled up, sliding over, the stick shift digging into her hip, putting her mouth on his freckled neck, it smelled like mashed potatoes and industrial soap and sweat, her hand first on his thigh and then crab-crawling to his zipper, it was already hardening under there despite him saying, Hey hey, what, and Peggy Paula saying, Just, please, and the dishwasher quiet after that, letting Peggy Paula, letting her, following her into the backseat, holding her tight when it happened, saying, I’m sorry, and Peggy Paula saying, Shh, stinging his shoulder with her lips and his back with her nails and feeling filled up and afraid and like her heart could kick the windows out.
The story’s just this excerpt and two more paragraphs like it; for me it’s working as a good reminder that writing “rules” are most useful when they’re pushed against.