2017 Barthelme Prize: Pedro

DJ Thielke

My mother told me I was going to love sex and need a lot of it.

I was thirteen and lying on the couch, my head propped awkwardly on an armrest, while she towered over me, viciously stirring a small plastic pot with a popsicle stick.

"It's the testosterone," she went on, frowning at her work. "You have a little more of it than usual, that's why."

She raised the stick and let something honey gold and pearlescent drip off. She spun a glob of the wax, studied it, then set back to stirring.

Normally I would have been squeamish at the mention of sex, something I understood without being interested in, but this time I just bunched my shorts in my fists. I wondered if this was something I could say to the other girls at the pool, who had decided that morning that I had a moustache, that my moustache needed a name, and that that name should be Pedro. I tried to laugh along as they came over and asked to feel it. "Oh, Pedro," they said. "Can Pedro be my boyfriend?" I made it home before I started crying, but my mother just rolled her eyes and dug the wax out from the cabinet under her sink.

"Runs in the family," my mother said. "Dark hair, light skin, and big tits."

I wondered if maybe I could tell the other girls this, too—that I was going to love sex and need a lot of it with my huge boobs. I had just thought to ask my mother if she, too, had more testosterone—if she, too, loved sex and needed a lot of it—when she said "OK," and dipped closer to me, the popsicle stick swooping beneath my line of vision.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting something so great. The wax was wonderful, warm and silky, as she slid it across my upper lip. I tried to stifle a smile, feeling it dip into the divot at the corner of my mouth. Over this my mother laid a strip of paper and smoothed it with her thumb in short, repetitive bursts like stroking the forehead of a cat.

"OK," my mother said again. With one hand, she flattened my cheek, stretching the skin level. I could feel the pressure of the inside of my mouth against my molars, a strange feeling, intimate but alien. I had the sudden certainty that this would be what sex was like: that soon, I would something golden and pearlescent, warm and silky, stretched and smoothed out over a landscape of skin.

"OK," she said once more, and maybe this was the only way she knew how to prepare me for the pain.