Dublin, CA, USA
Dublin High School
Content Warning: Please note that this piece contains some mature content, including mild language and some sexual references.
The party was cinnamon-brutal movie-pretty but I was bored out of my mind. Rock band playing through a twenty-dollar made-in-China speaker; they sounded medicated, like hell. Bodies thrummed on the downbeat, conjoined, almost: I only knew fake-out sinners. I was drinking something. I was shaking my hair loose. I was making my own purgatory.
It took me a minute to notice him against the stucco-covered wall, nameless, entitized. He was a stranger and not even that pretty. But I knew it was his house because I’d seen him plastered on the walls in good-faith photos: always grinning, always ten-ish, always framed in faux-mahogany I’d ran my fingers over when no one was watching. Beer stains on the American flag over his head. He stood there like an effigy, blunt burning volatile, back caving in same as my mother’s childhood haunted house.
(We visited last June. At home, my grandma had died like the Florida woman she was, from influenza. My mom wanted to bury her in the Catholic Church’s cemetery an hour away. One look at the ICU monitor dead by the hydrangea-covered sheets and she broke down crying. By then I’d decided that when I died, I wanted to be burned until I was only an idea. That part I didn’t tell her.)
And he was smoking with a girl. Breasts pressed against the crucifix hung over his white tank. Big like her eyes; gas store makeup subtle, black. I didn’t want to walk over. Told myself I didn’t want anything. But the way he nodded his head slow, diplomatic like a missionary, he had clawed through my irises and burrowed himself inside my ego. His face is blurry now but I still remember his fingers curved like my second grade teacher’s big block letters: feminine, performed.
(The bus home last September. Feigning stiffness, I read the Times and the Chinese man next to me. He wore a brown leather jacket, pursed lips, and tinted sunglasses. 70-something I guessed from the cuff of his jeans: loose, like he didn’t care but actually. I wondered if he screwed, still. I wondered if that was living.)
After my third nothing-drink I decided to sit down on his bed and play pretend. Lips wet/pursed like I was turned on and mad about it, the good sort of virgin. Normally I wasn’t this obvious. I hated his mattress; it was white and expensive and wanted to eat me. I layed down as quick as possible. Made me feel busy. The bed post was industrial, serrated. My hand struck the metal frame hard. I noticed the smoothness
before my skin opened like a mother. The relief stung phosphorus green. I didn’t know yet that bleeding was a form of confession, ironic because I used to be devout. How I went to Church, Jesus nailed up on the cross as I intoned my libido to the priest, face hidden by something like a phone booth mid-metamorphosis, his voice disembodied like God’s. My knuckles shook sharp as my sin submerged the cathedral: opaque as Minnesota tap water. Penance as the self drained raw from the body. Sweat or saliva or semen.
My blood staining his sheets ugly. I wondered if this was where he’d first had sex - broken apart his boyhood in blue-collar hands. The thought not pleasant but grounding, his body less divine when indiscretion-marred. He was ugly like me. He was sick like me. He was
kissing the girl, fingers straightened out. The crucifix had slipped off like an overshirt. His tongue was writhing, starved of language. I moved my hand, still bleeding; the red ran steady down his bed frame like nail polish or gasoline. I kept waiting for him to notice. I kept waiting for him.
Kinetic, crushing, and razor-sharp. "The Temple" deftly negotiates between desire and divinity, between the worship and alienation of the object of eros and of the idol of religion. Each sentence surprises with its firepower, each phrase turning at dizzying speeds. It is doomed and disgusted with confession; it is as inevitable as it is unresolvable; it is, on all accounts, a shrine.
Brian Guan is a writer from the SF Bay Area. A 2023 YoungArts award winner and Scholastic American Voices Nominee, he currently serves as Alameda County’s Youth Poet Laureate and as editor-in-chief of teen literary magazine The Dungeness Press. His original play, “Good”, debuted in LA last July.
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