Content warning: Sexual assault

“I forgot something, Lily,” Mom says, leaving me alone. As I inch closer and closer towards the front of the grocery line, I fidget, waiting for her return.

I like taking my walks alone in the soft silence of a small-town night. There’s no one else around.

— 

Mom leaves half-full glasses around the house. She never warns me not to do that at the bar.

— 

“John?” My driver smiles slightly and says it is, so I stumble into the car.

— 

As she collapses into the Lyft’s seedy seat, her phone buzzes. Across the screen, it reads: “Your ride is three minutes away.”

— 

One of Mom’s commandments: “Remember to keep your legs closed around men!”

— 

My mom always tells me: “Dear, you have to, have to save yourself for marriage.”

— 

“If anything bad happens, you’d tell me, right dear?”

— 

The hot water scalds.

— 

No matter how hard I scrub, I can’t get the stains out. I can’t even control my own fucking piss now.

— 

There’s blood too. At least it’s not her period.

— 

“someone touched oh god how could this happen to her not my little girl someone else just not her”

“Did you at least use protection dear?”

— 

“No. I don’t want it. Thank you.” 

The pharmacist ignores me and forcefully thrusts the receipt into my hands.

— 

She finally finishes telling the psychiatrist about the encounter. His first words: “Could you repeat that last part again?”

“Thank you for coming in and interviewing with us today. Do you need a lift home?”

To stop the car from automatically locking, I just need to insert the key into the ignition and turn the car on; after, I press the unlock button three times, then turn the key to the off position; next, I press the lock button, press the lock button the lock button the lock button the lock button turn car on press the lock button. Press a button.

Jasmine tea helped a lot today. It was a really, really good day. Today was a good day. Today was a good day.

I keep getting told that I’m strong. Some days, all I want is to be weak.

I think I’m fine. I think I’m fine. I think I’mfine. IthinkI’mfine. I think I’m fine . I think. I’m. I—

      I feel like I’m splitting

                                                                                                         i

I

had

enjoyed

the

quiet

of

the

night

but

there

was

no

one

else

there

When mom forgets and leaves half-empty glasses around. I always have to clean up after her.

I wet the bed again. Mom doesn’t make a fuss when she cleans up with me.

“I’m sorry that I couldn’t protect you, sweetheart. I’m so, so sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Mom. But, please, clean up after your cups.”

My mother used to tell me: “You have to make sure you save yourself for marriage.” But I couldn’t even fight back.

— 

My mother used to command me: “Remember to keep your legs closed around men.” Remembering wasn’t the problem. He was.

— 

“Tell me when you get there, okay dear? Protect yourself out there.”

— 

I feel like I’m wilting. Why are summers in New York so fucking hot.

The hot water scalds my body. But it fogs up the mirror so I don’t have to see myself.

The pad leaks, so there’s blood on my underwear. But my shaking hands still won’t let me use the tampon.

— 

I finish telling my therapist about the assault. She takes the time to write the last part. The silence is oddly comforting.

— 

“No, I don’t want it. Thank you.” He ignores me and forcefully thrusts the receipt into my hands.

I crumple it up and chuck it next to the trash at his feet.

— 

“Thank you for coming in and interviewing with us today. Do you need a lift?” 

“I want to walk, thank you though.”

I keep a small hydrangea on my windowsill. I never cared much for lilies.

— 

Turns out, jasmine tea doesn’t help that much.

“I forgot something,” Mom says, leaving me alone. Closer and closer, I inch towards the front of the line. When I get to the front without her, I pay with my own money.

— 

Talking to you has been helpful, but I need a second to myself. Would you excuse me?

— 

I keep getting told that I’m strong, and some days that’s all that keeps me going. But on other days, all I want is to be weak. Then, one day, I let myself be.

With tea though.


Confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

Emergency Berkeley Police Department Hotline for Sexual Crimes: 510-981-5900

Note: The special formatting in this story has been adapted for online publication.

“Please, Be Sensitive” by Mackhai Nguyen and the accompanying artwork “Broken Teacup” by Tajaé Keith appeared in Issue 40 of Berkeley Fiction Review.

Mackhai Nguyen has mostly written (allegedly) subpar academic writing before this publication, so he is grateful his fiction writing has been better received. He currently studies Latin, English, and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley and finds life generally difficult. This will be his first publication.

Tajaé Keith is an illustrator and character designer currently studying child education and teaching. Through positive representations of the Black body, as well as her knowledge of art and design, Tajaé hopes to create a more inclusive and positive space for Black folks within education, the arts, and the multiple genres of storytelling that often exclude Black bodies. She is currently based in Southern California.

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