The Boys’ Secret

by Kyra McAllister



All of the boys in school had bleeding knuckles.   
The teachers couldn’t figure out why; the boys wouldn’t tell them.   
They’d just go down to the nurse’s office when they got caught,  
so Mrs. Willis could wash out the gashes with hydrogen peroxide  
and wrap their hands with gauze and athletic tape,  
then send them back to class.  
I knew why, but I wasn’t a snitch.  

I knew because Catherine told me,  
and Catherine knew because Janessa told her,  
and Janessa knew because Janessa didn’t care about the rules,  
and followed the boys into the bathroom  
to interrogate them  
one Tuesday afternoon during Social Studies.   
But I knew better than to just believe Janessa,  
because everyone knew Janessa was a liar.   

I asked Declan, and he confirmed.   
He told me that if I told anyone, he’d-- 
I cut him off.   
I wouldn’t tell anyone; I swore on my life.   
I told him the game was stupid  
and I didn’t know why they played it,  
but I would keep the secret.  

Secretly, I didn’t think it was stupid.   
Secretly, I wanted to play the game, too.   

I wanted to hear a boy call my name,  
enthusiastically congratulate me for a job well done,  
then wind up to give me a fist bump.   
To look in his eyes and try to gauge in a fraction of a second  
if his fist would be just a fist,  
or if the spaces between his fingers were lined with colorful, dagger-sharp thumb tacks,  
strategically plucked from the class bulletin board,  
so none of the decorations would fall.  
To know that it didn’t matter,  
because I'd have to wholeheartedly fist bump him back regardless,  
because if I didn’t,  
everyone would call me a pussy,  
and no one would pick me to play on their team in gym class or at recess.  

The whole game was not getting caught, 
and I knew how to not get caught. 

Whether you were hiding the tacks,  
or hiding the initial shock of the needles digging into the soft skin between your knuckles  
then hiding the pain of the tiny sinews ripping  
as the cuts widened every time you flexed your fingers 
then hiding the blood as it flowed down to the tips of your nails,  
and dripped onto the white, linoleum floor,  
then hiding your hand in the sleeve of your sweatshirt  
as you filled out your worksheets  
so you wouldn’t stain the paper and rouse suspicion,  
then hiding your plot to steal more thumb tacks  
and carry out your revenge, 
you had  
to keep it  
a secret.   

But I was a girl, so I was not included.   
Us girls had to protect the secret, not our knuckles. 
We were good at protecting secrets. 
We had a lot of practice.  

The game ended one week and two days after it started,  
when Haven came to school one day  
with puffy, bloodshot eyes and messy hair  
and white gauze and athletic tape tightly wrapped around her left forearm,  
from her wrist all the way up to her elbow.   

By the end of the day, the gauze wasn’t white anymore.  
Suddenly, no one wanted to play the game.   
For the first time in one week and two days,  
nothing about blood was fun  
or exciting  
or tough.   
No one ever talked about it, but everyone knew.   
Even Janessa let it be.   

The bulletin board repopulated with thumb tacks,  
Mrs. Willis stopped buying bottles of hydrogen peroxide on her lunch break,  
and the stains on the boys’ sweatshirt sleeves faded  
from vivid red to muted, spotty brown.   

The teachers never officially found out about the game,  
but I have a feeling they knew all along,  
and understood it was one of those things that would work itself out. 
They understood that the boys had to bleed on the outside 
and the girls had to bleed on the inside 
and everyone had to keep the same secrets 
that everyone else had to pretend not to know.  



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