The Challenger Disaster by Hope Jordan

I kissed you at a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre party. Years later I watched a documentary about the actual massacre and it seemed like a gruesome inspiration for a party theme. Back in 1929 Al Capone’s gangsters murdered seven others in Chicago; historians said that never before had Americans seen photos with so much blood, in the newspaper.

The party was in a frat house basement. Girls wore flapper dresses and red lipstick; brothers carried toy machine guns and wore sunglasses and dark suits. We were crowded into a room with a bar and pool table. A few steps led into the next room. I was in that doorway going up and you were coming down. Because of the steps, your mouth was eye-level so I kissed you, not hard, no tongue, just a warm friendly kiss for no reason I’ve ever known.

Maybe because you were tall and thin and had Jim Morrison late-60s hair. Maybe because you stood leaning slightly back, hips thrust forward, so that my roommate nicknamed you “DF” for “dick first.” Years later I came across a New York Times interview with a model who described that exact stance, used by the men who pose for the covers of romance novels. It flattens the stomach and sends a viewer’s eyes to the crotch.

I was drunk enough to kiss you but sober enough to wonder what I’d done. When it happened neither of us said anything. I kept going up the stairs. Later, waiting your turn to play pool, you swaggered over and said, you kissed me. It was true but I didn’t know what else to say. I was afraid you would tell me I ruined your chances with some other girl. Instead you asked me to help out behind the bar.

Weeks before this the space shuttle Challenger had exploded. Then, too, seven people had died, but they were astronauts, not gangsters, and they weren’t executed; nobody saw their blood. Over and over we had seen television images of the smiling teacher astronaut, of her small students crying as they scanned the zigzag sky.

At the Massacre party people walked around aiming plastic guns and telling Challenger jokes. What did Christa McAuliffe tell her husband? You feed the dog, I’ll feed the fish. It bothered me that nobody seemed able to pronounce her last name.

Beside you I poured beers from the tap and handed them to the crowd. It felt like digging a ditch or dancing, a conjoined intensity of rhythm. A bottle broke and you cut your hand picking it up. I helped you wrap it in a filthy rag I found beneath a shelf.

Later in your apartment I took off my clothes. You laughed; it hadn’t occurred to me that waffleweave long johns are not what a woman wears to seduce a man. Years later I saw Marla Maples guest star in a sitcom scene, après-ski, wearing thermals and looking stunning. I wondered then if maybe you hadn’t been mocking me after all.

You wore cologne, some alien scent monstrously more delicious than the English Leather of my father or the Brut of my high school boyfriends. Your body was pale and muscled and smooth as an ancient statue. You put on a condom before we fucked. You put your finger up my ass. This was the first time someone had done this. I did it back, assuming you expected it. Years later I wondered if that surprised you even more than my kiss.

When I woke up in your bed my legs were covered in streaks of blood. I was hungover and afraid. Then I realized the blood was yours, from the cut on your hand. It was a map of where we’d touched in the night, contrails left behind by your travels on my skin.

Hohjheadshot15pe Jordan’s short story, “I Can Shoot Razors From My Eyes,” appeared in the anthology Scream When You Burn. Her poetry chapbook, The Day She Decided to Feed Crows, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. She was the first official poetry slam master in New Hampshire.


This piece was originally published on Flash Flash Click. We are honored to host it here in partnership and collaboration.

Image: “Flappers” by PunkToad