CNF: Private Part

by Briel Felton


The brown therapist holds a rag doll in his hand and while looking over his glasses, asks her to point to where he touched her. She is 9. She has been told that spot is a private one. She lies and points to the doll’s hands. Are you sure? She nods. He removes his wire glasses that remind her of bent up paperclips. He rubs two spots lined adjacently on the bridge of his nose and squeezes his eyes shut. The blue vain on the side of his face pulsates again. He says he wants to speak with her mommy now. She goes out to the waiting room with the bead maze roller coaster toy singing in primary colors and aged, cracked wood. Her mommy looks back at her. She smiles, but she notices that it doesn’t reach her mud eyes. She knows her mommy isn’t going to be happy when she comes out of the office. She knows how to make this dance end. But she promised not to tell. Her face begins to pull down the way tears beg for, so they fall quicker. She begins to tremble trying to lift her face, swiping a single, fat renegade tear from her cheek hoping the sweet receptionist with the rainbow candy jar didn’t see.

The white therapist reminds her of bone marrow, sitting propped up in a black chair. He leans forward, hands in prayer pose. She is 12. You need to give me something. He looks over his glasses at her. You already know she says in vermillion silence. Her lips stay stitched in a stark straight line. Her budding swan neck bends down in shame. He takes off his tortoise shell plastic frames, his long fingers stroking the bridge of his nose. He wants to speak with her mom now. She goes out to the waiting room and sits on the faded periwinkle chairs. Her mother looks back at her. Still smiles and her eyes are even more stone. She knows her mom will put on a brave face after. She thinks of the teal, lemon, and lavender parenting books strategically placed around the house for when fights ensue, not wanting to push her over the edge. She knows how to get off this ride. But she promised not to tell. She lifts her canary knees to her chest and looks over at the receptionist. New and unknowing of her tears.

The black therapist likes to walk around in these sessions. Using this tactic to make the client feel less like a tourist stop for a therapist to peruse. She is 16. He paces back and forth in all black and it makes the urge to talk slip farther and farther under the door. Come on, it’s me. Where do you start? She wants to show him where it all began. But she held her hands in her lap like a comet threatening to jump back into the sky. He removes his aviator frames. His square thumb and pointer finger move in a well-known fashion, massaging the dents left behind. He wants to speak to her mother now. She goes into the waiting room. Her mother’s hair is streaked with grey now. But she still smiles. Eyes are flatlines. She tells her mother she’s sorry. She knows how to finish this. But she promised not to tell. She crosses her arms across her chest and squeezes. She thinks of the rag doll. Where did he touch you? She could see herself feel the canvas texture of the rag doll as she points to its head.


Briel was born and raised in sweet, sweet Virginia along the coast of the Chesapeake Bay, in the cultural hub of the 757. She recently graduated from Old Dominion University, garnering a BA in English, concentrating in Creative Writing. She is the 2019 Academy of American Poet’s University & College Poetry Prize First Place Winner. Her poems have appeared in various publications including Laurel Moon magazine, Firewords magazine, Rigorous magazine, and Barely South Review. She writes about the little things in hopes of connecting with others over these small human experiences. Why are there only two lines in Walmart open? Why is it so hard to correct the employee fixing your bowl at Chipotle when they put corn in it and you didn’t ask for it? Why does the body feel numb when you yawn and stretch at the same time? That sort of thing. Nothing is off limits. No feeling. No smell. No idea. No experience. No kiss. No broken heart. Anything and everything can, and most likely will, find itself on the page.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Private Part”?

As a person, I am very drawn to the small details around me. From certain smells to colors, to textures I’m able to lockdown on them even in serious situations. I can still remember the feel of a red rubber ball hitting up against the side of my arm during a game of dodgeball in elementary school. I can feel it, I can smell it, I can hear the pitonk noise that it makes as it bounces off the skin. Though I’m being hit with a ball, I’m still very aware of how it’s affecting my senses. As I was writing this piece, I wanted to draw upon the senses. Obviously, the story is about something that is painful, hard, guilt-ridden but the character was still aware of the maze roller coaster toy in the waiting room, and the color of the parenting books in her adolescent years, the way that the therapists looked, the mannerisms that they all did. Even though she is in the midst of something that is so traumatic, she was still able to pay attention to these things around her. I wanted this emphasis on the senses to evoke some sort of comfort. I really hope that the reader gets a sense of this as they read the piece.


Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

New titles available from Robert McBrearty and Tori Bond.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now CLOSED. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period next opens March 15, 2020; submit here.


02/17 • Madison Frazier
02/19 • Gail Geopfert
02/20 • Maureen Alsop (8 of 12)
02/24 • Kenneth Pobo
02/26 • Miranda Campbell
02/27 • Maureen Alsop (9 of 12)
03/04 • John Meyers
03/05 • Maureen Alsop (10 of 12)
03/09 • Grant Faulkner
03/11 • Maureen Alsop
03/12 • Maureen Alsop (11 of 12)
03/16 • Tara Laskowski
03/05 • Maureen Alsop (12 of 12)
03/23 • Kim Chinquee
03/25 • Lucinda Kempe