[Read “Five Shots” and “Four Shots,” two earlier selections from Kevin Sampsell’s recently published book of stories, A Common Pornography.]

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Troubled Girl.

Whenever I went to that park to shoot baskets I noticed a girl sitting on the porch of a house across the street. I thought she was really cute, but couldn’t tell how old she was. “Karate Kid” was my favorite movie and I’d seen it six times in the theater. She looked a little like Elisabeth Shue — I liked the scene in that movie where she had on the tight sweater, and they went to the amusement park.

She started to come over to the courtside benches when I’d show up. I was nervous as I talked to her. She told me she lived with her cousins because her parents were murdered in Chicago. Nothing ever happened with this relationship, not even a kiss. She gave me Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for Christmas. I never listened to it. We drifted apart that winter, partly because it was too cold to play basketball.

Five years later I lived in a different town and was in my twenties. I’d visit my parents for holidays, and one time she called. I met her in a grocery store parking lot and we sat in my car. The steering wheel of my car seemed enormous, almost as if it was growing in front of me, as she confessed that she had told me lies about her family. She said she was married but had always loved me. I almost wanted to kiss her but was nervous again. She said her husband beat her up sometimes and that she had a baby boy. His name was Kevin. I thought about how long she would have to live with that.

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Secret Notebook.

When I started to accumulate too many dirty magazines to possibly hide in my ceiling, I had to devise a new plan. I started to cut out the pictures in the magazines. Only the ones that turned me on a great deal. I was fifteen-years-old and this took a great deal of time, probably a weekend or more. When it came to Playboy and Penthouse they were mostly articles, and so it was a little easier. When I was done, I had a full garbage bag of disregarded magazine pages, and I tossed them in a dumpster three blocks away. I put the salvaged clippings in a new Pee-Chee and put it back in my ceiling. It would be easier now to look at these pictures, because I wouldn’t have to spread several magazines across my bedspread anymore. Still I collected more magazines whenever the opportunity arose to steal them from the neighborhood grocery. I had to start another Pee-Chee and grew tired of most of the old photos. Like drugs, I started to need harder, stronger, more dangerous forms of pornography. A few years later, Ted Bundy mentioned having this problem as well. Many people thought he was trying to blame pornography for his sick crimes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I was not a good person myself.

I relegated the first Pee-Chee to the basement. I put it in an old light-blue suitcase with little snap buttons. When my father found the secret stash a few months later I claimed not to know whose they were.

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The Stilts.

My first apartment was at The Stilts, the cheapest housing in the Tri-Cities, in uptown Richland. I lived there for two short months. The first month I was living with three other guys who had decided to move out right as I was moving in. I was the only one there for the second month. The one thing I remember about The Stilts was that it used to be an Army barracks or something. There were six rooms in each apartment, with a small kitchen and bathroom. A lot of kids just out of high school lived there and there were always parties.

Despite only being there for roughly sixty days I remember a few memorable nights. It was a period of time for me where I tried to exact revenge on the ghost of the girl who took my virginity, whom I was convinced had scarred me for life when she dumped me for an ex-boyfriend. What she did was instill in me a precedent that I would constantly rehash. I was guilty of using bodies as I recorded sound-bites in my brain — little quotes about how much of a nice guy I was, how cute I was — I played them back in my head to somehow validate my actions and make myself feel good, like blurbs on a book jacket. I was taking advantage of anyone whom I thought was as weak as me.

After that I lived in a trailer park before moving to Spokane, where I lived next to a staple factory. A year later, in Seattle, I was living in a mess of an old house and slept in a closet. I met a girl there who played Cat Stevens in the morning and made coffee on a stove. I began to cry at anything. It became an initiation for any new girlfriend I would have for the next ten years. We’d get to know each other, sleep with each other, and then I would turn into a crybaby.

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In Spokane I met a friend named Vincent Price, and I had my first acid experience with him. That night was so much more memorable than the first time I had sex. Part of the downtown area was sectioned off, and makeshift basketball courts were everywhere. We found a ball and played in the dark for a few hours, laughing hysterically. Then, out of nowhere, some kids — they seemed to be about thirteen-years-old — drove up to us in two golf carts. They offered us rides, and we got in and let them speed us through Riverfront Park on the walking trails. The headlights weren’t too strong, and we almost crashed a few times before they dropped us off by our bikes.

We rode to a Safeway around five in the morning and bought orange juice, because Vince said it was “good for visuals.” We sat on the curb outside and watched the painted handicap symbol on the pavement bubble and expand. It was glorious.

Around eight in the morning we were finally ready to sleep a little. We rode our bikes over the little bridges of downtown Spokane. Our bodies seemed to be humming a song no one else could hear.