Photo: Ugur Akdemir via Unsplash

Forbidden fruit looks even sweeter. Six tales of reaching for the prohibited, from electric fences to coach’s shorts

This month, A Beautiful Perspective is exploring touch in all its forms and contexts. Click here to read more stories from the TOUCH Issue.


As children, we long to touch anything forbidden. Layers of emotion drive this, but the root is a phenomenon of human psychology called reactance. When we perceive threats to freedom, we are fiercely motivated to resist and reestablish control.

That often means doing what we’ve been told not to. And we don’t really grow out of it. We learn the rules, but remain wired to serve self-interest.   

So we get burned. Scars form on our bodies and ethereal hearts, yet our hands keep reaching out. Maybe to prove ourselves. Maybe to feel alive. Maybe we’re just that fucking curious.

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She could be my stuffed animal, this creature with stained-glass wings and furry everything, even her eyes. She’s busy, so busy making friends with flowers. I want to be her friend, to hug her soft roundness and hear her buzzing songs right next to my ear.

Bees sting, Mom says, and it hurts. But I only want to play. So I close my hand around my tiny new friend, a tickle of fine hairs and scrambling feet. Then she burns me, a sharp, sickening burn that makes my fingers close tighter and tighter. It feels like a thousand splinters in one square inch.    

Mom comes to my crying. She tells me the bee is dead, and I cry harder. Bumblebees are good bugs, she says. This one was just scared.

We find a perfect daisy and place her inside the petals. Other bees visit other daisies. I hope they understand.

Paul Felberbauer via Unsplash

Pocket knife

The bathroom tile is cold on my feet as I stare at the drawer. His drawer. The one I’m not allowed to open. I can almost see the outline through the wood, thin and innocent and the color of cinnamon candy. The white cross on top makes the knife seem even safer, but Dad says it’s dangerous.

I want to hold the danger myself, just for a second.

The hard plastic shell fits in my hand, and the blade slides free easily. My breath fogs the polished steel as I look closer. Goosebumpy shivers start in my scalp and radiate to my toes as I dare to test its sharpness.

Dad calls me to breakfast, and the good shivers turn to sweaty panic. With the blade between my thumb and index finger, I pull down gently, then desperately, until it snaps closed.

My finger is split like a ripe tomato. There is so much blood so fast on the checkerboard tile, on the white towels. I don’t feel pain as much as fear.

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Electric fence

I pull a stalk of cheatgrass out by the roots and march to the taut wires. They are silent, but I know electricity crackles inside. My audience shrieks and giggles as I touch the plant to the fence. No sparks.

As I take another step my ankle buckles, but my arm is already extended, hand primed to tap the monster with the topmost molecules of a fingertip. The instinct to break my fall overwhelms everything else, and I grip a wire with my whole hand, the force of my entire weight going down hard.

I don’t feel the metal or my body flying, just a sensation like every nerve and vessel exploding. Flattened in the clover, I can’t help thinking about back-diving into the pool and slamming the concrete side with my skull.

My friends are so scared I’m dead that they stay crouched 10 feet away. “We’ll be grounded forever,” one says.

I will be a hero.  

Raw chicken

Glistening like glacéed fruit, the chicken breasts call to me. All raw meat does, but chicken is the supervillain. Just touching it could weaponize my hands with gut-wrecking bacteria.

But the flesh is beautifully, solidly pink. Once it’s room-temperature, Mom will turn these filets into dry, rubbery pucks. She lets me eat cookie dough, sushi, steak tartare. Everyone eats runny eggs. The dog eats garbage.

I grab a sharp knife and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. Cutting from the bottom so I can hide the crime, I take a strip of meat and roll it in granules of salt, sugar, garlic and paprika. It smells savory and clean. Tastes that way too, and chews like cool velvet. A delicacy reserved for the bold.

I will not get sick, I will not get sick, I will not get sick, I will not get sick …          

Chastity Cortijo via Unsplash

Fluffed comforter

They invaded our house and covered it with their Christmas, fancy things we’re not supposed to touch until after the party. But this bed; it’s a loaf of Danish goose down piled with silk throws and sweet little pillows.

Nothing needs to be jumped on more than this. They can always re-fluff, and I will make it look like an accident. My conscience can live with it.

The hard part is deciding on the dive position and angle of attack. So I study the field, the impossible height and absolute smoothness of what professional decorators summoned from a mere comforter.

It looks even better from the air—the symmetry, the balance. I land face-first and spread-eagled, feeling the feathers compress like a lover giving way to a hug or a cloud enfolding some sleeping angel. The duvet cover is softer than my skin. It’s a Christmas miracle.

Todd Cravens via Unsplash

Short-shorts of unrequited love

Lungs burning. Legs dead. Dignity destroyed. This hill is brutal. Coach P. is brutal. I know the backs of his upper thighs well enough to sketch them blindfolded. I’ve studied this machine. Everybody says he used to model for Calvin Klein, like Marky Mark. It must be true. He must hear me back here, panting and pummeling dirt behind him as he glides. How does he never sweat? Why can’t he love me? I know why he can’t love me … This hill is going to end me. I wonder if he’d stop. This is the closest I’ll ever be to him. Right now. This. It would be so easy to touch his tan skin beneath those silky shorts. I refuse to be that creepy. God, this hill. Maybe just the shorts, the flying hem. If my arm swings just a little higher. There! It feels like … cotton-poly.