--LAST NIGHT THE STARS THREW ELBOWS
The Boy with Breasts
The pool was murky and foul, but not deep enough to hide his shame.
He jumped in anyway.
His mother had demanded it, wouldn’t allow him to go swimming with his shirt on either. Her wasp’s eyes wore swirls and x’s in them when she was angry or exerting power.
“For an hour,” she shouted, as if none of the other tourists would hear. “You’ll stay in there for sixty minutes, no less, or until you make a friend.”
The boy had no idea how he’d gotten them, but his breasts were considerable, about the size of Robin’s, his rotten cousin, who was eighteen and at least a C-cup.
Under the gray water, they looked like baby seals or liquid loaves. They seemed to swim by themselves, floating so grotesque apart from his frame, yet monstrously attached to it. There were many times he imagined hacking them off with a butcher knife or chain saw, guillotining the things and then subsequently bleeding to death while his amputated breasts flipped around his feet like suffocated sea bass.
At school kids called him all sorts of names. Most thought he was a young she-male. He wasn’t allowed in restrooms. More than once, he ended up nearly being strangled by braziers other boys booby-trapped to his locker.
Fifteen was not so hard an age, he thought, for a kid with normal anatomy.
At the resort now, he stuck to the shallow end of the pool even though that’s where the dead bees and backwash collected. A swollen diaper the size and dim pallor of home plate kept bumping up against the side ladder, as if it were alive. Occasionally, a kid sputtered by wearing arm-floaties or being propelled by a parent and, though harmless enough, the boy with breasts would sink low and hold his breath and open his eyes in the bleak, streaky water, waiting until the figures passed.
In the few remaining photos, his father was only ever shown from the shoulders up. If the deformity had been hereditary, the boy would never know. He was far too ashamed to ask his Mom for details, and besides, the woman was a pathological liar.
When he popped to the surface, the boy nearly rose too high. He caught his breasts and trapped them underwater as if they were disobedient dolphins.
He’d come face-to-face with a girl who owned a nice smile and some chin acne running like raspberry juice across her jaw.
He dumped under again, the motion a bomb of water. His heart was a small animal, yet it booted him in the chest hard so his breasts wobbled like restless jelly fish.
When he came up, she was still there.
“You sure are a water bug. Where did you learn to hold your breath like that?”
“My grandmother was a turtle,” he said. He wished he could lie as fabulously as his mother.
“Yeah. One of my aunts was a dyslexic mermaid with an eye tic. The other aunt gave birth to twin salmons.”
When she grinned, he spotted a purple glob of gum.
He wanted to be more interesting. Sometimes the truth was stranger than lies, so he thought he’d try that out on her. “My dad accidentally set himself on fire.”
“You’re full of it.”
“He did. Honest. It was a faulty barbeque or something.” The boy with breasts pointed across the pool to the lounge chair where his mother was sucking down another cocktail. “Mom got a settlement. She drags me here twice a year.”
“That really sucks. I mean, about your dad.”
Not as bad as having boobs, he almost said. This girl reminded him of elastic sweat bottoms and he didn’t like feeling so comfortable with her. He went under.
When he came up, she asked, “Why do you keep sinking?”
“I’m part frog.”
“You’re an odd duck.”
“Yes, I’m one eighth mallard.”
Laughing, she choked on the gum.
“If you like aquatic things, you’ll dig me.”
She took an inventory of him, scanning the parts she could see—everything from the neck up. Her eyes were like a blind person’s fingertips tracing his face. It gave him goose flesh and made him squeamish.
“Hey, wanna go down to the beach?” she asked.
Hanging over the hotel turret, the sun poked its head out and winked at him. He liked the sun. Of all the things that lived in the sky, it was his favorite.
“Thanks, but I’ve gotta get back to the room. I promised I’d babysit my little brother.”
She nibbled her lower lip. She was actually awfully cute. He hadn’t let himself realize that before. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Probably just be here, in the pool.”
She smiled. “Me, too.”
He watched her lift herself out of the water. She glistened, blonde and thin, with breasts smaller than his. She flipped him a wave.
He could almost make out his mother’s snoring all the way on the other side of the pool. She usually sounded like a dryer with a heavy load. He watched the rise and fall of her chest. She was a mere A-cup.
Tonight he’d develop stomach flu, blame one of those pesky Mexican parasites he’d heard about. He’d spend the rest of the week in the room. But he’d make good use of that time, like an inmate studying law.
He’d figure a way to become brave, or how to live with himself. There was still time to start again.
There are signs everywhere, and each one, in its own vernacular, proclaims that my wife is evil.
Someone pelts the car with a ball of red paint. A protestor cracks a windshield. The police escort doesn’t seem to mind.
They hate me for a different reason, because I am supporting my wife. That makes me just as bad, no different than if I’d been the one who drowned the twins and Ali.
For the first few weeks afterward, I fooled myself into thinking there was a way out of this, some chance of a reversal. The sun kept coming up, dealing out new days, and for me, sunrises had always signified hope, fresh starts, so I bizarrely believed in an escape route, some sort of time travel which would rectify the horror that had been done. Desperate men can get nutty.
Lately I have been replaying scenes in my head, dusting them off and inspecting them like an archeologist. I always come away with nothing, however, just the agonizing dread that I should have known, should have seen symptoms or elemental triggers in Meredith’s moods.
My therapist pointed me to reality. Meredith had been calm. The day it happened, she’d been planting flowers in the garden. That morning she’d started a batch of banana bread. She’d kissed me goodbye, said she loved me.
The lawyer explained that I wouldn’t have to testify. Meredith wouldn’t either. They had her confession and the evidence. I don’t know what would happen if they put me on the stand. I doubt I could form a meaningful sentence. Anymore, it’s as if I’ve had my tongue cut out.
The clerk at the hotel said, “How can you live with yourself?” He was a young punk with chin acne, but he was angry nevertheless, and a manager had to come out to finalize the transaction.
Once inside my room, I put the suitcase on the bed and walked into the bathroom. It gleamed white. The air inside was tangy with the hint of glass cleaner.
I stared at the hollowed out basin, not much different from ours except that safety anti-skid strips ran down the length. The faucet had a wide mouth. I got in and turned both knobs on full. The water slapped at my skin and my clothes stuck to me. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be held under, to know that the hands doing it belonged to a woman who was also my mother. I tried, but could not.
On the bed in my bag was a sundries kit with a razor inside, a pair of scissors. I could have ended it right then, but I needed a different resolution.
At the courthouse I’m pulled through a mob as if I’m some stubborn mule. The cacophony of voices, some shouted from reporters, some from furious townspeople, is like a chorus of spears.
They bring her out in handcuffs and leg irons. Meredith’s hair is thin, her skin gray. Her smile when she sees me is hot shrapnel ripping through my chest. The crowd sees this and gasps.
My mind flicks. There’s my Meredith, the first time I meet her, at the book store, sipping cappuccino foam in the poetry section at Barnes and Noble. I see her at Lamaze class taking cleansing breaths. I see her reading to the twins, one bundle tucked under each arm. I hear her voice sing a shimmery, “Hush little baby don’t you cry.”
I don’t see a furious struggle. There is no water. No pounding or panting, no screams. I wish there were, I do, but all I see is the woman I fell in love with, swaddled, wearing layers and layers of forgiveness.
I Used a Capo
This is the dress I wore to prom when Ryan Hoff gave me his flask and Ty Phillips bumped me and fruit punch-mixed-with-wine spilled across my chest and shawl.
This is the mouth I eat with. Sometimes this is the mouth that sends food the other way, violently, usually on days when I need to fix something.
These are my eyes, so dry from not crying, like wooden peach pits.
Touch this spot on my neck. Isn’t it smooth? My cat, Macaroni Cheeses, always rubs his head back-and-forth, back-and-forth there.
These lips are chapped by the wind but mostly from my constant licking. 3.01 people have kissed them so far. (The decimal is for Father.)
These fingers are long and bony, with gnarled knuckles, like string beans, yet they have drawn some pretty pictures. The best of them won a prize. It was a sunrise made to look like a belly carrying a somersaulting fetus inside yellow and pink swirls.
This is my room. I keep the lights low. Even the two lava lamps seem to whisper with their radioactive gleaming. I’ve allowed them to hypnotize me before. I pretend they are Day-go goldfish and give them Swedish nicknames.
This, well, this is not a birthmark, but a scar. I’ve seen other people who have one. Mine is a long, gray dagger that runs off the page of my face to my neck. I grow my hair longer on that side so it will act as a curtain for the public, but when I’m home, I put my hair up in a pony and stare at the way nature has welded the scar tissue together so that it resembles an earth worm or chowder.
Listen up. Here is a song I wrote. I used a capo for the first time to get the high notes aligned. The song is really just a tricked-up love poem that tells the story of my life. I don’t have the ending completely worked out yet, but so far I’m pleased.