Left to right: Kima Jones, Krisserin Canary (Me! Duh),
Elle Brooks, Tommy Moore, Lilliam Rivera and Terrence Flynn.
Photo by Casey Curry.
January 27, 2013 PEN Center USA threw a party to celebrate the 2013 Emerging Voices Fellows. Thank you so much to everyone who came out. For those of you who weren't able to make it--I've pasted the excerpt I read from "The Incredible Gustafson Women," below. Thank you again to everyone for your love and support. It means everything.
|Photo by Casey Curry.|
An excerpt from my novel-on-progress, The Incredible Gustafson Women:
Saying the word seemed to form their mouth into the very shape the boob was intended for--pursed, ready to suckle.
"BOOBS!" They said again, pointing.
The three boys, Buddy, Matthew and Ronald, had been her friends since as long as she could remember playing in the fields, but age had brought something between them, it brought Margaret's breasts.
Margaret Gustafson descended from a long line of Danish women, whose colossal bosoms were made to nurse the strongest of Viking men. At 12, what Margaret had developed were only a wink of what was to come, but on seeing the sprouting of those little buds, her mother drove her down to the store and bought her the itchiest, scratchiest bra they had to offer. It was white, cotton with stitched-cups, that fit tight around her chest and pushed what little Margaret had up towards her neck. The edges, trimmed with lace, left red outlines on her chest and underarms. It was a torture device, created to punish the wearer. Margaret was convinced that if Eve had known that this would have been a consequence of the fall of man, she would have changed her mind.
"What do they feel like?" One of the boys asked.
"They feel like normal," Margaret said. She was sick of her anatomy being the topic of conversation. She wanted to talk about baseball or hidden treasure, but Margaret's developing chest was too new, too exciting. She'd taken to removing her bra and sticking it in the back pocket of her jeans before she went out to play, but its absence only made her breasts more noticeable. They stood up like toothpicks propped underneath her shirt.
Margaret hated the idea that she was turning into something different from the only friends she'd ever had. She didn't want to be like Maude and Mary, her older sisters who were obsessed with boys and bleaching their mustaches. She wanted to be out in the world--running, playing, dancing, and most definitely not growing boobs.
"I want to cut them off!" She wailed to her mother, after a particularly embarrassing day.
"They're just interested because it's different. They'll give up caring soon enough," her mother said.
The next day the boys were sitting in their usual spot playing cards, in the remains of the old burnt-out barn at the end of Margaret's road. The cards were Matthew's; lifted from a secret box his older brother kept under his bed. They had pictures of naked women, their top halves twisted to show pink nipples, joyfully erect.
Margaret had seen the cards before, and before they never harbored much interest, but now she couldn't help but to look and compare.
"This one's got huge titties. Look!" said Matthew.
He turned to the next card.
"She's my favorite," said Buddy, pointing.
"Why are her nipples brown?" Margaret said.
"What color are your nips, Margaret?" asked Buddy.
"None of your damn business," Margaret said. "I don't know why you guys care so much. They're just boobs. Your mom has them."
"Not like these she don't," said Matthew.
"If it's not such a big deal, why don't you let us see 'em?" said Ronald.
"It's not a big deal!" said Margaret. She didn't want them to think she cared. She didn't want them to think she was different.
"Can we touch them?" said Matthew.
"If I let you, just once, will you leave me alone?"
They unanimously agreed that they would.
So in the dark, cold, burnt-out barn, Margaret Gustafson took off her top; she turned to face the three boys, her childhood friends, bare-chested.
Buddy was the first one to reach out. He put his hand under her right breast and lifted it up.
"They're smaller than I thought," he said.
"They're still growing!" she said.
"They’ll get bigger,” Matthew said. “Have you seen Mrs. Gustafson?” He reached out and poked at her nipple, pushing it down into her chest.
"Careful!" she said.
"Why is one bigger than the other?" Ronald said. He reached out and pinched her left nipple, while Buddy, whose hand hadn't moved from below her right breast, began to slap it lightly back and forth.
"Look! Her nips are getting hard!" Buddy said.
She didn't think that it would have bothered her to have other people touch her there, because until that day they had existed separate from Margaret. They were not a part of her, they just happened to be attached to her, like a tick or a barnacle. A parasite growing larger and larger each day, sucking a little bit more pride away from our girl. But now that they were under attack by the careless hands of these boys, she finally felt that they did belonged to her. The shock of nerves and pumping blood vessels exploded all the way down to her stomach, and she didn't like how it made her feel.
It was a hard pinch from Ronald that finally turned the switch. Margaret reeled back and punched him hard, right in the face, her fist drawing blood from his split cheek. A transference of pain, of hurt.
Margaret ran. She ran out of that barn all the way back to her house, her two hands cupped over her chest to protect herself. She was able to escape upstairs to her room without anyone seeing her, and once alone, she took the opportunity to look in the mirror. She imagined she was going to see bruises or marks where the boys had touched her, but there was no sign left behind.
She felt them. They were sore, and she wondered if it was from the fondling or because they were growing that they hurt; that she hurt. She put on her bra, and her shirt, and she was sad--sad that, despite wanting to run and play and dance and be a kid, her body had decided it was time to grow up.