Claire Harris

Posted on October 17, 2011

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The Imperfect Breasts

I fell in love with a girl because she had different-sized breasts, my friend said as he popped open a second bottle of wine. I hadn’t seen him for a year or so and as a work project had taken me to the town where he lived, I decided to take the opportunity to pay him a visit. I can’t remember if it was a discussion of love or of breast sizes that prompted this sudden declaration.

It was back in college, he went on, and I had just broken up with my highschool girlfriend. You remember her?

I did remember her. She had been my best friend in highschool, a fact that had somehow been clouded over by the fog of forgetting and now eluded him. The girlfriend in question had been of a variety that could probably only be termed mildly psychotic with generous dashes of neuroses, the kind you tiptoed around for fear of eggshells, and great splatterings of yolk too. You never knew what might set her off into a torrent of abuse and the-world-is-against-me’s. Still, she had a kind of sadistic magnetism that drew people to her one way or another. I certainly liked her until the day I decided to stop liking her, but it took an enormous strength of will.

So, my friend continued, we were in the long laborious process of breaking up, and it was one of those breakups that had really started from the moment we got together, you couldn’t date it to anything specific but I guess there were cracks there right at the beginning that just got bigger until there was nothing left to hold the cracks together.

Cracks. Eggshells. I thought.

We were living on campus in halls just near each other and acting out this double existence – one where we continued this charade of a relationship or of sleeping together anyway, more out of habit than anything else I guess, and then a second where we posted letters under each other’s doors expressing how we really felt about each other.

I’ll never forget her last letter. You are a monster, it said. It took you one whole year to tell me you loved me and even then you never meant it.

I could imagine her face as I read it, raged etched across it, scrawling those words and dotting the i’s so furiously that the ink blotted the pages.

Maybe I really am incapable of love, I thought. The age of 19 is full of these kind of thoughts, you know – you think you have just become the man that you are going to be for the rest of your life. So I went straight to a bar and nursed a beer, reading the letter over and over.

That’s when I met her. The girl. She came over and gave me some standard line about us having met before. Standard, except I’m really not the kind of guy girls usually approach with lines like that. So that and the fact that my self-esteem was fairly fragile at that time made me humour her. Turned out we did know someone in common, a friend of a friend of a friend, and we may or may not have both been at some party, I couldn’t remember.

I wasn’t in the mood, to be honest, but she kept buying me beers and talking full-steam about her parents, her pets, her job, that sort of thing, nothing memorable and I just threw in a few Oh-yeah’s, enough to keep the beers coming –

Cos that´s the kind of man you were, I added.

Yeah yeah exactly, and still am, so you see? Anyway, at some point I got up to leave, and it was only when we walked back and she was actually standing outside my hall door that I realised she was coming home with me. I mean, that she had somehow already come home with me. Come to think of it, I´d just walked home and I hadn´t thought to ask her where she lived or if I should walk her to her house or anything, the fact that she didn´t go to our college so obviously she didn´t live on campus hadn´t even crossed my mind. So yeah I didn´t get it til we were there at the door, and that what’s more, I realised this is what she’d had in mind all along. She might even have heard about the breakup somewhere along the way, who knows.

Anyway, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me up to that moment that I could actually sleep with this girl. And when it did, I got dizzy from fear. I’d only ever been with my girlfriend until that point and having a one-night stand was one of those distant fantasies that I thought only happened to other men. I wasn’t even sure when it came down to it that I did want to have sex with her. But I’ve had this belief, ever since I first discovered masturbation, that the day I had a one-night stand would be the day I became a man. I mean I may be a monster but of course I cared about my girlfriend in my own way. Sex with a stranger, that was something else. That took guts. This was the reason for the fear. But pull yourself together, I thought, today you become a man!

All this was going through my head as I fumbled in my pockets for my key. She had gone silent for the first time that evening. All the energy she had poured into that seemingly inexhaustible stream of words, all that had been just for this moment, just for the conversation to last right up to the bedroom door, and now we had reached it she had nothing more to say and as we ran into this wall of silence, I realised I could not now repeat one word of anything she had said to me. What had she talked about so purposefully for hours? I felt suddenly sorry for her, how hard she must have tried, kept coming up with new topics, kindled the conversation, poked it and kept it going, stretching it out and guiding it just so it didn’t die out before it had reached its final purpose, this, the bedroom the door, the two of us standing outside it, me fumbling for the keys; and what effort she had gone to for it to seem so natural and unforced!

The silence gave me the courage I needed to push open the door. I led her to the bed and she sat down without resistance and, kissing her lips and her neck, I began to unbutton her blouse gently and alright, a bit nervously, even though a voice inside me said that on the night I became a man I should be tearing this girl’s shirt off with reckless abandon and throwing her on the bed.

Maybe that’s what she expected too or perhaps she sensed something of the pity I was feeling for her. Whichever it was, she wasn’t moving as I peeled off her shirt, but she didn’t try and stop me either. I moved my lips round to the back of her neck and looked down over her shoulder as I unhooked the clasp of her bra and took it off. She had quite a pretty back, there was a beauty spot right on her shoulder blade which stood out against her white skin and made it look quite elegant. I was so busy admiring it, it took a second to notice that her shoulders were shaking. I turned back to her face and saw that a tear was rolling silently from each eye. They dribbled down her cheeks and plopped from the end of her nose. Her eyes were turned downwards.

What’s wrong? I asked in horror. This was not how things were supposed to be turning out. She started sniffing and more tears were squeezed and plopped.

It’s my breasts, she said. Her eyes were not downcast, they were fixed on her breasts as though she was noticing them for the first time.

What about them? They’re very nice.

They’re different sizes.

What do you mean? Of course they’re not.

They’re not the same size, she repeated. One is bigger than the other one. Look!

She was really sobbing by this point and as I looked at her breasts heaving up and down, I just couldn’t work out which one was bigger and which was smaller.

The left or the right? I asked, confused.

The left! She cried and I watched the sad little breast wobble up and down with each sob. Sob wobble sob wobble.

Is bigger or smaller? I asked.

But whatever her answer was, it got lost among the tears as if she was washing out the memories of a thousand and one other nights that had ended the same way. And as I stared at them, I thought I did notice a very slight, almost imperceptible difference in size, that the left was in fact a little larger than the right but as I watched entranced by a tear winding its way along the curve of the breast and coming to rest on her nipple, it seemed to switch and the right looked bigger and I just couldn’t tell anymore.

I’m sorry, she said, and I’m not sure if she was apologising for the size of her breasts themselves or the fact that she was crying over them. I told her it didn’t matter one bit and I kissed both of her breasts to prove it, first the left and then the right, but the kind of kiss you give a small child who has fallen over. I held them in my hands and all this time her eyes never left her breasts, but she wasn’t crying anymore, just watching my hands in silence, her breathing slowing down gradually and her chest growing still. She lay down on the bed and I lay beside her, my hands still holding her breasts. I fell asleep right away and I slept the most peaceful sleep I had had for a long time. The breakup had afflicted me with a bit of insomnia and normally when I slept it was restless and I woke often. But that night my sleep was a deep and massive void, not even disturbed by dreams.

When I woke it was morning and she was gone. All that remained of her was the bra lying beside me on the bed where I had placed it the night before. I don’t know if she had wanted to leave it or if in her hurry she had just forgotten it. I looked at that lonely and empty piece of fabric, all cheap and pink, and I knew I loved her. A whole and complete feeling such as I had never felt in two years with my girlfriend. I would have done anything for that girl. I would have swept her out of her sadness and spent a lifetime with her imperfect breasts.

I never saw her again of course. I mentioned her to our mutual friend the next time I saw him, but as I couldn’t remember her name or anything she had told me about herself or, when I thought about it, her face either apart from the general colour of her hair, he couldn’t place who I was talking about. I couldn’t very well ask if he knew where I could find the girl with the different-sized breasts.

But from that day on, I never saw my highschool girlfriend. I mean, she must have still been living on campus but I didn’t notice her. I just didn’t see her, like I’d blocked her out of my field of vision completely or I´d pulled a plughole and she´d been drained out of my head and every detail and fact of her too. I never even thought about her or worried about bumping into her. The letters stopped like she´d been smudged out of existence. Not long after, I realised I hated my degree and I moved colleges to study teaching. I came back here after college, and that was that.

There was a pause. Maybe he was waiting for me to say something but his eyes were turned down.

Hey, I said. Stop staring at my breasts. I’m not her.

He looked up and smiled sheepishly like a kid caught in a lie.

Sorry, he said. Years of habit. I’m still looking for her, I guess.

***

Claire Harris is a 27 year-old Australian who is currently based in New York. She spent the last five years travelling around the world, was an English teacher in the Middle East, cared for aging aristocrats in England and lived with an indigenous community in Bolivia. She works as a production assistant and researcher for a television production company. She has had stories published in the UK and Australia and was recently awarded the Australian Red Cross Journalism Award.

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