"Bulletproof Vest" by Michelle Lauren Kay
|Michelle lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.|
© 2008 Michelle Lauren Kay
Let's face it, this isn't Heaven. What they tried to tell you, what they read to you on those chewable plastic pages you could take into the bath, about the jolly towns where there was a baker and a cobbler and a policeman -- this isn't it. So we have to equip ourselves accordingly, do we not?
At the downtown bus stop, the air is bare grey with a fizz of rain. I lean against the side of the Holt Renfrew display window, shin splints clamping the fronts of my calves from the black open toed stilettos I've worn to work. Earl's: the good-looking people's eatery, with cocktails named things like Sex With The Ex. My first day I was told, "Dress for work like you're going to the bar." As if this was the pinnacle of class. Inside the Holt Renfrew window, mannequin males with black glazed faces wear light purple dress shirts under dark grey suits. Because pink might be the new black, but purple is the new pink, and round and round the rainbow we go. The glaze-faced men stand in an angular rush in their baby-girl's-room shirts, empty briefcases under their arms, three royal-blue deer heads above them, which no doubt they went into the plastic woods and shot themselves. They look so smug in their hard plastic skin, but for the skin they've traded in their eyes, mouths, and other crucial things. On the other side of the bus stop, flutters a group of high school girls, talking on their cell phones in tapered skinny jeans that make their upper torsos look like wobbly sculptures on museum stands. Tapered was a swear word when I was in high school. But what no one knew is that under my socially acceptable flares, I wore a bathing suit everyday -- a green striped one piece -- the only thing I owned that was padded. My secret was revealed when I leaned over too far one day in math, Lance Henderson loudly inquiring, "Why are you wearing a bathing suit?" Looking back the solution was so simple: Just shoplift a padded bra.
The germ wagon comes around the corner now. I climb the rubber steps out of the tinsel of rain and hand the driver a toonie, teetering to the back in my stilettos. For me, the shoes are just a disguise, camouflage among the prickly-sweet Earl's girls, but some women choose to wear these things. Why? Same deal as long nails: the damsel in distress thing. Help! I can't run from rapists or do up my own sweater.
I take a seat along one of the open benches at the back and place my purse on the seat beside me, the bus air like peanut butter sandwiches abandoned on dusty radiators. 'I know, right?' one of the identibot girls talks loudly on her pink cell, her skinny jeans tucked into blue Uggs that make her feet look like Smurfette's. I smile at her but she doesn't smile back, so I look away. My shin splints rage as the bus rattles over Granville Street Bridge. Earl's has succeeded in keeping me on my toes, right on the balls of my feet, the permanent ALWAYS HIRING sign at the front entrance intended for just this.
"So Shawn," my manager asked me the other day in his self-deepened voice as he filled out my Earlitude evaluation, "Tell me. What are you doing in a place like this?'
"What do you mean?" I asked. Was my stiletto disguise not working?
"You just don't seem like the kind of..."
"It's only part-time," I told him, somewhere under this knowing my degree in sociology wasn't going to make me any money. That technically I may be at Earl's until my eye and ass skin begins to loosen.
At the next stop, two guys board the bus wearing ball caps with the stickers still on (extreme "newness", the backwards pants of the new millennium). I check them out anyway. Not hot, just guys. Around my age, raised in IKEA ballrooms just like me. I avoid eye contact but can feel them leering. Do I really want guys like this staring at my tits? I mean, would I?
I stand. This is my stop. I try not to exude sexy in the heels as I wobble off the bus, then step into a brown gutter puddle that smells like decomposing mermaids. Even the universe wants me to take off these effing shoes. On the nearest bench I take off my nylons, then continue towards my top secret appointment.
The sky has dried up now. The aroma of clouds fills the sky. I walk under a billboard for cellulite or whatever you're supposed to buy to get rid of it, the girl's larger than life ass the actual skin of an orange. "How does the skin get like that?" my ex, Blake, asked me as we were grazing a calendar of obese porn hung up in the kitchen of a keg party. "I mean I can understand this," he pointed to a pair of boobs hanging to the floor - 'but this?' he touched the woman's curdled thigh. "Well it does," I told him.
The billboard shifts its Venetian slats to transform into a travel ad for Cuba. One day, when we have holograms, we'll think of the technology as hilarious, like the flipping numbers on early alarm clocks.
A woman and her Shitzu pass me as I turn the corner. She gives me the Vancouver look-right-through-you, her dog glaring up at me with its pretzely, stapled face.
"Excuse me?" I ask the back of her head, not sure if I'm in the right place.
I notice a white cord coming out of her neck. Ipod. I let her go.
I orient myself with building numbers and walk a few blocks South, stopping at a stop sign to chuckle at the word "Hammertime" etched underneath. I arrive at a grey building with marble pillars and the gold numbers: 864. Gold: bad luck. The colour of posers and gangster's wives. I step inside, giving my one contaminated stiletto a polite wipe on the mat.
"Hi there!" the nurse greets me, her blonde hair glistening like a fresh spider web. "Are you here to see Dr. Rubermeyer?"
I inspect her face to see if she's had anything done. If she has, it's been done well.
"Shawn Mackie, 3:30," I say, quietly.
She hands me a clipboard with pages of personal questions.
Occupation: Mental hooker. Will dye teeth white and let people screw with my head for tips.
Medical History: Voices in my head, but I'm fairly sure they're just thoughts.
The walls of the waiting room are crackled in a mahogany faux finish with emerald green crown moulding along the ceiling, and in the corners - more pillars. Majestic, yet tacky - the look I could walk out with? Adjacent from the nurse's desk stands a fish tank: large yellow fish chasing each other around in paranoia, plastic pink bits of seaweed to ease their suffering. In the centre of the room stands a glass-walled prism the size of a sauna with a desk and a television inside. I fan out the stack of magazines beside me: "BRAND NEW Sex Tips For Know It Alls", "'Va-Jay-Jay' And Other Current Genetelia Lingo You Need To Know". I cross and uncross my throbbing legs. Keep the blood circulating. Don't want anything in there to clog up and turn into cellulite.
As I wait, I think. About the two gay guys last night on HGTV who foolishly passed up the granite counters for an extra bedroom. About whether it's cruel to wear leather because I kind of liked those knee-high boots I saw behind the glaze-faced men. About the message Facebook sent to all my contacts last week when I cancelled my account: "You Are No Longer Friends With This Person." My cousin Reena calling me crying. I had to assure her we were still friends, that it was just that I didn't want to get addicted to silently stalking her and a handful of people I knew in grade four.
"Shawn Mackie?" A new nurse appears, her cupcake-patterned scrubs failing to hide what looks like a fresh-out-the-oven pair of breasts. I stare, feeling I have the right. Do they look too big? Do they get in her way? She leads me into the glass sauna and pops in a before and after video. Some of the women have Before Breasts that look like iguana dewlaps, drooping and sausagey with nipples like melanoma. Others only have one breast. The afters are mostly improvements, but after a few they all look the same. Like silly faces, happy or sad depending on the patient's belly button. I wait in the prism alone.
Would they stop saying my name?
The cupcake nurse leads me down a blank hall to a small room and hands me a blue paper gown.
In the rubber glove scented room, I take off my shirt and bra, the gown crackling as I sit. When have I ever let anyone deter me from doing what I want to do? I went into sociology, even though they all said it was The Nothing Degree. I dated Blake, even though everyone told me he wasn't boyfriend material, even though I doubted it myself when he got arrested for trying to reclaim that castle in Scotland that happened to share his family's last name. Blasted by a ceiling air vent, my arm skin flares with goose bumps, my boobs like fast food in their disposable blue paper.
To me, leaving the house without a bra is the equivalent to a dude walking around with his cock hanging out of his pants. Inappropriate. Disempowering. Floppy. It's the floppiness I can't accept, the changing of shape with each movement, the loose unpredictability. I hate the fact that one piece of underwear holds so much control over me: a thing that can come off, that needs to come off. Having something in me, a solid, consistent shape, I would never have to be naked again.
Three gentle knocks. Dr. Rubermeyer. A faded, white haired man in a geometric sweater with an oatmix folder.
"I don't want to look like Barbie," I tell him off the bat.
He asks me to open my gown.
I open it too quickly and feel like I'm flashing him.
He puts his hands right on my tits with the same too-smooth touch as his knock. I feel like I'm in a porno.
Dr. Rubermeyer scrawls something in his folder. "Well," he says. "They're perfect. But that's not what you want to hear from me, is it, Shawn?"
I may have to inquire about his definition of perfection, because the last time I checked I couldn't make my boobs touch if I went around holding them together. My list of reasons tries to make itself heard inside my head. The words "feminine bounce" and "proportion" come to mind.
"Let's start with something like this..." Dr. Rubermeyer opens a drawer of jiggling gelatin cocoons.
Between the two of us, we manage to arrange the round inserts against me with the help of a grandma-coloured bra. He turns me to face the mirror.
"Oh-Ho!" I hear myself say. "Oh. No, no. No, I don't think so."
"Too large?" he asks, the Aztec design on his sweater reconfiguring like Tetris.
"I'm not carrying these puppies around," I say, looking over into the drawer. "Smaller. Definitely smaller."
So he brings me down a size. But when I turn once again to face the mirror, the same truckload of breast faces me. "Are you kidding?" I ask him, bouncing a few times, the breasts bouncing after me.
A panic ignites somewhere in my mind. What if I don't have the face for breasts? What if having one perfect part makes the rest of you look inadequate? The way one beautiful girl makes a room of pretty girls look dull?
"This is probably more to your liking," Dr. Rubermeyer says, arranging the next pair tightly against me.
It's as though he's dressing me up in all these oversized boobies for his own pleasure. Next he'll offer me a cooch exam: "Comes with the consultation."
My eyes feather down his diplomas and awards. He must be past rich by now. Of course. Now he only needs to play doctor.
I argue him down to the smallest size, which is still too large. "Do you go any smaller?" I ask.
"We would have to order them in special..." he says with a concerned look. "Perhaps you need to give this some more thought, Shawn."
What are breasts? I've forgotten. Circular growths on the chest. Love grips. Baby feeders. Stuffing for your clothes...
Dr. Rubermeyer agrees to leave me for a moment and let me think. From the drawer of boobs, I pick up a sac of gel and squish it around in my hand. Expensive stress toys...
A curiosity builds inside me for all the strippers who have gone before. Did they all share that same thing? The thing that makes me people jump out of planes? Because the thought of going through with this is more than slightly unnerving. Was it worth it to them? Did waking up with the fronts of warrior princesses give them the fearlessness they were seeking?
I look around the room and open my gown in front of the mirror, try to alter my perception of my body, try to see it as "vo-lump-tuous", as Blake used to mispronounce the word. But I can't. I only see one shape, laced with the idea of another, fuller one.
Two of the Earl's Girls have purchased racks, Emily and Brit. They acquired them while working at Cowboys as shooter girls. Work two years, get one free boob. "We're just renting these bodies anyway," they say. "May as well furnish them to our liking."
What if one starts to slide down my chest like that girl on Oprah?
The breasts would become my deep dark secret. They would make me strange. Girls would shake their heads but secretly be jealous. Boyfriends would tell me I was beautiful without them, then paw them to the point of deflation.
"She's done just fine for herself without them..." A broadcaster on CNN said about Paris Hilton's au naturale flat chest last week. As though not having implants was like walking down the street of a war torn city without a gun. However...there was a woman in Czechoslovakia whose implants saved her life: the blow of the bullet absorbed by the saline. Whoever made this planet that isn't Heaven obviously left some room for improvement.
I pick up the pamphlet between Rhinoplasty and Liposuction. Breast Augmentation, they call it. I call it a bulletproof vest.
All work is copyrighted property of Michelle Lauren Kay.
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