Her Life in Cups
by Elizabeth Archer
Training bra, white cotton, size too big.
“You need to wear this now. Every day. Her mother handed her two plain white training bras, ordered from the catalog.
Her mother wore horrible things made out of spandex that encompassed all of her—breasts, waist, hips, thighs—things that looked like clingy white armor. She’d seen her mother struggling into these in the July heat, getting dressed for church.
She was thankful all she had to wear was this little strip of white fabric. It meant, though, that she was no longer a little girl. The week after she got the bra, she boxed up all her dolls except a few fashion dolls.
Women wear bras. She was a woman, albeit a woman in training.
Bra: White lace, B cup, 32.
One day she woke up with breasts. She knew they’d been growing, stealthily, for a while. But that was not her memory. Her memory was that she looked down and saw them, little hills on the horizon of her olive skin. They were a challenge, a strange terrain that changed everything.
They were inescapable, like fate.
The boys across the street took notice of her changing topography. Teenage boys always notice breasts. Everyone’s breasts. Grandmas. Pregnant ladies. Any breast garners their attention. They can’t help it.
Her evolution from A to full B heading for C attracted them. They checked for the rustle of paper, brushed up against her, eager to prove the contents of the bra were genuine.
36 C, black lace, with matching thong.
She could hear his breath hitch, see the light in his eyes. The swells of breast lapped over the cups in erotic froth of pale skin. In the mirror, she could see the tableaux-man, woman, bed. She-almost naked. He-fully clothed still in his evening clothes.
As much as she loved her black gown, this outfit would linger forever in her memory. The iconic moment.
36 DDD White Nursing bra
Being pregnant changed everything. Her responsibilities. Her breasts.
They grew in mathematically improbable ways. Like pumpkins in a prize patch, every night they swelled and curved a little more. The front of her invaded the space before her, and things parted to let her pass. But nothing prepared her for the day after childbirth.
She awoke to find changes over night, like something from a fairy tale. They pinned her to the bed. Her husband thought some sort of gift had come to him, but she didn’t feel the same way.
They were ginormous by any standards except siliconed porn stars.
She had to go bra shopping in unknown territory. Where did one shop for cup sizes beyond DD?
It turned out they lurked in catalogs, just like training bras of her childhood.
She resorted to tent like dresses from late pregnancy, and clutched the baby to her chest to distract prying eyes.
“Wow,” her husband, “Do you think they’ll stay like that?”
“God, I hope not,” she responded.
For the first time, she realized just how objectified a woman with enormous breasts becomes. She was giant boobs with legs. Male eyes settled on her breasts. And stayed there.
“Maybe if you quit nursing they’ll go back,” coworkers advised.
“I wanted to nurse him for six months,” she said.
He was growing rapidly.
“That’s going to be a tall one,” said the pediatrician. “He’s off the charts for growth.”
Nursing over, the breasts began to deflate like unhappy balloons, leaving stretch marks silvering the skin.
“Do you think they’ll come back with the next baby?” her husband asked.
“What next baby?” she said.
38 D with underwire and wide straps, six hooks in the back. Off white.
Somewhere after baby number three, bras ceased to be from the boutique with red lace and satin flourishes.
They became torture devices, with metal that threatened to spring out, that bit into her back from crooked hooks. The breasts took the shape of the bra, not vice versa. Freed from their tormentors, her breasts slid happily down her chest, heading for her navel, blissfully unaware of their disappointing contours.
“You could get implants,” her husband suggests, casting that sideways glance he makes when he’s avoiding confrontation. “If it made you happy.”
He watches as she buttons her blouse over the bra. She knows what he means. He’d like them reinflated, re-energized. Filled with bags of goop to make them perky and proud.
“I’ll think about it,” she says. But she doesn’t think about it.
There are bills to pay, and what is under the hood of the car is more important than what is under her t-shirts.
Masectomy bra, with inserts. Black. 36 B
He is the one who finds the tiny lump. She remembers the sound in his voice. “I think there’s something here. Something you need to have checked.” He sounds terrified, the way he sounded when his Dad had his heart attack.
She knows before the doctor calls that it is malignant. She remembers when her mother’s lump was biopsied. It all comes rushing back, like a hurricane wiping out the same coastline it has hit before.
Her body, this time. Not someone else’s. The soothing language, the hopeful words, fade to the background thump of her heart beat.
“Take them both. Take them away,” she tells the surgeon, given options. Checking and rechecking seem an impossible burden, compared to an empty beach, and clean new surface. She wants the fear swept away, as if it could be erased with the tissue.
“You look beautiful,” he tells her, forcing her to show him what she wants to hide. “More beautiful than ever.”
She wears the mastectomy bra, with the inserts that fill the voids were flesh once lived. Maybe someday, she thinks, she’ll have them reconstructed. Someday when she feels stronger, when the memory of her mother’s final agonizing days has fled. But not today.
Today, the cups aren’t half-empty. They are full of life and hope.
Elizabeth Archer writes flash fiction, poetry and short stories. She lives in the Texas Hill Country.
*Photo courtesy of regular contributor and writer for SLM, C.C. O’Hanlon.*