The First Time Series: Breasts

Words by Bronte Coates

Published on September 26, 2012

The first time she showed a boy her breasts she apologised. She knew there was something wrong with them because they didn’t look like the ones from magazines. They weren’t round enough. The patch of darkness around the nipple was too big, the area puckered up as though pimples were threatening to burst through. There were a few strands of long hair growing on the left side. And they already sagged a little. She thought she was meant to be pert, at least in the beginning, but these things were monstrosities. She didn’t want anyone to notice them. She held them still with one forearm when running to catch a bus; she crossed both arms carefully across bikini tops because if she wasn’t careful enough the two nubs pushed together and created cleavage. When she hugged people she kept her upper body apart to avoid crushing against them. She worried she’d knock someone out when she turned around.¬†They reminded her of the thick wedges of fat her mother cut from steak, that dirty plastic colour and slimy like fish.

She meets Catherine at an engagement party. Her brother’s getting hitched to a girl her mother can’t stand but she thinks the girl’s alright, if a bit stupid. She’s twenty and worried about plastic bags suffocating sea turtles and she doesn’t know Catherine yet but she’s noticed straightaway the muscular woman standing across the room. The woman has a chest so flat you could fry an egg on it if it was hot enough. Her mother comes over and says I just heard a man laugh and I thought someone was dying.

Later, they’re both waiting in line and Catherine introduces herself as a ‘sort-of cousin’ of the bride-to-be. Sarah says I’m from the groom’s side and Catherine says you look like it. Then she offers her a fag. Sarah takes it from her like she’s being handed back a bus ticket. She holds it between two fingers. The old woman standing behind taps her shoulder. You can’t smoke that here. Alright then, Catherine says, we’ll take it outside. She walks off and Sarah follows because she’s still holding the cigarette. From behind she studies the fall of Catherine’s shoulders. The woman looks hard. She looks like she’s been carved from granite.

And when they’re in the courtyard Sarah asks Catherine if she really looks like her brother. It’s your nose that gave you away, says Catherine. She lifts the flame to Sarah’s cigarette and Sarah decides she’s going to tell her mother that Catherine is a past Olympian. She’ll talk about the poor woman’s tragic near miss for a bronze and how she’s channeled her dedication into something so beautiful, a home for lost animals. The flame flickers out. Sarah coughs on the first inhale and Catherine reaches out to comfort her. Her hand stays on Sarah’s breast. Oh, she thinks. Oh, this is what they’re for.