Lady in Red
As a little girl dressing Barbies, I assumed I would someday have breasts. Titties, boobs, smooth billowy cleavage men and women alike long to rest their cheek against for a nap or nibble. But I didn’t grow them.
A week before prom, my date told me he met a girl on spring break, showed me her picture, said he was confused. I knew before seeing the photo that she would have exuberant Cs ready to pounce on the lens. I wasn’t confused. I knew exactly what I lacked. He said he still wanted to take me to prom, said he’d have more fun with me than her. My mom had already made my red dress.
The closest thing to a compliment my mother ever gave me was saying, You’re so skinny you make me sick with a smile. What she meant was that she’d been overweight for decades and remembered how it felt to be thin, wished she still was that girl. That’s what she meant. But what she said was that looking at her daughter’s body made her feel physically ill.
She said this while pinning red sequined fabric for my prom dress. She later made my wedding dress—partly because it allowed me to design what I wanted, partly because it cost a fraction of those in stores, but also because fancy dresses in stores didn’t fit, were made for people with breasts. On me the dresses were baggy and deflated. Wired cups like Oliver’s soup bowl held cloudward begging to be filled. Sparkly, satin reminders of what I lacked.
I went to prom with the guy, with his friends and girls I didn’t know. We danced coolly stiff-armed to “Lady in Red,” went to a party at a house after with Hawaiian punch spiked with god-knows-what. Late in the night it rained, and the guy and I lay stiffly side by side on the sunroom floor watching water drum and stream down the glass, and I told him he should have brought the new girl instead of me. I imagined him sliding his hands down in the bodice of her hot-pink strapless number to claim his prizes.
No, he said. He would have been bored, he said. I wish I could put your brain inside her body. Then I’d have the perfect girl. I doubt he realized what a shitty a thing that was to say. I did. As if all I had cultivated inside myself—my roots, my imagination, my xylem and phloem, my 3.8 GPA and notebooks of stories and poems, the chlorophyl of me, and my phototroph-ing toward sunrise—none of it mattered without blossoms to offer up.
After marriage and birthing five children I’m no longer skinny enough to make anyone sick. The flaps of nothings on my chest somehow knew how to swell and fill themselves to feed all five, as if having waited backstage for the audience who most deserved them. I buy dresses with rows of ruffles up top, and padded bras, and layers to shape-shift my body into some expected balance. I never learned to sew, never learned to stop missing things that were never there.
A lifetime Ohioan, Kerry Trautman is a poetry editor for the journal Red Fez. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in various journals, including Slippery Elm, Free State Review, The Fourth River, Hawaii Pacific Review, Paper & Ink, Midwestern Gothic, and Gasconade Review. Her work has also appeared in anthologies such as Mourning Sickness (Omniarts 2008), Journey to Crone (Chuffed Buff Books 2013,) Delirious: A Poetic Celebration of Prince (NightBallet Press, 2016,) and Resurrection of a Sunflower (Pski’s Porch Press, 2017.) Kerry's poetry books are Things That Come in Boxes (King Craft Press 2012,) To Have Hoped (Finishing Line Press 2015,) Artifacts (NightBallet Press 2017,) and To be Nonchalantly Alive (Kelsay Books 2020.)
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