The tankini clings to her belly, still bulging pubescently below arriving breasts which she has firmly packed away under wet cloth for her mother’s excursion to the nudist springs. She loves this swimsuit for that: it flattens her like a rolling pin, digs deep cuts into the skin of her back and its lanugo, the anorexic fur of a girl whose bones outpace her own flesh. However, it binds her breasts and breaths equally, driving a toggle through the back of her neck like a stake through the heart as she enters the water. She tells her mother:
“My swimsuit’s too tight. Can we go home?”
Her mother frowns. “It’s fine, honey. Just take it off,” she says, oblivious, to the sheer impropriety of the suggestion.
The girl sulks. She sulks wetly, listlessly, as a woman with larger-than-large tits settles in next to her with a sultry squirm.
“How are you, dear? Do you mind if I sit here?” she says. The girl gives an imperceptible jerk of the chin, unable to keep herself from imagining those saline sacks bobbing right up and smacking the woman in her face. She chokes down a snicker/sneer, the woman bobbing and spinning like a buoy in her ocean mind, unable to submerge a single inch further into the hot sordid water. From her side view, the woman’s horrible nipples are stretched staring at the young girl like potato eyes. She can see the sacks disengaging and floating away as gory lumps, pieces of stray hamburger meat spinning in the sink drain as all the men dive to save her chest floating to the far seas. All this translates to an unnerved smile on her face and uncontrollable glances as the woman locks in her place next to the girl.
The girl read once, she remembers, that if she found her way to the bottom of the Marianas Trench somehow, she would be condensed into what the book described as a ‘Barbie-sized paste.’ She thinks of this Barbie-sized paste and the abandoned Barbie itself, twirling on the axis of her impressive breasts, floating among the tunicates and the hag eels; the anglerfish and the siphonophores; the hatchetfish and the vampire squids. She thinks of this Barbie twisting in the plosive wake of a hydrothermal vent and suddenly she becomes very scared about the whole concept of this thing, of sitting naked in a hot springs. That something might happen Mt. Vesuvius-Crystal Geyser-Old Faithful- style—Mt. St. Helens, Krakatoa, Kilauea-style. She’s staring, thinking, when the eruption does happen, from her mother:
“Don’t worry, girlie. Yours will grow in soon enough. And if they don’t–you can just do what she did!”
An eruption of laughter. All the men leering; all the women laughing. The girl’s mother, of course, laughs the loudest. She stares down, heaving, feeling wet tears threaten to sputter down her cheeks and into the neoprene fist clutching her chest.
A man leans over. “Hey, it was a joke,” he says (of course this is what he says), and leans in and grabs the elastic around her neck. He pulls her and snaps her with it.
The girl yelps. “What the fuck?!” (This is the first time her mother has ever heard her swear). Already, a banana-brown bruise is forming on the back of her bony neck.
A tuning hum of pitying and exasperated sighs emanates from springs as she grabs the man’s t-shirt, any shirt, from the rim and clambers gracelessly away, ankles slicing on rock and blood running thin with water droplets. The damp cotton roils her stomach as it touches her but she needs to cover herself. She needs to get away. She tromps through the trees, unsure where the car is parked, leaving the swimsuit like the bloody, wet hide of a beast behind at the base of a tree. Pine needles cling to its dampness, grow flaccid under its touch the further and further away she gets. The cotton feels so rough, like rough hands over her tender, chafed breasts, and she follows the blistering compass of pain to someplace far away, someplace with a zipper-purse of herself where she can conceal shame and pride dually, at her leisure, packing herself away to be held onto for later, for a time when the eyes on her do not feel like wet terry cloth, and every piece of her raw. Raw and wet and untouchable, like chafed breasts, or open eyeballs, nothing to see until it’s wanted to be seen, like the lights on the side of the hatchetfish. Eyes, big, round and bulging: a creature made to see, and not be seen, until, of course, it wants to.