She didn't used to have them. One day when she was about six, she noticed that her hair, when she bent her head back, reached all the way down to her little round pink genderless bottom. She'd just had a shower, and she danced naked around the room, and her hair flowed and tangled all around her skinny little flat-chested body.
"My little Nastasia Kinsky," I said. And she said what's that, and I told her about the girl in this famous picture where she's naked and she's lying down with this big snake.
"Well, the important parts are covered up by the snake."
And she giggled and eventually she got her nightclothes on. I wonder what she'd think of Kinsky and the snake now? Probably "Ewww, YUCK!". Because that's the thing, isn't it? Seventh grade, over there in her tight little sheath dress and her high heels, so proud of her lipstick and those two perfect cones on her chest. She's not a woman by any means. But still...
Neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. What's that mean, anyway? What's good about red herring? Neither child nor woman nor ad in Vogue.
One summer day when she was eight, she and one of her friends changed into their swim suits, down at the lake, behind a tree, because none of the mothers had brought the keys to the bathrooms. Her friend remembered to bring her street clothes out with her, but of course mine just left them there on the roots of the tree, and late that night, after dinner, she remembered where they must be. It was a misty night, with a moon, and I didn't take a flashlight. I found the little pile of clothes easily. They were just barely night-damp. I stood there under the tree for a few minutes, listening to the sounds coming across the lake, holding the tiny shirt, shorts, impossibly delicate cotton panties.
And now look at her. One day she's a skinny little snake-hips dancing around the living room, and the next year she has breasts and she's shimmying around at a party with the music up way too loud, and the world turns upside down.
We used to talk about the girls who had breasts. We'd wonder which ones were real, and which were the biggest, and what they might feel like. We wondered which girls would put out, although we had only the vaguest idea of what "put out" actually meant. Are they talking about her that way now, that knot of boys on the other side of the room from the knot of girls? She doesn't have the biggest breasts, but not the smallest either. I think they're real, but she doesn't dance around the house naked anymore. I hope she's not stuffing her bras with Kleenex. God, I remember when I used to know what she did with every second of her time, and just how she fit into every bit of mud-stained clothing.
I wonder how many more years before the boys and the girls actually dance together? I'm not sure I want to see those young pale hands on my daughter, pressed confidently against her dress, denting the skin of her back. How can I help imagining those same gawky fingers, on a couch in a dark corner, denting the softnesses of her chest? Am I supposed to not think about that, to accept it, to plead ignorance?
Those were my fingers once, on that dark couch in the corner at Betty Hilinger's party, with Betty herself and her cool cotton dress with the thin white straps and her breasts that were very real and very soft and very maddening, and when she let me touch her her eyes were deep and laughing and challenging. How could my daughter's eyes be like that? I strutted and I fed on rebellion and I promised to change the world, and when I topped her mother and planted my seed hot and rushing into her mother's womb I was still a young agent of chaos myself. But the seed quickened, and her mother swelled and became beautiful in a way I could not have imagined and by the time she herself came out, tiny and bloody and screaming from that womb, I was an old man, holding up the roof with my shoulders, part of the established order now, wary of young rebels and chaos-agents like that knot of boys there, casually walking back and forth to the dessert table and eyeing my daughter's breasts as they pass. Is she arching her back on purpose, when they go by?
Walking in from the parking lot, I passed a young man, maybe twenty-five, coming out of the hotel, followed by a young woman, plain but attractive, well curved, in a tight ski-sweater. I pictured them making love. "You!" something deep inside me said to the young man, "I challenge you for sexual access to this female. Yield her to me, or prepare to die!" I nodded to him politely, exchanged the smile-between-strangers with her. It's a a miracle we have any civilization at all.
So, you boys in your shiny shoes with your mushroom haircuts and your familiar struts, you take care. That girl in the purple dress, the one with the long legs and the new breasts, she isn't for you. Not unless you earn her, and you cannot earn her, nothing you could do would be enough. She is sacred. But soon you will be stronger than me, and you will be able to take her from her father as every girl is taken from her father. Remember that I know you, remember that I was like you. Of course, I remember what we thought about the fathers of the girls with the breasts, which was nothing at all, or at most what kind of car they had that we might someday be able to borrow. So maybe it doesn't matter all that much what I think at you from here in the corner, but still. Remember that she's sacred. Of course I suppose you're sacred too. Be good to her.
Handle with care.
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