Joyland

Toronto |

The Breast And Brian Franca

by Lauren Bride

You were an early bloomer. Let’s go with that one. Yes, you had breasts when you were still undressing a Barbie doll to examine hers. Is that why you got them so early? Did they come out to look at Barbie’s too? Did you divine them into being by accident? Yes, you were a girl and you were eleven or twelve years old. Yes, you had chubby cheeks, you were tall, you wore glasses, or maybe braces, or both. Yes, you had acne, or were covered in thousands of freckles; your hair frizzed or was lank, it was too short, never looked clean. Yes, you were huge. Let's face it. As an early bloomer, you were also sort of fat. You weren’t grossly obese, you could still fit in the desk in your class made for a person two-thirds your size, but you and those around you knew there was something different going on with you. Do you eat more? Are your parents huge? Your mother is a neat, slim woman who has never been able to make sense of your size. When you were measured for a bra, the sales woman glanced to her, and all she could do was shrug her small shoulders, and sigh at the sad fact that all the garments in your size were too sexy for a child. Hanging around the teenagers, as you were able to, you learned of Brian Franca. People said his name for some credibility. They thought he was weird, but not so weird as to dismiss him. Besides, there was his beauty. He had long hair, but wasn’t too much of a rocker to offend popular girls in loafers and Levi’s. Brian Franca had a girlfriend, Adrianna, but he didn’t love her. Of course. That is the last you’ll talk of Adrianna. Brian Franca got drunk at a party in Applewood, and jumped off the roof of a house, and didn’t get hurt. He just stood up, laughed, and walked home. He was a bit tough too, but wouldn’t pick a fight because there was something about Brian Franca that was also smart. The teachers at the high school knew about Brian Franca too. It wasn’t just your special sight that could see his flashing, shining lights. The ladies of the English and Drama department would sit around at lunchtime and shoot the shit. Mrs. Miller with the peroxide-blond hair and a big fur coat had him for grade twelve English last period for the first semester of the school year. “We’re starting Hamlet, and I just can’t help it, I can only picture him now as the Danish Prince,” she said, her high heels kicked off, breathing smoke out her nostrils. “You know, I’m sure it’s bad timing, since my husband had his heart attack. I’m not supposed to exert him. Jesus.” “Joyce! Don’t get confused, he’s still just a kid,” prim Ms. Quail said, waving the smoke out of her face, making a sour moue. “Yeah, a fucking gorgeous kid!” Mrs. DeSouza barked, big frizz of black hair thrown forward around her face. “I almost failed that sexy bastard to make him read Macbeth’s little dagger speech again. God, he drove me crazy, I couldn’t keep it together.” “I never found Gertrude so interesting before,” Mrs. Miller said, howling with laughter, chocolate cake blackening the cracks between her teeth. The bell would ring and the fudgy stuff would still be there, underneath the Elizabeth Arden lipstick applied in a quick slash to get ready for Hamlet, and to cover a cold sore. “Let’s go to Elsinore,” she said, putting out her Matinée slim, and winking at the other teachers. None of them mentioned the chocolate. You saw Brian Franca one time while you walked with your neighbour, who had been to some parties. “That’s him, and that’s his car. Ask me how I know it’s his car.” “How do you know?” you said, falling for it, honestly shocked. “Because I sat on it, and he saw me sitting on it, and he didn’t care. We should go sit on his car!” But by this time you had stopped hearing her, just for a moment, because there before you was Brian Franca. There was no describing how he looked, or the way he moved inside his looks, because it wasn’t everything you had thought of love to be, it was more than that, and if you hadn’t been the sort to be humiliated just by thinking of something, you would have stopped walking right there as your billowing soul rose out of your body. “Wait — what? I can’t sit on it!” you hissed, worried about wronging your older friend, but far more terrified of having Brian Franca see you crushing the hood of his car. “Nicole! No! I’m going!” And you turned, not caring that she was calling you a suck and a baby, threatening you with suspended hanging-out privileges. At this moment, that was frightening, but not so bad because you were quick enough to remember Brian Franca, and you had important scenarios to run over in your head again and again. You had memorized his license plate. You could add MRP 371 to your numbers to recite in a slow, low rhythm at night, all the numbers you know. You have a system with numbers, where the 2 is the mother, looking sweetly on at her progeny, starting at 3 and ending in the loops of infinity; 3 the prodigal son; 4 an androgynous dusty child like a ghost; 5 the drunk fool; 6 the sensible daughter, a book in her lap; 7 the homerun athlete; 8 the obvious sexpot; 9 a wise hunchback, the spine deeply curved. For Brian Franca: Mostly Roses, Please, 371 times over and over again. Brian Franca was with you every day from then on. You had to go to your Aunt Cecelia’s house at Thanksgiving. When your mother sent you on your own (to conceive your sister, as you would later figure out), Brian Franca was there with you, with your Walkman the whole train ride up to Sudbury. “Don’t be scared of Sylvie, she’s a gentle giant,” Aunt Cecelia said to introduce you to the others, assembled around the crab dip. I hope you die, you ugly fucking slut, was what you heard in your head, and it was no longer your voice, but the sincere protective words of Brian Franca. You were soothed, and you went ahead and had dessert, ignoring Cecelia’s dirty looks, along with all of the other happy diners at the dinner table. Later than night when she said, “My god, her tits are bigger than anyone else’s in the family, and she’s only eleven. Debbie had better see about getting her a reduction as soon as possible!” you heard her from the guest room. There was some justice that time. “You’re just jealous, Cece!” your Uncle Tim said, with a wheezy dry laugh. Underneath that adult bra, you felt a small glow of victory, and somehow this was blended into the dream of Brian Franca in the lull of the unfortunate holiday. It wasn’t hard to find Brian Franca’s address; he lived over the highway, and went to a different public school than yours. In the early darkness of autumn, you rode your bike on school nights and crouched behind a tree to spy on what happened in the Franca house. There was no dad there. Not one you had ever seen, anyhow. There was the brother, slightly younger, who you would never guess was the sibling of the heavenly Brian Franca. He stooped and didn’t really show up so much. Brian Franca’s mother was sick. She wore pajamas all the time, with a pretty robe, sagging in the front on one side. Her head was mostly bald, with a fine fuzz of regrowth, or maybe the last bits of the old hair bravely dressing the pink scalp. One time you saw her with a wig on, light brown with curled ends just above the shoulders, and she wore some makeup when there were guests over. Mostly she sat in the front room, watching television, squinting and falling asleep. This was where you saw Brian Franca making dinner for his mother: some soup and a sandwich, which she did not finish. You also saw him make her chicken fingers, and spaghetti. She smiled at him, and you did too. Nose running and bladder painfully full, you just needed to stay a bit longer, just a bit as you sent mental messages through the window to Brian Franca. I love you, Brian Franca. I know, Brian Franca. Let me help you wash the dishes, Brian Franca. Brian Franca, I wish I could give your mother one of my breasts. I sure don’t need it. One night as you hid behind the tree with your bike and your mittens damp with moisture from your nose, you were startled and almost wet your pants out of fright as an ambulance siren wailed up the street behind you. It careened into the Francas’ driveway, paramedics spilling out. For a moment, in your infatuated stupidity, you worried that something had happened to Brian Franca. A hard lump rose in your throat, and you saw that it was, of course, his mother, looking grey and not quite awake, to come out wrapped in blankets on a stretcher, Brian Franca moving very quickly from the house into the back of the ambulance with her. You could understand that this was serious. You also could not help yourself when you loved Brian Franca all the more. His mother was dying. His mother was dying and all you could do was love him from far away, and hope, and hope that somewhere in the universe there was a great surface like a solar panel to collect true love from the tormented people of the Earth, working in accordance to some divine plan to distribute the love where it was needed most. You spent time concentrating very hard on this. You waited up all night in a nightgown and chocolate-chip-cookie vigil, making silent sacrificial wishes to soothe the pain of Brian Franca. On a piece of paper — awkward and indelicate in your sticky, fleshy fingers — you made a documentation. One breast, given from me, Sylvie English, to Mrs Franca. You went to the Party Market, got a blue helium balloon, and put the note inside. You wished to be the kind of grade sixer who was shocked into losing your appetite like a romantic heroine, but — let’s face it — you weren’t there yet. You stopped into the ice-cream shop and got a cone to have while you went on your grave walk to let the balloon go, hoping pretty hard that there really was some benevolent communal repository for love. You also stopped to think that if there was, you should have rephrased your note to imply that Mrs. Franca could have half of each of your breasts. Maybe this was implied, and it would all work out. Anyhow, this was true love. You couldn’t make those kinds of compromises. Maybe it would work out to be a sign when Brian Franca saw you, one missing breast an obvious declaration of the sacrifice you had made to save the life of his own mother. You sat on a bench, in the clear sun of a late autumn day, finishing your ice-cream cone. When you ate the last bite, you would stop, close your eyes, make your wish, and let the blue balloon go. Blue was the best choice, of course; it was a good camouflage in the sky. You didn’t want it to get rejected. It should melt in easily. The last crunch of the sugar cone went down your throat, and you closed your eyes, and had solemn thoughts. You heard some footsteps approaching from behind, but this was the most intense moment of your life. The smell of cigarette smoke came with the steps, and you finished your wish, and let the balloon go. Brian Franca walked into your view from behind, dragging on a cigarette. You stopped to make sure you were still breathing. You tried hard not to hiccup, which is what your stomach wanted you to do, or maybe it wanted to barf, you couldn’t be too sure. You licked at the corners of your mouth, then all around, rubbing at your lips to remove residual chocolate coagulation. You dabbed at your nose with your mitten, and a long silvery string stretched like a tightrope between your nostril and your hand. You wiped quickly and sniffed ferociously, hoping hard that everything was fine. Brian Franca heard the sniffing and turned around. “Are you okay?” he asked. You said nothing as you realized he thinks you have been crying. Should you go with it? In a frenzy you wondered if he would love you if you were crying, or if you were tough. You still said nothing. You looked down. “Do you want a cigarette?” he asked. You nodded. Your heart was wracking every inch of your enormous body, underneath one of the breasts you just promised away to soothe the heart of the beautiful, tragic Brian Franca. He handed it to you, lighting it in his own mouth. Just in time you thought to take your hand out of your snot-sodden mitten, your bright pink hand fumbling, and putting the filter, good God, the wet filter right to your lips. Of course you didn’t smoke it. You pretended, putting your face away. Brian Franca sat on the bench next to you, smoking. “Is something wrong?” he asked again. You took a deep, crooked breath, and thought dizzily. What was wrong? “Someone I know is sick,” you tried, which wasn’t a lie. You tried to sound serious, and not like an eleven-year-old puppy child. Brian Franca said nothing, smoking. Then, “You go to Port Credit? I haven’t seen you before.” You nodded. You just lied to Brian Franca. You don’t go to Port Credit, a nearby high school where a person could feasibly go, and Brian Franca wouldn’t know her. “Are you in grade ten?” And you nodded again, a very clear lie, very untrue. You had not looked up yet. “I’m in grade twelve. It’s pretty much bullshit. I wish I was still in grade ten.” He sat back, exhaling smoke, and you caught a glimpse of his pink nose. His ankles were crossed in front of him, and you took note of the red canvas high-top sneakers. You would end up buying some in a few months, after Christmas, after scrounging every red cent you had to afford them by shoveling many driveways. “My mom’s got cancer. She almost died two days ago.” You turned, pretending to smoke some more, and felt Brian Franca turn towards you. You stayed turned until you heard the fabric of his clothes move a bit as he turned away. “That’s so sad,” you said. “Yeah. But then this morning the doctors said they think she’ll be fine. They don’t even know how.” You began to burn with hot and cold, and you felt some sort of hiccuppy burp thing rise up in your throat, and you took a deep breath, hanging onto your stomach. It worked. You rolled your eyes up for the first time to look for the blue balloon. It was gone. “That’s wonderful,” you said. “I still feel like shit though. It’s like it isn’t even real yet. I don’t know. There has to be some kind of sign, or something.” You stared out straight ahead. What was a sign? What could be a sign to Brian Franca? You thought for a torrid moment on your-made-for-grandmothers underpants with pink and blue ducks on them, your unshaved legs covered in white down. Would you have to do it today? Was the love that true? Brian Franca was staring at the side of your face, and started to move a bit closer, just a nudge, but you felt that nudge ripple along the left side of your body. If a nudge on the bench made that sort of feeling, how would it feel when Brian Franca put his hands on your bra strap? A sign. Brian Franca flicked at his nose aloofly with his first knuckle. You went to do the same but thought of the potential slimy snot webs and did another sniff instead. And then you sighed. “Anyhow, nice to meet you, I have to go. I haven’t been at school in a few days. I have some fucking bullshit Hamlet test tomorrow, and I haven’t even rented the movie yet. Later.” And Brian Franca stood and flicked his cigarette butt into the grass before you could say goodbye, or anything else. You sat on the bench and as soon as he was out of sight you let out a terrible, lip-rippling belch and your stomach rolled. You butted out the cigarette, putting it carefully into your coat pocket. You would save it for years and years. You walked home, then lay on your bed for hours. Brian Franca. Brian Franca. It worked. You didn’t care about the breast; it was worth it, it was nothing to the magic that had happened in that very afternoon. You understood all love songs that day. You had made something happen. Finally something was bigger than you were.