The Typography of Her Chest

The Typography of Her Chest by Evelyn Sharenov

I found out later it was the superintendent who discovered the ugly
lump glued into his wife’s breast, the same night she conceived their tenth child.

“Goyim,” my mother said. She shook her head.

Most of the families had a couple of kids. Then there were the outliers – the occasional childless couple, objects of pity. Or the superintendent and Estelle, doing their Catholic duty.

The superintendent didn’t tell his wife about the lump and she would not have been the kind of woman to touch her own breasts. Then Estelle began to cramp. She miscarried, the doctor found the lump, and things fell from there.

“They got it all,” the superintendent told the tenants while he mopped the hallways. He swiped at his face with a soiled handkerchief.

“That’s what the surgeons always say. They never get it all,” my
mother said.

They were poor, Estelle, the superintendent and their nine children. They lived in the basement apartment with all its clanging noise. Estelle wore threadbare housedresses, her tiny breasts invisible in her loose garments. If they hadn’t gotten it all, what was there left to get?

Estelle seemed transparent after that, like I could see through her.

I wanted to grow beautiful breasts on my flat chest, and have a man lie on top of me. But I had no problem creating my own horrific scenarios.

I spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror with the door locked. I ran my hands over the my sharp ribs into the shallow valleys between. I pushed my puny flesh into something resembling cleavage. I was convinced that anything I didn’t recognize from the day before was cancer. Soon my chest was covered in bruises the size of my fingertips, which my mother discovered. She became hysterical. The doctor said it was nothing.

Six months after they took off Estelle’s right breast, they removed the left. My mother was right.

We rarely saw Estelle’s gorked face around the building anymore.
When we did, she was all teeth and skull draped in tight skin. Her cancer cells were the busiest part of her.

Meanwhile, my breasts swam in a double A training bra stuffed with toilet paper. Only Joey, Estelle’s oldest son, noticed me.

Estelle’s kids kept to themselves and helped their father around the building or roller-skated down the five block hill to the park behind our
building. I used the same hill, skated every day after school, after homework and piano practice.

I wanted to skate with Joey, race him down that hill, but didn’t have the nerve to ask. I forced myself to talk to him. I reasoned that Estelle’s kids needed someone to play with besides each other. I felt sorry for them. I finally screwed up the courage and asked Joey.

“Yeah,” he said. His voice squeaked unexpectedly. I smiled – at his voice and because I was a champion on that hill.

He was like a starving puppy, happy I’d asked him, like all he had
were brothers, sisters and a dying mother.

So we got to talking.

“Do you like Elvis?” he asked.

I was ashamed to tell him I wasn’t allowed to listen to rock n roll,
only classical. Of course I listened to rock n roll when no one was around. I could imitate Elvis’ velvet voice doing Love Me Tender.

Joey was cute in a blond skinny way. He looked at me, not my chest-me. So I sang it for him, held a pretend microphone and swiveled my hips.

He laughed and applauded.

“We should get ready,” I said.

We tightened our skates into the soles of our shoes, and practiced skating down the steep hill in the middle of the street. I could see heat sparks flying from our skates. It seemed a long way down. We were bombs and the world at the bottom of the hill was our target.

The day of the race arrived. All the kids turned out. My mother was there. She wasn’t smiling. The superintendent brought Estelle.

Joey and me started together, picked up speed. The thrill of it rushed through me. We ended the race together, laughed, hugged tight. My toilet paper breasts dissolved in my sweat. I put my lips on his so he wouldn’t notice. The superintendent raced by, pushing Estelle in her wheelchair. Her head was thrown back and she laughed and laughed. This was the last dance on her dance card and all I saw was love.



About Evelyn Sharenov

Evelyn Sharenov is a writer whose work has been published in the NYTimes, Glimmer Train, Fugue, Mediphors, Oregon Humanities Magazine, and chosen as notable in Best American Short Stories. Her journalism has been in Bitch Magazine, NYTimes, the Oregonian newspaper and Willamette Week. She has been awarded an Oregon Literary Arts fellowship in fiction as well as an Oregon Arts Commission grant for a residency on the Big Island. Following a month long residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson house, she jurored for them for two years. She grew up in NYC and graduated from Hunter College and did graduate work in piano performance. She followed this with a degree in psychiatric nursing. You can find out more about her on www.LinkedIn.com.


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