by Torey Akers
She’s nestled right between my shoulder blades and never feels lonely.
While she’s been accused of everything from generalized unsightliness to a mean case of halitosis (a dirty lie, I might add), she maintains an odd, self-possessed elegance as yet unmatched by either of my other breasts (Kelly and Michelle, for reference).
Harriet smokes cigarettes out of a long vintage holder and knows all the right things to say to folks at art openings. I poke cigarette-holder-sized holes in the backs of all my sweatshirts and Harriet-sized holes in the backs of all my LBDs.
Both are excellent conversation starters.
She’s never, ever gotten forcibly bounced from a sports bar on the Boston waterfront. This is primarily due to all that aforementioned elegance, but also because there’s nowhere to put handcuffs on a lump.
(And the whole “attached to me” part, too).
I doubt she’s ever had a panic attack in an Uber, but we haven’t confirmed that, yet.
Harriet can’t drive, but it’s understandable, what with the lack of hands and all that. Because she doesn’t have to lease emotion in order to name it, she can listen to music other than Adele’s “Water Under The Bridge” ad nauseum.
She’s also not afraid of material exploration or rejection (she doesn’t even know what that is! She’s a back tit, for fuck’s sake!).
If she had handwriting, it wouldn’t be boring.
I sketched her on the back of my plane ticket at a bar when I was on an especially long Tinder date to make the dude laugh, which he did, generously, before drawing his own version of her next to mine in a different colored pen. His rendering included a very flattering interpretation of my waist-hip proportions. I appreciated that. I was going to pin the drawing up in my studio, but I kept it in my purse instead.
Baubo lives in me and Harriet lives on me and I just had a long conversation with a friend about abstracting trauma discussions into second person as a distancing mechanism—
Whoa, say that our love ain’t water under the bridge…
I’m under the impression that the public at large isn’t clued into Orpheus puberty, really, so I’ll go ahead and explain where back-boobs begin.
(Forgive me if you’re already apprised.)
You first bloom badly. New spirits sprout coarser than pubic hair in every crevice imaginable, then puss, then talk too loud indoors. Your bangs give you forehead acne. Your LiveJournal gives your friends forehead acne. In an effort not to touch the tight place you move through, you sanction your own antonyms, you learn bad dancing. Predictive maintenance glows inside your sweater like an augury, but you don’t need Harriet yet. There’s not enough behind you to warrant deputy optics.
Eventually, a second adolescence becomes necessary to glaze your form, one soaked in clear, liquid testosterone, one that is uncharacteristically lax about stains. You piss yourself outside an adjunct film professor’s apartment, but he’s too wasted to notice. The control-tops come off anyway, as do the panties (Gap Body is so well-named) and your saliva coats him fearlessly, like God. Good girl. But then he calls you ‘Harriet’ as he’s about to cum, or moans some Harriet-adjacent word, so the lens flips back to you.
Why you answer this transgression by slowly removing his cock from the back of your throat and singing an impassioned rendition of Chaka Khan’s seminal classic “Through The Fire” into its head as though it were a microphone remains unclear (it’s not like you can remember his name either. Is karaoke still karaoke without a proper audience?) But the dude ain’t happy, regardless. Now you bloom fire-hard. He might be twitching in your hand, but he has no choice except to soften in the shade of your amorphophallus, like every other pollinator incubating through your grown-girl spadix.
“Are you fucking serious, bitch?” he says.
What? Of course you are! Just wait for the bridge; it’s worth it.
Soon a sharp pain spews between your shoulder blades and that rotting reek of death you watered gives way to a voice not dissimilar to Lauren Bacall’s. You hear a mouth you can’t see. If you speed up, I can rap Kanye over the chorus, Sweetie.
“Who the fuck is that?!”
Well-meaning acquaintances sometimes ask me why the doctors didn’t excise Harriet right there in the hospital, back when my soft felt susceptible before joints grafted big ol’ lumps along our pinkest double lining. She’s a tumor, technically – a parasite if you squint – but that doesn’t make the question any less stupid. I try to be polite about it. Deformities knock folks off-balance, even if the mutation pays for their nachos. Strangers prod my spine and Harriet winces in one unaltered motion, like a top spinning out a little too long.
Shared spring. What steep, steep faith for Droste effect.
Let’s talk about the weird shit Harriet does when she’s nervous.
Not that she gets nervous very often. I can’t think of a back-boob more confident, in fact.
But, you know, if she did.
Keep in mind that I can’t actually see her unless I use a hand-mirror and a full-length simultaneously, kind of like at a hair salon, so I’m forced to stand on her descriptions and the occasional tremors I feel two inches out from my spinal column as scaffolding for our reality.
I really shouldn’t talk shit. Harriet lets me know when I’m about to blackout and helps my crop-top clear my bra clasp every time. Harriet screams the safe-word when she knows I won’t. Her jokes are better than mine. Bitch can suck the chrome off a tractor hitch, too, so if some Bumble jack-off starts getting greedy, I just post up on a low stool and finish my sandwich while she goes to town. My lungs feel sticky afterward, but at least my mascara doesn’t bleed–
I really, really shouldn’t talk shit, as I said. She can hear me.
Harriet’s perspective on the world is similar to that of the wives in Imperator Furiosa’s big dirty truck, except instead of edgeless sand and inbred rapists, I tend to turn my back on professional opportunities and suburban burrito franchises. The ocean, as well. I imagine there’s always a bevy of hard-bodied men with hats on mocking my weight or height directly behind me, but Harriet’s never mentioned them.
I forgot to add how Harriet hums when she’s uncomfortable. Not like a Ryman hums, but like a blonde mom in a Lysol ad hums when she disinfects any hint of rupture from her countertops. If I had to finger my point of annoyance, it might be that once she starts, it’s hard to tell which one of us is making the noise.
Harriet’s been talking to me at length about the relationship between flirting and footnotes, which is a pretty boring subject, I think. Undercuts can be directional. That’s why every guy I’ve fucked in the last six months has one. Or had. I won’t vouch for any current hair choices on their collective behalf.
Harriet doesn’t write for art reasons.
Firstly she dictates, like an arthritic ex-president or a T-Rex with a book deal might. “I act as her hands,” (don’t ask me if they wander, please). It’s fine. I got paid better in retail.
She writes to comprehend. That’s the second part. She translates neuronal effect into signature with lettering. If she wanted to express herself, she’d get trashed at a Waffle House and rant at a new friend about gender iniquity in painting and the boy problems she invented to camouflage her burgeoning mental illness. If she wanted to express herself, she’d smear blood over every daddy door she’s darkened so flies would gather instead of locusts.
Harriet told me that the biggest challenge she faces as a back boob is the burden of expectation. When she bemoans how stupid it feels to be the thing folks assume she represents, I stop listening.
(Is that helpful? It’s important to help phantom limbs, especially if they make sense for you.)
Harriet’s favorite song sounds like it was written in breath on a cold window. Its origins are obscure and its lyrics waft through synthy, shimmering wavelengths with all the tertiary amble of a wish. I can’t identify the singer, which makes the experience richer, somehow.
My favorite song is “Cruel” by the Veronicas. Before that, it was “Born To Run”.
This guy I’ve been seeing stripped down to his boxer-briefs without letting go of his phone and announced, smirking, that he was about to commit the most intimate act conceivable to millennial consciousness. He fiddled with a speaker before turning to look at me. “We’re going to fuck to my Recently Played. That’s transparency, girl.” I laughed to make his false risk float.
Harriet is never in harmony with her annihilation, nor mine.
Harriet doesn’t actually possess the physiological ability to orgasm. Right? That changes things. She can be stimulated, absolutely, but from what I can glean, there’s no reward. Only bait. She’s in it for you.
Or me. Harriet loves me.
I don’t know how to qualify that, though. I’d certainly never ask her. Asking whether or not I’m loved hasn’t panned out super-well for either of us thus far. I want very badly to tell you our story confession-free, but I’m not one for the edge-matched folding of information. I’m shit at it. My dream laundry shrinks whatever thoughts I’ve fostered right down to their weaving fibers, so I’d shock myself if I peeled the fabrics apart.
Static sucks. It’s not real energy.
Anger is energy, though. Wouldn’t you agree?
It’s not as if I’m ever by myself, but that’s not love, obviously. (I listen to Drake; I know about sex and isolation). When I was fatter and not as sad in high school, I loved this one musical “Side Show” more than I loved most other things, Greek takeout excluded. It was melodramatically based on the lives (two lives? one life?)of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who rose to international stardom on the vaudeville circuit. There’s a documentary about them on Netflix, as it happens. The two ended up dying a few hours apart in a one-room hovel down the street from the grocery store chain that employed them in South Carolina. Both had been married twice. Both had broken bread with royalty.
Edges of the soul can cut its belonging body because of their roundness. Those edges leave holes, no incisions. They heal slowly and never in a straight line.
Don’t treat me like I’m dangerous. That’s a sure-fire way to find out just how much energy Harriet really has.
Harriet won’t stop begging me for a stage left, but I can’t construct wings out of wood or wax. She’s the one who insists that invention is an excuse, but between puffs of the bra-clasp blunt she makes me light between my lips for her she distills material transformation into edgefulness, back from gold, back from the precipice of production. She doesn’t want me to exploit myself.
An unsaved number asked me yesterday why I wasn’t wifed up yet. I think he meant it as a compliment. He says he thinks of me at odd, distracting moments. I don’t remember who he is. Has he met Harriet?
In all my latest nightmares, I’ve bought Harriet oboe lessons. “Start from the top!” a faceless teacher barks.
The boob inhales too sharply. The instrument’s conical bore punctures my liver; the second she starts to choke, my mouth floods with thick, sour, burgundy bile. The pipe cleaner back brace I built to support her reed soaks right down to the wire without a drop to spare. I anticipate pain, but all I’m able to register is an inside-out pour and the wordless jazz inflection meaning dampened in its clench.
I can’t stand to hear her sputter. She needs wind.
I always wake up before discovering which one of us filled out the DNR.
Torey Akers is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn. Her fiction has appeared in Witchsong, the Hunger, Occulum Journal, Free Roses, and Queen Mob’s Tea House, among others.