April was born in the month of her name. Perhaps that was the exponential factor. She had grown into a willowy girl. Her dresses draped from her shoulders. Her scrawny legs were cartoonlike in the clunky saddle oxfords her mother made her wear. “Good for your feet,” her mother said. With the heavy weight of black and white, the red sole, her feet felt like pendulums as they swung across the living room floor or up the sidewalk or down the hall at Wide Spot Elementary. It gave young April momentum, like her gyroscope. If she wanted to change directions, she simply banked her foot in a new direction. Eventually, the leather upper softened and shaped itself to her feet. The white scuffed, and her toes got too tight at the ends. Then she slipped herself into the new pair her mother gave her and started again.
One day, April felt imbalance. She needed her arms across her chest or a pillow in her lap, something she could hug and hide against. Her center of gravity had shifted. Her father didn’t notice, but her mother pulled her aside one night after dinner, held April’s hands out away from her body and said, “Oh my.” Early the next morning April’s mother took April to the department store downtown. A tall woman with red hair fitted April with a training bra.
“What am I training for?” April asked her mother as they stepped onto the department store elevator. Her mother clutched the bag with three other training bras just like the one April had kept on in the dressing room, looked at the elevator operator, a tall man in a suit with lots of brass buttons and wearing a round box for a hat, and said, “Ground floor please.”
Before long, not a single sweater in April’s closet was elastic enough to button at her bosom, not even the pink sweater with mother-of-pearl buttons she received on her thirteenth birthday. In what seemed like a short season of bees and honey and birdsong, April had blossomed, as her mother called it. And yet, April was not comfortable being a blossoming flower. She would rather have been inorganic—a pale pebble, a glinting chunk of gravel, a thimble full of golden sand. Instead she was bursting open, not even like a flower, but like an October bean, speckled and rubbery. A bean pod, swollen and shrunken all at the same time. Paper-thin skin stretched to breaking, while the sphere of bean only grew rounder, fuller, weightier.
April’s breasts began to enter the room ahead of her. Her mother was forever standing in front of her, getting between her and other people, such as the priest at St. Mary’s, the bag boy at Kroger’s, or the long line of servers at K&W Cafeteria. April’s mother chose everything from seven-layer salad all the way to lemon chess pie for the girl. April longed for chocolate chiffon as she peeked past her mother’s shoulder, but it was always lemon chess.
Soon April’s shoulders curved and her back bowed and cupped the weight of her globed chest, and her feet, what she could see of them, finally in black ballerina pumps, her mother’s sweet-sixteen gift, became her view of the world. As her feet swung out in front of her, now always following behind someone else, the low-slung vamps of the black flats revealed cleavage leaking down even between her toes.
April’s arms, so often folded across her body, became a gate that seldom opened, and April became a closed garden gone to seed. Her feet fell behind. More and more April slept in the shape of a child in a womb. Her words became unintelligible and far away. She disappeared, a syllable here, a vowel there, one atom here, two molecules there, until there nothing was left of her even to hide. Only traces of her chemical remains and a set of pearly pink buttons from a sweater she’d tried to fasten years and years before.
Darnell Arnoult is writer-in-residence at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN where she directs the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival and is executive editor of the online journal drafthorse: a lit journal of work and no work. She is the author of the novel Sufficient Grace and the poetry collections What Travels With Us and Galaxie Wagon.