Boob Patrol by Thomas Kearnes

Teddy wants a spectacular crash. He watches the racecars zoom around the track. I know accidents are bad. People can die or lose an arm. But I don’t want Teddy to go home disappointed. During his visits, Sharon tells me to stay in my room and finish my homework. Stay there till I find you! Whenever Teddy yells at her, calls her whore and bitch, I hide in the closet, hands over my ears. It doesn’t help.

“Miss Fancy,” Sharon asks, “did you put on the sunscreen like I asked?” She’s the big sister, nine years older. I need almost all my fingers to count that high.

“I forgot.”

“Goddamn it, girl,” she says. “Mama said to make sure you didn’t get all red and blistered.”

We each lean forward on our seats to see beyond Teddy. He sits with legs spread wide, long back erect. Everything about him is big: his shoulders, his muscular calves and thighs, his broad chest. Sharon likes to brag that he’s the best wrestler on the team. To see her rubbing up next to Teddy and know they’re a couple, together six months, gives my stomach a sour feeling. From my window at home, I watch them kiss before he leaves, and I worry he’ll smash her with those massive arms, those grimy fingers.

Sharon hands me a flattened tube of sunscreen. Taking it, I reach over Teddy’s lap. The bristly hair on his thighs tickles my arm.

“You should work on your tan, munchkin,” Teddy says, not looking at me. “You wanna land yourself a boyfriend, right?”

“Baby, don’t be stupid,” Sharon says. “She’s only seven.”

“I kissed my first girl when I was six years old,” he says. “Still remember that shit.”

“Not everyone is a sex pervert like you,” Sharon says, fanning her face with the racetrack program. It’s the middle of May. School will be over soon. Sharon still picks me up because I’m too little to walk home alone. Sometimes, Teddy rides with us, cell phone pressed against his face, a flowing melody of obscenities filling the car.

The three of us grow quiet, watch the racecars zip past. I spread the white, sticky suntan lotion over my arms, my face. The crowd shouts and cheers, calls out names I don’t recognize. The sun slips from behind a cloud so I shield my eyes. It doesn’t help. The sun reflects off the aluminum bleachers, scattering light in every direction.

“I told you to bring your sunhat, Miss Fancy,” Sharon says.

“It’s ugly.”

“Well, I guess now you suffer.”

“Wait a second,” Teddy says. His voice is different, his tone milder. I gaze at him, unsure what to expect. “I know what this little munchkin needs,” he says.

Teddy wears a baseball cap with the words Boob Patrol printed in bubble letters above the brim. Below that appear two peach-painted half-eggs bound together by a strip of cinched red cloth. They look like the breasts of a real grown woman. Teddy whips off his cap.

“Here, put this on. It’ll help.”

“Baby, take that off her head right this instant,” Sharon says. “People will stare.”

“Sharon, chill. No one’s watching us.”

Looking down at me, he asks, “You like your hat?”

“Why does it say Boob Patrol?” I ask.

“That tells ladies I’m on the prowl.”

Sharon clucks like a barnyard hen and slugs Teddy’s arm.

“What’s so great about boobs?” I ask.

Sharon pops a stick of gum in her mouth. “Not a damn thing. They’re actually pretty useless.”

“What about when I get boobs?” My fingers graze the half-egg boobs. They’re round, hard and perfect, like the globe in the library at school.

“It’s simple, munchkin,” Teddy says, sipping his soda. “One day you’ll spread those legs and let some boy hammer it between your legs. That’s how you become a woman.”

“Miss Fancy!” Sharon says quickly, snapping her fingers. She digs through her purse like she can’t find her keys. “Here’s some money,” she says. “Bring back hot dogs.” When I take the cash, she gives me a pained look. I’ve seen it before.

I start the steep climb up the bleachers. It’s too hot, and I want to go home. Teddy knows things. Maybe he tells Sharon what he knows while I’m upstairs in my room. I’m glad she sent me away. I’m glad Teddy can’t see me dizzy and clumsy on the steps.

One day I’ll be a real grown woman.