BoobsSuzy McKee Charnas
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Copyright ©1989 by Suzy McKee Charnas
Originally published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, July 1989
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By Suzy McKee Charnas
From the collection Music of the Night.
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The thing is, it's like your brain wants to go on thinking about the miserable history midterm you have to take tomorrow, but your body takes over. And what a body: you can see in the dark and run like the wind and leap parked cars in a single bound.
Of course, you pay for it next morning (but it's worth it). I always wake up stiff and sore, with dirty hands and feet and face, and I have to jump in the shower fast so Hilda won't see me like that.
Not that she would know what it was about, but why take chances? So I pretend it's the other thing that's bothering me. So she goes, “Come on, sweetie, everybody gets cramps, that's no reason to go around moaning and groaning. What are you doing, trying to get out of school just because you've got your period?"
If I didn't like Hilda, which I do even though she is only a stepmother instead of my real mother, I would show her something that would keep me out of school forever, and it's not fake, either.
But there are plenty of people I'd rather show that to.
I already showed that dork Billy Linden.
“Hey, Boobs!” he goes, in the hall right outside homeroom. A lot of kids laughed, naturally, though Rita Frye called him an asshole.
Billy is the one that started it, sort of, because he always started everything, him with his big mouth. At the beginning of term, he came barreling down on me hollering, “Hey, look at Bornstein, something musta happened to her over the summer! What happened, Bornstein? Hey, everybody, look at Boobs Bornstein!"
He made a grab at my chest, and I socked him in the shoulder, and he punched me in the face, which made me dizzy and shocked and made me cry, too, in front of everybody.
I mean, I always used to wrestle and fight with the boys, being that I was strong for a girl. All of a sudden it was different. He hit me hard, to really hurt, and the shock sort of got me in the pit of my stomach and made me feel nauseous, too, as well as mad and embarrassed to death.
I had to go home with a bloody nose and lie with my head back and ice wrapped in a towel on my face and dripping down into my hair.
Hilda sat on the couch next to me and patted me. She goes, “I'm sorry about this, honey, but really, you have to learn it sometime. You're all growing up and the boys are getting stronger than you'll ever be. If you fight with boys, you're bound to get hurt. You have to find other ways to handle them."
To make things worse, the next morning I started to bleed down there, which Hilda had explained carefully to me a couple of times, so at least I knew what was going on. Hilda really tried extra hard without being icky about it, but I hated when she talked about how it was all part of these exciting changes in my body that are so important and how terrific it is to “become a young woman."
Sure. The whole thing was so messy and disgusting, worse than she said, worse than I could imagine, with these black clots of gunk coming out in a smear of pink blood—I thought I would throw up. That's just the lining of your uterus, Hilda said. Big deal. It was still gross.
And plus, the smell.
Hilda tried to make me feel better, she really did. She said we should “mark the occasion” like primitive people do, so it's something special, not just a nasty thing that just sort of falls on you.
So we decided to put poor old Pinkie away, my stuffed dog that I've slept with since I was three. Pinkie is bald and sort of hard and lumpy, since he got put in the washing machine by mistake, and you would never know he was all soft plush when he was new, or even that he was pink.
Last time my friend Gerry-Anne came over, before the summer, she saw Pinky laying on my pillow and though she didn't say anything, I could tell she was thinking that was kind of babyish. So I'd been thinking about not keeping Pinky around anymore.
Hilda and I made him this nice box lined with pretty scraps from her quilting class, and I thanked him out loud for being my friend for so many years, and we put him up in the closet, on the top shelf.
I felt terrible, but if Gerry-Anne decided I was too babyish to be friends with anymore, I could end up with no friends at all. When you have never been popular since the time you were skinny and fast and everybody wanted you on their team, you have that kind of thing on your mind.
Hilda and Dad made me go to school the next morning so nobody would think I was scared of Billy Linden (which I was) or that I would let him keep me away just by being such a dork.
Everybody kept sneaking funny looks at me and whispering, and I was sure it was because I couldn't help walking funny with the pad between my legs and because they could smell what was happening, which as far as I knew hadn't happened to anybody else in Eight-A yet. Just like nobody else in the whole grade had anything real in their stupid training bras except me, thanks a lot.
Anyway, I stayed away from everybody as much as I could and wouldn't talk to Gerry-Anne, even, because I was scared she would ask me why I walked funny and smelled bad.
Billy Linden avoided me just like everybody else, except one of his stupid buddies purposely bumped into me so I stumbled into Billy in the lunch-line. Billy turns around and he goes, real loud, “Hey, Boobs, when did you start wearing black and blue makeup?"
I didn't give him the satisfaction of knowing that he had actually broken my nose, which the doctor said. Good thing they don't have to bandage you up for that. Billy would be hollering up a storm about how I had my nose in a sling as well as my boobs.
That night I got up after I was supposed to be asleep and took off my underpants and T-shirt that I sleep in and stood looking at myself in the mirror. I didn't need to turn a light on. The moon was full and it was shining right into my bedroom through the big dormer window.
I crossed my arms and pinched myself hard to sort of punish my body for what it was doing to me.
As if that could make it stop.
No wonder Edie Siler had starved herself to death in the tenth grade: I understood her perfectly. She was trying to keep her body down, keep it normal-looking, thin and strong, like I was too, back when I looked like a person, not a cartoon that somebody would call “Boobs."
And then something warm trickled in a little line down the inside of my leg, and I knew it was blood and I couldn't stand it anymore. I pressed my thighs together and shut my eyes hard, and I did something.
I mean, I felt it happening. I felt myself shrink down to a hard core of sort of cold fire inside my bones, and all the flesh part, the muscles and the squishy insides and the skin, went sort of glowing and free-floating, all shining with moonlight, and I felt a sort of shifting and balance-changing going on.
I thought I was fainting on account of my stupid period. So I turned around and threw myself
on my bed, only by the time I hit it, I knew something was seriously wrong.
For one thing, my nose and my head were crammed with these crazy, rich sensations that it took me a second to even figure out were smells; they were so much stronger than any smells I'd ever smelled. And they were—I don't know—interesting instead of just stinky, even the rotten ones.
I opened my mouth to get the smells a little better, and heard myself panting in a funny way as if I'd been running, which I hadn't, and then there was this long part of my face sticking out and something moving there—my tongue.
I was licking my chops.
Well, there was this moment of complete and utter panic. I tore around the room whining and panting and hearing my toenails clicking on the floorboards, and then I huddled down and crouched in the corner because I was scared Dad and Hilda would hear me and come to find out what was making all this racket.
Because I could hear them. I could hear their bed creak when one of them turned over, and Dad's breath whistling a little in an almost-snore, and I could smell them too, each one with a perfectly clear bunch of smells, kind of like those desserts of mixed ice cream they call a medley.
My body was twitching and jumping with fear and energy, and my room—it's a converted attic-space, wide but with a ceiling that's low in places—my room felt like a jail. And plus, I was terrified of catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I had a pretty good idea of what I would see, and I didn't want to see it.
Besides, I had to pee, and I couldn't face trying to deal with the toilet in the state I was in.
So I eased the bedroom door open with my shoulder and nearly fell down the stairs trying to work them with four legs and thinking about it, instead of letting my body just do it. I put my hands on the front door to open it, but my hands weren't hands, they were paws with long knobby toes covered with fur, and the toes had thick black claws sticking out of the ends of them.
The pit of my stomach sort of exploded with horror, and I yelled. It came out this wavery wooo noise that echoed eerily in my skull bones. Upstairs, Hilda goes, “Jack, what was that?” I bolted for the basement as I heard Dad hit the floor of their bedroom.
The basement door slips its latch all the time, so I just shoved it open and down I went, doing better on the stairs this time because I was too scared to think. I spent the rest of the night down there, moaning to myself (which meant whining through my nose, really) and trotting around rubbing against the walls trying to rub off this crazy shape I had, or just moving around because I couldn't sit still. The place was thick with stinks and these slow-swirling currents of hot and cold air. I couldn't handle all the input.
As for having to pee, in the end I managed to sort of hike my butt up over the edge of the slop-sink by Dad's workbench and let go in there. The only problem was that I couldn't turn the taps on to rinse out the smell because of my paws.
Then about 3:00 A.M. I woke up from a doze curled up in a bare place on the floor where the spiders weren't so likely to walk, and I couldn't see a thing or smell anything either, so I knew I was okay again even before I checked and found fingers on my hands instead of claws.
I zipped upstairs and stood under the shower so long that Hilda yelled at me for using up the hot water when she had a load of wash to do that morning. I was only trying to steam some of the stiffness out of my muscles, but I couldn't tell her that.
It was real weird to just dress and go to school after a night like that. One good thing, I had stopped bleeding after only one day, which Hilda said wasn't so strange for the first time. So it had to be the huge greenish bruise on my face from Billy's punch that everybody was staring at.
That and the usual thing, of course. Well, why not? They didn't know I'd spent the night as a wolf.
So Fat Joey grabbed my book bag in the hallway outside science class and tossed it to some kid from Eight-B. I had to run after them to get it back, which of course was set up so the boys could cheer the jouncing of my boobs under my shirt.
I was so mad I almost caught Fat Joey, except I was afraid if I grabbed him, maybe he would sock me like Billy had.
Dad had told me, “Don't let it get you, kid; all boys are jerks at that age."
Hilda had been saying all summer, “Look, it doesn't do any good to walk around all hunched up with your arms crossed; you should just throw your shoulders back and walk like a proud person who's pleased that she's growing up. You're just a little early, that's all, and I bet the other girls are secretly envious of you, with their cute little training bras, for Chrissake, as if there was something that needed to be trained."
It's okay for her, she's not in school, she doesn't remember what it's like.
So I quit running and walked after Joey until the bell rang, and then I got my book bag back from the bushes outside where he threw it. I was crying a little, and I ducked into the Girls’ Room.
Stacey Buhl was in there doing her lipstick like usual and wouldn't talk to me like usual, but Rita came bustling in and said somebody should off that dumb dork Joey, except, of course, it was really Billy that put him up to it. Like usual.
Rita is okay except she's an outsider herself, being that her kid brother has AIDS, and lots of kids’ parents don't think she should even be in the school. So I don't hang around with her a lot. I've got enough trouble, and anyway, I was late for math.
I had to talk to somebody, though. After school I told Gerry-Anne, who's been my best friend on and off since fourth grade. She was off at the moment, but I found her in the library and I told her I'd had a weird dream about being a wolf. She wants to be a psychiatrist like her mother, so of course she listened.
She told me I was nuts. That was a big help.
That night I made sure the back door wasn't exactly closed, and then I got in bed with no clothes on—imagine turning into a wolf in your underpants and T-shirt—and just shivered, waiting for something to happen.
The moon came up and shone in my window, and I changed again, just like before, which is not one bit like how it is in the movies—all struggling and screaming and bones snapping out with horrible cracking and tearing noises, just the way I guess you would imagine it to be, if you knew it had to be done by building special machines to do that for the camera and make it look real—if you were a special-effects man, instead of a werewolf.
For me, it didn't have to look real, it was real. It was this melting and drifting thing, which I got sort of excited by it this time. I mean, it felt—interesting. Like something I was doing, instead of just another dumb body-mess happening to me because some brainless hormones said so.
I must have made a noise. Hilda came upstairs to the door of my bedroom, but luckily she didn't come in. She's tall, and my ceiling is low for her, so she often talks to me from the landing.
Anyway, I'd heard her coming, so I was in my bed with my whole head shoved under my pillow, praying frantically that nothing showed.
I could smell her, it was the wildest thing—her own smell, sort of sweaty but sweet, and then on top of it her perfume, like an ice pick stuck in my nose. I didn't actually hear a word she said, I was too scared, and also, I had this ripply shaking feeling inside me, a high that was only partly terror.
See, I realized all of a sudden, with this big blossom of surprise, that I didn't have to be scared of Hilda, or anybody. I was strong, my wolf-body was strong, and anyhow, one clear look at me and she would drop dead.
What a relief, though, when she went away. I was dying to get out from under the weight of the covers, and besides I had to sneeze. Also I recognized that part of the energy roaring around inside me was hunger.
They went to bed—I heard their voices even in their bedroom, though not exactly what they said, which was fine. The words weren't important anymore, I could tell more from the tone of what they were saying.
Like I knew they were going to do it, and I was right. I could hear them messing around right through the walls, which was also something new, and I have never been so emba
rrassed in my life. I couldn't even put my hands over my ears because my hands were paws.
So while I was waiting for them to go to sleep, I looked myself over in the big mirror on my closet door.
There was this big wolf head with a long slim muzzle and a thick ruff around my neck. The ruff stood up as I growled and backed up a little.
Which was silly of course, there was no wolf in the bedroom but me. But I was all strung out, I guess, and one wolf, me in my wolf body, was as much as I could handle the idea of, let alone two wolves, me and my reflection.
After that first shock, it was great. I kept turning one way and another for different views.
I was thin, with these long, slender legs but strong, you could see the muscles, and feet a little bigger than I would have picked. But I'll take four big feet over two big boobs any day.
My face was terrific, with jaggedy white ripsaw teeth and eyes that were small and clear and gleaming in the moonlight. The tail was a little bizarre, but I got used to it, and actually it had a nice plumy shape. My shoulders were big and covered with long, glossy-looking fur, and I had this neat coloring, dark on the back and a sort of melting silver on my front and under parts.
The thing was, though, my tongue hanging out. I had a lot of trouble with that, it looked gross and silly at the same time. I mean, that was my tongue, about a foot long and neatly draped over the points of my bottom canines. That was when I realized that I didn't have a whole lot of expressions to use, not with that face, which was more like a mask.
But it was alive; it was my face and those were my own long black lips that my tongue licked.
No doubt about it, this was me. I was a werewolf, like in the movies they showed over Halloween weekend. But it wasn't anything like your ugly movie werewolf that's just some guy loaded up with pounds and pounds of makeup. I was gorgeous.
I didn't want to just hang around admiring myself in the mirror, though. I couldn't stand being cooped up in that stuffy, smell-crowded room.