It’s a boyfriend who first points it out. Her nipples have grown wall-eyed, staring off in opposite directions. Distracting, he says, looking away.
I hadn’t noticed, she says, but after that it is all she notices. She keeps a shirt on and the lights out, but still, it bothers her, this problem. She is only twenty-five. What if this migration continues? By forty, she’ll be flat-chested and breast-backed.
Nip-tuck, the boyfriend advises, sewing at the air between them.
The girl finds a doctor on the internet. I correct these sorts of problems all the time, sure, he says, measuring her chest with his hands. But I must warn you, it will be costly, and painful, and will leave an unsightly scar.
Can the scar be in the form of my boyfriend’s initials? she asks.
As the doctor runs her credit card through the machine, he chews at the end of his pen, stares off. I don’t see why not, he says finally. What’s his name?
Wolfgang Ludwig Mahler, she tells him. Actually, this is a lie. She no longer has a boyfriend, ever since he pointed out her problem. She just doesn’t want a plain old scar. The doctor takes the pen from his mouth and makes a note. Musical, he says.
After surgery and after the bandages are removed, the girl is disappointed that the scar doesn’t look at all like the initials of her fake boyfriend. Instead it looks like a series of posts strung with barbed wire running the short span of skin between her nipples, her breasts fenced in like livestock in need of corralling. She pictures a wide Montana plain as she runs her fingertip over the raised pink scar and considers her situation in the mirror the doctor holds.
He is waiting for her to say something, but she doesn’t like to feel rushed. If her breasts were livestock, they wouldn’t be cattle, she thinks. They’d be something much smaller, like lambs, or smaller yet, like guinea pigs. In Guatemala they eat guinea pig—she’s seen this on the Travel Channel, guinea pigs dipped and fried whole. She puts her hands under her breasts and considers their weight. Lighter than guinea pigs, she figures, probably more like hamsters. But people don’t herd hamsters and guinea pigs aren’t fenced in—instead, they range freely, tended to by squat Guatemalan women dressed in serapes.
The serape is worn in Mexico. I think you must mean the traje. The doctor sticks his head out from behind the mirror. The mirror reflects back her breasts as if they’re now the doctor’s breasts, with nipples staring straight ahead, alert. The girl feels suddenly shy, doesn’t know where to put her hands. The doctor lifts the mirror back over his face, his voice muffled. I sponsor a child in Guatemala. I send her money, letters on her birthday, holidays. He shrugs and the mirror moves. The girl follows the movement of the mirror. She hopes her doctor’s penmanship is better than his skill with stitches.
Pleased? the doctor asks finally. He puts down the mirror, averts his eyes.
Very, the girl says. She likes the story of this scar. Magical, she thinks.
When the bill comes, she pays it gladly and on time.
Julie Innis’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gargoyle, Prick of the Spindle, BLIP, Slush Pile, Lit N Image, Fogged Clarity, Pindeldyboz, The Long Story, and Underground Voices, among others. In May 2009, she was a finalist for the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers and in May 2010, she won the Seventh Glass Woman Prize for Fiction. She has high hopes for May 2011.
This work first appeared at Used Furniture Review