Here are the beginnings of what would become my novel, Fruit. This story was published in Xtra's Church-Wellesley Review in 1998. Originally, the work was titled Breasts. It was only in later revisions that Peter’s nipples took on more of a starring role. I was still struggling with the voice in this, which you’ll see. It was only in subsequent revisions that Peter’s voice came into, er, fruition. (Sorry.)
I am a twelve-year-old boy and I am developing breasts. My nipples are pulsing. I tell no one. In the beginning, I didn’t notice. Then I began catching glimpses of them in the mirror. I am horrified, lifting my T-shirt over my white belly. What is happening? My nipples are like eyeballs, staring back at my reflection. Sometimes, they wink at me. I am growing breasts because I have unconsciously wished this upon myself. My breasts are the result of my “Bedtime Movies.” The Bedtime Movies play over and over in my head until I fall asleep at night.
Bedtime Movie #1
I am Brooke Shields. I am wearing a shiny pink dress. The hem of my dress is very high. I am wearing spice nylons over smooth legs. I am also wearing white high heel shoes. My car has broken down in front of Mr. Anderson’s house. (Mr. Anderson is a customer on my paper route. He is dark and masculine. When I make my rounds collecting the paper money, I get warm walking up his driveway.)
Mr. Anderson is home alone. His wife and children are gone. (They got killed in some tragic car accident.) I am Brooke Shields in a shiny pink dress and why can’t I start this icky car? Jeez! My palms slap the steering wheel. Mr. Anderson is watching me from his living room window. He thinks I’ve got great hair. When I step out of the car, he looks at my legs in that hungry way men look at women’s legs. He comes out to help me. He’s wearing a red Speedo.
Unfortunately, Mr. Anderson can’t start my car. “There’s not much we can do about it,” he says, putting his hands firmly on his hips. “She’s a goner.”
“What am I going to do?” I ask. I’m on the verge of tears.
“Would you like to come in for a hot chocolate?” Mr. Anderson asks me. My eyes want to look at his body, his Speedo. But I am strong. I lock eyes with him and nod.
I sit at the kitchen table while Mr. Anderson makes the hot chocolate. He asks me questions about my past. I am aloof and vague and check my hair for split ends. Although I don’t say it, it is warm and comfortable and exciting in Mr. Anderson’s kitchen. I feel protected, yet scared.
Mr. Anderson turns to me and says, “Would you like big or small marshmallows in your cocoa?”
It’s at this point I usually fall asleep.
My sister Jane notices my swelling breasts. I expect that she will make fun of me. Jane and my other sister, Nancy, call me “fruit” all the time.
“Fruit! Fruit!” they sing.
“Don’t call him that!” my mother says.
But Jane doesn’t make fun of my breasts. She asks me if she can touch them. I say okay, but only through the material of my T-shirt. Her fingers press into my right nipple.
“There’s something hard in there,” she says, fascinated.
“I know,” I say. There is something like a finger bone pushing from behind my nipples. Jane presses into the left one.
“Okay,” I say. “Enough.” I pull away.
“You should tell Mom and Dad,” Jane says. “You should go see the doctor about this. Girls get boobs. Boys don’t.”
My breasts now look like mini hot-cross buns. If Jane noticed, then others will, too. I go to the convenience store and buy a roll of scotch tape. I come home with my paper bag and go to my bedroom. I close the door and take off my T-shirt. I make a scotch taped “x” across my right nipple. I go over to my dresser mirror. I turn sideways. I bend over. I tape my left nipple. I turn sideways. I bend over. I put my T-shirt on. I stand in front of the fan. My cotton T-shirt blows in the breeze. The scotch tape causes my skin to crinkle beneath it. It looks as though I have many-pointed nipples. They are stars now, which is better than eyeballs, any day.
I think I’m becoming something dark that my mind can’t understand.
Bedtime Movie #2
I am the star of a major motion picture. (The title is not important.) My co-star is Kevin Costner. The movie is very controversial.
“It’s very controversial,” I tell the interviewer from Entertainment Tonight. “The film is about…limitations and humanity’s need for…for…it’s very controversial.”
This is a full-length picture, but I can only focus on one scene. It’s a challenging role for me. I play the babysitter of Kevin Costner’s children. (His wife is dead. Another tragic car accident.) I am babysitting one night. The children are in bed. Kevin comes home, his breath smelling like whiskey. He is very powerful and attractive and dangerous. He says he wants to wrestle with me.
“No,” I say. “We’ll wake the children.”
Still, Kevin persists. Then I see the look in his eyes – the look that speaks of his man-hunger. The camera zooms in for a close-up as dark revelation spreads across my face. I know what Kevin wants to do to me. Horrified, I bolt and start running up the basement stairs. Kevin grabs my ankle. I stumble. “Stop!” I say fearfully. I must protect the children! I break free and run through the kitchen and up the hallway stairs. Kevin is close behind me. I run into the master bedroom. It’s a bad move on my part. Kevin pushes me onto the bed.
“Please don’t,” I plead. I’m afraid the children will come in. Kevin says nothing and lays down on top of me. He’s pinned my arms to the bed with his hands. I am too weak to fight.
“Rape,” I think in my head.
“Cut!” the director yells.
“Oh, don’t worry, dear. Your father has breasts, too.”
I am mortified. Jane has told my mother. I’m cornered in the kitchen. I fold my arms across my chest.
“It’s hereditary,” my mother says. “Some men are just…well, fleshier up there, that’s all.”
I try to explain. “Dad has fatty boobs. They hang. It’s because he’s old. Mine are…mine are different.” My mother becomes curious.
“How so?” Her head cocks to one side like a dog. I do not want to discuss my nipples with my mother. I can’t even say the word in front of her. I am going to kill Jane.
“Maybe you’re right,” I say. “Maybe they are like Dad’s.”
“There you go, dear.” My mother smiles.
Inside my head, there’s a war going on.
I am in the eighth grade as Clarkedale Elementary School. My desk is across from the ugliest girl in the entire school, Jackie Myner. Jackie collects photographs of Adrian Zmed and pastes them into her “Adrian Zmed” scrapbook. My teacher is Mr. Mitchell. I find him attractive in the same way I find Mr. Dress-Up attractive. Mr. Mitchell has nine children and he belongs to a strict church that won’t let women cut their hair.
“I don’t think he’s Jehovah,” my mother says. “Jehovahs aren’t hung up on hair, really.”
My mother is afraid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When my father works Saturday mornings, she sits by the window and watches. When she spots a pair making their rounds on our street, she whisper-screams “Jehovahs!” Then she closes the drapes, turns the TV off and makes my sisters and I go into the kitchen and hide behind the counter until the coast is clear.
“It’s not like they’re going to break in if they know we’re here, mother,” my sister Nancy has said.
“Ssshhhh!” my mother whisper-screams.
It’s good to know that Mr. Mitchell isn’t a Jehovah. But my mother thinks he belongs to a cult.
“There’s a group of them that meet out on Highway Seven,” she says. “Under the canopy tent on Thursday nights.”
Every morning, Mr. Mitchell begins the day by reading Bible stories. Today, Mr. Mitchell spoke of the hardships and turmoil that Jews endured and how God promised to deliver them to a land of milk and honey. The milk part got me thinking. What if my breasts can produce milk? The fingers of my right hand find their way to my left nipple. What if my poor, taped breasts are really a gift of God? What if I am the Second Coming? I imagine squeezing white rivers out of my breasts. People bow at my feet.
“Drink, Jews. Drink.”
Tonight, I think about Mr. Mitchell’s tongue on my holy nipple.
Giovanni Bertoli lives across the street from me with his father and mother. He is sixteen and drives a Camaro. His favourite band is Quiet Riot. Giovanni is a bit of a rebel. His mother is always yelling at him.
“Those Eye-talians,” my mother says, shaking her head. “They’re all so high-strung.”
Mrs. Bertoli is nice to me, though. She always tips me when I collect my paper money. Sometimes, she gives me food to take home, like stuffed eggplant or jars of tomato sauce. My mother won’t eat anything Mrs. Bertoli cooks.
“I’m not racist,” she explains. “The Bertolis are just from a different culture, that’s all. They cook in the basement, for heaven’s sake! Give it to your father. He grew up on a farm, after all.”
I’m not crazy about Mrs. Bertoli’s food, either. I’ve seen chunks of salted meat hanging from their basement beams. Once, I watched Mrs. Bertoli snip the tongue out of a live chicken while Giovanni held the bird tightly under his arm. Giovanni and I come from very different worlds. He’s Italian, I’m white. He’s a rebel, I sing in the church choir. He smokes, I eat Ding Dongs. But both our parents mow the lawn.
Bedtime Movie #3
Giovanni and I are in a lawn-mowing competition. There is a panel of judges that will decide who can mow his lawn the neatest and straightest. I don’t know what the prize will be. Giovanni is very nervous about the competition. He wants to do it, but he knows how good I am at mowing the lawn.
“I don’t wanna enter some frickin’ mowin’ contest!” he yells at his mother and lights up a cigarette.
“Sonna-ma-beetch!” Mrs. Bertoli screams from the front porch. She’s dressed in black.
The morning of the contest, Giovanni and I take our places behind the lawnmowers. We yank up the start cords and rev our engines. Giovanni looks over at me. He is trying to look like he doesn’t care, but even from across the street, I can see the beads of sweat on his forehead. A pistol fires. The mowing begins. An hour later, the judges come by to inspect our work. My lawn is perfectly manicured. The wheel-lines are straight and divide the grass into a green patchwork quilt. Giovanni’s lawn looks like a really bad haircut. The judges award me the title of “Best Lawn-Mower Ever” and flashbulbs ignite like tiny suns.
Giovanni flies into a rage – the kind rebels fly into.
“Frick you and your frickin’ lawn!” he yells at me. He gets into his Camaro.
“Giovanni, please!” I am running across the street now. I must save him from his anger. “You did a good job, too!”
Giovanni puts his car in reverse and squeals out of the driveway. He doesn’t see me running towards him. I disappear beneath the Camaro. The last things I remember hearing are Mrs. Bertoli’s screams and Giovanni saying, “Ah, man. I frickin’ ran him over.” When I wake up in the hospital, Giovanni is beside my bed. He has committed his life me, he says. He will never leave my side.
“My little rebel,” I whisper and I hear a violin somewhere in the distance.
Then I fall asleep.