A Nipple’s Compensation — Sofia Stephenson
A headless woman is spotted by the girl across the alley. She is topless—the woman—and moderately obese. The girl’s eye gets snared on her nipple like a writer on a moment with potential. The nipple is Mars in a white spotted night. How could she be missed? She packs a black suitcase from the neck down, the head cut off by the upper sill of the window. She moves in and out of view in girlish white cotton underpants. The girl is delighted. This is the first nipple the hotel has borne.
The hotel, up to that moment, had been sexless, undeserving of projective perversions. Now the hotel with the curtains modestly parted, exposed itself. The girl is reassured in this moment that people do get naked in the Holiday Inn. Two years passed; the thirty-two story blue-brick building towered and glowered over the pre-war apartments who had, since before the war and hitherto, been praised by the sun, received his blessings until nightfall, and then took them secondhand from the moon. For two years the hotel kept mostly to itself allowing only nonengaging content to leak out. The pre-wars might find a hand humping a mouse beside a computer. Click click click. Or the lodger who comes to the window looks left, right, and closes the curtains. Not much else was expressed by the domineering two-year old. So much literature has raised our expectations of hotel entertainment. We expect, we hope, for immodest perverts. We hope to see more than a hand humping a mouse. But after two years of the frumpy blue-wall, never before exposing a nipple, the prewar community gave up on the new gal. She was a killjoy. Blocked out the sun, without so much as a nipple’s compensation.
So the girl turns down the lights to clear her reflection from the glass. There’s the woman. Her giant breasts are highlighted by Jesus-fish tan lines. And the fish sway in the liquid of her flesh, in the waves of her busy sloshing breasts. She’s a machine, place-tuck-turn-lift-turn-fold-place-tuck-turn—someone else is in the room; she gesticulates like a conversationalist. Who is it? Surely this woman is not with a lover. The girl becomes jealous. Is it a man?
They are married and the air conditioning is out. The room is muggy and she peals off her tight jeans, t-shirt and bra; “it’s hotter than hell!” she moans. He is offended by her naked packing; they don’t have sex anymore; and he silently resents her body for losing its appeal. The frequency of her nudity has desensitized him to the contours of her skin, to the fish in her breasts. He’s watching TV. “So I called for a car at 6,” she says, “are you going to want to shower in the morning?” He doesn’t hear her. She asks again. “No.” She leans over with Bermuda shorts, the breasts disappear. They return with her hands, but the shorts do not make it.
The girl is ecstatic. She will let her parents know. But, she does not want her father to see the breasts; she does not want them to become sexual nipples. No, they are novelty. She props her elbows up on three pillows. Still her neck is strained. She looks back; the nipples remain.
The nipples remain. Now, she holds them prisoner with her eyes. So long as she watches, they will not part. The silhouette of a woman examining underpants makes a hole in the curtains one and three windows over and up. The figures compete for her attention. The silhouette is suggestive, an apparition, an illusion. But the breasts, well—they are breasts. The girl’s attention shifts and her eyes pace anxiously like an observer in a competitive game of pong.
She was young—the Holiday Inn—but in hotel years two is twenty, and I imagine she’d finally splintered under the unspoken pressures of neighborhood. She had stolen the sun, and the mirror of the moon. But couldn’t be blamed. It was not, after all, her choice to steal the sun, to impose thirty-two stories, or even to be built. But on this night, after the pre-wars have long resigned their hopes of perverts and peeps shows, close their curtains, and turn inward to television and art studios, she takes up her skirts, opens a curtain and shows them the obese, breasts, underpants, and shadow, all at once.
They are abiding, the breasts and silhouette, so the girl withdraws and sinks into the pillows. There is a piece of brain beside her, Virginia Woolf’s, and she runs her palm over its smooth faces. She picks through it and reads. Giles had flattened a snake with his boot; the sole was splattered with blood—she yawns. It is only twelve, but she missed hours during the week. She closes the brain and stuffs it with the others under the nightstand. She turns off the lamp, and props her arms on the pillows. Breasts abiding, she sinks again and surrenders to the burial of sleep.
She gets up to pee the next hour, returning with a glass of water. She gulps the whole thing and then checks for the matron. But it is no longer obvious which window is hers. She approximates the window; a light is on. But the breasted woman, she is gone. Where she stood there is nothing, save a TV, suitcase, and an obese, blonde woman in a navy t-shirt.