Their mother was off to the club again, dressed in her short-short tennis outfit. Her legs were brown with tan and her face was like a brown sculpture with a delicate green-tinted sweat beneath her bright blue eyes. Yesterday, the boys remembered her eyes being green. Her nose was covered with the white protective stuff, especially since their father had just created this nose for her. He was a plastic surgeon. This nose he made was smooth and pointy and shiny, like a Barbie boob.
Boobs. Other things their father built. The boys knew about boobs. Their mom told them never to say that. It's demeaning to women. They're breasts. They are perfectly natural, for feeding babies.
If they are so natural, the boys asked, why does Daddy build fake ones?
She looked up to the heavens. He only does that if a lady loses one. Or both.
How would they lose them? The boys thought of hand grenades, flaming car wrecks. Just last week they had set Marina's Barbie convertible on fire and launched it over the pool rim. If there was a plastic surgeon for Barbies, he would have heavy hair and skin work.
They can get cancer, she said. She believed in the truth. She showed them the pink ribbon on her top which said, FIGHT BREAST CANCER. Ladies have to check their breasts for lumps. They have to feel them in the shower. It's very serious.
The boys took this to heart. They were too young to feel arousal from women running hands over breasts. Too young to imagine what a breast looked like under clothes. They had seen Mom and Serena's breasts at the pool in their bathing suits. Mom's looked small and Serena's gigantic. Their father was a great admirer of breasts, especially Serena's. He watched them all the time, probably because he was a professional breast builder. If something happened, he would have to know just how they went back together.
Their mother leaned over to kiss their heads. They smelled her smell which she said was lilac. They loved her smell. For the first time ever they studied her breasts. They were like Barbie's, pointed straight and hard-looking. They tried to picture her in the shower after her tennis match, running those nails to check for what: zits, bubbles, lumps like on the faces of their ogres?
Behave for Serena, she said. What are you doing today? It's a hot one.
We're setting up the Kool-Aid stand.
Good. Just be careful.
Serena the maid helped them mix the cherry Kool-Aid. They watched her breasts as she stirred. It seemed like they should move, like the kick-balls in the sack in gym class, but they held fast. Serena did not have babies as far as they knew, but there should be a line-up waiting for all the milk they must hold. Maybe she could sell the milk, like they sold Kool-Aid. She might make a lot of money. She could give that money to cancer, just like they had decided to do. Their mother had said there was a real battle going on, so they put on their battle faces and consulted with their GI Joes. They put on their camouflage pajamas and blackened their faces with their father's shoe polish.
They remembered Mr. Marsden in science saying how cells divided so quickly, it was impossible, impossible, impossible. His wife had died, she wasn't very old, and that look was always on his face. Sad but savage at the same time, kind of set in plastic like the Joes. They would do this for him.
They opened their table on the sidewalk and made a new sign: KOOL-AID FOR CANCER.
Time passed and no one stopped. Everyone seemed in a hurry.
Then one old guy with a yappy dog stopped and asked them if they were actually sanctioned by the American Cancer Society. They didn't know what that meant so they said, Yes. They thought they had heard that word, sang-shunned, during a boxing match on TV. We're sang-shunned by the Loss Vegas commission, they said. The old guy gave them a crappy dime, and then poured a spoonful of Kool-Aid in his palm for the growly dog to lap up. It was creepy.
They sat and waited. A car slowed, but kept going. On the rear bumper there was a pink ribbon like on their mother' s blouse, but this one said: FEEL YOUR BOOBIES. It surprised them. Their mother had been wrong. Boobies were right out there on those ribbons. Sang-shunned.
After a while they were bored and went to tell Serena they were walking to the clinic. She was on her back by the pool and they startled her. Before she could bring the towel up, they saw her breasts, and there was something wrong with them. Not really lumps, but pits and craters, and scars like roads. They were battlefields. They needed rebuilding. Serena had a look on her face they had never seen. She was sad, hurt by someone. With her eyes she begged them, two innocents with untapped power. It was clear she needed help, and the boys vowed to get money so their father could fix her.
They walked the several blocks to the clinic. Through the big windows they could see their father, flitting from one room to the next. There was no missing him—he wore colorful, flowery shirts and tight white pants. He had a perm and wore tinted glasses. He looked more like a tango instructor. Outside one room he paused to bury his face in a nurse's neck, and the boys thought this was why their mother attacked tennis balls so fiercely for so many hours a day.
They turned from watching him. Sometimes they wanted to be like him, and other times they didn't. They sat on a bench. Another old coot stopped in front of them and chuckled. Where's the battle, good soldiers? If they had bayonets, they would have plunged them into his saggy neck.
The battle's with cancer, they said, pointing fingers to indicate every direction in the world.
Of course, I see. Great gimmick.
He shuffled off.
That's when they noticed a sign in a window of the clinic which said, BREAST EXAMS SAVE LIVES
Serena was in their parents' master bath when they got home, singing inside the glass shower stall. It sounded like a sad song. She spent a lot of time in their parents' room. Once when they peeked in she was cutting one of their father's shirts with scissors. Another time she held his picture and spoke angrily in Spanish with her eyes closed.
They went to their room and thought about their fund-raising, what could make it different and better. They drew light-bulbs in the air next to their heads. They took the bottle of vodka from the dining room cabinet, because they knew that when their parents drank this they were happier, and so were the visitors. People seemed a lot thirstier with this added. They'd seen it put into orange juice, so why not Kool-Aid?
At the dining room table they used big rainbow markers on poster board. Then they compared signs.
Kyle's said: SAVE YOUR LIVE. KILL CANCER!!!! KOOL-AID 50 CENTS. BREAST EXAM 1 DOLLAR. (YOU ARE NOT BARBIE. YOU CAN DIE!!!)
Matt's said: GI JOE SAYS TO FEEL YOUR BOOBIES!!! THAT"S AN ORDER!!!!
They knew they were on to something. They felt proud, saving the women of the world with no supervision at all. Maybe that was why their father acted that way with all the women who were not their mother. He just loved women. He loved saving them, building them back up, and that made him so happy he just had to hug, hug, hug and kiss necks. The boys could accept their father being the lover and savior of the world.
They were floating on air as they took their vodka and signs to the table.
The boys stood at attention, their sneakers lined up with a crack in the sidewalk, their blackened faces looking proudly and fiercely ahead. The cop had pulled up moments ago, and now waved the vodka bottle as Serena approached. He nodded to her and said, Serena. His eyes landed on her breasts and she pulled her robe tight. When she came around and saw the signs, laughter puffed from her chest and tried to burst from her cheeks.
Oh my god, she said, her hand over her mouth.
Are you responsible for these two? He worked his amusement around like a wad of gum.
I was just in the shower . . .
We're fighting for Serena, the boys said, in a GI Joe monotone. Then: It's a surprise!
The officer shook his head and tried to look grim. Serena, he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. Do I have to come back here and speak to their parents?
No officer. I'll take care of it.
His hand moved on her shoulder, rubbing, almost a caress. The boys did not like the looks of that. They were prepared to defend her.
I hope you will, he said. He took one last look down at her body, then nodded to the boys and got into his car. He chirped the siren as he sped off, making Serena jump. Then she started to shake.
The brothers threw themselves against her. Suddenly they were crying, big drops gliding over the black.
She held their quivering chins. What is on your faces?
Our father's shoe polish.
That may never come off.
It's okay. He will make us new faces.
She poured herself a cup of the Kool-Aid and gulped it down. She drank four cups. This is cold and warm at the same time, she said. She laughed and then wept.
Don't cry, they said, hugging her. He'll save you.