He says I have arms like a man. Curved bicep, forearms covered in light hair, too many veins showing. My hands are too big, he says. My words and expectations too big.
“You’re built like a bloke,” he says, kneading my arm absently with his hand. Sometimes after sex he elaborates: I’m too forceful, my hands are too rough. He told me once that he dated a girl with hands as soft as clouds.
“I swear, one touch would make me hard.”
Constant reminders that I’m not like those peroxided girls writhing around on screen with their bald genitalia and bald horizons. Tangling legs through his, I peer down into his florid face and search for tenderness. And usually come up blank. So, I roll off, stare at the ceiling instead, and stretch my big arms above my head. I grab a T-shirt, and pad barefoot to the kitchen.
His brother calls me Brucie. Thinks it’s a hoot and loves to yell it out across a restaurant, a drunken party.
“Hey, Brucie-Big-Guns, looking fine in that dress you stole from Tyson, Sweetheart.”
I’m 5 foot 10 and help my uncle at the warehouse some weekends. I’m solid and strong but apparently that makes me a freak. I usually just smile, lick the line of my lipstick, and imagine his brother’s neck squeezed tight between my big guns while his puffy face turns purple.
Since Mom died, my uncle often throws a bit of extra work my way. Not that he ever got on well with Mom. Sibling guilt, probably. My mother was one of those women who could legitimately be described as petite. Soft skinned, smelling of Revlon, she projected pastels and femininity. Men opened doors for her, fell into her light laughter, carried her bags, married her a few times. My sister and I trailed behind; one of us in awe and one of us in training. Cassie was never as fine-featured as Mom, but it hardly mattered. She learned how to speak and gesture softly, hold eye contact just long enough, brush fingers gently over arms, and spent hours tweaking and perfecting.
“Brittany, it wouldn’t hurt to get your eyebrows done. You’ve got such strong brows, but you don’t want to look like Frida, Hon.”
I see him look at Cassie, wondering why he ended up with the lump and not the sexy sister. He has no idea. She’d have him so sewn up he’d be searching for a frickin’ drink coaster even when she wasn’t home. But then again, he’d probably be just like all those other men, pretending they hate it, and secretly wanting nothing more than another mother.
He says I walk like a man too. Says he saw me walking towards him in the parking lot, my hair under my hat, arms swinging, and he thought I was a guy. I tell him I’d never think he was a woman. Most women don’t scratch their genitals that much. When Cassie and I were teens, I’d see her lift her arse cheek, fart delicately into the musty air of our shared bedroom and wonder how she even managed to fashion her fart into something less vulgar than mine.
I add five rashers of bacon to the pan. Two for me, three for him. I want three but it’s my pathetic attempt to appear ‘ladylike’. He calls out from the bedroom.
“Brit, my brother’s coming for dinner, tonight. Did I tell you?”
No, he did not.
“No. You cooking?”
“Aww, can’t you make that amazing chicken dish? It’s soo good.”
“I won’t be back from work till 6.00, so, no.”
Bacon hisses at me as I push it from the eggs.
“Oh, shit. What are we going to do, then?”
My jaw tightens. Then, he’s behind me, hand cupping a cheek under my T-shirt.
“Can’t you get off early?”
“Can’t you learn to cook?”
He removes his hand, scrapes back a chair, and slumps.
“Aw, come on, we go to your sister’s place all the time. I don’t complain.”
Why would he? Eating a delicious meal at her neat, comfortable home with her neat, comfortable husband. I bring dessert. He brings a six pack as a gesture, now and then.
“Is he bringing anyone?” I concede a little.
“Nah, don’t think so. Just him. He’s been a bit down.”
Yeah, I would be too if I were him.
“If he calls me Brucie-Big-Guns one more time I’ll flatten him.”
He laughs. “Brit, it’s a joke. Can’t you take a joke?”
“I mean it.”
I plate up bacon and eggs. He’s still laughing. Obviously recalling all those sweet humiliations, fun times his brother had at my expense. Holding the plate before him, he grabs, but I clutch the side until he looks at me. I give hard eye-contact.
“I mean it.”
He pulls at the plate.
“Geez. Ok. I’ll tell him.”
I let go.
“So, will you cook?” he asks.
Bacon is salty, hot, divine. I swallow it, and my pride, once more.
“Ok, but you’re helping.”
He beams at me, and I am stupidly happy again.
Rice steams and the table is set. He’s collecting extra beer from the garage fridge when the doorbell rings. I wipe my hands on a tea towel and walk over to the door.
“Brucie-Big-Guns!” his brother cries with an ear-splitting grin, already drunk.
He’s not out for long. Ten seconds, if that. He crumples forward onto the carpet, so it’s not like he hits his head or anything. Cassie asks me later, when she comes with her husband’s pick-up to help move my things, what on earth was I thinking? But at that exact second, as I raised my Brucie-Big-Guns, I’m not sure I was thinking. So, I just tell her what she’s always told me since Mom died.
“A woman deserves to be treated like a lady. Mom taught me that.”