The woman had pendulous, swaying breasts that made her wince and wince with every swing. She hobbled over the hot sidewalk, a glacial but confident beeline towards the store. Cowbell clanging a loud and ugly jingle. The woman told me her name was Sandra. She was picking up an order, she said. Ovals of moisture rimmed her chest. I riffled through the boxes for pick-up until I fished out her name. She exhaled sharply, clutching at her breasts. A sour scent wiggled through her fingers and rose into the air. I pressed the package into her hands and I asked her if she was alright. We have a room to pump, I said. It’s private.

It’s not that, she said. My kid is a biter.

She had the blocky marks of blunted teeth running over her areolas. Glacé of pink blood. I didn’t ask to see, but Sandra peeled her shirt upwards. The same tangy scent filled the room. Ouch, I said. It was gruesome, and I was sympathetic. She nodded, thin-lipped. I watched her sweat-dappled back return to her car.

I worked at a store that sold breast pumps. The pumps were known for being durable, cost-efficient, insurance-covered. Mostly, our customers were buying into the brand. VitaPump was owned by a young micro-celebrity named Vita who had moved to Western Massachusetts in a journey she documented across social media platforms. She was here to find herself, and she did. Through a surprise pregnancy that led to her search for the kind of pumps she would eventually venture to sell. Two years later, not many customers came into the flagship store, but orders continued online in surprising numbers. VitaPump was, oddly enough, a success.

I had no interest in the field of lactation when I applied. I needed a job, and any job would have been fine. Spring dresses perpetually off her body regardless of the season, Vita was remarkably short when I met her, with black hair shorn into blunt bangs and a swipe of red lipstick always. She was airy and genial, and spoke in startling platitudes during my interview. Vita came across as very online in how she parroted what she had ingested through social media. Strange bits gleaned off TikToks, some of which toed the line of casual misinformation. But, speaking to her, the effect became the opposite: she emerged as someone with incredible vats of wisdom. The more I spent time with her, the more I understood her to actually have a solid read on people, too. I was hired on the spot.

The job was easy. I prepared shipments that came in from the website. Sometimes, though not often, a customer like Sandra picked up an order in person. This still didn’t require much of me. To pass the time, I pressed the pumps to my flat chest until the pain was unbearable. I took a break, slurping mouthfuls of cherry Icee. Afterwards, I pumped dry again.


The party was for Cara’s mother. A teacher at the local high school, and the founder of an award-winning acapella group with a punny name, Cara’s mother was retiring after 60 years. It was also her birthday. A large tent was raised in the yard, and a small stage was set for a series of surprise performances too. Cara and I hadn’t spoken much since college. Blurry nights spent doing God-knows-what. We drifted the way people with nothing in common do. Which is to say, neither of us mourned the loss of the other. She only knew I now lived in her neck of the woods because a friend we were each closer to had told her. I was thankful for the invitation. We were adults now, both more cognizant of what friendship actually entails. I had nothing better to do that Saturday, anyway.

It was Cara’s mother that spotted me first when I entered the yard. A sparse arrangement of people milled beneath the tent, clutching at local ales. I was early. Cara’s mother gathered me into her arms. Remind me who you are, she said into my ear. I explained I was an old friend of Cara’s. Thank you for letting me crash your party, I said.

Shush. All are welcome. Get yourself good and drunk now, she said, pushing me towards the bar. I filled a plastic cup with draft beer. I walked along the edges of the yard, inspecting the summer garden, the rolling green mountains beyond.

It was here, taking long pulls of something bitter and hoppy, gazing out to this new country, that a man sidled himself up beside me. How’s the garden? he asked.

It’s under attack, I said.

He smirked. And what are you going to do about it?

I am armed and dangerous, I said.

He laughed. Here I thought you were more mild-mannered than that, he said.

This from the man that looks like he would own a gun, I said. His pants were thick and rugged, his shirt made of soft flannel. Though, on second look, the outfit appeared costly, and not actually meant to be worn for displays of manual labor.

His name was Marin, the son of granola-types from the Valley. Born and raised here, he said. His eyes were silly big, and his smile was something swollen. A wasp followed us from the garden and into the living room, creeping through the space between his thigh and mine. He was a carpenter, he told me. He made expensive furniture that he shipped to peoples’ second homes in the Valley. He had commissions that were sent off to the Hamptons and the Hollywood Hills too. I have a website and everything, he said. But he was not bragging: his cheeks bloomed pink, and he grew bashful. He didn’t believe, I thought, this kind of success was ever in the cards for him.

His phone buzzed. It was an important call he needed to take, he said. From the living room, I watched Marin slip out onto the deck made of bright pine. He dragged his chopstick fingers through his wavy hair that licked his shoulders. He looked up at the blue-blue sky, laughed.

While waiting in line for the bathroom, Cara’s mother swept through the kitchen. She was a firecracker; where did the energy come from? She looked around before she slumped herself into one of the chairs that lined the kitchen island. I looked at her finger, where something caught my eye. What a strange ring, I said.

Don’t you love it, she said. She brought her hands closer towards me, and as she did the many elevated hoops of the ring rotated. It was almost as if the ring defied gravity, the laws of physics. I’m not sure how it all works but look how they move, she said.

It’s incredible.

My fun ring, I call it. A dead aunt left it to me.

Cara plodded into the kitchen at that moment. She squealed when she saw me, pulled me in tight for a hug. In her arms, I watched Cara’s mother take too many seconds to recognize her daughter. I only knew this because of what I had seen my own grandmother go through. She had lived with us when the dementia landed. That flicker of confusion. Some faraway look. A certain cloudedness of sight and judgment. Cara let go. I can’t believe you live here now, she said. Western Mass—I mean, really?

I laughed, lifting my hands into the air. Tell me about it, I said.

But are you working? she said.

I asked if she was familiar with either Vita or her line of pumps. Her eyes darkened. Of course, she said. Cara turned on her heel. Seeing her mother now, she said, Is Tony here?

Her mother squinted her eyes. Yes, she said quietly. Try outside.

Cara slipped her hand through mine, pulling me towards the yard. We found Tony easily. She was the woman in pain, a baby hanging off her husband’s chest beside her. It’s funny that you work for that woman. The pump literally bludgeoned Tony. She practically has no nipples, Cara said.

She asked Tony to lift her shirt. Tony did. Her chest was bandaged in tight gauze through which small splats of blood appeared.

Are we sure that’s not your baby’s teeth? I said.

Do you love your job so much or something? Why are you protecting her?

It’s crazy that happened to Tony, I said.

Cara was frowning. She pressed the end of her foot up and down. Tap tap tap. It was clear to me she was upset, more than the situation warranted. Had she always been so prickly?

Tell me, I said, how’s life going?

I heard about your mother, she said. I’m so sorry.


Though I had always meant to flee Florida, I wouldn’t have been able to fund my eventual move if it hadn’t been for what my mother left behind in her will. It wasn’t a lot of money, but was the most I had ever had at any single moment. She passed in her sleep. Something with her heart. It was sudden, but I felt some consolation knowing she didn’t suffer. I was living with her at the time. Was the one who found her, skin blue, eyes open, body stiff. Within days, I had her cremated and the house packed up into too few boxes. I couldn’t spend another second there, the house with all its memories. The death of my grandmother the year before. I tossed my belongings into my car, and I drove. Following Vita’s journey to Western Massachusetts, I only stopped once I reached the Valley.

I gave Cara a version of this story. She seemed uncomfortable the entire time, gnawing at her bottom lip, digging into her nails, her eyes roving across the sun-kissed yard. That’s so sad, she finally said, clutching at her belly.

Are you pregnant? I asked.

I’m married, she said.

I saw her ring now. I told her I was sorry, I had no idea.

Don’t worry, she said. It was the smallest ceremony ever. Had it right here in the yard. To answer your question, I’m not. I don’t think. But we’ve been trying. I mean, we’re all going to be 30 within the year. That’s practically ancient in fertility years. I’ve always wanted a baby.

I nodded. Let the space between us fill itself with silence. I looked across the throng of people, wishing for Marin’s return. Had we actually clicked the way I thought we had? I wanted his hands on the small of my back. His thumb pressing on my ear, my neck. Minutes passed. Nothing.


Vita walked into the yard just before the performances were meant to begin, a bottle of expensive wine balanced in her hands. She kissed the air beside peoples’ cheeks. Trudged through the tent as if she was friends with everyone. She was, at least, familiar with some of the other guests. I was still standing with Cara when we saw her. I remember the odd tension that fell across our corner of the yard. How Cara froze, her spine snapping straight into thick cement. Tony, too, became a statue. Who had invited her? We’d never figure it out.

We made no scene. None of us did.

Cara’s eyes fell over me before drifting away altogether. There was nothing that could be done. We couldn’t accuse her of bursting Tony’s breasts into shreds. Least of all at Cara’s mother’s party. So we sat still, lips pressed tight-tight.

Marin returned to me. He apologized for the long call. I tried joining you earlier, but it seemed like you were catching up with your friends, he said.

I scoffed. Friends, I said.

They’re not your friends? he asked.

Never mind, I said. Get me drunk.

Marin smiled something cryptic. Was I making a mistake? I dragged him into the kitchen, where we found a bottle of gin. From the counter, I looked out into the yard. I tossed back a swig of gin, exhaled sharply. I didn’t want to see Vita. In fact, I wanted to avoid her altogether. I was cutting a slice of lime when the knife slipped and I drove it straight into my palm. I bit into my cheeks, muffling any scream. The blood spurted, it poured. Several long seconds passed before Marin realized what had happened to me, why I was clutching at my arm for dear life. Ohmygod, he said. He pressed his palm on my back, and I was grateful, and he scanned the kitchen for paper towels. Landing on a proper towel, he pressed it into my palm. Thanks, I breathed. I reached for my half-mixed drink—it was still missing the lime—and I sent it back and back. I laughed, something throaty and unpleasant.

This is so classic, a voice said. It was Cara, who was now standing behind me. Of course you’d rummage through a kitchen until finding the liquor. You haven’t changed one bit. You’re getting blood everywhere. Look at the tiles.

The rest happened quickly. I yelled at Cara, she yelled at me. I pushed myself past her. Her family gawked, red-faced. The front door slammed shut behind me. Marin followed my steps. Not because he was joining me. He was holding onto my sandal that had slipped off during my mad escape.

He packed me up real good into a taxi. We didn’t even exchange numbers—I’d never see him again. He slid the taxi door hard. But of course he did.


I was dreading seeing Vita. A pit grew in my stomach, expanding, something cold and twisting. When she finally did burst into the store, she gave me a quick nod. She wouldn’t mention the party until later. I’m assuming they complained about the pump, she said.

I said yes. I didn’t feel I could lie; I didn’t feel I could remain silent either.

You know she wants me to pay her off? She’s threatened all kinds of lawsuits. I’m not going to give in. They just want to see me fail. So many people want to see me fail. Vita said this, and she looked sad, and I saw myself as if from above, and I looked sad, too.

When the cowbell dinged, we both faced the door. Instinct is a powerful thing, after all—I think we smiled.