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from The Stars Are Shining on the Ceiling
Johanna Thydell
Translated by Bettina Saarela

This article appeared in the 2006 supplement.

Johanna ThydellChapter 6

SHIT. Jenna really does have pathetically small breasts.

She’s standing in front of the mirror in her room. It’s Thursday, it’s raining outside and she really does have pathetically small breasts!

“I don’t get it,” she says to Susanna who’s lying on the floor reading a girls’ magazine. “Is there something wrong with me, do you think?”

“Like what?” Susanna says.

“My breasts,” Jenna says and points at her jumper. “I haven’t got any, have I?”

“Well, you’ve got some,” says Susanna who’s actually just recently started wearing a bra.

Jenna goes to the chest of drawers and pulls out the top drawer. She picks up a pair of rolled up socks and tucks them inside her jumper. Susanna laughs.

“You look ridiculous,” she says.

“What do you mean, this is gonna work!” Jenna answers and struts in front of the mirror. “Don’t they look like breasts?”

“No. They look like rolled up socks.”

Jenna rips out the socks. It hurts inside her. It really hurts inside her and Sakke isn’t in love with her either and maybe Sakke will never fall in love with her and tomorrow Ullis throws a party and she wants to go, she’s dying to go even though she knows she can’t.

“God, I’m so abnormal,” she sighs.

“You’re not abnormal. Just a bit slow to develop, that’s all.”

“That’s the same thing, Susanna. You’re not supposed to develop late, that’s abnormal.”

“No, really, it isn’t. I read an article about a girl who wanted her breasts enlarged but the doctor told her to wait till she’s nineteen or twenty or something. Because breasts don’t stop growing until that late. And that’s quite a long way away.”

Jenna doesn’t answer. She takes another grumpy look at herself in the mirror. Normal? Yeah right the hell she is and who gives a shit, she just wants to be ordinary, like everybody else!

“Wait, I’ll be back soon,” she says suddenly.

Jenna hurries out of the room, walks quietly through the hall and tiptoes into her mother’s room. Mum is sleeping there. Jenna opens the door of the wardrobe, easy easy, and pulls out a brown cardboard box. In it lies Mum’s extra set of false breasts. There are two made of fabric that are beige in colour, and two made of a flabby material that looks just like real breasts and is skin coloured. They even have nipples. Jenna snatches the two fabric ones and also takes, or borrows, a bra from Mum’s underwear drawer.

She hooks it on in the hall, tucks in the false breasts and returns to the room.

“Ta da!” she says.

“But hey!” Susanna says and stands up. “That looks so bloody real, it does! What is that?”

“Eat that,” Jenna says and takes a spin in front of the mirror.

“But what is this stuff?” Susanna insists and reaches out her hand to feel the false bosom.

“Don’t grope them! They’re my Mum’s fake breasts.”

A whole new Jenna in the mirror. Her hair is still just as grey and dull as before and her face just as ugly, but still. An improvement has taken place under the jumper. And it feels good.

“Are you really going to take them?” Susanna says.

“I’m only borrowing them for a while,” Jenna says and pulls at the neck of the jumper. “Hiyaaaa, my name is Uuuuullis.”

Susanna goes and stands next to Jenna and observes the spectacle in the mirror.

“Hiyaaaa, my name is Uuuuullis!” Jenna repeats. “Henke, do you wanna feel them? Do you wanna snog me? Or fuck me?”

Susanna begins to laugh and Jenna carries on squeezing the breasts.

“Feel them!” she urges at the mirror. “Go on, feel them!” My name is Ullis, they call me Pullis, woo hoo, Ullis Pullis, Ullis on the Pullis! Woo hoo!”

“Stop it,” Susanna pants, “You’re killing me!”

And Jenna stops because now she’s laughing so much she can’t speak. She lies down on the floor and Susanna lies down next to her and they laugh so much that the woman with the dog on the top floor starts to bang her mop against the floor to end the racket.

“You’re absolutely crazy,” Susanna says.

“If you’d been like the school’s welfare officer you couldn’t have said that,” Jenna gasps.

“I’m not a welfare officer.”

“Thank God for that.”

And then it occurs to Jenna that they have to laugh more quietly, because there’s a mother in the next room who’s sleeping and who needs to sleep and quite often sleeps when Jenna is home these days.


Chapter 19

“ARE YOU WEARING MAKE-UP?” Susanna asks.

Jenna shrugs her shoulders and slides inside the door.

“Marita gave it to me,” she replies. “It seems a bit crass not to use it then, you know.”

“Yeah, of course.”

Susanna examines Jenna and she doesn’t seem to know what to think. Susanna claims to be “anti” all that stuff, “anti” everything that has to do with beauty. She refuses to do a hairdo that takes longer than two minutes and would never ever wear as much as lip balm!

Jenna avoids meeting Susanna’s eyes, but eventually a compliment crept out.

“But you look great in it anyway,” says Susanna.

Jenna glances in the mirror and feels a tingling in her stomach, and it tingles even more when she thinks about how much fun it was to run around town with Marita. Marita is so lively and cheerful all the time and quite, well, youthful and even cool, in fact. And she’d bought her a bite to eat and talked about lots of strange people at her work, weirdos she called them, and she’d asked Jenna about boys and Jenna had answered and told her some things.

Of course you should go for it, Marita had said, of course you bloody should. You simply must ask Sakke for a dance, don’t you realize that! We have nothing to lose in this world, Jenna.

And Jenna had agreed with her and then thought how nice. How nice to simply be walking here, walking next to someone at a normal pace and hearing normal footsteps and not the clickety-clack from the crutches. No need to meet people who are staring and wondering and feeling compassionate, only people who think oh, there they are, walking along, mother and daughter, they look good, they’re enjoying themselves. Jenna could be Marita’s daughter and Marita could be Jenna’s mother.

An ordinary one.

But.

It’s forbidden to think such thoughts.

“Stefan has some friends downstairs,” Susanna says and takes Jenna’s jacket. “They’re also going out, it seems. He said we can hang out with them for a while, ha ha!”

“Does he have his girlfriend there too?” Jenna asks.

Jenna has never seen Stefan’s girlfriend. Stefan and the girl, Katta, always lock themselves in Stefan’s room when she comes over. They even tape over the key hole. This fact is known to both Jenna and Susanna, as they’ve tried to look through it many times.

“No,” Susanna says excitedly, “because, you know what, they’ve split up!”

“No!”

“Yes. It was Stefan. Mum said that Katta looked absolutely shattered when she came out of his room the other night.”

“Yikes.”

“Mmm, but Stefan seems quite satisfied.”

Susanna gestures towards the basement where sounds of shrieks, toasting glasses and blokey noises can be heard.

“Are they drinking?” Jenna asks.

Susanna nods.

“But your parents? Aren’t they at home?”

“At a party. I think his friends have even brought home-brewed booze with them. They’re crazy. Lucky for him I won’t tell on him.”

 

It wasn’t supposed to happen like that, was it?

That Susanna and Jenna would end up downstairs in Stefan’s room. And Jenna wasn’t really supposed to say yes when Stefan wanted her to taste his beer. Nor was she supposed to get a whole beer for herself either. Or another one.

Susanna gets into a bad mood when she sees that Jenna is drinking.

“You’re such an idiot,” she snaps. “Now you’re just as big an idiot as you always say Ullis and Karro are. Get a grip!”

But Jenna doesn’t want to get a grip. She hasn’t got the strength to get a grip. She sits down on Stefan’s lap and he’s starting to get quite drunk and they sing songs by Kent and they have fun and he fondles her hair every now and then and she really doesn’t want to get a grip.

“The babe likes Kent!” Stefan bellows at his mates who’re playing Snake on their mobile phones.

“The babe’s not legit!” the mates bellow back at him while laughing and pounding each other’s backs.

“The babe likes Kent anyway!” Stefan bellows.

They stay down there in Stefan’s basement for more than two hours. Jenna thinks it’s so cosy, and they’re so nice, Stefan and his mates. One of them is called Mattias, another Fredric and another Jonathan and what the last one is called Jenna can’t remember.

“We have to get going soon,” the last one says, poking at Stefan.

“In a minute,” Stefan promises. “I’m just going to show Jenna my record collection. Come on, Jenna, it’s in my room.”

“We have to go soon too, Jenna!” whines Susanna who sits there lumped down and grumpy in an armchair.

“I’m just going to check out Stefan’s record collection,” Jenna says and feels a bit dizzy when she stands up. Stefan has to grab her arm because she’s swaying too much.

The room is on the small side. Dark red wallpaper, a wide bed, a leather armchair and a desk with a computer. It’s clean and tidy, just like Susanna’s.

“And here’s the record collection,” Stefan says and goes to a shelf which is nailed to the wall.

Jenna follows him. Stefan smells good. Jenna’s hoping she does too.

“Do you recognize anything?”

Stefan wonders. Jenna pokes around among the various CD titles.

“The thing is, I’ve got mostly Kent myself,” Jenna says and thinks of her shelf at home, where she hasn’t got mostly Kent at all but only Kent. She’s just never got round to buying that many records, partly because it’s so expensive and partly because it hasn’t been long since she got her first stereo. She had been saving for almost two years and recently, when her mother was in hospital, her grandparents decided to chip in with the missing money. The records Jenna has been able to afford have just happened to be by the same band.

Kent.

Because they’re so good.

Because Jenna isn’t really aware of what else is out there.

Stefan is also studying the shelves now and leaning over Jenna’s shoulder. Jenna notices that he, just like Sakke, has stubble, but that his is pretty coarse. She’s wondering if it scratches his hand when he rubs across it. She wants to touch it, to see if it scratches her, wants to hear it scratch but doesn’t dare.

“Damn it, I don’t have much good stuff,” Stefan says scratching his neck.

You can’t hear it scratch there.

“This one is the best,” Jenna says and picks out the Kent record called Isola.

“Mhm. Katta gave it to me.”

“Oh...” Jenna says and tries to quickly push the record back in its slot.

“You know we’ve broken up, right?”

“Yeah...” Jenna’s face turns red.

Stefan takes the record out of her hand. His skin brushes against hers. He’s warm.

“Let’s play this one,” he says. “Take a seat.”

Jenna sits down on the bed and it’s soft and Stefan leans over the stereo and his hair is hanging over his forehead and it’s dark, dark like Susanna’s, oh god, this is Susanna’s brother, sixteen years old, and Jenna’s sitting here, thirteen, why is she sitting here at all, they will leave now, they should leave now, they have to leave now.

“You’re so pretty today,” Stefan says.

“Thanks,” Jenna says and Stefan, yes, he sits down next to her, maybe a bit too close, hello there, isn’t he sitting a bit too close for comfort, there’s plenty of room on this wide bed, isn’t there!

“You really are pretty,” Stefan repeats and starts to fondle her hair.

And it feels so good when he does that. Jenna can’t help closing her eyes.

“Let’s dance,” Stefan says. “Come on.”

And Jenna happens to end up in someone’s arms in someone’s room with dark red wallpaper and a leather armchair and a wide bed and a desk with a computer and a CD shelf nailed to the wall and with a record she can recognize.

“Good thing that you’re tall,” Stefan says. “We can avoid a sore back.”

And he laughs and Jenna laughs and shivers because of it all.

“Are you cold?” Stefan asks and embraces her gently. “I can warm you.”

Stefan pulls the Jenna body, the ugly body, closer towards him and hugs it tightly, and the body doesn’t feel as ugly any more when it gets to stand here like this. When it stands so close to someone else.

“Thanks for the dance”, Stefan says.

Suddenly it’s all over.

“I have to go now,” he says.

“Yes, me too,” Jenna answers and lets go of him.

And he smiles at her and opens the door and goes out and Stefan’s mates are standing there in a drunken cluster and have you been snogging or what?!

“Cut it out,” Stefan says, grins and flips the cap off Jonathan’s head.

Susanna wriggles out of the armchair and rushes to Jenna.

“What, have you been snogging?” she hisses.

“Cut it out,” Jenna replies and grins. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

 

Outside the disco people are hanging out in groups.

There are already lots of people there. Someone’s singing a drinking rhyme, someone shouts that the other one’s a moron, someone wants a fag, someone hankers after a lighter, someone gives the school something to talk about on Monday by going off for a snog in a bush that never hides as much as you might think when you’re drunk.

“Are you drunk now or what?” Susanna sulks when they park their bicycles.

“Of course not,” Jenna replies. “Honestly, Susanna, two beers. You don’t get drunk on that.”

“What do you know about that?”

Susanna glares at her and that makes Jenna extremely irritated. She sure should have had a beer herself, Susanna, to cool down a bit. Susanna locks her bicycle carefully with three different locks.

“It’s strictly no drugs here, you know,” she goes on. “You might get thrown out.”

“So what, are you gonna squeal on me or something?”

Jenna takes Susanna brusquely by the arm and drags her to the entrance. Jenna fumbles her purse out of her pocket, pays the entrance fee, gets a stamp and a welcome. See. No problem.

“So many people,” Susanna says and keeps tightly behind Jenna when they enter the darkness of the disco with its billowing smoke and its twinkling, multi-coloured lights.

“So many people I don’t know,” she goes on.

“Yeah, but who cares, everything’s cool,” Jenna says and doesn’t give a shit about those they don’t recognize.

Instead she starts to look excitedly for the dark head among all the dancing mops of hair.

But see you there.

At the disco.

See you there.

“Let’s dance!” Jenna decides suddenly and starts to wriggle her hips.

“I don’t dance,” Susanna says. “Don’t know how to.”

“Well I can’t either, can I! Never mind that!”

“You dance then. I’m going to sit here.”

Susanna lets go of Jenna and goes to sit on a bench. Jenna sighs, looks around for a while, doesn’t find what she’s looking for, sighs again and sits down too.

So they’re sitting there. Susanna with her arms crossed and Jenna next to her. Jenna can still feel some of the beer bubbling in her head and Stefan’s warmth tickling her body.

You really are pretty.

That was Jenna, that was. A whole new picture of Jenna, that was. A picture that could maybe please please stay?

“Hiyaa!”

But damn it, at once that feeling of insecurity pours over Jenna again. Ullis. Hanging over her shoulder is Karro with an unlit cigarette in her mouth.

“You’re here?” Karro says. “Great!”

And then she sniggers and Ullis joins her and Jenna is embarrassed and then she gets furious for being embarrassed.

“No, but really,” Ullis pants. “It’s bloody awesome to bump into classmates here.”

Jenna doesn’t know where to look, not at the T-shirt that says TOUCH ME, not at the cleavage, there’s too much there, and not in Ullis’s eyes either, she can’t do that.

“So, you’re not dancing?” Karro goes on and her eyes are red.

“We were dancing,” Susanna lies. “We’re tired, that’s all.”

“Right,” Ullis says and doesn’t seem to believe them.

“Yes, you seem to be having a bloody great time anyway”, says Karro, poking Ullis in her hips.

“Party poopers!” Ullis and Karro cheer and start sniggering like hell again and thank god they’re leaving after a bye bye and hugs and kisses!

“Idiots,” Susanna says when they’re gone.

For a brief moment Jenna’s not sure whom she means by that. But then she can’t be bothered about it, not about that, not now, where the hell is Sakke anyway?

She can’t see him.

She can’t see him anywhere.

 

“Now my friends,” the disc jockey shouts finally, “it’s time for tonight’s last song, so take the chance to cuddle up in the darkness before you head home!”

There’s a crackle and spark from the microphone.

There’s a crackle and spark from the movements of the disco clothes.

Take the chance.

Marita’s words in Jenna’s head. She has to ask Sakke for a dance at the disco. All this time they’ve just sat there talking, her and Susanna, all the way till this last song, take the chance! So now she has to do it. She really has to.

“There,” Susanna says, as if she knows what Jenna is thinking. “He’s standing there by the DJ.”

“I’m going to do it now,” is all that Jenna says.

And she does.

Jenna moves towards the dance floor, pushing herself between warm budding bodies and caressing hands, she squeezes past all of them, ouch and excuse me, and all the time she can see him, she can see him clearer than anyone else, and she’ll be there soon, and now, now now now now now!

Now.

Boo.

“Shall we dance?” is what Jenna does not have time to say to Sakke.

“Shall we dance?” a girl in the ninth grade says to Sakke instead and Sakke says yes and Jenna’s left standing there.

Left over. Left behind.

“You’re in our way,” Ullis says, dancing her sexy moves and stuffing her tongue way down Henke’s throat.

And the disco lights dazzle Jenna, irritating and flashing before her eyes, and Ullis’s elbow happens to hit Jenna’s cheek and Jenna can feel she’s starting to bleed inside it.

Yes.

Jenna is bleeding inside.