The Fitter: THE DOCK: October 2014
Happy October! While you're sipping your pumpkin chai latte, enjoy a new story by Helen Ellis, "The Fitter."
HFR: What's the story behind the story?
HE: The story behind the story is that last year, for my birthday, I got myself a fitter. My fitter is a 1950's pinup type who works in a lingerie store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Once I started singing her praises, I found out that there was a famous fitter on the Lower East Side: a Hasidic Jewish man, who with the help of his wife, runs a tiny one room shop, piled floor to ceiling with boxes of bras. He looks at you and names your size and she steps behind a curtain with you and literally hooks you up. I wondered what it would be like to be married to a man who made our living by staring at other women's breasts all day long. I thought, "I'd be jealous." And then I wondered what it would be like to feel I had to fit him for a new wife.
The Fitter Helen Ellis
The Fitter is mine. Myrtle Babcock can get her flabby pancake tits out of his face. He’s sizing her up in her ill-fitting turtleneck that’s off-white and thin because it’s been through the wash too many times. Her “nude” athletic bra shows through like she’s smuggling ferrets. Here’s what, sister: every woman needs underwire, and when you stuff two pounds of downed round into A-cups, beige ain’t invisible.
The Fitter doesn’t touch her. He shakes his head no when she offers to lift her top.
I say, “This ain’t Mardi Gras, Myrtle.”
The Fitter waves his hand for me to be quiet. He leans forward in his recliner.
My husband, The Fitter, looks like every other middle-aged man in this town. Somehow skinny and fat. Always in khakis with a nice enough smile. He talks like everybody else. He mows his own lawn. If you saw him at the gas station, you wouldn’t do more than say hello. But The Fitter is a wonder. He’s part good old boy, part angel on earth. He’s what you call pilgrimage-worthy. Rich women from big cities charter limos to drive them from Highway 85 to a dirt road to our porch. Myrtle is local, on the saggy side of forty, and I know what it’s taken for her to finally knock on our door.
She arches her back, offering her sad state of affairs like a teller offers bags of cash in a bank heist.
The Fitter waves his hand.
I say, “That means back up, Myrtle. Stand like you normally stand.” I think: Like you’ve been waiting in line for an hour at the 7-Eleven and now the Slurpee machine’s broke.
The Fitter says, “34 C.”
Myrtle says, “No!”
“Yes,” says The Fitter. To me he says, “Pull her three styles: a full-coverage, a plunging neckline, and a balcony. None beige. Pull her the pink one with the roses on the double straps. This woman is a princess at heart.”
Myrtle squeals and claps her hands. Her breasts flap like empty pantyhose legs. She follows me down the hall of our one story house to the dressing room, our master bath. Before I shut the door on her, I say, “Don’t get any funny ideas.”
She says, “What on earth are you implying?”
I say, “That right there: those airs. It has all been done, Myrtle. Love notes in the medicine cabinet, panties under his brown towel. Just last week, those women from down at the pool showed up in their two-pieces and ran through our sprinklers. But he married me and he married me eighteen years ago. As long as I draw breath, nobody – including you – is getting The Fitter.”
Myrtle huffs and plops down on the toilet.
I go to our walk-in closet. It is a forest of bras. The Fitter orders them from London. He orders them from France. He orders them from anywhere you might see someone’s underpants. All those mini-hangers you see in department stores? The Fitter had rods specially built. There are fifteen rows running floor to ceiling, covering three walls. Rods for the most gargantuan of what can only be referred to as brassieres run across the ceiling. The cups are as menacing as cauldrons of boiling oil.
C cups are at my knees. I squat. I comb the rack. My equilibrium is shot because of what those women from down at the hospital have been putting me through, but I catch my balance and surf the carpet. I’m a good employee. I’m the only employee and I want to keep it that way. So I’ll pull Myrtle the best, what The Fitter has asked me to pull: the pink bra with roses that costs $125. But that will be the cheapest by far. I’ll make Myrtle pay for her flirting: her entire paycheck from working the Kroger’s express line. I come out with three bras totaling $643.
The Fitter sits on the edge of our bed.
Myrtle is hanging her head and shoulders out from behind the bathroom door, telling him how much she likes the kimono she’s wearing. The kimono is a genuine kimono ordered all the way from Japan. The Fitter has six. All silk. All colors you don’t see anywhere in real life. The Fitter likes his customers to have a taste of the exotic. His theory is: if a woman is treated well, she’ll spend money like she’s treated that well all the time. The kimono Myrtle is wearing is covered in cranes and hibiscus. It’s the same one I wore when The Fitter’s first wife fitted me.
Myrtle is braless. I had no idea her breasts could drop any further with her bra off, but by God, they most certainly can. Her nipples peek out from behind the door like eavesdroppers.
The Fitter waves his hand.
I say, “Myrtle, in with you. He’s ready. Let’s go.
Myrtle shuffles backwards into the bathroom.
Her turtleneck is slung across my vanity table. My guess is that she’s tucked the bra she came in with into her purse. I imagine a loose Lifesaver adhering to the Nylon. Women never think to hang their things on the fancy hook where they took the kimono. I shut the door in disgust and hang the bras on the towel bar. Myrtle tolerates my curtness because she’s heard tell of what will happen now that we’re alone.
From the bedroom, The Fitter says, “Start with the basic.
I take the full coverage and unhook the triple-clips. The bra is black with a baby blue satin ribbon between the cups. I hold the straps in the 10 and 2 position.
Myrtle drops the kimono to land in a puddle at her bare feet. There is no reason she should have taken off her jeans, socks and shoes. It’s a fitting, not a pelvic exam. When I pick up the kimono, I see she’s painted her toes. Had them painted more likely. No one can do a French pedicure right on her own feet. A French pedicure is an investment. A French pedicure is what some women get to go on their honeymoons. When The Fitter and I went on our honeymoon, I had my toenails painted red. Red is what good wives wear. French pedicures make your toes look like fingers. You look grabby. French pedicures are for man thieves.
I say, “Who did your toes, Myrtle? That maroon-headed know-it-all down at the blow-out shop you call a mother?”
Myrtle says, “Barbara sends her love.”
“Barbara doesn’t know me.”
Barbara is the manicurist where I get my wig fixed. I’ve had to wear that wig for a good part of a year now, and I’ve learned that if I don’t get it washed and styled once week, the top of my head looks like something has crawled up on it, had a seizure, and died. No matter what time I make an appointment, from opening to close, Barbara is ever present at her station, gossiping at a volume loud enough to carry over three hairdryers while she dunks hands of all ages into paraffin wax. When my wig comes off, Barbara and her customers practice the fine Southern lady art of staring without overtly staring. But I can feel their eyes like hot-from-the-dryer fabric softener sheets stuck to my clothes. They each cling to the hope that one of them will take my place. They want the regular beauty parlor appointments that being The Fitter’s wife afford me. Except Barbara wants this for her daughter. Now that she’s sent Myrtle here, I must look worse than I think.
I don’t like Barbara. And I don’t like her daughter because I don’t trust any woman who calls her mother by her first name.
Myrtle says, “Don’t leave me hanging.”
I can’t help myself: I say, “Good one.”
I hold out the bra and Myrtle slips her arms through the straps.
And then my hands are on her breasts. That’s just the way that it is. I don’t think about who I’m handling, I just handle it. I scoop. I pour. I pack. I hook. I smooth back fat. I adjust straps. Not too tight, but tight enough to leave a mark. I’m fast. I get Myrtle locked and loaded before she can blush.
The Fitter says, “Well?”
Myrtle looks in the full-length mirror on the bathroom door. She pivots, taking in the miracle. Her breasts sit above her rib cage.
“Oh, thank you!” she cries to him. “Thank you, thank you!”
The Fitter says, “Hop.”
Myrtle looks to me and I nod. I hate it when they hop. When they hop, every woman is a sixteen year-old girl. Myrtle hops and for the first time in a long, long time her breasts don’t boing like Slinkies.
“Oh!” she cries.
The Fitter says, “See there.”
“Oh, I do! Thank you! I do I do I do!”
Myrtle will not shut up about what The Fitter has done for her because women love men who are the best at what they do. Even more, they love men who are faithful. And what’s more faithful than a married fitter who doesn’t touch, much less look at another woman’s breasts?
The Fitter is quiet. He lets Myrtle’s gratitude warm our once hothouse of a home. Without me hawking over him, I know he lets himself smile. He knows Myrtle’s so mystified by her transformation that she’ll reach for her reflection in the mirror on her side of the door, or if she’s crazy bold reach for the knob. There is a chance I won’t stop her.
But, I do.
I whisper, “Careful, Myrtle. The Fitter don’t cheat.”
He didn’t call me until his first wife ran away with the falsies distributor. Since then he won’t stock falsies. Won’t even look at one: cotton/polyester blend or saline (which my body rejected after my surgery). He swears he loves me the way I am now, but I’m heartbroken. I miss what I had. Why his first wife couldn’t have fallen in love with the nipple tape guy is beyond me.
The Fitter calls, “Next.”
I choose the balcony bra. It’s lavender and gold stretch lace with aerodynamic support. It’s meant to hike your breasts up like corsets used to do. You get all of the oomph with none of the ow. Those in the business call it The Cleavage Maker.
I bend Myrtle over at the waist and drop her breasts into the demi cups like muffin batter. When she rises, those muffins are baked. Myrtle marvels and pats the tops.
The Fitter says, “I don’t hear anything.”
Myrtle opens her mouth, but catches sight of my face.
I know my color’s gone. The side effects from my “aggressive” treatment grab me out of nowhere and make me want to barf.
I reach out for toilet, but it’s Myrtle’s arm I catch on the way to the floor.
Myrtle rests my back against the bathtub. She calls out, “The bra’s fine.”
“Fine?” says The Fitter. “I’ve never heard just fine.”
“It’s beautiful,” calls Myrtle. She runs the faucet over a washcloth. “Gorgeous.” She wrings it. She tips my head between my knees and lays the cool cloth on the back of my neck. She calls, “I’ve never felt more like a woman.”
She cringes at her faux pas. She looks at me like, Oops. My bad.
I wave one of The Fitter’s signature waves. This one means, Forget it.
The Fitter is a man of few words, but the ones he speaks outside of day-to-day dealings are all compliments. When I came for my first fitting, he had his first wife pull a DD with modesty padding because he said I had a body meant for tight sweaters. When we married, he filled my dresser with cashmere crewnecks because he said I deserved to wear nice things. In bed, he’s said it’s my giggling that drives him wild. At work, he’s said I’m tireless, a perfect model, and great with customers. But none of this is true anymore.
Sweaters swallow me. Insomnia drives me to spend nights on the couch. I won’t deserve Employee of the Year this year; Myrtle can attest to that.
I say, “I wasn’t always this jealous.”
She says, “You’re right to be jealous.”
“Goddammit.” I pull the washcloth off my neck. I wring it like I’ve wanted to wring so many customers’ necks.
She fishes an open Lifesaver roll from her purse. She frowns as she pulls it out because the green one is as I predicted stuck to her Old Yeller of a bra. She offers me the orange at the top of the roll.
She says, “One of us is going to get him. You might as well let me be nice to you.” She unwinds the foil string, pops the orange in her mouth, and offers me the cherry.
I take it. And of course it tastes good. Red is always the best flavor. It takes the dry bitterness out of my mouth.
The Fitter calls, “What’s the holdup?”
When we don’t answer, I hear the bedsprings squeak. The Fitter walks towards the bathroom door. He knocks. He’s never knocked.
He asks, “Is everything okay in there?” And then: “Myrtle, is she okay?:
“I’m fine,” I answer.
But I know I’m not fine. The sicker I get, the more business booms.
I reach out and let Myrtle help me to my feet. I take the pink bra from the towel bar. Myrtle takes off the balcony. Her breasts droop. They look sad. The pink bra is happy. I hold it for her to slip her arms through, but Myrtle doesn’t budge. She stares at the appliqué roses on the straps.
She says, “I can’t afford it."
“You could charge it.”
“Barbara won’t let me have any debt.”
Myrtle pulls her not-so-sporty sports bra over her head. She gathers herself. Her tamped down nipples look like googly eyes.
I say, “Keep the other women in line?”
I slip the pink bra in her purse. I wave. It means, Yours.