Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories  

Knockers Up

by Colleen Mayo

Colleen Mayo studies fiction at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where she lives in a little yellow house with her husband and cat. Her writing has been published in Bluestem.

We Edwards women are proud of our bodies. My mother has a lovely ass. My aunt has champion ankles. My cousin has long, thick hair worth climbing. And Mae Edwards, my eighty-seven-year-old grandmother, still has the world’s most magnificent breasts.


I’m a woman, and I will soon be a wife. I live with a man and a cat in a haunted house in north Florida. The ghosts grow bold when I’m home alone — so bold I can see them from the corner of my eye, following me from room to room. I spill wine on the floor and hope they’ll slip. The cat sees them, too. She charges like a bull from one end of the house to the other, as if the ghosts are holding red capes for her, egging her on.


When I was a kid, my grandmother Mae loved to catch me naked. She’d come into the bathroom while I showered, under pretense of looking for her watch or a tube of toothpaste, and she’d pull back the shower curtain and squeal, Oh, you’re coming along! No knockers yet, though. Well, that’s not my fault.

Then she’d shimmy, too delighted by the impressive force of her own knockers to get discouraged by the absence of mine.

Mae says knockers and tits. She says cunt and twat. And because I learned these words from her, I didn’t understand how raunchy they were until I started using them at my friends’ houses or in middle-school classrooms. But they fly from Mae with a brazen, contagious confidence. Her motto is: Knockers up! Walk tall, lead with your tits, and take no prisoners.


We Edwards women keep our men. We do not divorce. They say it’s because we can cook; we know how to feed and pet our men.


Mae believes I’m too old to be single, and my status as a perpetual student confuses her.

What’s wrong with you? she asks. I thought you were smart.

I left home for college nine years ago, and I’m still there, teaching and completing my degree. Nine years ago she lived in Tucson, Arizona, and her husband was still alive. She could still drink and smoke and walk. She thought I’d become an engineer, like her husband.

Mae has two sons-in-law. One is a petroleum engineer, and one — my father — is a retired teacher. She says the gas business is ugly, but it makes the world go around. Mae wants to know: How does teaching pay the bills? How does writing put food on the table?


My mom sells mattresses to newlyweds in Texas. She has an eye for the strength of other people’s relationships and tells me over the phone which couples will and won’t make it. Apparently the too-sweet ones are doomed.

I’m drinking three-dollar wine and watching my bull-cat race through the Florida house. How many laps will she go? How long can this little animal last?

I ask my mom, The too-sweet ones?

Exactly, she says. It’s the women who give it away. They smile thin. I’m a salesperson, she says. I know a half-assed smile. I know what it means to pretend to love something.

I think this is a small, mean observation. My cat stops in the middle of the room and cranks her head back, her eyes on the ceiling. There’s a ghost above us.

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