When Mirrors speak
BY Francesca Ngo
Her hands are cupped around her stomach, a saggy squishy lump in the dark of her bathroom. There’s too much.
Her eyes can sense Its glares.
“I know, I’m sorry,” she sniffles back. “I -”
“The list.” Its voice cuts in like a butter knife.
Once more, she tallies in her head the food, the numbers plastered from her own recollection: breakfast, one egg, 70; lunch, broccoli and chicken breast, 200; handful of granola…
She didn’t know how much she ate.
She didn’t know the calories.
She made a mistake.
It screeches, “Why didn’t you use the measuring cups? The food scale?”
The sabotage clings onto her shirt. Shame pours down cheeks too round for her liking. Its nails dig into her eyes.
“I forgot!” She’s shaking. “I’m sorry!”
And all at once, she sinks into the deep abyss of failure, the deadweight coating her body, the sticky sap that doesn’t want to budge and…..
A voice breaks in.
“Are you okay in there?”
It’s her mother.
“What’s taking so long?”
All at once, It rushes away and the girl flushes the toilet. “Horrible stomach ache,” she calls back.
It had always come and gone, a passing blur she hardly knew. But over time, It began to reach out to her, shimmering between realms. It caressed her, tugged her, pushed her, shoved her. In the cafeteria, on her phone, in the double-ended shop windows, Its greetings began to accumulate more frequently and rapidly. She was beginning to memorize Its features and personality more and more each day.
It loved talking about the girls it preferred to look at, the ones who were lean and muscular, with lines like medals shining on their plaque-hard stomachs. It fingers those picture-perfect girls with syrupy admiration in its voice, shoving their glossy images into her eyes. “She’s gorgeous. Why aren’t you like that?”
She faces It, who draws over reality with the sheen of their shared longings. For a few moments, the girl will look perfect till the dream crumbles to dust. Still, she indulges in them like a marathon, pounding on the red and white rubbered track, the finish line never seeming any closer.
When she’s eating, It demands her attention. It reaches out for her fork with rigid fingers, gripping her hand frozen midair. “You don’t want to look pregnant,” It says.
She gazes at the chicken, the tantalizing, juicy aroma enveloping her. The food clouds her vision. The phantom flavor bursts and sings on her tongue. She watches helplessly as It pushes the plate away from her. There’s a defeated protest in her whimper, but It always has the last say.
In the morning, It drags her to Its surface. It grips the measuring tape in her hands. Her vision becomes a little fuzzier, so It snaps its fingers in front of her. It holds its hands prisoner to her midsection; To her thighs, her arms, and her cheeks. She will feel Its silvery, distorted arms wrap around her, checking to see how much of her exists. She begs It to drag her hands away. But It won’t let her.
Then It squeezes her stomach, wrenching her breath away for deflated beauty. It nods, but she can’t hold it for too long. So when the balloon bubbles back, It howls like an animal, its sight like clamped chains, and hisses at her to “Memorize this feeling. Memorize your flaws. Memorize how sad they make you feel, how horrifying they make you. Then get rid of them.”
And she memorizes. It won't let her do otherwise. It howls like an animal and pierces Its vision into her own, visions like that of the day before in the Topshop fitting room, of her shameful, rounded silhouette.
And later she’ll still be seeing her own grotesqueness in flashes when she should be seeing the Pythagorean theorem.
It introduced herself a few months back. She’d been looking through It when it caught her attention. It snapped her eyes to a hidden foremost layer, Its voice ringing through her ears like a sea siren’s -
“Why do you have so much of you?”
Distant yet slithering closer -
“I can help you, you know.”
Closer and eerily familiar -
“We can’t be happy until we change this.”
And at the time, she couldn’t put her finger on it, but now she realized that It sounded just like her.