In a middle-class neighbourhood, in a split-level house rife with all of the appalling hallmarks of cheap 1970s architecture, a mother was helping her two daughters to prepare for their first synchronized swimming meet. The girls were aged eleven and nine, both short of stature, and both possessed of the plump figures that are a defining characteristic of children from families in which soda and sweets have replaced the affection of busy parents. The older girl, whose long, pitch black hair rippled down her back with all the grace and allure of fine silk, was affected by such corpulence as to nearly double her sister in size, but she carried herself with jovial confidence, so blissfully unaware of this physical flaw that it was oftentimes easy for others to disregard it in kind.
Like heaven itself — that bastion of joyous ignorance — she was made up of spheres. Her face was round, and boasted wide, lively brown eyes, beneath which a pair of chipmunk cheeks sat cheerfully. Her complexion, though tanned by the summer sun, was marked by a smattering of freckles that trailed over the bridge of her button nose, and the full lips that rested above her two soft, circular chins were often split in an infectious smile. She had been cursed with a short neck and broad shoulders, but two protrusions the size of ripe lemons already sat proudly upon her chest, resting against the generous belly that swelled to overshadow her thickening hips and thighs. Broad feet with tiny, grape-like toes completed her frame, matching perfectly her small hands, with their short, pudgy fingers.
They stood there naked. Though on the cusp of puberty, both ripe as the Apple of Eve, they were still too innocent to feel shame. Nudity had never been taboo in their home, and as a result, they had both been afforded comfort in their bodies — a precious luxury which few people will ever be so blessed as to experience, and one for which they would pay dearly. Outside the window, the sun was sinking low behind the treetops, tainting the azure of late September with the ochre haze of an autumn evening. It was as if the very warmth of the world was kissing that place goodbye; its lips pressed flush against the mouth of the condemned for one torrid, fleeting moment. As daylight stepped tearfully away, the executioner released the lever, and the guillotine fell upon puerile happiness.
As the older girl bent to step into her swimsuit, a noise of disgust was elicited from her mother. That guttural expression of disapproval was enough to stop the girl in her tracks, her hands still gripping the sable lycra as she listened, in disbelief, to her mother’s admonition.
“Ugh!” the woman cried. “When did you get so fat?”
The pain was hard, frigid, and surreal. The older girl could do nothing but stare in disbelief as the woman who was obligated to protect her thrust the metaphorical knife firmly between her ribs. The girl struggled to find her breath, groping for words for which she had never before been at a loss. Her defense, when finally it came, was feeble. The blow had been fatal; she was moribund. The minutes ticked away in silence.
“No I’m not!” the girl finally exclaimed, but the seeds of doubt, haphazardly planted by cruel classmates over the course of years, had been nourished by her mother’s words. Vines of uncertainty sprung up from deep within the girl’s psyche, choking off her defiance with the strength and indifference of a ravenous python. Tears welled within her wide, brown eyes, but she blinked them away. Be strong, she thought, recalling what her grandmother had once told her. Don’t let them see how much they’ve hurt you.
I don’t think Grandma had considered this. A small voice in the back of her mind contradicted, And even if she did, you can’t ask her in the Waterford. In that moment, the girl felt completely alone. The knife twisted, sharp and savage. Et tu, Mater?
“Yes you are!” her mother replied, breaking her daughter’s reverie with tones burdened by accusation. “Look at you; you can’t even see your beaver!” Shaking her head in disappointment, her mother continued, “Hurry up. Get that suit on. We’re going to be late.”
The girl lingered, the swimsuit limp around her ankles as she stood there, slowly bleeding to death.