Skinny(9)

By: Donna Cooner


“How does that bed hold up under all your weight?”

“What?” I ask.

“You don’t have to always act like that.”

“Like what?’

“Like you’re better than everyone else. Like you’re smarter and . . .” She pauses, searching for the right word, then spits it out, “special.”

“Yeah, I’m special all right,” I mumble sarcastically, thinking how ironic it is that I was telling the five-year-olds the tale of Cinderella earlier. “I’m the poor, motherless stepsister that does all the work around here.”

My mom was like me. It was obvious to everyone we had the same genes — the same rounded, curvy, pear-shaped bodies ofher mother and two sisters. She was always on a diet. One time it was the cabbage soup diet that made the whole house smell for weeks. Another time it was strawberry protein shakes that tasted like ground-up oatmeal. By the time I was nine, I was on a diet, too. Not because I was fat, because according to the pictures of me I was a pretty normal-sized little girl. But I guess my mom could see my future. So we joined Weight Watchers together — the only mother/daughter team. Then came the exercise craze. We walked, we Jazzercised, we did water aerobics. We balanced encyclopedias on our ankles, holding up our legs inches off the living room carpet until we couldn’t stand the burning thigh muscles any longer.

“Give me a break. Poor Ever. I got it. Your mom’s gone,” Briella says. “But at least she’s dead.”

“What are you talking about?” How dare she talk about my mother? Briella didn’t know anything about her. She didn’t know the one constant in the midst of all the dieting and exercise was the Snickers we ate in the car on the way home from the grocery store so my dad wouldn’t see that once again we had fallen off the wagon. My mom’s laughter and chocolate — forever connected. For months, maybe even years, I ate chocolate before bedtime thinking it would help me dream about her and she wouldn’t be gone. In my little kid brain it seemed to work, until I woke up the next morning and remembered the loss all over again. The dreams stopped, but the nightly chocolate ritual continued. It still goes on today. Briella didn’t know that in the end none of it mattered. The chemo made my mom so sick she didn’t want to eat anything, not even the candy bars I would sneak into her hospital room.

Cancer was the ultimate diet. Nobody knew all that but me.

“She can’t come back,” Briella says. Like I haven’t thought that every single day since she’s been gone? “No matter how much she wants to, and she would want to. She would have never chosen to leave you.”

“What’s your point?” I demand.

“My dad could walk in that door every other weekend like he’s scheduled to do. Nothing’s stopping him. But he’s as gone as your mother.” She blinks at me several times, and I try to catch up. She’s not talking about my mom. Not really. She’s talking about her dad. Obviously, the conversation with Charlotte downstairs hit Briella harder than I’d expected. To hear her talk about her dad is strange. I’d always just thought of him as the goose that always came up with that golden egg just when it was needed. An invisible goose.

I don’t answer her, don’t know how to. Briella’s never talked to me about her dad before, and it’s obvious from the look on her face now, she’s regretting it. She backs up toward the open door.

“I’m just saying you’re not the only one with issues, Ever.” She shakes her head like she’s trying to clear the craziness of actually having a conversation with me. “Forget it.”

“She doesn’t really expect you to feel sorry for her. She knows you only think about yourself,” Skinny whispers.

Who would feel sorry for someone who looks like Briella? My stepsister swallows hard, looks away from me. She’s said too much, but it’s like she can’t stop. “My dad makes it clear every single weekend that it was his choice to leave,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to lie around in my bed and eat myself to death.”

“You think I want this?” My hands contract into fists by my sides. Suddenly, it isn’t about my mom or her dad. It’s all about me.

“Yeah, I think you do. You’d do something about it if you didn’t. It’s not like you’re in a wheelchair or something like that. You don’t have to be fat.”

It’s what every thin person in the world thinks. I should know. Skinny has whispered it into my ear over and over again.

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