By Francesca Leader
The girl bent over the toilet jerks her head around when you open the bathroom door and starts laughing, which you really wish she wouldn’t, because it makes vomit specks fly from her viscera red lips, and then you recall picking her out in the wool-and-polyester sweat crush of your roommate’s professor’s party as the one girl here who didn’t just seem prettier than you because of how thin she was, a true beauty who’d be seductive even without the fuck-me boots, the push-up bra, and the flawless feline eyeliner. Apart from the stomach acid skid-mark to one side of her mouth, her skin’s perfect. Her shoulder-length, jet-black hair looks real. And her waist can’t be more than twenty-five inches—you’d know, because getting your measurements taken in front of the whole ballet class so many times, and watching every other girl get hers taken—gave you an infallible eye. You also learned that anything above twenty-seven inches meant you wouldn’t fit into a lot of costumes and, therefore, wouldn’t get certain parts and, therefore, would have to accept you were a fat loser, though the skinnier dancers did all they could to reassure you of your amazingness without losing that aura of elegant schadenfreude.
“Fuck me! Thought I locked that,” the girl says, wiping the side of her mouth with toilet paper, which she wads up and squeezes. You know from the forced mirth in her tone, the swirl of shame and reproach in her eyes, that it wasn’t just some bad macaroni salad from the potluck table (the thing that triggered you, and probably her, too) because buffets and bulimics don’t mix. If she’s anything like you, she’s really an anorexic with shit for willpower.
You lock the door of the half bath that barely contains you both—the door the girl forgot in her rush to purge. She sits on the toilet, looking at you with eyes too bright, like an image with the contrast cranked up, her face trembling between crying and smiling—criling, you decide. Her mascara’s running, but even like this, she looks great. You could see this taking an erotic turn, if you were a man. Unfortunately for both of you, you’re not.
“Actually came here to do that myself. Do you mind?” you say, with a zany cheer that just seems like what the order doctored right now.
“Fuck, yeah, go ahead!” The girl gets up and jumps out of your way, but doesn’t leave. She leans on the sink, close enough to touch your back as you take your turn at the porcelain altar of self-loathing. Surprisingly, you don’t get cold feet. Feels almost warm and fuzzy sticking your finger down your throat next to someone who just did the same.
When you’re finished, you see she’s fixed her mascara. She shifts aside to let you at the sink, but still doesn’t leave. She sits back on the toilet, refreshes her lipstick, palpably watching. She offers a restaurant butter mint. When you take it, she says, “You move like a dancer.”
“I get that a lot. Used to do ballet about twenty pounds ago.”
She croaks a laugh. “About twenty pounds ago, I used to model,” she says, smacking a thigh that could, you’ll admit, be slimmer.
You realize there are things you want to share with her.
“Ever notice how ice cream’s the only thing that tastes as good coming up as it does going down?” you ask.
“Oh, My God,” she says, slapping her cantilevered cleavage. “At least once a week, I get two Blizzards and fucking slam them both.”
“People don’t know it’s an art.”
“Liquids first,” she says, nodding. “And you gotta take small bites, really chew everything well.”
“Pizza’s no good—sticks in your throat like a plug.”
“I don’t even fuck with pizza.” She laughs. “Spaghetti’s great, though. Comes up nice and smooth.”
You laugh, too. Then you start to feel weird. Like the weight of everything you just gorged and disgorged is coming back, rising inside you again, the pressure increasing until it forces tears from your eyes. One more second, and your heart might crack like an egg.
“You don’t need to do this,” you blurt out. “You’re so beautiful.”
“So are you. You don’t need to, either.”
The tender way she says it—standing now, face inches from yours—you almost believe her. And you really do wish you were a man. Or she was. Then you’d comfort each other the way that works best: blind, dark, intimate surrender. This kind of shit—affirmation from someone you think is almost certainly hotter than you, and probably knows it, and probably only complimented you to be nice—just doesn’t cut it. Fucking’s the sincerest form of flattery.
Still, you have to try once more to reach her. To reach yourself.
“Let’s make a pact,” you say. “I’ll stop if you’ll stop.”
You see the ghosts of shadows rise under her skin, traces of poison drops that bloomed dark and wide into an incurable sepsis—maybe an uncle’s comment on the shape of her calves; or how her sister’s old prom dress, when she tried it on, was tight on the hips.
“Sure. You got a deal,” she says, on the verge of criling again, extending her lovely arm, her immaculate hand, for you to shake. You can’t look into her eyes. You know what you’ll see—that she knows that you know that girls like you can’t keep such promises.
“See you around,” she says.
You turn and stare into the sink until she’s gone.
Afterwards, you push through the crowd and find your roommate, who did you no favors bringing you here—she’s sweet, but lacks subtlety; thinks you haven’t been getting out enough.
You catch a glimpse of the girl a while later, standing beside a tall, handsome man.
He’s not even looking at her.
He’s talking to two other girls.
Francesca Leader is a self-taught writer interested in exploring gender- and culture-based conflicts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Fictive Dream, the J Journal, the William and Mary Review, CutBank, Coffin Bell, Anti-Heroin Chic, and elsewhere.
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