Invisible Gold

Her reflection is only inches below her nose. It stares up at her with puffy, unflattering eyes. She hates the way her eyes look: unpainted, naked, exposed. She looks unoriginal, bland.

The other girl, Kendall, is behind her, patting her back, urging her to release. It will be easy, Kendall promises. You just have to heave and let go.

But she can’t let go. Her knees are pressed against the floor, with only the thin layer of her pajamas to separate them from the cold tile. She grabs the toilet seat, knuckles as white as the porcelain they are clamping down on, and groans, clenching her stomach. But nothing comes out, except a strand of drool, swaying from her lips to the surface of the toilet water.

She swallows. The tangy echo of marinara crouches in the back of her teeth, and her tongue struggles to carve brown bits of meat from between her molars. Why did they eat so much, stuffing themselves until their stomachs were almost ripping open?

Kendall is still coaching the girl how to slide two fingers to the back of the tongue. Her fingers are bitter, which helps her to gag, but now matter how much she heaves…

Her chin is now slick with saliva, and she slips off her. Now she is sitting on the floor, staring up at the flickering fluorescent light.

When she closes her eyes, she’s back in the studio, bulbs flashing in rhythmic pulses, where she posed in spiked track shoes and a banana yellow sports bra. One leg was straight behind her, taut and lean, and the other leg was bent, her knee pushing up into the yellow cloth.

And her belly. She tried not to look at it, focusing her pretend gaze on a hypothetical gold medal in front of her and nine other imaginary Olympians. But she could still feel the ripples of skin, the rolls of flesh bunched and scrunched up. She had drunk only coffee all week; she would have drunk pure water but the caffeine help you piss out the extra water weight. She had nearly fainted on set, the camera flashes hypnotically dragging her weary eyes down. If only she had posed as a high jumper, her belly could have been stretched and smooth and lean.

Then she blinks, and she’s back in the bathroom, belly sticky and white and round, teeth full of marinara. Kendall is blurry and doubled, the two images of her face pulling together and sliding apart. Her belly is a thin strip of gold, winking between the rim of the jean shorts and a white tank top.

The girl’s groan turns into a dry sob. In the corner of the eye is the empty pizza box, limp and greasy, sitting between the yoga mat which is her bed and the laptop which is their TV. The sight of dry sauce and spare crusts makes her dizzy, and she wonders with revulsion how she could have thought it a smart idea to eat so much after a whole week of eating air.

Kendall’s hand is pushing toward her lips, offering a single white pill. The girl whimpers, brushing the hand away, despite assurances that it will loosen everything up. She’s had enough of pills. That’s all this past week was: coffee and pills to keep the pangs of hunger down.

Something is buzzing. Maybe the fluorescent lights, or her own skull. Her eyes crawl sluggishly to the side. Her phone is between her and the damp pizza box, buzzing with a picture of herself and a smiling woman twice her age. How she wants to reach out for it, stretch her arms towards the vibrating rectangle. She could hear the voice asking how her first week was, if she had an easy time moving in. If her roommate was showing her around the city, whether she had been in any exciting commercials yet.

But she leaves the phone. She knows her mother is excited for her, glad for her opportunities in a world she doesn’t quite understand. Her mother gets ‘lots of love’ and ‘laugh out loud’ confused, and thinks a thousand likes on a photo means you are already famous. She is supportive, but no matter how supportive she is, lingering in the back of her voice is the silent request to come home, to live a life of blue shirts and customer service, belly bulging not with desperate pizza, but the next generation, a babbling addition to family photos for phone screens. Back home is the smell of fresh dust, kicked up into the air by industrial combs, churning up waves of dirt clods and razor sharp spikes of golden straw. Here the air reeks with whatever is growing in the walls, keeping the air damp and the rent low.

The buzzing stops. The photo of the mother and the girl disappear into the cool black glass. Kendall pushes the pill once more, and this time the girl swallows reluctantly.

She sweats, and her skin prickles, and then she turns around, heaving what looks like vegetable soup into the toilet bowl. Water splashes up, and she releases again. Then she slumps, back trembling, hair falling into the bowl and dangling in her own gluttony.

Kendall is speaking in a soothing voice, pulling her back from the toilet, wiping her face with a towel and raking strands of hair behind her ears. She is gentle, careful to avoid tangling the hair in the girl’s earring studs.

Then all her hair is behind her neck, dripping down her own tank top into the back of her underwear. She is thankful for those pink pajama pants. The floor would be cold without them.

Her phone buzzes once more. She crawls over to it, seeing one more glimpse of her reflection in the dark glass before pulling up the most recent text message: I’ll try again tomorrow. Hope your first week went well! LOL

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