The last thing you put in your mouth was your finger. You should have clipped the nail first. You’ve never been kissed under fireworks, nor imagined fireworks when you were kissed, just a slobbering dog tongue. The song stuck in your head is “Boats and Birds” by Gregory and the Hawk. Your last text message read: “Don’t eat all the Bagel Bites. Make them last until Friday.” From your dad. The last person you took a picture of was Danny Fairchild. A person you dislike: Danny Fairchild. What are you wearing: faded Trix shirt and dark stretch jeans that the expert in “Girls Without Muffin-Tops” advised. A celebrity you resemble, Rosa Rex from Peggy Sue and the Pirates, kinda. Your name in pig Latin: errieKay alpertHay.
The last time you cried really hard? When you did the right thing. You told your dad. He was reading the paper on the toilet. You didn’t want to talk to him while he was on the toilet, but it would be your only chance that day.
Your adopted father, Stu, is a promoter for BetterWay, manufacturers of health pills. The better way to make you better. Every day he comes home twice. At midnight after work and at noon for lunch, but he spends most of lunch in the bathroom. He even eats his toasted tuna sandwich in there.
You knocked on the door. “Dad?” You finally call him “dad.” Too bad your mother is not alive. You did it for her.
“I’m on the toilet.” He answered and you heard him turn a page.
“You know how it stinks in there?”
“Yeah. What the heck happened?”
“I-” This is all wrong. “I threw up.”
“You sick, hon?”
“No.” Just breathe. “I throw up every day. Every time I eat.”
“Sorry, hon.” He said. “I’ll pick up something for you.”
“Dad, listen. I throw up on purpose. I’m bulimic.”
“No you’re not.”
“But? But I am.”
“Bulimia is when girls puke and get skinny, isn’t it?”
He doesn’t believe you’re bulimic because you’re fat. Your butt climbs up your back and your chin drips down your neck. The locket from your mothers is rolled up in the neck skin inherited from them also. An invisible orthodontist screws your braces so tight you think you might faint.
The truth is, you just started a month ago and you wanted him to stop you.
You left the fake wood door, cried into your pillow, looked at your toy mouse collection, and thought of Danny Fairchild.
Danny Fairchild is a genius, which may be compensation for his height, 4’5, a legal dwarf. One day in gym, you talked to Danny and his friend Grover about a book. You made a lot of jokes. Danny asked you to bounce up and down. You didn’t know why, so you did. Whenever you paused, he prompted you to continue. He watched you jiggle until the bell rang. Then told everyone your “fun bags” were very, very fun indeed.
Danny poured his genius into acting. In the picture you snapped of him, he was George in Our Town. A very emotional shot. Plus, one of him talking to Emily Webb on the ladder. Danny’s girlfriend, Jasmine, who played Emily (everyone thought that was cute) found you developing the photo in the dark room. That was a bad day. When you were home, you tore down all the snacks you’d duct-taped to the ceiling of your closet. In an hour you downed two boxes of Oreos, three bags of Flaming Hot Cheetos, a Halloween-size bag of 3 Musketeer bars, and 30 pepperoni Bagel Bites, two gallons of chocolate milk, and half a gallon of Sunny D from the fridge. Not good. Sunny D burns like mouth diarrhea.
Today is a good day. You imitated your mother’s voice to call in sick from school. The truancy officer still doesn’t know she’s dead. You spend the day making felt props and dresses out of your baby socks for your doll mice. You make them a Swan Lake diorama. You love Victorian themes the most and have many Pride and Prejudice and Emma themed dioramas.
If you fall in love you’d have a relationship like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Arguing at first, then he would gradually become gentle and kiss you just like he were eating sugar cream pie. You used to imagine Danny was Mr. Darcy and yourself Elizabeth, but even Mr. Darcy wouldn‘t ogle Elizabeth while she bounced up and down.
You take photos of the doll mice with the same .35 mm camera that captured Danny on the ladder. It was your mother’s, kept in a pearly Kinney’s box in her wardrobe. She used to call you perfect. “You’re perfect, lovely.” You both had the same apple cheeks and dimpled chin.
You told your dad you throw up. It’s more clichéd and clichés save time. But, mostly, you poop. Laxatives and diuretics are well-supplied at your house, considering Stu’s obsession with his bowels. This, of course, spilled over into his career. You hate to imagine him as a child. Maybe he was that toddler picking his butt in the corner of his daycare. Actually, that’s pretty funny. Ha ha ha.
No one knows, but so many of your dioramas were constructed with cut-out Dulcolax packets. With paint and glitter they became stars, balconies, teacups, and mouse-sized books. You’ve also used InnerClean bottles for vanities, picture frames, barrels, and bathtubs. The rest of your props were made of salt dough, stamps, origami, and collectibles inherited, like your doll mice, from Mom’s mother, such as ceramic brooches and iron spindles.
Your mom helped you sew dresses, taught you how to make salt dough. She knew how important your doll mice would become. That’s why she gave them to you earlier than your grandma suggested.
At age four and a half, you had surgery on your vocal chords. The voice therapy was stressful and usually ended with collapsing into tears and crawling under the examination table. You were a quiet child to begin with; now, you hiccuped silently.
Your mom would coax you from beneath the table with a cookie. She loved you deeply and you adored her. Those quirky crooked teeth. That Raggedy Ann hair. Your mother taught you to hold the spoon in your fist so it would slip more easily into a vat of Mocha Mudslide ice cream. She would scoop you big Country Crock bowls full, lie on your bed, and practice laughing.
A laugh was the loudest sound you could make. Your mother told you it is because a laugh has no way it should sound. There are no perfect laughs. No pressure. Let it out. “If you’re happy, it’ll be perfect.” Mom said.
Miss Bowen is the therapist Stu hired for you after your mom died, a flaxen haired 30-year-old who can wrap herself up in her chair in beautiful angles like a Greek statue. Her first name is Esme which matches her flesh-pink cardigan, lace-fringed white shirt, dove gray tights and frilly black skirt. Miss Bowen was hired only days after the car crash. The first appointment, the only words you divulged were: “they had to cut Mom out of her seat belt.”
Eventually, you trusted Miss Bowen enough to leak more. You talked about how Stu was a math professor before he volunteered at BetterWay so much they hired him, how your mother met him when he peddled BetterWay’s newest product at the door, how he didn’t allow you to answer the phone during dinner, how he constantly worries about the constitution of his stomach, how he and your mom fought the first two years of their marriage about your “health” and how Mom relented and the diet began. You were twelve.
You talked about Danny Fairchild and how you got sent home after Danny’s girlfriend punched blood from your nose. You talked about the doll mice and different ideas for dioramas. Your dream to be a fashion designer. Your bulimia, however, was avoided. It couldn’t be your problem, it just couldn’t. You were there because your mom died. End of story.
Miss Bowen’s method of “talking about it” was different than Stu’s. When you didn’t want to talk, you drew pictures on the floor as if you were six again. Miss Bowen had you make collages of your feelings every week. You cut pages of Pride and Prejudice, painted them with watercolor, photocopied old photos of Mom and glued them on the collage, used stickers, sprinkled salt and sugar… It was happy somehow, even if the collage was about sadness. Miss Bowen always wanted to see the photographs of your dioramas. She suggested you make your blog: Nice Mice.
One day you tell Miss Bowen about the laughing sessions.
“Have you tried that since?”
“By myself?” You ask.
“Want to try it here?”
The floor looks saner than this woman.
“You know this is a safe place, right?”
Your elbow itches mysteriously. Miss Bowen smiles and tosses back her head. She laughs to shake the walls. Peeking at you first, she laughs at the ceiling again. You giggle a little.
“You can do better than that.”
You laugh quietly until you remember how Mom created weird sounds to make you laugh harder. How she would appear at your bedroom door with a sliver of raspberry cobbler and say, “It’s a mouse slice!” Smiling so big. You knew it was all Stu would allow her to give you. Or you think about how she boldly made a pig nose and a butt chin to amuse you while you choked down your gluten-free meal. Then you cry, hoping there is a drop of Twinkies in each tear.
“You know the best thing about laughing or crying?” You ask Miss Bowen.
“I can do them right.” You yawn then whimper. “Because there’s no perfect laugh.”
“Nor a perfect cry.” She says then makes that therapist face. “They’re good ways to get things out. Better than other ways, don’t you think?”
Did she know all along?
Do you smile often?