Writing & Photo Contest 2017 Winner — Fiction

It Was Just a Joke

Your black tights are snug on your ankles. You pluck at a loose thread coming undone on the side of your thigh. Tuck a loose strand of blonde wisps framing your face, the rest tied neatly into a bun, held back with a bandana. A new one. You cross your legs. Thighs flatten, doubling in size. You uncross them. Itchy sweater material rubs against your arms. Uncomfortable, but the fanciest you own. You bought it at one of those teen-wear stores. With pictures of sun-kissed, girls being held by tawny, smiling boys, fake secrets in their eyes. Laying on pick-up trucks and running through golden fields.

In the try-out room, you were alone with three reflections of yourself. Standing farthest away from the door so no one sees your feet. Size 9. Lifting your shirt above your head. Sliding off sweatpants. The three you’s mimic your movement. Shifting your eyes to the floor, avoiding eye contact. Flashes of bare white skin, light arm hair. Sweater on. Itchy cream coloured material curving your chest, hugging your waist. Three curves. First your chest, then your stomach, then your hips. You scowl at the mirror. The reflection of you. Three reflection of three lumps. You quickly take off the sweater. Static dries your hair. Flush-faced, you forget about the new jeans, keep your sweatpants on. Eyeing the girl with the nametag Ella. She gave you a medium with a smile at your lump. Not unlike the smile of the girls in the ads. Bellies sucked in, chest thrust out. You throw the sweater on the table, pick up Large with shame. Don’t look at the smiles.

You shift your feet on the grimy linoleum tiles. Converse sneakers, two laced bows, one smaller than the other. A smile across the table you sit at. Lazy, coy. Hungry. Oily fries, a burger half-eaten. You don’t touch yours. Drawing with ketchup. Clatter and of kids with happy meals, dazed parents. Acne faces covered in blush. He brought you here because he wanted you to be comfortable. A familiar place. Easy and casual. In truth, this is your first time at a fast food joint. You prefer home cooked meals and Chinese takeout. He offers another smile. Lazy, coy. Hungry. Mocking. You nod. He’s being nice.

At school near the locker. Leaning, yawning, hand through hair. Go out with me? Stifled snickers and snorts. A huge joke. Pathetic, of course she’ll say yes. That’s what you hear walking down the hall to class. Pitiful eyes. Gawking stares.

The bell chimes. Pretty blondes from school attached to jocks. Smug looks and hoop earrings. They nod to him, and he grins back. Not the grin he gave you. They don’t look at you. Nice date? They laugh. He grins more. She isn’t hungry he says. He looks at your burger. You look at your tights and pluck at the thread. You say you don’t really like McDonalds. For some reason they think that’s funny. Puddles of tears in the corner of your eyes. Red faced, nervous. They sit down at the table besides yours. Eyes mocking, mouths ready. They eye your flesh. Malicious, hungry. Words dancing at the tip of their tongues. You know what they’ll say. A jock snatches your fries. Stuffs his face. Am I doing it right? The tears won’t be blinked away. Laughter erupts. A punch to the stomach. You stand abrupt. Your chair screeches. Eyes still on your tights. Too tight. Too revealing. Too much inside them. You can feel his casual stare. You alright? Thanks for the lunch, you whisper.

You leave slowly. Sticky floors grab at your sneakers. The tears will not fall. You don’t let them. Head held high, arms at your sides balled fists. The bell chimes. The door closes, and the snickers fade. You hear them still. Ringing your ears. Red with shame Anger. Pity. You walk out of the parking lot; he drove you there. The windows rolled down and music blaring. Couldn’t you see it? He didn’t want to talk. You start the walk home. Yellow weeds sprouting from the cracked pavement. He ordered for you. A Big Mac. Large coke. Large fries. You never eat that much, you tell him. I’m sure you’re hungry, he replies. How did you not hear it? His taunting voice. A set up.

At home you tear off the stupid sweater. Kick it under your bed. Fingers shaking as you untie your laces. Tights off, sweatpants on. Tears streaming as you rip off your bandana. Nice bandana, he said. You smiled brightly. Were you blind? Blonde strong beautiful, he could be a boy in the ads at the teen-wear store. He wasn’t blind. He knew what he was doing. You clutch the bandana in your hand. You don’t stop the tears. Stupid, you call yourself. Ugly, you’re sure of it.

Weekend ends, then comes school. Your backpack is ready, but you aren’t. Go, your mother forces you. You go. The snickers and glances hold more meaning today. They know. You know they know. Have a good lunch? Someone asks. He doesn’t look at you. He laughs at their jokes and disappears into class.

You don’t show up at the cafeteria. You didn’t bring lunch. You didn’t have breakfast. Your stomach rumbles. Shut up, you tell it. You hide in the library. Drink from the water fountain. Someone pushes you. Whale, they say. You leave your last class early and dry heave in the girl’s washroom.

They talked about you afterwards. Whispers and guilty glances circled the halls. I heard it was food poisoning, someone jokes. Everyone glares at her, horrified. Too late. He doesn’t look anyone in the eye. He doesn’t laugh at the joke. He knows you never came to the cafeteria. He saw you sitting in the hall, a bottle of water besides you. Eyes dazed.

You didn’t eat for a week.

They stuffed tubes down your nose.

You heard laughter.

It didn’t go away.

This was an entry in the 2017 Writing & Photo Contest.

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