Trigger warning: disordered eating.
“Which one do you want?”
I turn from the kitchen sink and see Dani behind me. She holds out a plate with a cookie she’s broken to share. One piece is noticeably larger.
I shrug. “Either one.”
My gaze follows her hand as it snatches the smaller piece. No hesitation. My stomach clenches. Of course she leaves me the larger portion.
Dani puts the plate next to my glass of water, her shaking hand making the china clatter against the granite. The sound doesn’t bother me anymore. She places her cookie half in a paper napkin.
“Here, I’ll finish the dishes. You can have your cookie.” She grabs the sponge from my hand and starts washing the pot in the sink.
“Thank you,” I say, slowly. The air feels sticky with double meanings. Wiping my hands on my pants, I catch myself staring at Dani’s boney neck. My own neck tenses. I’m surprised her arms have enough muscle to scrub the pot clean.
I glance down at the plate. It’s a chocolate chip cookie, probably homemade by our tenants. The wife used to own a bakery. I glance at Dani’s half, and my hands twitch. If I could just switch our halves without her noticing. But I have to demonstrate good eating habits. I take a bite of my larger portion.
Perching on the stool at the table, I attempt to break the heavy silence. “Did you figure out your prom date yet?” I ask, as I pluck a large chocolate chip from the cookie. The soft chocolate sticks to my hands, giving me freckles.
“Are your hands clean?” asked my grandma, bending down to examine me.
I stretched up my arms to get her approval. “Yep! I just washed them.”
She smiled. “Good -- oh, wait just one minute. What’s this?” She grabbed one of my hands and yanked it closer to her eyes.
“Ow!” I squealed. “You’re pulling me”
My grandma took a sponge from the kitchen sink. “You still have chocolate flecks on your hand, young lady.” She took my right hand in hers and started scrubbing the palm, tightening her grip as it became clear that my skin did not want to get clean. “What did I say about eating cookies before dinner? Or ever. They’re not good for a growing girl’s figure.”
After a few moments, she sighed loudly and dropped my hand. “I don’t know what to say, it won’t come off. Just don’t eat anything more, you don’t want to end up with a big belly.”
I looked at my hand. Two large brown freckles sat in the middle of my palm. They helped me tell my left from right. The chocolatey color contrasted sharply with my skin, now pink and sore from the scrubbing. I frowned.
I lick my fingers clean before savoring the chocolate chip. It melts in my mouth as I wait for Dani to tell me her prom plans.
“I don’t know about my date, okay?” she replies sharply. “Why do you keep asking me? It doesn’t even concern you.” Dani turns around. “You’re a freshman.”
“Jesus, Dani. Can you not bite my head off? It was a simple question!” I feel the blood rush to my cheeks. My face must look red, especially in comparison to Dani’s. Her cheeks look unusually pale today. “Whatever,” I mutter.
“What?” Dani shoots over her shoulder. The question-not-question seems less aggressive than usual.
“Nothing.” I can never say anything right these days, no matter how light I try to make the conversation. I pinch the cookie between my fingers, watch as it squishes. It looks manhandled now, overused. “I’m going to my room. Thanks for doing the dishes.”
Back in my room, I can hear snatches of Dani singing to herself when she turns the faucet off. She has a beautiful voice, the one thing that hasn’t changed since she stopped taking care for her body. Or caring too much about it. Maybe I should go back to the kitchen and force her to eat her cookie.
A large crash followed by a thud jerks me out my mind. I yank my headphones off and hold my breath, trying to hear if Dani’s swearing in the kitchen. Nothing.
“Dani, you okay?” My hands get hot and prickly. She doesn’t answer. Suddenly my chest hurts, and I’m running out of my room, my feet slipping on the hardwood floor.
Dani’s lying crumpled on the kitchen floor, pots and soapy water scattered around her. A plate is shattered in two. For a moment, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the shards of broken china and her jutting hip bones. And then I’m kneeling next to her, pulling her body up, brushing back the hair from her lukewarm forehead. “Dani!” I scream into her serene face. It looks gaunt and grey. Foreign, almost. “Dani!” I slap her, cradle her, shake her. “Dani, Danidanidani--”
“I’m not skipping dinner, Mom,” Dani sighed. “I’m fasting. Like the monks.”
My mother caught Dani’s arm and spun her around. “That’s ridiculous, Danielle. Why on earth would you purposefully fast? You specifically asked me to make pizza for dinner, because it’s your favorite, and now you won’t eat it?”
I watched the argument from the couch, brow furrowed. Something wasn’t right. Clearly, skipping dinner was not the best idea, but the intensity with which my mother refuted the idea made my stomach squirm. The argument sounded like something out of a cheap rom-com.
“Mom, you’re so annoying!”
“Fine, whatever! It doesn’t even matter. You’re overreacting.”
That night, Dani cut her single slice of pizza in half, then half again, only ever eating one of the four pieces.
“What—” Dani’s eyes are opening now, grey-blue and bloodshot. “What’s going on?”
I pull her into my arms, her body so light she feels like a child. “Are you okay?”
She sinks into me. “What happened?”
“I think you fainted.” I examine her face. “I’m calling Dad.” I stand, keeping one hand on her head.
“You’re bleeding!” Dani gasps, touching my shins. I glance down. Blood threads down my legs, and the broken china on the floor looks darker than before. My gaze darts around my body. My hands are bleeding, the blood hiding the two freckles on my right palm.
Suddenly, I can’t see as tears fill my eyes, warping my vision. Dani holds my legs, and I sink to the floor again. “You scared me so much,” I say into her hair, the strands catching in my mouth.
“I know, I’m sorry.”
I look in her eyes. They’re glassed in tears. Bright. “You know why you fainted, don’t you?”
“This has to end, Dani. You need to acknowledge what you’re doing to your body. You need to acknowledge yourself.”
“Yes. But you have to do it with me, okay?”
I hug her tight, palms catching on her protruding shoulder blades. “Okay.”
By Abigail Hopkins.