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Such a Pretty Girl
She sits in a room that is drowning in perfume and powder. She stares at a face that is hardly recognizable under the black, pink, and beige paint that covers the discolorations on her jaw, the worry clawing at the skin under her eyes, and the premature wrinkles that dance around her thinning lips.
Her body is still thin though, after all these years. Her shoulders jut out in all the right places, and her stomach doesn’t move when she walks. But for this she compromises with herself, just like she always has.
She watches the woman in the mirror put a cigarette to her mouth and blow smoke that hides her face for a long second. But even though it’s just a second, she forgets, dreams and half-expects to see her younger, happier self come back into focus. But the light assembles her reflection in the glass to the fading beauty she has become, and the tiny hope inside her dwindles to nothing more than air in her stomach, blowing out slowly with each wheezing breath she lets out.
Habit tingles in her fingers, wanting to stretch towards the half-empty bottle of scotch on the edge of her vanity, but she doesn’t take it for the first time in… well, who knows how long. She wants to be sober when she dies. She wants her last feelings, emotions, and pains to be the strongest. She doesn’t want to glaze over anything.
The woman glances at the gun in her hand. The skin on her fingers can taste the metal, the toxic bitterness of the trigger. The bullets shake on the inside. Her mind rattles and waits in fear.
She looks at herself again in the mirror and falls into a memory… perhaps her first clear recollection of life.
Her body shrinks. Her cigarette-damaged hair turns into thick ringlets that collect on top of her head like a mop and fall and bounce like coils from a bed. She loses the breasts, the eyeliner and wrinkles. She is four. She stands in a leotard and tights on the side of the stage and taps her foot. Girls just like her- her friends- stand and wait anxiously too. They have hair-sprayed curls, painfully bright lipstick, and sloppy blush on their cheeks. They laugh and giggle at the novelty of makeup… the stuff of grownup ladies.
But she doesn’t. She stands in the middle of it all, and when it’s time to perform, she smiles and does as stunning of a dance performance as any four-year old could.
When the recital is all over, she is handed flowers with petals that fall off like skin and twirl through the air like true ballerinas and land gracefully on her nose. Big people- the ones who always give you lipstick kisses and pinch your cheeks- tell her she’s the prettiest girl out of the whole bunch. How she has the best smile of them all.
She’s just so pretty.
Oh, Parents, you must be so proud, so fascinated to have such a pretty little girl.
Ears love that word for some reason. They cling to it and eat it and then vomit it back up so they can chew it again, even if it’s acidic, even if it’s disgusting. The little girl loves this word, and when she gets home, she will open up her mouth and try it on her tongue for size. It sounds even better in her voice.
She changes though. And when she’s ten, her body will begin to transform. Her chest become softer, her waist begins to curl in at the middle and the flare back out just above her hips like a wave, and by the time she’s twelve, she notices men look at her differently. They’ve stopped smiling like they have candy in their mouths. Now they smile like they want candy in their mouths. Their eyes run down and then pop back up, only to go back down again a few minutes later.
But it won’t be until she’s thirteen that she will discover the reason for this.
He is her father’s visitor. A good business partner, as Father always describes him. Soon their business relationship becomes a friendship and the man comes to their house more and more regularly. His name is Mr. Cummings, but she soon will come to call him George.
“You know, you’re such a pretty girl,” he breathes into her ear one night in the kitchen. She is washing dishes after an elaborate dinner Mr. Cummings has been invited to. They are alone, and the knowledge paints the cream colored walls the most daring of reds. “So pretty.”
There it is. That word again.
Her sigh trembles in the air. “Thank you, Mr. Cummings. But I—“
She will never finish that sentence. His lips taste quite wonderful when laid upon hers. They taste like the pecan pie they had for dessert and bubble gum and peppermint. His skin smells like cologne, and his breath is warm when it blends with hers.
He will come back. He will say that toxic word again. He will take her to a quieter place. They will do things that must remain between them and no one else. And she is convinced he loves her.
Until one day, her George moves with his wife and kids to a place far away from her. No call. No warning. Nothing.
Without him, his beautiful words and wandering hands, her appearance looks plainer. Her eyes don’t have that sparkle, her lips aren’t as full and pink, and her cheeks are a sickly pallor.
That’s when the lip gloss, blush, and mascara find an almost permanent residence on her face.
Later, in high school, boys will come and go. They will say the word again and sometimes use even more elaborate vocabulary. They will call her “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, or “to-die-for”. They are like passwords, and she lets each one go through her like a punch in the gut, a steady impact that brought only pain.
Each pain is presented to her in different ways.
Some will hit her, be rough with her, call her ugly names. But it all doesn’t matter if the word is still there on the tips of their tongues. If they still think she is pretty, she can handle anything.
That’s when the foundation and eyeliner nestle into her pores also.
When she isn’t in school, she discovers some men will even pay her crinkled, green paper to be able to call her pretty, to hold her in the dark, and mess with her beauty. They will strip her dignity with their rough, selfish hands and leave in the morning with a piece of her they will throw away at the next gas station, or forget about in the glove compartment of their car. But she will always see their faces, hear their voices and see their mouths form her favorite and most hated word: “Pretty.”
But now she is here, and she can’t find herself. She is lost somewhere in the dead bodies of men she has gone through. She sits on top of a mountain of emotionless faces, just shells of humans that she has discarded as she goes along. Her face is caked in their deteriorating, exterior love, their lustful, unabashed glances, and their fingers that take her body and mangle it into nothing more than a jumbled heap of weary flesh that breathes with a heavy strain.
She licks her lips and crushes her cigarette in the ashtray, lifting the murderous metal ever-so-slowly to her temple.
She really was such a pretty girl.
But that pretty face is strewn across the carpet now.
And her rich, red blood is staining the mirror.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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