Home > 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl(9)

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl(9)
Mona Awad

“Rosemary,” I lie.

“Rosemary,” she repeats.

Even though she only met her once and very briefly when she picked me up from school, my mother likes China, who she calls by her proper name, Rosemary. Unlike Mel, who she thinks is a bad influence, and who she holds responsible for what she calls my “downward spiral.” Rosemary, on the other hand, has style.

She flicks on my bedroom light. I wince and cover my eyes, wonder when she’ll go back to her boyfriend, who I know is waiting for her in the bedroom, but she just stands there. Folds her arms over her chest.

“How was school?”

“Fine,” I say, lowering my hand from my eyes.

“Did you go?”

“Yes.” She looks right at me and I look right back without flinching or blinking. Her boyfriend took pictures of me once. For the Internet guy I was seeing before this one. Black-and-whites. Close-ups. In woodlots. In my bedroom. In parks. I never ended up sending those and I never look at them. Just go back, I tell my mother in my mind, but she stays standing there.

“This ‘school’ is your last shot, Elizabeth. You know that, right?”

She’s looking away now. It’s fine that she took him back after the photos. I don’t think she knows the whole story. Also she’s lonely, I see how lonely. I see how she hasn’t been with anyone since my father left when I was five. I see she’s a fat, middle-aged woman with a heart condition, so how many men does she really have to choose from? Though I never told her, she knows I see, sort of. But I thought we had an unspoken agreement that in exchange for my seeing, my silence, she would not pry into my affairs.

“I know you’ve been depressed,” she says now to the print of Audrey Hepburn that she herself nailed to my wall and which I’ve since covered with zombie stickers. “I’m just worried. You’re not helping yourself at all. Look at you. It’s like you love being miserable.” Seeing me eye her huge stomach, she crosses her arms over her black silk robe.

I fold my arms and look down past my thighs at the bedspread beneath me. I never look at my body if I can help it. It’s bigger, I can feel it, but I haven’t stepped on the scale or looked in a full-length mirror in months.

“I don’t love it,” I mutter.

“What was that?”

“I said I don’t love it.”

“What the hell happened to your eyes?”

“It’s just makeup.”

My mother stares at me a long time before flicking off my light.

“It looks like you got punched.”

• • •

Saturday arrives and she’s late. But I don’t let it worry me. I’ve already done most of the work—scouted various locations, laid out potential wardrobe choices on the bed. I figure she’ll help me choose. Once she helps me choose and does my eyes it’ll all work out. China will know what to do, I’m sure of it. She shows up at around seven, wearing a tank top and a Scottish kilt and a dog collar with spikes that match her spiked hair. She’s got a roll of duct tape in her hand.

I’m very excited when I see the duct tape. She’s taking this so seriously.

“You brought tape!”

She looks at the roll in her fist like she’s surprised to see it there.

“Oh yeah. That’s for me. I’m going to Death later and I have to tape my nipples ’cause this dress I’m going to wear tonight totally slides around when I dance. You know the way I dance.”

I do know the way she dances. It’s crazy. She just closes her eyes and spins under the mirror ball, and people have to steer clear. “Oh, yeah, for sure,” I say, disappointed. “Tape is a great idea.”

“So are you ready?” And she holds up the camera like she’s actually about to start clicking.

“Ready?” I repeat, and I’m thinking, What about my makeup? What about wardrobe choices? Location? Light? But all I say is, “Not yet. I haven’t even really decided what I’m wearing.”

She looks at me dressed in my long black velvet skirt and black tee. Her look’s like, I thought you were dressed.

“This? No, no.” And I point to my bed, upon which I have laid out all of these possible outfits complete with shoe options. “I wanted to see which you thought first,” I tell her.

She looks at them awhile. Most of them are other loose black tops and long black skirts.

“What I thought?”

“Which you liked. Best.”

She gives them a cursory glance, shrugs. “Whatever you think.”

She sits down on my bed lightly, like she should get up anytime. She begins to pick at the fringe on one of my mother’s Pier 1 cushions that I took from the couch, hoping we’d be able to use it as a prop. I wish she’d look at me.

“If you want,” I say, “we could hang out a bit first—maybe get Chinese?” I watch her, still fingering the cushion fringe.

“I’d rather just get started. I brought this too,” she says and out of one of her army coat pockets, she pulls an eye shadow kit.

I’m overcome by this kindness. I’m about to say, Yes! Thank you, but she looks up at my eyes. “Wait, is that . . . Are you still wearing what I put on your eyes, like, a week ago?”

“No,” I say, even though it is. “This is just my stuff,” I tell her now. “I was just experimenting. Before you came.”

“Oh,” she says. “Well it looks good like that. You should just leave it. Unless you want me to touch it up?”

Now it feels like too much to ask.

“Oh, no, that’s okay. I mean, if you think it looks good like this . . .”

She’s staring at me, blinking. I realize she’s waiting for me to get going. I go get changed without her help, without her consultation. It all feels like drowning.

“So where do you think I should stand?” I ask her when I come back.


“I was thinking here?” I say, gesturing toward the space between my bookcases and my CD towers, beneath my print of The Scream.

After she gives me a very slight nod of her head, I arrange myself in my chair and crane my neck as far forward as possible while letting my hair fall in front of my face.

“How do I look?” I say, without moving my lips.

“Like Cousin Itt in mourning. Might try moving your hair out of the way. Also, smiling.”

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