Short story by Dafna Feldman
You’re So Hot
“You’re so hot, just don’t get fat.”
That’s all he had to say for her to drop from a size thirty-eight to a thirty-four. One casual sentence, from a temporary man in her life, was enough to put her posterior brain stem cells into survival mode and participate in the “Hunger Games.”
She looked at herself in the mirror, naked as the day she was born.
The thighs parted, the kneecaps protruded, the superfluous skin marks left around a scar from three caesareans, and the shoulder bones that protruded. Her only regret was about her breasts, which, once emptied, as if out of revenge for her revulsion of them, though they had fed her three sons, were wilted like crumpled plastic bags.
She has no explanation of why and how it started, only possible occurrences, when she realized that her body was forming, rounding and developing into a woman’s body. Like the time, on that cool evening of late summer, in the parking lot between the houses of Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood, in Jerusalem. Ruth Shriki was the first to notice.
“One, two, three –Red light.”
The children advanced and then froze in place.
Ruth turned and suddenly pointed at her.
“Look, she has boobs.”
The bottle-green tight-fitting turtleneck revealed two small hills, and nipples erect from the cold. She does not even remember whether they laughed at her or not, but from that day on she began slouching and wearing oversized shirts, to hide the two growths. From the age of thirteen the weekly ceremony began. The family would sing verses for the Sabbath, and she would go to the bathroom, pad the inside and outside of the toilet, and under the auspices of “Rest and Joy, Light to the Jews” release everything that had previously polluted her. She always hurried back before the solo, which was always reserved for her since her childhood: “And Rebuild Jerusalem the Holy City Soon in our Days.” It was a routine she developed in defiance to God, or so she believed at the time. The regular Sabbath evening stew, which included chicken soup and a decapitated chicken garnished with Brussels sprouts, zucchini and potatoes, represented religion in her life and every Friday she consumed and released it.
“What a waste of food.”
The old lady at the café gave her a look of disgust and turned around. Since then she made sure to check the restrooms at every restaurant or club. She found that in clubs it was easier, since anyway everyone vomits or fucks or does drugs in there, so the restrooms are always in a horrific state. She dreamed that she was cutting off her breasts with a machete and the doctors had no choice but to finish the job. Then she could finally burn bras and straighten her shoulders. How she envied the bony, flat-chested, and thin, and loathed those who were “full in the right places,” who were spineless in her eyes.
She has no explanation of how and why it started, just as she could not explain the code words that caused her limbic system to open her legs, or to stop eating. Like on that humid summer night of July on the kibbutz, in the Beit She’an Valley, when they went out to the yard in front of the club house after a stormy group meeting about the finding of marijuana in one of the rooms.
“Let’s stop playing games.”
He told her, after accompanying her to the girls’ housing on the kibbutz, on the pretext of a conversation between counselor and youth group member. Only then did those electrical signals ignite, that heralded: “Trapped when you thought he was the fatherly and caring counselor.” But once caught unprepared, it took no more than a fraction of a second for her to lie on her back and cooperate, to be or not to be. The dark spots under her eyes worried her, until she went to the kibbutz clinic. Nurse Sima took one look at her face and asked:
“Do you bend over a lot?”
She did not return to the clinic. For some reason she did not link the black spots under her eyes to the urgent visits to the bathroom. A friend suggested several days of fasting because it is known that the stomach shrinks and then requires much less to become satiated. Thus the food consumption decreased, and with it the size of the pants and bra. She realized that the only way to stop expelling was to stop consuming, and it worked fairly well. Because once she decided that its whole purpose was existential only, and that food is not compensation or comfort, there is no need or what to vomit. Even the hunger cramps were, in her eyes, a pain of worthwhile suffering, and overcoming it was a success, but not for long. The solution came at college in Jerusalem, in the course Introduction to Sociology. The lecturer screened a documentary on “adolescent deviations”, in this case eating disorders: bulimia, anorexia, and laxative addiction. The students were horrified and a whole discussion on the subject ensued. She was just waiting for class to end, to go out to the neighborhood pharmacy and buy laxatives, all the while asking herself: How had she not thought of that before?
“Without me you would have nothing,” said the boss, not before locking the door and turning off the light. The information permeated rapidly, sending the order to receptors to move the body parts according to the code. And because of this, the mind disconnected itself from time and place, disconnecting from what she was in the world. She is not the daughter of, or girlfriend of. Neither is she herself, not the one familiar to her. Looking at herself from the side, watching the actress playing the role of “the one who without him would have nothing,” waiting for the moment it would be over and she could shove her fingers down her throat to purify herself. Because she has declared herself a “conscious patient”, she made sure to perform blood tests frequently, making sure that all the nutrients fit into five hundred calories per day, counted down to the last calorie. Happily, the menstrual cycle did not stop, and under the canopy stood a pregnant bride weighing ninety-two pounds. Fate had it that she carried two in her womb, and when she was thirty-four weeks pregnant, ribs broke in her back from the weight of the fetuses.
She has no explanation how and why it started, or what turns on the electrical signals that send her directly to the purification ceremony. Maybe it’s certain words, or a sequence of words that work like the opening of a safe. Four words, four numbers. Like the night, in the Alegria Hall at Bilu Center, celebrating her fiftieth birthday.
“My wife only improves with time,” he said, holding her slender waist proudly, in front of dozens of guests cheering in agreement and drinking in her honor. Half a century had passed. She wandered among the guests, playing the role of the perfect hostess. There was a wide smile on her face, which hid her disgust towards her contemporaries, who looked fat to her, due to neglect or menopause, while happily stuffing themselves with mountains of dumplings and petit fours. She could not be like them, accepting the excess weight of life with acceptance or love, and enjoy food and finish to the last bite.
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…”
She hummed to herself and decided to take a slice of her birthday cake, promising herself she would relish it and finish it all. She recalled how two years before, she was dressing in the changing room of the gym. A gaunt woman in her seventies stood on an electric scale that was next to her and looked around in horror to make sure no one was peeking at the result. She remembered asking herself: Even then? Even when I’m old will it not end? Isn’t there an age when the syndrome just disappears and you can pop into the local pizzeria, and then finish up with ice cream in three flavors with all the toppings?
The black forest cake, which she ordered as her birthday cake, roared in her stomach.
She looked at herself in the mirror, as naked as the day she was born.
The thighs parted, the kneecaps protruded, the superfluous skin marks left around a scar from three caesareans, and the shoulder bones that protruded. Her only regret was about her breasts, which, once emptied, as if out of revenge for her revulsion of them, though they had fed her three sons, were wilted like crumpled plastic bags. She tied her hair in a rubber band, washed the fingers of her right hand and bent down to the toilet.