Box of Mirrors
On the way back from the mirrored walls and
angry-teacher-of-ballet class, she takes the long way around the park
because of the monster. It grows from a tree and hangs to the ground
and bites and chews with large teeth the children it grabs in its
sticky fingertips. Ever since she saw it, she hasn't felt safe in the
park on her own or even with the two slender sisters who dance with
her. It will definitely eat her first.
It isn't very big, the monster, at least not from afar, but it doesn't
have any geometric shape, or a familiar shape or anything. Its outline
resembles the contour of a half-filled plastic garbage bag and it has
thick, gray skin, a dark mouth the size of a baby's head and mean eyes.
Of course she told Mother, but Mother told Father, and they told a
friend, and everyone said she had a lot of imagination.
She offers to take a ballet class on the other side of the park, closer
to home, but Mother insists on this one because the teacher is licensed
by the French Academy and is the best in town; she performs miracles.
And the girl, no doubt, needs miracles. The sisters go there too
because their parents are from South Africa, and people from South
Africa are keen on quality. Mother says this is why so many of them
make something of themselves.
The girl bends forward in class and raises one leg. In front of the
mirror, she looks herself in the eye and feels her uneven body line.
The teacher's reflection points its manicured index finger upwards and
the girl tries but her back curves, her belly sticks out and her
sustaining leg threatens to collapse. She wonders if the teacher will
work her wonder on someone like herself, one of the less favored
pupils. Behind her, the slender sisters each stretch one arm forward
and a graceful leg backward. If she were as light as they or had the
teacher's powers, she might trick the monster. Perhaps she should try
She passes the trees that surround the park then tries to cross it the
way she used to, as if it's nothing. If the two sisters hadn't
mentioned a shapeless creature and made her aware of the monster, she
wouldn't have become terrified and crossing would have been easy, so
why not pretend she knows nothing? But her mouth and throat are so dry,
she is so parched she runs out of the park to find a tub of water. When
she cries with frustration and says she doesn't want to dance any
longer, her mother says gruffly that it's because she isn't a good
enough dancer yet.
In her mother's perfume bottle (called Chanel 5), she mixes pepper with
alcohol to spray the monster if it attacks her. After the ballet,
however, she has a fight with the sister who called her 'fat'. The girl
knows she's too fat, although Father says she is beautiful and just a
little round, and Mother says that slimming down only takes exercise.
When the sister says the word, the girl feels fatter than ever. She
pulls the sister's hair and sprays her with pepper and alcohol, not in
the eyes but in her stupid flat belly. Then she runs all the way
around the park. The spray is gone, the monster is waiting, and the
other sister is chasing her.
She invites the slender sisters to her birthday party, anyway, and they
show up, pretty as ever. They join the circle of the girl's friends and
watch as a magician puts a rabbit in a box, makes it disappear, and
brings it back. Afterwards, when the girl blows out the candles, she wishes
to quit ballet and learn magic instead. She knows the box isn't really
magic—it's simply a box of mirrors—but she wants
one of her own. She knows the monster will slip into it, face
reflections of its ugly fat self, stop eating, and vanish.
This miracle she covets.
Born and raised in Israel, Avital Gad-Cykman now lives in Brazil. LIFE IN, LIFE OUT, a collection of her flash fiction, is out from
Detail of art on main page courtesy
of Steve Loya.
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