Thursday, 6 May 2010

Short Story: Dysmorphia


I’m looking down at myself and coming to an uncomfortable conclusion. Can it be true? Surely it can’t. But no, there’s no doubt about it. I’m dead. My soul is leaving the building. I am in the process of becoming the dearly departed.

It’s deeply disappointing, it really is. I was on my way to a party. I’ve been looking forward to it forever. I even bought myself a new dress. It’s a wrap dress from Monsoon, and I can’t afford it, but it’s been years since I bought new clothes. It’s ruined now. The story of my life. The story of my death.

Janine is throwing the party. I love Janine. She has the telephone next to mine at work, and when she talks down it she sounds like Margaret Thatcher. She’s from Bradford. I don’t know why she thinks sounding like Margaret Thatcher is a good idea, but she always does it. Good arf-ternoon. Might I trouble you for a moment of your time? Thanks awf’ly. She swears people are less likely to put the phone down on her. She does get fewer hang-ups than the rest of us.

Hang-ups. I had plenty of those in life. Body dysmorphia, Janine calls it. I see fat everywhere: face, tits, belly, arse, thighs. Look at me, lying there. There isn’t a part of me that isn’t covered in a thick layer of blubber, like a beached whale.

I wonder when they’ll find me? I wonder if they’ll find me? They must do. I’m not particularly well hidden, here behind the Maharaja of India. And when they do, I guess they’ll take me to the hospital morgue and lay me out on a slab and take off my Monsoon dress and wash the blood off. I won’t be clean. My dirt is too deeply ingrained. You’d need more than a bit of soap and water. What is it they do to whales? Flensing. I should be flensed. Peel off layers of skin until I’m as clean and white as a fresh maggot. All the marks and bruises gone, left on the foul old skins that are dropped in the corner like a wrinkled pile of used condoms.

It wasn’t only body dysmorphia. You could say I have – had – mind dysmorphia, too. Too stupid, too slow, too ignorant. Couldn’t even learn how to fold laundry, or lay a table, or cook a blue steak. Thirty seconds each side, was that so hard? But every time I lose count and it’s not right. It’s always overdone and Michael has to show me again. He likes showing me what a stupid tart I am. Stupid tart, he’ll say, and show me. Show me how to fold laundry, cook a steak, wash dishes. How to take it, how to give it, how to suck, blow, come, go. Very controlling. Very controlling indeed, come to think of it.

Never mind. It’s all over now. It doesn’t matter that I’m lying with my legs spread like slabs of beef, my eyes glazed, unmoving. Frigid as a nun. As exciting as a tax return. A dead horse, a useless lump, enough to turn anyone off, like touching an iceberg, fat cow, dog, minger, troll, stupid piece of shit, not fit for the gutter. He was wrong about that. I look quite at home in the gutter; quite peaceful, actually, with my hair spread out in a chestnut halo and my palms raised in surrender.

Life dysmorphia. Is there such a thing? Shouldn’t I know, now I’m dead? Shouldn’t there be a blinding flash of enlightenment? It seems unfair that I’m still confused. Still, since when did fairness have anything to do with anything?

Christ, maybe that was it. Maybe that was my blinding flash of enlightenment. I really hope not. I really hope there’s more to the meaning of life than what my mother used to tell me: Life’s not fair. Get over it.

Look at me. Look how small I am. What endless misery there was, bound up in so small a vessel. My misery seemed like a world in itself: vast and inescapable. And there I dwelt. There I wallowed. There I rotted. And in the end I’m just a little thing, taking up barely any space at all behind the blue skip full of wasted Indian food. My feet and hands are especially small. When we first met, Michael used to kiss my fingers; light kisses, like butterfly wings. He called them ‘delicate’. He said I smelled of petals. That’s what he called me. Petal. He didn’t specify which petals. He wouldn’t know anything about flowers. He ripped up my Sea Holly and composted it. I cried to see it all uprooted, rotting away. He told me it made sense I’d like something that ugly and prickly. I did like it because of its prickliness, but I don’t understand how he could think it ugly. At dusk, it glows. It’s jagged and rough, but nothing dims that luminescence.

I don’t know when Michael kissed my fingers for the last time. I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision, or if he just gradually lost the desire. Probably, one day, he went to take my hand and saw fingers like fat grubs, wriggling and reaching and wanting. It would put anyone off. I was so greedy. I wanted things all the time. I learned not to ask after I went dress shopping and Michael slammed my fingers in the car door. He was sweet afterwards; sat with me in the hospital waiting room, held my other hand. He even said I could keep the dress, but it made me look fat so I took it back. It didn’t make me look fat. Fat made me look fat.

Of course! That was the last time. We were sitting in the waiting room and he lifted my broken hand to his lips. He kissed the fingers, even though they were all twisted and blue and had blood under the nails. He didn’t say it, but I knew he was sorry. I don’t know what was wrong with me when I was alive. I don’t know why I couldn’t learn how not to make him angry. Then again, I couldn’t even count to thirty. I couldn’t do anything, really. I couldn’t cook, clean, or lose weight. How hard is it to lose weight? It’s just laziness and greed. Better off dead.

No. Don’t think I’m glad I’m dead. I’m not. I’m truly, deeply pissed off about it, because it’s all been for nothing. I’ve done nothing. My life is nothing. There it is, splayed out in the gutter amongst the blood and filth, and there’s nothing more I can do about it. All that sorrow and struggle, all that desperation over such a little thing. What does it matter? Does anything matter? Why don’t I know? Where’s my enlightenment? This really isn’t fair.

And now everything’s getting a little hazy. Nothing’s been made clear to me and now it’s all disappearing. I’m still looking at my body, looking at the scarlet mess of my chest and the whiteness of my skin, but I’m starting to change. To separate. To dysmorph. I’m becoming something else. I don’t know what. I don’t know whether I want to, but I don’t suppose it has anything to do with me.

God, is this it? Is this really all I’m leaving the world: a shattered body and a bloody Monsoon dress? I should never have said I’d go to Janine’s party. Michael was right. In the end, I couldn’t survive on my own. The streets are dangerous for women like me. There are maniacs on the loose. Maniacs with kitchen knives you bought them for Christmas. That fucker. I’d be furious if I wasn’t dysmorphing.

I wonder what they’ll say at my funeral? Dearly departed, we are gathered here today in the presence of these witnesses to celebrate the death of

I think I’m confused.

I’m floating. Light as a feather at last.

I’m going. This is really it. I’m getting thinner and thinner. Departing. And I can see, I can see everything: the sloppy Indian food in the skip and the body behind the skip and the blood running and mixing with the dirt and rain water and the young Indian waiter in the white shirt opening the door and his cigarette and his beautiful hand and the curling white smoke as soft and insubstantial as me, as me, as whatever I am, and the turn of his head, and it doesn’t matter if he sees because it’s beautiful it’s all so beautifully pointless and I was alive and that’s enough and I’m leaving and I’m clean. I’m clean. I’m so clean.