The girl watched her pet fish Miss Susie swimming around in dumb circles under the tank’s feeding door. Oh hell, the girl thought, you’re always fucking hungry, aren’t you? She opened the feeding door and dropped in a pebble of fish food. Tsk.
The girl started by taking notes, and these notes became increasingly meticulous. She had a 5” by 3” purple notebook with butterflies at the corners that her mother had bought her to use as a diary.
“Write anything you want in it, darling,” she’d said to her, “your secrets are safe in here.”
The girl would start a new page every day:
Bagel with cream cheese for breakfast: bagel 230 calories, cream cheese 120 calories. Total: 350 calories.
Morning coffee: coffee 10 calories, liquid vanilla flavoring 90 calories, milk 18 calories. Total: 118 calories.
Lunch with friends: avocado sandwich 420 calories, side of fries 180 calories, Italian soda 220 calories. Total: 820 calories.
4:30 p.m. snack: apple 90 calories, yogurt 92 calories. Total: 182 calories.
Dinner added up to 720 calories yesterday, 672 calories today.
Eventually, she was taking down grams of carbs, grams of added sugars, grams of sodium, grams of saturated fat.
The girl quickly realized how easily everything added up. Just as quickly, she became obsessed with the numbers; reducing them became a game she had to win.
No more cream on the bagel until there was no bagel at all. No more sugar in her coffee, no more milk in her coffee. Besides coffee, only water. No more lunch with friends, or when she couldn’t avoid it, she’d tell them she wasn’t hungry.
10 bites per meal.
8 bites per meal.
4 bites per meal.
A spoon of plain fruit or veggies whenever she’d get hungry. Water whenever she was still hungry. Ice chips whenever water wasn’t lying well enough to her stomach.
“I’m just not hungry. I already ate. Maybe I’ll get something later, okay? I’m fine, you go ahead.”
One day, when the girl was watching Miss Susie swimming about, she noticed the fish’s protruding belly and decided Miss Susie ought to join her. Look at your stomach, she thought, how obese! Yes, you better get in shape with me. The girl figured: eating a bit less for a while wouldn’t hurt Miss Susie. She looked so fat after all.
She started feeding Miss Susie three pebbles every morning and night, a bit less than the four to five pebbles morning and night that the label on the bottle of fish food recommended. Then it became two pebbles twice a day. Then it became one pebble twice a day. Eventually, she was feeding Miss Susie one pebble once a day. Well done, Miss Susie, she thought.
Meanwhile, the girl kept reducing her numbers until the pages of her notebook were emptier than they were full. But she still didn’t feel like she had won yet.
On days when she broke her morning vows of eating less and ate an extra bite, drank an extra sip, she’d cry in the corner of her room, the corner farthest away from her door so that no one would hear, no one would ask. She’d turn off the lights, hope they thought she was sleeping. She’d dig her fingertips into her thighs, pushing, pushing, pushing, deeper into her thin skin. It’d only take a little to reach the bone.
“Stupid bitch. You just had to eat all that, didn’t you? You couldn’t wait? Fat ass. Fat ass. Fat ass.”
After a while, Miss Susie’s protruding gut had sunken inward, revealing the faint impression of thin ribs underneath her pale flesh. Her stomach had retracted so much that you could see a minute bulge where the guts and organs and feces were squished together inside.
Miss Susie had acquired a habit of swimming around the tank’s feeding hole, occasionally running into the sides of the tank. She’d do this for hours. Whenever the girl saw this, she’d frown and tap the glass. “What the hell is wrong with you? Hungry? Suck it up, you ugly thing. I’m doing this for you.”
The girl, too, acquired her own habit. She would lock the door and stand in front of her mirror and strip down to nothing but a pair of panties. She’d trace her protruding hips with her eyes, stare at the sharp tips of her elbows, knee caps, ankles, and wrists. The girl would run her fingers along her ribs: 1, 2, 3, 4 … She’d count them over and over again. And she could now wrap her thumb and index finger around her wrists and ankles. She’d do it every morning and night to check that nothing had changed. Well done, she thought, keep it up.
One morning the girl got up and clicked on Miss Susie’s tank lamp. Miss Susie was floating on the tank floor, just barely touching the green and pink aquarium pebbles. The fish looked stiff and a pinkish white. Her spine was arched, with her head and tail slightly pointing upward. Her mouth and eyes were open wide, looking stunned.
The girl figured Miss Susie was just sleeping, so she held the sides of the tank and shook it back and forth a couple of times, but Miss Susie only swayed gently against the tank floor.