Courage. The word echoes through my head, calming me, numbing me. The cold tile floor draws all heat from my body. I lean forward and rest my head against the smooth ceramic toilet lid. Breathing deeply, I steel myself to do what must be done.

“Don’t be weak.” hisses Ana. She sits primly on my bathroom counter; an extraordinary beauty in an ordinary room. Her blond hair flows in waves down her back and her baby blue eyes appraise me with a glare. “You’re being weak.” she states casually, but the disgust in her voice shames me. I turn a deep red; my face burns at the way she stares at me. I cannot meet her gaze; I know she’s right.

Ana slips off the countertop then, to take her place in front of me. “You know I would never steer you wrong right?” Her voice is sweet now and her hand; tan, slim and perfect like the rest of her, finds mine. “You can have everything you’ve ever wanted, but you have to trust me.”

I nod. I trust her, because I want what she offers me. I want to be like her, beautiful, perfect; but as Ana always tells me nothing worth having is easily obtained.

I understand, I really do. She is offering me a way to be a better person, and I so badly want to take that chance. I want it so much I will do anything, so I nod at Ana and for the first time since we’ve met she smiles at me. Her smile, it lights up her face and her beauty is magnified tenfold by her pleasure at my acquiescence. Buoyed by this sudden change I am determined to do whatever it takes to ensure she always looks at me with those shining eyes. I lift the toilet lid up and the slight clang of ceramic on ceramic emulates the sound of battle drums. Nerves make my hands shake, but I write it off as excitement; just one more step and I’ll be on my way to beauty.

Ana brings my right hand up to my mouth and slowly, almost tentatively, she drags our clasped hands across my lips which part eagerly. “Good,” whispers Ana, her voice silky soft, her breath caresses my ear and I can hear the smile in her voice, “very good.”

My breathing quickens, soon the disease inside of me will begin to be expunged and I could not be happier. Ana still grasps my hand and edges it inside my mouth, “Now.” she whispers. My breakfast, lunch and dinner all whirl up inside of my stomach, and ascend through my throat. I groan over the toilet bowl as pieces of my ugliness float in the bowl, but the important thing is that they are no longer inside of me.

I stretch and reach for the knob that will swish this evidence of my courage away. I smile sadly as it flushes away among swirling water, but I know that I will do it again tomorrow. I look for Ana, but she has disappeared. She often does, after all she may be my best friend, but she has other girls to tend to besides me. Shaking my head to clear my slight dizziness I stand to inspect myself in my mirror. The glass never gives me a full view of myself; all I can see is my head, neck and shoulders. I grab my pink toothbrush and squeeze a dime-sized amount of toothpaste onto the bristles. As I bring it up to my teeth I reflect on how white the paste is compared to my own teeth.

“Beauty is pain.” I repeat Ana’s motto to my reflection. My mirror image seems to accept that and why shouldn’t it? Everything worth having costs something. I slip out of the bathroom and head quietly for my room. Not that there’s a need to be quiet when my parents are having another of their ‘more important than their child’ business dinners. It’s alright though, I’m used to it. They give me time when they have some to spare. They also never miss a chance to tell me how proud they are of me. I’m the smartest in my class, all my teachers love me and I am popular.

I am the perfect daughter, the kind that never complains, or is nasty. No one knows the real me, except Ana, obviously. She is my only friend. She understands about pressure whether it is peer, parental or social; she is always there for me. She is all I have and I will not lose her.

Those girls at school they frustrate me to an extreme. They are weak, in body and mind. Everyday they buy their lunches and as I appraise their choices I laugh inside as I think of what Ana will say when I tell her. Chelsea always ends up with brownies and pizza; it’s disgusting. Emily brings salads, which are a step in the right direction, but then she’ll take ten steps back when she lathers her lettuce with ranch dressing. Stacey was once like me, she knew Ana, but she couldn’t appreciate what she had; no one can value Ana like I can. I alone sit proud and strong among them. My lunch varies but it never matters, because after I eat I steal into the bathroom. Ana meets me there and I dispose of my daily fare; after awhile I have found I really don’t need much of it. Besides, with Ana giving me that ecstatic smile all the time how could I ever go back to being weak? She is my rock, my strength.

Ana taught me how my body was failing me; how it tricked me into wanting food in order to make me ugly. My body was conspiring against me, but Ana led me through the darkness and into the light. She helped me to triumph over the tumor-like hunger that grows inside of me, trying in vain to plant the cancer of fat inside my body. It will never succeed, not while I have Ana. She will never let anything hurt me; she alone truly cares for me.

I slip inside my room as adult laughter filters through the air. I close the door, my hand brushing the stuffed fox my mother put there weeks ago – I am far from a fox. Far from beautiful.

I am quiet as a shadow and just as slim, but I want to be thinner. Ana has promised me my deepest desires and I will have them. She says she always delivers and I believe her. I would trust her with my life.

I make my way to the full-length mirror that hangs upon my wall next to a collection of lines and notches. A pencil lies on the floor, but I pick it up and stand, back straight against the wall. My right hand traces my side and as I step away I compare. Yes, I smile; I am thinner, much thinner than last month. What a terrific birthday gift!

As I note my age beside the line I hum Happy Birthday to myself, a large smile on my face. I cannot resist adding a happy face beside the marks that lie hidden behind my curtains during the day.

Sophie, age 9 🙂