A short-short story
By Lyralen Kaye
Cute. That was how it started. She was adorable, sweet, perfect. Then pretty. Good enough to eat. Round cheeks, blue eyes, dark hair, upturned nose. Strangers held her in their arms. She chortled, gurgled, smiled, played “I’m so big”.
Then she was older. Ten, say.
“You’re so pretty.” Her father’s hand in her hair.
“She’ll break hearts.”
* * *
The world a maze of men’s hands, touching. Hair, face, pinched cheeks, pinched bum, the words: baby fat, who wants to hug a picket fence? The words: come here. Or, go give the nice man a kiss. Or, I don’t know what’s the matter with her today.
* * *
At twelve, thirteen, and fourteen she has no breasts to speak of. Fried eggs on an ironing board, Band-Aids for a bra, slightly larger than mosquito bites, her chest a constant topic of conversation. She does not stuff. She wishes she were a boy.
But she raises blue eyes to her father’s face and asks: for trips, for money, for friends to sleep over, for lobster dinners out, for that pair of jeans, for another ticket to a concert. He gives the girl whatever she asks for.
* * *
Pounds lost and gained. Dates unrepeated with boys she does not like. And then suddenly, at eighteen, she is beautiful. Older men follow her with their eyes. Her body is curved, and she wears cotton dresses, sheaths over the slender planes of her body, and, thinking of liberation, no bra. When she walks down the street, there are whistles, catcalls. Sometimes she smiles, sometimes she clenches her fists.
* * *
At work she is fired twice for refusing to stay after hours. Male teachers give her A’s, then casually mention their private retreats in the mountains, in the desert, by the sea. Her body is cold under their hands. When she climbs on top, she can feel something, hot and heavy as a blow.
* * *
At twenty-five she sues the boss that puts his hands on her body, settles out of court for enough to call it a win. She wears loose clothes, carries mace, goes to marches, pays her own way, sleeps only with women. But sometimes, when her lover calls her pretty, she turns, her eyes a field of accusation and pain. She drifts beyond all reach; she comes back crying. In the world, she watches how she walks, watches how she smiles, trying to erase cute, erase pretty, change the definition of beautiful.