Scarlett stared at her reflection, and a fragile skeleton stared back. Her liquid brown eyes glided over the stick-thin arms and bony chest, but in her mind’s eye she saw chubby limbs and an overweight stature. This girl in the mirror was her enemy, a persona of an unattractive and obese being. She’d tried. Oh God she’d tried so hard but nothing could ever change the way she was. She was just an ugly misfit in a world of beauty queens.
Scarlett slipped on a crimson dress that hung off her thin frame like a potato sack, and forced her wild curls off her face with a red ribbon. She reached for her cosmetics bag, and clumsily applied foundation to her pallid skin. She brushed a layer of blush on her high cheekbones, inadvertently accentuating the hollowness of her face. A quick dash of blood red lipstick completed her look. Squeezing her feet into painfully high stilettos, she prayed fervently that she could just be normal.
Stumbling down the stairs in those ridiculous shoes, she tried to ignore her ankles’ pleas to be relieved of the excruciating pain. Her pointy heels made two rows of neat holes as she clip-clopped her way across the lawn and towards her father’s car. Plopping herself down on the worn leather seat, she waited for the worst. And before she knew it, the looming entrance to the formal was in sight.
Her eyes took in the myriads of smiling teenagers, the tall handsome boys in smart suits and the slender girls in gossamer gowns. Scarlett hesitantly stepped into the hall, her big brown eyes lingering on those beautiful laughing girls. She couldn’t help the surge of jealousy that rose within her. She quickened her steps, and so failed to notice Melanie Harrison, one of those beautiful girls, watching her.
I saw her walking across the hall, a lone figure. I’d seen her at school before, but couldn’t recall her name. She was the new girl. Scarlett. That was her name. I thought of walking over and introducing myself, but from the way her shoulders are hunched as she walked past everyone, I thought she needed some alone time. The strangest thing was the hush in the crowd as she stepped by. Maybe it was the shock of seeing this ghost of a girl that stunned us all.
Scarlett was assigned a table near the back, for which she was glad because it meant a quick escape. She sat there and watched as the function room gradually filled up with teenagers and the buzz of conversation they brought with them. Eyes careful to hide any emotions, she looked on as her own table filled up with that group of beautiful boys and girls. She even managed a smile at each of them although her insides had turned to jelly.
“Hey Scarlett! Having fun?” asked Melanie Harrison, a smile on her lush red lips.
Scarlett envied how perfect Melanie was. She was just as perfect as the girls from that other nasty school. Scarlett wanted that voice that sounded like silver bells, and that effortless grace and confidence that Melanie had. But she hated Melanie just then. The seemingly harmless question sounded sarcastic and nasty to her ears.
“Yes,” she managed to say, even though that wasn’t the truth at all.
Scarlett looked so forlorn. I guess it’s all part of being the new girl at school. But I wanted her to have a good time tonight; it’s the formal after all. So I chose to sit down in that empty chair next to hers, and attempted to talk. I don’t know what I did wrong. She shook off my hello as though I had insulted her, and recoiled from my compliments as though I had slapped her hard. Sitting next to her I could literally smell her fear. And see the jealousy in her eyes. Is she afraid of me? Jealous of me? But what for?
Scarlett looked away from Melanie then, and was saved from further conversation by the principal’s speech and the commencement of dinner.
The first course was brought out with a flourish, and before her sat a plate heaped with grilled chicken Caesar salad. The sight of all this food made Scarlett a bit queasy, but desperate to appear normal, she followed everyone else and picked up her fork. Spearing a piece of chicken drowned in creamy sauce, she placed it daintily in her mouth. As soon as the taste of the rich sauce touched her tongue, she reeled.
They were there. They always were, those beautiful people that she so wanted to be. Scarlett prepared herself for another attack, clutching her magazines closer to her chest, and tried to keep her eyes on the ground. Needless to say it didn’t work. She was always surprised at how ugly those beautiful boys and girls could become when they sneered at her
The blonde girl, the one with the perfect figure, ripped the magazines from Scarlett’s arms. Her brunette friend, the one with the porcelain face, turned Scarlett’s bag upside down. Little notes she wrote to herself about wanting to be one of the popular and pretty girls dropped out like snow, along with minuscule sketches of her as part that group of beautiful people. They all laughed, their hard mocking laughter spearing through Scarlett. The boy, the one with the sweetest smile, taunted her with names like “fat bitch” between his fits of laughter. And just for good measure, he ground her compact mirror against the concrete with his heel. And then they left, while she stood there amidst a sea of insults, staring at her distorted reflection in the shards of her broken mirror.
Scarlett dropped the cream-stained fork down on her plate with a clang, and left the table in a whirlwind. Stepping into the empty restroom, she locked herself into a cubicle and knelt in front of the toilet. That one bite of chicken was one bite too many, and she needed to get rid of it all. Gathering up her escaped curls, she leaned into the toilet bowl and made herself throw up. Her fragile frame shook with the effort. Bitter bile rose up her throat and flowed out, the only substance that her body could give. She vomited until her stomach felt as empty as her heart.
Wiping her blood red lips with the rough toilet paper, Scarlett stood up and pressed the flush button. She turned to unlatch the cubicle door and stepped out towards the rows of sinks. Lathering her bony fingers with soap, she inadvertently stared into her own eyes in the mirror. And for that flash of a second, she saw who she really was. She saw a frail young woman straining her body to fit society’s expectations. She saw a gaunt pale face with eyes so sad. Huge brown eyes that overflowed with one word. Why?