by Vonnie Larsson
We have hidden in the bathroom for over twenty minutes. Barbie’s blond hair cascades over my pink plush fabric. I observe her from my seat on the sink. A mist of scrambled eggs and bacon travels through the crack in the door. The smell of breakfast, her sister’s hair mousse and rosebud deodorant sway in a toxic cloud above us. The nine-year-old’s stomach erupts in a rumble. She ignores it. Swiftly, she lifts up her Minnie t-shirt. Judiciously, she inspects every inch of her own reflection. Her belly looks like a deflated air-mattress. Her eyes darken and she slaps the pale skin, an angry red mark lingers around her belly button. Turning on the spot, she takes in her image from the side. She inhales deeply, her lungs wheeze in despair. Her ribcage sinks into a bony C. She whimpers in defeat and strips down to her yellow Mickey Mouse panties. They slouch on her hips. I remember when they wrapped around her proudly and protectively. I wish my hoodie could shield her eyes from the world’s immaculate impersonations.
There is a knock on the door. She covers up her imaginary curves with her pastel floral dress and zips me up. I am five sizes too big and I protect every nook and cranny. I stamp her with a big pink printed Princess; she beams with pride to have an identity.
She is thirteen: waiting for breasts and dreading algebra with Ms. Pills. I lay on her lap, her purple nails sink into my soft fabric. She only wears me behind the tinted windows of her mother’s SUV. I am not chic enough for direct sunlight. She tugs on her white t-shirt and pushes her Audrey Hepburn inspired glasses up the brim of her nose. Today, she opted for a sky-blue eye shadow, ruby red lip-gloss and hot pink rouge. The rattle of cutlery on cheap porcelain muddles her focus. Carefully, she inhales the aroma of crunchy nuggets and steaming fries. Slowly, she sips on ice-cold water. Her tongue flips the straw in her mouth. Her best friend Tracy offers her a crunchy and ketchup-drenched nugget. As usual, it is declined and we leave Tracy.
Far away from smells of nuggets and the noise of rattling cutlery, we lay on a bedspread of flowers behind the auditorium. I rest against her skeletal chest. Petrified, I listen to her beating heart of secrets that should not be kept. If I could, I would vomit her thoughts right out on her lap. Purge, like her best friend Tracy will before algebra. She is lulled into a nugget-dream by the wheels on a bicycle lane nearby.
Her indigo tinted Beetle rolls up to her High School parking lot. Still banished from sunlight, I hide at the bottom of her new leather bag. She is engulfed in a fog of fresh Colombian coffee, No. 5 Chanel, she belts out the last word of a song. A commercial comes on: it begs her to buy diet pills. She takes a deep breath and strolls across campus on stilts of false pride. She is covered with flawless foundation, bronze blush, and lusciously pink lip-gloss. She wears boyfriend jeans, a white tee, and a gray cardigan. Her outfit hides every fictitious curve and she looks like perfection should feel.
The classroom reeks of desperate dreams and skin begging for air-conditioning. The teacher is tangibly trustworthy, rugged yet righteous and enticingly educational. He sneaks a peek at her. His vocabulary, wide dark eyes, and sun-tanned surfer skin has her swooning. She blushes and giggles during the hour and a half of nutrition. She knows the answer to calorie calculation and sugar content. She impresses everyone as she recites beneficial diets and the risk of overeating. I wait at the bottom of her bag as she snacks on roasted nuts. Her lips gratefully engulf a strawberry/melon smoothie, while she sighs in content at welcomed cheese crackers.
The bottom of the pearl white toilet looks like a slushy rainbow. Rumbling, it swallows what she has left behind. Her exhausted body rests against the wooden door. She rolls me up into a ball. Her thumb traces the princess-stamp before her sweaty forehead rests against my plush fabric. On the other side, laughter of optimism bounces on the egg-white USC corridors. She washes her mucus-covered fingers. The floral scent of potpourri hides the intense stench of old leavings. She digs deep into her new bag. Beneath the mascara, lip balm and powder she finds minty floss, mouthwash, and cherry gum. She moves the floss with care and gurgles the mouthwash three times before spitting out the blue liquid in the sink. Her eyes water from minty over-ingestion. The gum explodes in her mouth and she sighs at the tangy splinters of sweetness.
Her “Go Werewolf” bandana glows in lime-green and lemon-yellow. I am neatly folded on the bleachers while she bounces enthusiastically on the concrete. The game is a done deal. She munches on salty popcorn and nachos drenched in melted cheese. The music of victory engulfs the arena. Number 34 runs up to her. She kisses him with cherry breath. She throws me in the back seat of her worn Beetle. He fiddles with the hem of her skirt. She tightens her abdomen muscles and he marvels at her form, despite all those nachos. She beams in sync with the headlights
The harsh light bounces around the petite studio. She stumbles over to the faucet. Unsteady, she hovers over the sink. The cold water plays catch down her face. Patiently, I wait on the coffee table. We occupy a cramped, fully furnished New York studio. It huddles above a Chinese restaurant that also delivers pizza. She spends nights next to the window. It lets in city light, taxi horns and fresh Dim Sum and Calzones.
Tonight, she plunges the blue pills into the depth of her scarred throat. The dry Chardonnay quenches her thirst. She sighs with satisfaction at the lees of apple, lemon, and vanilla. I wish my lethargic arms could tip the glass over her face. Maybe, the sweet droplets would shake her out of yet another funk. Helplessly, I lay folded on the table. Her chest rises and falls in a steady pace. Gradually, her lungs slow down. Soon, her eyelids will cease to flutter and her fingers stop twitching. I am trapped within arm’s reach.
Her body lunges forward, gasping for air, wrapped in my protective embrace. She tugs at me. Tonight, I failed to fend off nightmares and poltergeists. I wish to bow in shame, but arms wrap around us in a warm hug. Powder light kisses smooth out her worried lines. Her lips curve into a smile as she rests back into the soft covers.
She spends thirty minutes in front of the mirror—sticking colorful post-it notes on every corner of the mirror. Two inch letters of love obscure her reflection and she mumbles them silently to the echo of her own breathing. He slaps her bum playfully and whispers words of encouraged passion at the corner of her earlobe. She nods in agreement. He pulls me off her slowly. The printed Princess lands face down on the cold marble floor. Gently, he slips off her protective and perfectly fitted silky black underwear.
I am covered in patches of grimy stains that refuse to disappear, even with the most expensive laundry detergent. I am worn, torn and an utter mess. Two decades have passed and I’m still here, with modification. Above my printed Princess, she wrote, Imperfectly Perfect with a glitter-pen.
Playfully, she bites down on a slice of bagel. She spreads a thick layer of cream cheese on the other half and drops it on her little one’s plate. I have the toddler wrapped up in my embrace. The toddler’s face twists into a scornful pout and she slaps her belly hard. My imperfectly perfect princess wiggles a finger and pulls her daughter to stand with her on the wooden floor. Deliberately, she lifts up her t-shirt: her soft belly slumps over the lining of her jeans. She wiggles her tummy and shakes her bum. The child lifts me up above her head and wiggles her belly. They dance amidst fumes of scrambled eggs, Colombian coffee and bagels in the toaster.
In 2013, Vonnie Larsson jumped from Sweden over the Atlantic to study Communications at Santa Barbara City College. While persuing her major, she took creative writing and script writing classes that re-connected her with her love of writing.