Strawberry Shortcake

My father was on the porch when I arrived, his face partially obscured by the unruly grapevine sprouting bunches of plump, juicy, black grapes. I am just saying good-bye to Mr and Mrs Neighbour, he said as I clambered out of my car and wandered across the driveway to where they were standing, you’ve met Mr and Mrs Neighbour before, haven’t you? They’ve been over having a cup of tea and some cake.

Mrs Neighbour was holding a plate with a saran-wrapped, half-eaten sponge cake, lathered in cream and strawberries. Mr Neighbour nodded politely in my direction. They both smiled. Eyeing the cake, I stuffed my hands into my pockets and shuffled backwards, fearful that at any moment, it might just magically jump off the plate and become lodged in my throat, forcing me to swallow it.

I needn’t have worried. Dad caught me looking at it and declared to Mr and Mrs Neighbour, Taliah doesn’t eat cake! You don’t get to be that thin by eating cake, do you? He turned to me and beamed.

No! I wanted to shriek, you get this thin by not eating anything! And then, if and ultimately when you do, all you feel is panic and are driven to get rid of it all. Out, at any cost. That is how you get this thin. But you are not worried about any of that, are you? You only care that I am thin.

Instead, I stared at the ground and mumbled something unintelligible.

It had always been that way; I wasn’t even 10 years old before my weight was an allowable topic of conversation at the dinner table or among company.

Don’t eat that, you’ll get fat!
Do you want to be a size 14?
You are naturally going to gain weight more easily than other girls. It’s in your genes.
Do you want to end up looking like __________?

Fill in the blank. The name didn’t really matter; friend, relative, random person on the street. The focus of family festivities was never the company, or even the food, but rather, who had lost or gained weight; as if being overweight was the most deplorable thing someone could be.

Portly Mrs Neighbour broke the strained silence and asked me what diet I was on. I wondered how she would react if I told the truth. Oh, I am on the eating-disordered diet, thank you for asking, and it’s working a treat! In fact, I plan to shrink until my size is in the direct opposite proportion to my level of humiliation right now. I pictured her eyes narrowing, her lips twisting slowly as she looked uneasily from me to my father, trying to work out if I was joking.

But before I could be honest, my mouth moved on its own. I’m not really on a diet, it said, I just make sensible choices. As they left with their cake, I realised that the lies don’t even feel like lies, anymore. Then again, nothing feels like anything. Or, everything feels like nothing.

Would you like a cup of coffee? Dad asked, as I followed him inside.

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