Warning: disturbing content.
She walked because she wasn’t allowed to dance. Back when she’d still thought of herself as a dancer, she had spent hours dancing, every day. She wasn’t a professional, but it made her feel alive. The first time she had fainted had been during a weekend intensive. Years ago now. After that she’d started fainting regularly, sometimes in the middle of a jump, usually at the end of a difficult class. All the classes she took were difficult, and she found it harder and harder to keep up. She felt light and strong but her feet — or her head — betrayed her. It had been a year since she’d been allowed to dance. She was too weak, they said. She had ignored them for a long time, but then they had notified her dance school, and she’d been refused. The owner himself had come to the door, regretfully. His eyes were full of a pity that made her stare at his chest instead of his face, and she didn’t go back. Of course she tried to dance at home, in front of her floor-length mirror, but her studio apartment barely fit her single bed and her bookshelf, and her heart stayed empty.
So she walked. There was a park at the end of her street. She walked under the birch trees, where the teenagers gathered to smoke. They paid no attention to her. She passed by the playground, which was filled with kids of all ages whose favourite past-time seemed to be screaming as loud as their lungs would allow. She curved past the football field, usually claimed by a barking dog whose owner disliked leashes. The next section of the park, with the benches, made her uncomfortable. They were occupied by young men in ragged clothes who gaped at her, or old men in tattered hats who were too polite to stare but examined her with sidelong glances. She avoided both sets of gazes. They looked at her body and she wanted to scream at them, “It’s not real! It’s fake!”
She had lost her job last month. She had lost most of her friends, because they looked at her body with fear. They, too, knew that this wasn’t her. She circled around the park. Sometimes there were mothers by the playground, chatting animatedly while watching a screaming kid, and those were the worst. Their heads drew together and their voices dropped to a whisper as they stared. She looked away. She hissed, “This isn’t me.”
It had been a long time since she’d even tried to dance in front of her mirror. Instead, every night, once she was too exhausted to walk, she undressed and stood in front of it. She examined the body in the reflection. She pulled at her skin. It was still too loose, too big. She just needed to lose a bit more weight, make it a bit tighter, and the world would see the real her, instead of this awful disguise.