The paunch isn’t visible when she stands up in the tub and looks down, but it is when she turns a little to the left, towards the bathroom mirror. Her upper body feels heavy, not because of its actual weight but because of the weight of her gaze, examining all the crucial aspects of her anatomy, or at least those she deems crucial.
She wonders if she’ll look okay in that dress she’d seen in a store window, a dress she feels she has neither the physical nor the mental attributes necessary to pull off. A good dress requires sass, she recalls someone having told her, and she possesses none. It’s not that she’s self-deprecating, it’s just that she understands to a level exhibited usually only in the solving of mathematics problems. She’s an analytical mind, so to speak.
She can remember the exact moment of her life, down to the exact second, that it became important to her that she look good in a dress. Before that moment, she had adopted an attitude not unlike that those of social deviants, except she harmed no one, and her deviance was restrained to the two feet to every side of her. She had given off a mildly caustic aura, like a two-day-old whitewashed wall. After that moment, she was suddenly consumed by a desire to please, not generally but specifically, and in her desire to do the latter she found herself unwittingly complying with the former. It’s not something she is used to. It’s not something she’s happy about, and how’d she become the girl who makes herself unhappy in the process of attaining happiness?
It used to be something she laughed at, even condemned. Her personality was set in stone, and what a personality it was! Rough, blunt, uneasy, never eager. She’d known it, and she’d brushed off the people who told her what an ugly fact of her life it was. She was a modern St. Benedict, and she knew one didn’t change the what one doesn’t like.
How’d she become the girl who stares at a dress? What she wants is to change the image you have of her, but not her image in itself. What she wants isn’t the dress, but rather the image of her in a dress, safeguarded in your brain’s pleasure center. How’d she become the girl who wants you?
Actually, it isn’t difficult to figure out how, or why. As with many matters, it was mainly about timing. The ticking hidden inside her breast combined with your sudden, impossibly opportune and impossibly coincidental appearance in her life, making you both a welcome and puzzling diversion, one she does not understand but wants to understand with a maddening intensity. You had very little to do with it. How’d she become the girl who could become possessed by your presence, or lack thereof?
It occurs to her that she is reforming herself in an attempt to reach you. It’s an idea she hates, one that makes her plop back down into the bathwater again. She’s going against the grain, she’s going against her principles. She’s knowingly becoming a better person, or rather, putting on an impressive show of one. She’s acting, and while she’s surprised and pleased with her performance, she’s conscious that that’s just what it is: a performance.
No one would have guessed she’d act this way, pulling at her flesh in the bathroom mirror, imagining herself in an infinite series of dresses, each more appealing than the previous one, and the last of which will guide you to her. But then again, no one can be expected to guess the inner workings of a heart. No one can be put to blame, pushed against a wall, seated beneath a solitary light bulb in a darkened room. It’s no one’s fault, not even your’s, even though you’re the catalyst. You go about life, complaining about this thing or that thing, picking up dry cleaning, trimming your nails, unaware of what you have started.
When she stares at the dress, tulle, white, flashy collar, a yearning begins in her head and travels down to her stomach, wallowing, spreading out. It’s inconceivable that this feeling might not make its way into the floor, across several city blocks, into your feet. It’s unimaginable that you do not sense it in the throbbing of your toes, or at the very least your gut, like a far-away molecule feels the rumblings of a chemical combustion. When she looks at her naked body in the mirror, clinically, logically, how can you not lift your head up and realize it, whether slowly or suddenly?
98% of people are stricken by a familiar feeling in their lifetimes, she once read in a magazine article, and she’s horrified to learn that she shares something so personal with just about everyone. It’s supposed to be noble, she’s learnt, unselfish. Unselfish? She’d always been told she only thought of herself, had it thrown in her face by various people on various occasions. She doesn’t think of you constantly, but she thinks of you when it counts. Damn it all, she thinks, damn it all to Hell, what is this crap? And after thinking this she smiles a little, and then more broadly. She’s absurdly pleased to learn that, despite everything, she hasn’t lost her bad habit of cursing.