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Authors: Paula Bomer

Inside Madeleine

BOOK: Inside Madeleine
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ALSO BY PAULA BOMER

Nine Months

Copyright © 2014 by Paula Bomer

All rights reserved.

This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity and are used ficticiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

“Eye Socket Girls” first appeared in
Girls: An Anthology
(Global City Press), “Breasts” first appeared in Everyday Genius, “Reading to the Blind Girl” first appeared in
Storyglossia
, “Down the Alley” first appeared in
New York Tyrant
, “Cleveland Circle House” first appeared in
Fiction
, “Pussies” first appeared in
Night Train
, “Two Years” first appeared in Nerve, “Inside Madeleine” first appeared in
The Literary Review

Published by
Soho Press, Inc.
853 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bomer, Paula.
[Short stories. Selections]
Inside Madeleine / Paula Bomer.
p. cm
ISBN 978-1-61695-309-6
eISBN 978-1-61695-310-2
1. Short stories. I. Title.
PS3602.O653I67 2014
813′.6—dc23 2013045386

v3.1

For my mother

“I don’t think there is an uninteresting person alive.”

—Lisa Yuskavage

contents
• eye socket girls •

I
DON

T WANT TO JUMP OUT ANY WINDOW
.
I just want to breathe something that makes me feel like living. They pump the air in here out of machines. It stinks like Play-Doh. Open a window, please—I won’t jump—I’m not a suicide patient. I just don’t eat.

My neighbors don’t eat either. Eye socket girls. Nurses drag them with their IVs to the scale. Some girls get weighed once a day, others, two or three times. Liquids pump into our bodies through plastic tubing, adding pounds to our emaciated frames. We don’t like the pounds. We look voraciously at one another. We envy the protruding bones of someone who is that much closer to not being here at all.

You may think that I don’t know I’m emaciated. I know every curve and angle of my rib cage. I know my breasts have disappeared completely and my nipples lay flat against my chest. I am aware that the new girl has hair growing out of her face. This girl’s body sprouts hair like moss on a tree stump, everywhere, to keep itself warm, to protect itself.
I know about these things. I’m aware of the effects of my disease.

It started with sesame seeds, one by one. I rolled each one between my forefinger and thumb, and then I placed it on my tongue. Salt and oil. Nuttiness. I counted each one. I counted how long I rolled each seed greasily between my fingers. Ten seconds to roll. Ten seconds in the mouth. I ate seventy-four seeds that day. It became my thing. My personal toy. I counted sesame seeds for the rest of the year.

Now this hospital is exerting itself on me. It’s like a muscleman on top of me. It’s attempting to take away my grip on life. I count the seconds and minutes from when I wake up to when the nurse does her rounds in the morning. I count the seconds and minutes I visit with Dr. Johansen every Saturday morning. I count the seconds and minutes it takes me to eat my meals.

Yesterday they brought in the new girl. The one I mentioned. She looks young, maybe sixteen, but it’s hard to tell. Where’s she been hiding I wonder? She’s so wasted away she can’t really stand up. Her skin is blue-green, veins throbbing, screaming for oxygen. They pushed her by me in a wheelchair, a hospital gown draped over her, an oxygen tank rolling along side of her. She is the Master of all Masters. Down boy, she says to her screaming veins, down! I’ll let you know when you can eat.

She has a tiny bit of blond hair on her head. I bet at one time it was thick and shiny, falling in cascades down her back. Now it falls out in handfuls. Bald patches on her scalp. Her face and arms are furry, though, with dark, fine hair.

They haven’t made her get up and go to the scale this morning. They just keep her in bed, IVs galore floating life back into her body. Poor thing, she’s too wasted to protest. But once she regains some strength, I bet she’ll be a contender. She seems blessed with stamina. I never made it that far. Not yet at least. I count how often they check on her and for how long. They’ve checked her three times this morning, at half hour intervals.

Here in the ward, we outnumber them. They may walk around with charts and fancy white outfits, but we’re all starving to death. Sure, the IVs fatten us up for a while, but then we go home. Then we resume life as we know it. Life as a battle of will. And we’re winners.

That’s why people fight us. No one likes to see a young girl win. We’re supposed to be nice, well-behaved things. Pliable, fearful things that cry a lot, especially when we have our periods. I don’t get my period anymore. I haven’t bled since I was fourteen.

It happens in high school. Other girls start losing all their power—other girls start only caring about boys—they get fat and self-conscious, their grades slip. They hang out with each other, stuffing their faces with Twinkies and chips. They lie around, watching movies, saying oohh, I wish I was Winona Ryder. She’s so skinny.

They become shy and don’t talk much in class. When a teacher calls on them, they giggle and don’t know the answer. They’re too busy dreaming about being a movie star. Dreaming about an ass they’ll never have.

Not me. I’ve never lost power. In high school, I got straight A’s. I ran on the cross-country track team. I had the lead in every play, I ran the student council, I tutored the learning disabled, I did everything and then some. At home, I came in when I wanted, I bought all the clothes I wanted, I wore all the make-up I wanted.

And I fucked any guy that I wanted. I fucked the quarterback, the editor of the school paper, and the richest guy in the entire school. I count every bite of every thing I eat. I had a notebook for a while, where I wrote it all down. Half an apple. Two bites of toast. What can I say? Self-control doesn’t begin to describe my power.

Oh, here they come again to go check on the new girl. Cute thing.

All the nurses have sober, professional expressions. The doctor’s in a hurry. The bitchier the face they make, the worse off the girl is. They’re close to smiling when they come by my bed. I’m fit as fiddle. I’m nearing release day. This girl—they all have post-enema expressions when they return from visiting her. I know what they’re thinking. They think, she has everything in the world and she starves herself like a third-world victim. She has gold jewelry and a dad on the stock market and this is her thanks. Fool, they think. She deserves to die.

As soon as she gets better, I’ll befriend her. As soon as she starts getting weighed regularly, they’ll have to pull her and her IV along, right past my bed. We all look at each other here. She’ll notice me. She’ll notice my age. I’m twenty, but
I look older. She’ll look at me and see herself in me. She’ll think, am I going to look like that ten years from now? Curiosity will get to her.

I wonder what her name is? The nurses won’t tell me. I ask them, I say, hey nurse, what’s the new girl’s name? I say, hey she’s cute. They sneer at me. But I know it. Yeah, I don’t need their help. It’s something pretty. A flowery name like Melissa or Allison. Something WASPy and clean. Let’s call her Melissa. Melissa oh Melissa.

I walk to her bed. She’s still weak and I’m as thick as a horse. It’s late, maybe two in the morning. She’s awake, waiting for me. Her eyes shine in the dark like doe eyes, wide and wet, her pupils dilated. I sit next to her on the bed because there’s lots of room. We talk late into the night. I tell her she’s beautiful. She confesses to having taken handfuls of laxatives, day in and day out, without eating a thing. I slip my hand under the covers. Her hand comes crawling up to mine, quick and bony, like a beetle. I grab it—hold onto her dry, scaly hand. And that’s it. We just hold hands for a while. That’s all.

You see, everyone has her story. She confesses it to you, crying like a spanked child, mouth all distorted like a baby’s. Her eyes sear you when they look at you, nestled eyes in the skeleton of her face. Her eyes plead for more punishment, more discipline. We’re all dying for the whip, each and every one of us. We crave it.

I look at the clock. Here come the doctors, off to visit my Melissa. I count each second they stay with her.
Cheer up
, I
want to yell at them as they walk by. They’re walking by rather quickly now, scowling. What are they in such a hurry for? Here they come back again, off to fetch some fancy equipment it seems. What is this girl up to, I wonder? Does she bite them when they try to touch her?

Oh Melissa, you’re mad, I know, but you’re beautiful. You need me. Ignore the doctors. Push away those nurses. Let me be your one. Let me touch your heart, straining your cavernous chest. Let me push down on it with my fists, let me push your heart out, let me push. Here they come with her. Wheeling her past me. So fast. The whole floor’s buzzing.

They can’t save her.

But I can.

• breasts •

L
OLA
S
PENCER HAD THE SORT OF BREASTS THAT DEFINE A WOMAN
.
They were gorgeous perfect things, pink-nippled, sized like cantaloupes, firm and white. They were big and she was small. The rest of her existed to accentuate her breasts; her hips were narrow, her waist a tiny circle, her little pale legs ended in child’s feet. Her head was small and heart shaped, her features pale and slightly receding. Indeed, it was as if every other part of her got out of the way to make way for her breasts. Yes, Lola’s breasts were the sort of breasts that made a girl feel special, feel as if she were not destined for an ordinary life. When she was sixteen, she dropped out of high school and took a bus from Detroit to New York City.

It was 1986, and it was the end of June. New York was a shithole; the filthy stench of summer had begun to descend. When Lola got off the bus at Port Authority, she grabbed her duffel bag and the fake white patent leather clutch purse that she’d held primly in her lap the whole ride, and with these two worldly possessions, she snaked her way through the dark
tunnels until she managed to take an escalator up to the street. The sun slapped her face with a hot hand, and the air was rich with the fumes of urine and car exhaust. She blinked and froze. Large people, loud people, people towering over the tiny Lola, were walking and running and standing and screaming and going in every direction. Blindly, she marched forward. She had the address for a YWCA, but she also had other ideas. Vague ideas, but ideas nonetheless.

She had five hundred dollars in her white clutch purse. She’d made the money rather quickly, working the drive-through at a McDonald’s in Detroit, where her enormous chest strained against the polyester shirt of her uniform. Occasionally, she popped a button, and the white lace of her cheap bra would sneak out. There had been an older gentleman who came every morning for an Egg McMuffin. He drove a beige Cadillac, and when his window rolled down with the touch of a button, the smell of leather and cologne wafted up to Lola. It was the best smell Lola had ever smelled. It smelled of money, but of something else, too. He thanked her solemnly and gave her a dollar tip. And in those two words, “thank you,” and in his dark eyes and dark skin and hair, she sniffed something very exotic, very foreign. The dollar tip turned to five and soon enough, she couldn’t wait to hear his voice in the telecom, asking gruffly for an Egg McMuffin. She’d unbutton her uniform just a little, and she’d wet her thin little lips. The months went on and at Christmas, he said his thank you, his voice thick with appreciation, and gave her two one hundred
dollar bills. She never saw him again, but by the end of June, yes, she had five hundred dollars in her purse and was on her way.

BOOK: Inside Madeleine
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