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Authors: Eisha Marjara

Faerie

BOOK: Faerie
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FAERIE

Copyright © 2015 by Eisha Marjara

U.S. edition published 2016

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any part by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may use brief excerpts in a review, or in the case of photocopying in Canada, a license from Access Copyright.

ARSENAL PULP PRESS

Suite 202 – 211 East Georgia St.

Vancouver, BC V6A 1Z6

Canada

arsenalpulp.com

The publisher gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council for its publishing program, and the Government of Canada (through the Canada Book Fund) and the Government of British Columbia (through the Book Publishing Tax Credit Program) for its publishing activities.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to persons either living or deceased is purely coincidental.

Cover photograph: “Head in the Clouds” by Sally Anscombe (Getty Images)

Cover design by Gerilee McBride

Text design by Oliver McPartlin

Edited by Susan Safyan, Robyn So, and Linda Field

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

     
Marjara, Eisha, author

              
Faerie / Eisha Marjara.

     
Issued in print and electronic formats.

     
ISBN 978-1-55152-619-5 (epub)

              
I. Title.

     
PS8626.A75365F34 2015
      
jC813'.6
      
C2015-903484-1

C2015-903485-X:

Contents

Part One: Pupa

01.
   
Eighteen

02.
   
Problem of Nature

Part Two: Nymph

03.
   
What Big Teeth You Have

04.
   
Grande Dame Madame Nature

05.
   
Twelve and Turning

06.
   
Photographic Solution

07.
   
Hit of Numbers and Nature

08.
   
Don't Stand So Close to Me

09.
   
Homecoming

10.
   
The Heavy

11.
   
Size Zero

Part Three: Metamorphosis

12.
   
Phase Zero

13.
   
Hard Lessons

14.
   
A Measure of Secrets and Loathing

15.
   
Angel of Death

16.
   
Butterflying Woman

17.
   
Gaining Pains

18.
   
Art's Masterstroke

19.
   
Blank Beautiful Slate

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Part One:

Pupa

01
. Eighteen

I had a plan, a wish for my eighteenth birthday. I dreamed of leaving the four walls of the hospital behind and living on the generous offerings of winter, of feeding on snowflakes, melting away the last remaining pounds, and withering into oblivion. The numbers
one
and
eight
were terrifying to me; I could not face them. I couldn't fathom the “hoods” of my future—womanhood, adulthood, and most dreadful, however unlikely, motherhood. No matter how I could or would shrink my flesh, I was helpless to nature's most incredible and cruel weapon: time.

Mid-morning in the middle of February, I paced the hallway—as I had many times before—and counted each calorie I burned. On the hundredth, I stationed my sixty-eight pound, five-foot-three frame in front of the hospital's elevator while all official eyes were elsewhere. When the doors opened, I made my escape.

I darted out the main door, tore across the parking lot, and headed straight for late-morning traffic. I began to sing Whitney Houston's “I'm Every Woman” down traffic-jammed Poirier Avenue, past wide eyes and frozen bodies that watched the spectacle of the emaciated, half-naked humanoid in hospital garb trying to make a dim-witted escape from time. I belted the song from the hollow pit of my stomach, but my vocal chords could only produce ghost words, breathless puffs that dissipated
into the frigid air. I dashed down the sloping road and into a hazy cloud of exhaust fumes that rose into the heavens and into my lungs. Shuffling through the snow, I went deeper into downtown, where I saw zombie expressions on the faces of commuters and shoppers who, for a moment, stood still as I passed them, attempting to weave a story from this incongruent scene. I could feel my heart pound hard against my thorax and my lungs collapse with each exhalation. Ribs pressing into skin. Throat choking for air.

“Can I help you, miss?” I saw a hand extended, an offer of help that drifted into my indifferent ear, possibly from the man waiting for the ever-late number 199 bus. The pale warmth in my flesh drained quickly into a bloodless blue-grey, my limbs slowed and loosened; I was ready to collapse.
Oh, finally,
I thought.
Finally, this is the absolute end.
The end of me, the end of time as I knew it. Then, when the shock of winter penetrated my bones, my mother's face appeared to me. I froze in the memory of her embrace. I was cured of the fatal rules of time and of weight. And then, I was back in time again. I felt my arm nearly ripped from its socket.

“Stop! You stupid girl! Get back here!” The white coats and residents had caught up. They flung my weary body into an ambulance and dragged it into the loneliest room in the hospital. I kicked and screamed all the way back, losing a fairy tale slipper along the way, and feeling completely the crushing pain of my hideous life and my fear of growing up. One lethal tranquillizer in the ass and I was out like Sleeping Beauty.

02
. Problem of Nature

The sting of the injection hadn't worn off. My sunken buttock still throbbed under the bed sheet; a cherry-sized wound stained my underwear with a spot of pink. A hard knot of bluish flesh on my right hamstring felt like a mark of victory for my unheroic attempt to escape Four East. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to end up here. At seventeen, while my classmates were caught up in drunken parties, first apartments, and debilitating crushes, I was determined to die by starvation.

Four East didn't amount to much. It was a hallway of less than 150 feet on the fourth floor of St Catherine's Hospital. A blue sign hung over the double-door entrance like the gateway to hell: psychiatry. In the dim, narrow rooms, three species roamed: a guard of alert and functioning shift-working specialists; a breed of brooding phantoms plucked from homes and streets and sedated into semi-consciousness until retrieved by family and friends and returned to the insanity that had brought them here; and me, the youngest, smallest, lightest, most unyielding one on the floor.

I was a curious sort, a creature that had been misplaced, although I was half-alive like the rest. The remedy was to be a dreadful and complicated concoction of diet, medication, psychotherapy, behaviour therapy, an overdose of reverse psychology, and gentle electroshock when all else failed. I was a nuisance
to the staff and had a reputation as a brat who was butt resistant to any treatment that came my way. At sixty-eight pounds, there wasn't much of me left to treat.

After my escape attempt, staff convened in the nursing station for their daily report, where they declared me “dangerous,” and “in contempt of the rules of the ward.” Dr Messer's prescription was to intensify my behaviour-modification therapy: “Bed rest and solitary confinement for an indefinite period. Meals in the room, bathroom restricted, no visitors, no phone calls, no reading, no writing, no radio, no talking to anyone except staff.” No to everything, except meals, when I had to say “yes” to everything, to every morsel of animal, mineral, or vegetable that came on the tray, for every single meal, every single day. Refusing to eat meant only more “no's” on the long list of restrictions.

Because of my unsuccessful attempt to end it all, I'd been admitted into Four East's inner chamber, the PACU. The Patient Acute Care Unit that Acutely Cared for Units like me.

I awoke in a faded yellow room, one of three in this inner sanctum, which opened onto a small lounge furnished with a dusty couch, a wicker side table piled with faded women's journals from the last century, and a single battered copy of
Catcher in the Rye
scribbled with notes and comments from a bipolar patient turned outpatient whose room I now occupied. A twenty-four-inch RCA suspended from a high shelf overlooked the scene like the eye of god.

Dr Messer put me on bed rest and in “solitary confinement” (as though the company of two other psychiatric patients was going to be excessively social). My door had to remain closed,
except for meal times, and I was not allowed speak with anyone but staff. I was a danger to myself. The worst part was that everything I owned—every book, pen, paper, bottle of shampoo, even my hairpins—had to be locked away. The restrictions imposed upon me made me burn with rage. I could find relief only in acts of carefully executed rebellion.

But I had no weapon with which to fight this losing battle. In a bare room, I had nothing but solemn walls, a creaky bed, a tray table, and a solid wooden door with a small rectangular window through which I could be constantly watched, like a soufflé in the oven. My room's windows opened to the grim inner courtyard facing the E wing. There was a bedpan and a roll of toilet paper. When I needed to go to the bathroom, I had to inform the staff.

On the morning after my attempted escape, I felt drugged and weary until breakfast entered the room in the hands of my new nurse. She was fair-haired, slim, and statuesque. I envisioned Barbie herself, liberating me from these barbaric conditions and about to feed me diet soda and low-fat strawberry Jell-O. Then I noticed that the nurse was not only pregnant but wore a frighteningly stark schoolteacher expression.

“Good morning. I'm Patricia. I'm going be your nurse here at PACU.” With a smile, she dropped the meal on to the tray table and whipped it over my gut. “And
this
is your breakfast.”

“I'm not eating all that.” I flung my arms across my chest.

“Well, then you'll lose more privileges.”

I snarled sarcastically. “What privileges are you talking about? My bedpan or the stunning décor in my room?”

“If you're not going to cooperate, Lila, it's only going make
things harder for you.”

I gave the tray a once-over. “I didn't ask for all this!”

“Excuse me, but you lost that right a long time ago. If you haven't noticed, this is
not
a hotel. You know why you are here.” Nurse “Personality” spun on her heels and walked out the door. It smelled like war to me.

I took careful inventory of the food and mentally computed 750 staggering calories. Add the can of Ensure, and it came to 1,000! I felt a delirious panic and pushed away the tray, unable to breathe. Searching for a way out, a way to do away with the calories, I jumped off the bed and paced in my cubicle like a zoo animal, eyes fixed on the tray, collecting my thoughts, calculating calories. I was meant to be on bed rest, so I returned to bed. But I wanted to fling that tray against the room's hideous yellow walls.

As I stared at the food, I summoned all my resolve to combat the rules. I used old and new techniques, harnessed from months of experience here and at home with Mother. I plastered together two pieces of toast, each holding ninety-calorie pats of peanut butter, folded the bread into quarters, and flattened the slices into a pancake. I stuffed the toast into my underwear, where it would have to remain until I could figure out what to do with it. The blueberry muffin got squashed in my fist, and found a spot in the bony hollow under my left pelvis. (I did well forgoing my bikini panties for ample undies—every decision was marked by my singular and essential mission.)

When a staff nurse looked into my room and asked, “How are you doing?” I chewed on a fictional piece of fruit and nodded. “Fine,” I grinned, and she was gone.

The sixty-five-calorie apple juice could be hidden in the bedpan disguised as pee. I had done away with 390 calories already. After more clever camouflaging and concealing, I calculated that I'd knocked off 420. I ate and drank what remained on the tray. The taste of two-percent milk stuck to my tongue like glue. It contained 130 calories, five grams of fat, and 100 percent rage.

Nurse Personality returned after thirty minutes, took inventory, and made note of the rather surprising outcome. Her eyes scanned mine with a spark of suspicion and she pronounced: “Your snack will be served at 10:30.” She picked up the tray and left, reminding me that I had to finish the can of Ensure before then. I fell back onto my bed, my belly full with food and the tortured feeling that I could've done better to get rid of more.

While on this imposed regime of “bed rest,” however, I kept moving. I squeezed my buttocks and did leg lifts, then sit-ups, then push-ups. I refused to let the calories conquer me.

When the toast and muffin began to irritate my skin, I removed them discreetly. My palms were clammy and my heart raced as I wrapped the neglected breakfast in paper towels and stuffed it under my mattress. I was pleased to have worked up a sweat from the stress of my elaborate routine. I could safely deduct thirty-five calories due to exhaustion.

Later in the day, I heard voices in the hallway. Through the window in the door I saw Nurse Personality, two other staff nurses, and Dr Messer doing morning rounds. They lingered in the room of the patient opposite, Nancy. She was a brilliant and flamboyant woman who suffered from, well, brilliance and flamboyance. I couldn't figure out why exactly she was here, what
mental condition she had. Nancy was a forty-something lady who seemed chatty and highly educated and could switch quickly from masterful communicator to naïve child to oversexed tramp. She was a walking, living contradiction, as perhaps I was, although for different reasons. She'd been on the ward for several years. I began to worry that I would turn into her, if I stayed here long enough.

A curt knock on my door was followed by Dr Messer and his entourage. “Good morning,” the doctor said. He was an elfish man, taut and thick, with reddish skin and thinning hair on a large, shiny skull that he would pat down with a sweaty handkerchief.

Although he was no taller than me, I always had the impression of looking up at him. Or was it because he was looking down at me? He had a way of walking across the room while I talked, his unblinking eyes pinned on me, as if he were mining my thoughts while scrutinizing my every gesture. Then he would stop, stare out the window, deliver a monologue conjured from my own outpourings, and having had the last word, swiftly stride out of the room.

“So? How does it feel to be eighteen?” He stood upright and tense, with his hands in his pockets. I turned away, avoiding his look, trying not to blast him with a sarcastic reply or break down in tears.

“I just turned eighteen yesterday.”

“Yes, of course.” He took a measured step, looking to the floor. “Well, maybe I'll ask you in a few days' time. You will probably know better then, I suppose?” He raised his head. Immediately
his tone became serious. “Why did you run away? What exactly were you running away from?”

“From you. From this place. I can't stand it here!” I trembled and stared at everyone in the room.

“You mean you can't stand yourself.”

“I didn't say that. You did.”

“Two-hundred and ten,” he said. “Do you know what that is?”

I sighed, not knowing where he was going with this. “Three thousand,” I replied. “You know what
that
is? You doubled my calories without even telling me! How do you expect me to eat all that!” The food inside me curdled in a knot of torment.

He didn't flinch. “It's been 210 days. That's seven months, Lila. You've been in hospital for more than half a year. That's how long we've been keeping you alive.” He poked his stubby finger into my collar bone. “You ran away because
you
can't stand
yourself
.”

I felt his breath on my face but said nothing. I wouldn't give him either an angry punchline or a helpless sob of submission.

“Think about it,” he said. “You certainly have the time.”

For the rest of the day, I remained numb in my dull, lifeless cell and opened my mind to the truth: Dr Messer failed to understand that the nature of my problem was not simply weight, calories, or fat. Nor was the problem me, for that matter. It was nature itself, and I would not be defenceless to its power. If I submitted to nature, then what remained? What would I return to? Who would I become?

Just when I thought it was gone for good, the pain from my injection had returned mysteriously, triggered, perhaps, by my family, who had come to visit me in hospital.

My father silently paced across the room with hands clasped behind his back, while my mother stared at me intently. “What are you doing to me, Lila? Don't you want to get well?” she asked. Her eyes appeared sleepless and weary.

All I could say was, “I'm sorry, Mother,” although I knew I would do it all over again. How could I console her? My mother's face had changed since I'd been admitted. It had become gaunt and crumpled. Her relentless eyes searched mine for a glimmer of promise that I would be okay—that I
wanted
to be okay. Her hands reached for my skeletal limbs, pressing and massaging them, as if she were trying to revive a dead body.

Mina was curled up on the vinyl chair in the corner, her feet tucked in, examining her cuticles in silence. My skinny little sister was hardly little or skinny any more. She had blossomed into a full-figured young lady of sixteen with drop-dead good looks, street and book smarts, and a will of steel.

When Mother beckoned her, Mina pried herself out of her chair. She stood over me, looking around the room and then at her hand.

“I brought you chocolate.” Her eyes widened. “Just kidding!” she said as a tear welled up. She rubbed it away. She tucked a glimmering silver bracelet into my fist, saying, “Happy birthday, fatso.” Mina forced a smile, then covered her face with both hands and sobbed.

I lay there silently, a cold corpse, numb to her love. Where had I gone? Who had I become?

Mina wiped her face and looked at me, hurt by my lack of emotion, then covered it quickly with a tense smile. “C'mon, make a stupid wish.”

I closed my eyes and wished I was dead.

BOOK: Faerie
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