All her life Elle had danced. Her Mum had told her that when she was a toddler she would point her toes, raise her arms over her head and spin until she fell. “You were just like a little sugar plum fairy,” her Mum would always say wistfully. In her head Elle added, “Now you are just like a sugar plum!” Elle knew she was over-weight. She had gone through chubby, big-boned, and even full-figured. The last label was her Nan’s, who liked to think of herself that way even though she was a heavyset woman with swollen legs.
Elle had stopped going to ballet class when she grew boobs. She was thirteen. Her peers at the time looked like a row of sausages, pale pink bodies wrapped in paler pink leotard casings. And then there was her; she was pale, almost white and her body was lumpy, more like the suet doughboys floating in her Mum’s homemade soup.
Although she didn’t attend class anymore, she still did ballet in her basement with only her mirror dance partner for company. She would capture her crinkly blonde hair in a neat bun and bounce down the stairs to the musty space, CD in hand, two to three times a week. Her Dad had constructed a bar along one wall and attached small mirrored tiles so her body was splintered as she pliéed or pirouetted. Elle felt it was the only time her outside self matched her inside self.
When Elle was in school she found it easy not to eat. Her friends always opted for the salad bar even though they were as thin as threads. At lunchtime they would all chew over the latest news, who was shagging who, and that seemed to fill them up. Elle joined in as she pushed her pile of lettuce around her plate, sucking on her hair just to have something in her mouth. But when she got home, she felt ravenous. She could easily eat a whole packet of chocolate digestives and still feel empty. That was when she would bundle up her hair and retreat down to the basement. When she was concentrating on her turn out she could momentarily banish her cravings.
One day during French class she had been asked by Mademoiselle Wright to read a sentence from the textbook. “Jean-Claude est dans la maison,” she read. Before she could continue, a voice called out, “Jean-Claude is in the house but Elle is the size of a house!” The whole class erupted in laughter, even the girls she considered her friends. The episode was stuck in her head, playing on repeat, as she made her way home and as she grabbed some crackers to take down into the basement. She watched herself slot crackers through her lips, one after the other until the box was empty, then she stood up, intending to go and get something else to eat. As she looked down, she saw a tile had come unstuck and had broken into pieces on the floor. Elle watched in the mirror as she bent and picked up the largest shard. As she drew the sliver of glass across her thigh, the voices in her head dissolved and all she could hear were the high, clear notes from the ballet ‘Giselle’.
Elle looked into her own eyes; they had widened slightly and the pupils had become huge so it seemed like a stranger’s black eyes were staring back at her. The girl in the mirror bit viciously down on her lower lip — Elle didn’t feel anything, but when she put her fingers to her mouth, they came away bloody. She watched spellbound as her mirror twin twirled and leapt. When the music finished, Elle sank down onto the floor; she could feel sweat cooling under her arms and between her breasts even though she had not been aware of dancing.
From that moment on, Elle spent all her free time down in the basement. The doubleness she had always felt had finally been split into two — one part of her was frozen in time in the mirror and the other part was the Elle that moved about in the world. Each time this Elle cut into the fleshy part of her thigh she became lighter and mirror Elle bore the scar.
A month later, Elle looked at her thighs; they were smooth and taut. She could see her ribs through the leotard, her stomach like a cave underneath. In the mirror the girl was even more over-weight than before, her thighs marked with a ladder of bright, delicate scars. Elle started to warm-up. She smiled — her reflection did not smile back. Elle turned her back on her clumpy twin and started to pirouette. She felt insubstantial; as she jetéd, her body felt free. Her feet came together in first position but Elle’s head continued to spin, her arms fluttered down, and she slumped silently to the ground. The girl in the mirror was still poised in first position, her turn out perfect.
A tinkling sound shattered the quiet and the worn ballet slippers of the girl pushed through the mirror into the garishly lit basement. She studied herself in the glass; the fluorescent lighting had given her pale skin an ethereal beauty. She grabbed Elle roughly by her ankles — it took little effort to maneuver the wraithlike body — and then she rolled the body through the mirror.
As she walked upstairs a voice called out, “What do you want for tea, love? We’re getting fish and chips but I know you won’t want that.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Mum,” she replied, “I feel like celebrating, I’ve finally mastered ‘échappé,’ so I will have some fish and chips.”
“I don’t know what that is, but fab,” came the reply.
“Échappé is a slipping movement and the word means escape.”
But because she said it so quietly, nobody heard.
Adele Evershed is originally from Wales. Now living in Connecticut, she writes poetry and prose in between teaching and keeping her family fed. Her stories have been published in Reflex Fiction, FlashFlood Journal and Flash Fiction North. She was a recent semi-finalist in The London Independent Story Project competition.