Mrs. Taylor stands in the shower room with her muscular arms folded over, and she watches. She watches as I soap and rinse and dry, and as I pull on my uniform and comb my hair in the mirror. She has dark bags under her eyes, like chocolate paste wrapped in cling film. She doesn’t even acknowledge the other girls.

She comes up to me in the mirror, and in a whisper says, “You’re beautiful,” and then walks away, grabbing her clipboard from the door, drumming on it with her fingers down the hall.

I stand in my reflection. I have hair that is too straight and fine. My eyes bulge. They’re too big for the sockets. Everything is too big about me—especially the skin. My mother says I’m going to grow into it, but what does that mean? How do you grow into something that you’re already a part of?

My mother likes words she can’t pronounce. Like dermatological. Or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

“Where are you going?” says Mindy, as I grab my bag and head to the door. Mindy is slender and blonde. She has a little chin like the small end of a funnel. I stare for too long.

“Lesbo,” she says, and the other girls laugh.

I strip down to my knickers. I have breasts that are different; they sag like an old woman’s. Sarah holds out her Lumia and takes a picture of me. I feel cold.

“Chicken skin,” says Mindy.

“Chicken tits,” says Sarah, snapping another.

Mindy has a mole on her left cheek and above her right knee. She plays hockey for the school team. She sprints and shoots from the shoulder blades. When she scores, she runs to the corner flag and salutes to an imaginary stand, like a Premier League star hitting a winning goal. When she pinches my skin, I hardly feel it because it’s so rubbery and elastic.

She takes handfuls, sometimes.

“You’re an ugly bitch, you know?” she whispers, up close. “An. Ugly. Bitch.”

I lean in, catch a whiff of her soaped shoulder blade.

“Fucking hell, what are you doing?” she shouts.

She pushes me and I hit the wall. I feel my back skin bunch up against it. Sarah gets out her Lumia again, reverse-pinching the screen so she can zoom in.

“This is so great,” she says, tapping the phone with a nail.

Mindy doesn’t say a word. She doesn’t move an inch.

Eventually, Mrs. Taylor comes back.

“What’s going on?” she says, striding into the shower room, clipboard in hand. Her whistle sways on a lanyard around her middle. She has an unusual amount of perspiration on her forehead. The other girls scatter; all except for Mindy, who stands her ground in front of me.

Mrs. Taylor’s eyes float in the steam. They flick from Mindy to me, and back again.

Behind Mindy, I feel protected.

Jonathan Cardew

Jonathan Cardew

Jonathan Cardew's stories, reviews, and interviews appear or are forthcoming in JMWW, Segue, Smokelong Quarterly, Digging Through The Fat, People Holding, Atticus Review, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He was a finalist in Best Small Fictions 2016 and received a Pushcart nomination for 2017. He is the fiction editor for Connotation Press.
Jonathan Cardew

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