This is an excerpt from Elizabeth Esse Kahrs' Novel The Trouble in My Mirror
"You just can't wear fly front pants," my mother is saying as we drive to Thesis's, a pre-teen clothing store in downtown Weybrook that specializes in half-sizes--which really means it has clothes for fat girls. At eleven, I'm tall for my age, five foot two inches, but my waist is wide and long and my legs are short and chunky.
When I look in the mirror, I see a thick tube, a container of fat. I want to be like Jean Marie McRae, small and petite, the cutest girl in my fifth grade class. Jean Marie has long strawberry blonde hair. She wears it in ponytails tied with big furry elastics and sometimes even colorful ribbons. I would look ridiculous like this--my buckteeth spilling from my lips, my thighs rubbing against each other.
"Can I help you find anything?"
The man approaches us as we walk through the door
"Yes. We're looking for my daughter."
He glares at me.
"The half-sizes are in the back."
As my mother charges through the store, I linger in the front, playing with the little tops and bottoms that look like doll's clothes. I can see my mother picking through the racks, piling garments over her arm.
"Look at this cute peasant blouse! Oh, they have ponchos. Lily--you've got to see this smock top!"
She holds up the shirt for my inspection. It's brown and wide and there's a stretchy orange portion covering the chest; it looks like a pumpkin. She places the shirt over her arm and then reaches for a pair of flowered polyester stretch pants.
"And why don't you try these on? Just for kicks."
As my mother continues gathering clothing, I think about a pair of light purple Toughskins, the ones I want from Sears, the jeans everyone wears to school. But these are fly-front pants and they would never fit me. Once, I tested my mother's theory by sneaking into the Gap to try on a pair of Levi's. I had to pick a larger size just to get them past my hips. The waist was so big, my butt crack peaked through the opening in the back, and the denim cut into the tops of my legs. Still, I didn't quite get the connection between having a long waist and not fitting into Levi's. My thighs seemed to be the primary offenders.
Clutching the pile of tunics and jumpers, smock tops and polyester pants, oversized sweaters and dickies, my mother motions me toward the dressing room. If it hadn't been for Ruthie, I wouldn't be here. Ruthie's mother raving about, "That new store in town for bigger girls."
Reluctantly, I accept the pile. In the dressing room, I shed my clothing, refusing to look in the mirror as I work my way into the brown smock top, the fabric tugging at my back. I pull on the polyester pants and feel the material adhere to my hips. Looking in the mirror, I see my thighs come alive--large bright blossoms stretched beyond their capacity. Whipping off the pants, I leave them in a ball on the floor.
"I'm still trying things on."
I move my feet and rattle the hangers, pretending to try on the clothes. Staring at my legs in the mirror, I wonder why I got my father's legs instead of my mothers, why my legs look like tree trunks instead of long stretched out bowling pins.
"Nope, not yet."
I pick through the garments, searching for the least offensive items. Finally, I settle on a plain white peasant blouse and a pair of faded, elastic waist, bellbottom jeans.
The blouse fits, but the puffy sleeves dig into my arms. The jeans are okay and even a little loose. In the mirror, I turn assessing myself from all angles. I look big, but not bad.
Pulling back the curtain, I stand before my mother.
"Finally, some clothes that flatter your figure!"
In the car on the way home, my mother lights a cigarette and cracks open the window.
"I'm so glad we found that place. I'm going back tomorrow to find more things for you to try on."
I cringe at the thought. Ever since my mother made me wear Chuck Taylor's with a dress to school, I have no confidence in her fashion sense.
"Maybe we could do it together--you know, sort of like a mother/daughter thing."
"Oh, honey. Aren't you sweet?" She reaches for a licorice and pops it into her mouth. We pull into the driveway.
Inside, I head straight for my bedroom.
"Don't you want a snack?" My mother calls after me. "I have apples."
"Uh, no thanks." I'm already on the stairway. "I'm just gonna read."
In my room, I stand on my tiptoes and reach back into the closet to retrieve my box of Suzy Q's. The box is empty. Sitting on my bed, I listen for noises through the heater vent, waiting for my mother to leave the kitchen. I sneak down the stairs and hear the TV on; she is now in the sunroom watching The Guiding Light. I make my way over to the Lazy Susan and take out the can of Betty Crocker chocolate frosting my mother had bought the other day. I've been thinking about the frosting ever since-- thinking about peeling back the metal tab and hearing that popping sound, thinking about the thick, sugary brownness and chocolaty smell, thinking about unleashing it's contents.
On my bed, I stuff finger fulls into my mouth. My goal is to finish the can, but I have to stop when my stomach begins to hurt. I lick my fingers sticky clean and try to use my tongue to remove the film from my teeth. It is difficult; my tongue is swollen, and it feels too big for my mouth. I lie back on my bed and try to sleep, but my pupils dart back and forth beneath my lids keeping me awake.