“I clean my mouth ‘cause froth comes out,” Ms. Phair commiserates. “Send it up on fire. Death before dawn. Send it up on fire. Death before dawn.”

She squeezes the arms of her chair.  How could Todd do this?  After she’d done practically the whole report for him.  After she gave him years of love in her mind, never doing him wrong.  After she’d pitied him.

She imagines him in his street clothes on tilting polar ice, clubbing baby seals and humping their pulped heads.  Sex and carnage and rancid death.  Humping and pumping.  Pumping and pumping.

Beddy retches into her wastebasket, and then the tears come.  She becomes a confusion of bodily actions, coughing and crying and retching until she exhausts all of them.  She sits up and takes stock of the trauma in her mirror.

No matter.  She heard you only wear a prom dress once anyway, and she needs this one less than once.

She grabs the fabric scissors from her dresser top and poises them over her breastplate.  Inhales deeply.

The scissors swoop and shear away the top to her dress, and her breasts tumble out and sparkle with blood.  The scissors move down her torso and over the isthmus where her legs part, taking pubic hair with them before finally scything the dress in two.  The scissors do it all without guidance, by their own volition.  She stands then, boring into the mirror, that pitiless arbiter.

She takes it all in.

On a good day, and today began as a luminously good day, she might have seen her body as a deluxe-sized hourglass.  Generous breasts.  A firm neck sloping into a slight face mottled with, but not distorted by, rosy freckles that peppered the bridge of her nose and her upper cheeks.  Conspicuous eyebrows several shades darker than her dark red hair, crowning her fertile, startlingly green eyes.  Even on the bad days, when she is loath to be naked in the shower, she is thankful for her eyes.  Sometimes, she can start with them, and let the positive self-regard radiate outward.

But days always shift so quickly.  Now every feature is tilted to its contrary.  Now, her freckles are a rash.  And why are her eyebrows so weirdly dark?  And her skin isn’t creamy enough.  Not like other redheads.  Hers is just, bleh.  Flat.

She hounds a few pre-zits with her fingers and squeezes, waiting for a satisfying pop.  A release.  But the skin just breaks under the scrutiny, wells up with little tears of blood.

She focuses away from her face and probes in the places she wishes her bones were more glaring.  Shoulders.  Elbows.  She hates how her upper arm gums around her elbow like a toothless mouth.  She’d kill for a collarbone.

She lifts her sagging breasts to an optimal angle and altitude and, holding them in that impossible position, sucks in her breath until her rib muscles cry out.  Then she sighs and lets go, giving them up to gravity.  They smack into her upper belly, repulsing her as she watches the ripples in her disturbed pond of flesh.

She follows with her finger the slight, but insistent, trail of hair running from above her navel to just beneath her cleavage.  Shaven, it irritates and catches on the inside of shirts, so she tries to leave it alone.  The blood loosed by the errant scissors has stained it a bolder red.

Even her eyes are no diversion tonight.  Now they’re too pretty to be wasted on her.

Looking at herself magnified, laid bare, bright blood running down her chest, the spirulina green eyeshadow streaks on her cheeks, she sees a once-fabulous layer cake in rot.

Duffy was right.  No one wants to eat her.

She decides to call her friend Dallas.  He knows persecution intimately.  Then she remembers he is taking Connie.  Di is there too.  They’re all there.

She eyes the telephone cord coiled noose-like.

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