Renee sat on the swing in her childhood backyard. She wore a beautiful blue dress with a matching ribbon in her blonde hair making her look like a grown-up version of Alice in Wonderland. Each time she pumped her legs to get the swing
higher, the scene in front of her changed. First, it was the same flat green lawn she had always played in. Then, a white picnic table on it. She swung higher and before her, all her friends and family appeared. Her childhood best friend, Rebecca, was there in her private school jumper. Her old roommate, Jane, arrived in her favorite purple party dress. Both sets of grandparents smiled at her through their dentures while a funny voice in her head said, “See, they didn’t die after all.” She pumped her legs again and saw her parents standing before her. Her mom smiled while holding a covered cake dish as her dad cheered “Happy Birthday!”
At the table, her mom unveiled two dozen homemade cupcakes with wisps of pale blue frosting, her favorite color. Her mom picked up one and offered it to Renee. Renee shook her head. Her family leaned in around her, their smiles faded to frowns of disappointment. She took the pastry from her mother and bit in. The fluffy cake turned to moist mud in her mouth. The frosting began to wiggle into a glob of tangled-up worms. She screamed and tried to pull bits of dirt and worm from her teeth. Her family began to laugh, a cruel bubbling laugh, and their faces melted into long rubbery masks of themselves.
Renee sits up in bed. She knows it was a dream, but she could still smell the vanilla frosting and taste the soil in her mouth. Nightmares were a common side effect of an all juice diet, or at least that’s what other girls said in the online forums.
This would be the third day she would force nothing but green-black slime down her throat in the name of weight loss. But before she could get to the juicing, she had to do the morning weigh-in.
She pulls off her flannel pajamas and climbs shivering on to the cold metal bathroom scale. The scale reads 104.5. She falls to the ground and shrieks, “Only half a pound, how is that possible?” Her goal to be under 100 pounds has eluded her once more.
She sits on her haunches and curls over, hugging her knees with her vertebra pulling at her fragile flesh. She feels a sharp pitch at the base of her spine. She reaches one arm around her back and feels a slimy-covered node.
“Not again,” she whispers.
She pries the gooey bulge from her back. It’s a leech. She throws the black glob into the toilet and slams the handle down until the toilet swallows the parasite whole.
“Why does this keep happening to me?” she asks herself as she scrambles to get her pajamas back on.
In her bedroom, she grabs her iPhone and types, “Leech in my bed” into the search bar. The search yielded no useful results. Unless she fell asleep in a shallow lake, there was no chance that these particular creepy crawlies could survive out of water long enough to get into her bed. “That’s always the worst feeling,” she thinks, “when you’re so much of a freak that even the weirdos on the internet haven’t experienced what you have.”
In the kitchen, the juicing machine turns on with a clunk and makes a loud grinding sound as she shoves cucumbers, apples, celery stalks and chunks of kale into its razor-lined mouth.
Renee’s stomach sloshes and contracts as she gulps down 16 ounces of green detox juice. The liquid is a thick as milk and smells like something pulled from the garbage disposal. Half-way through, she has to pinch her nose and force back her gag-reflex to finish the drink.
Glowing with pride from not giving into her desire for solid food, Renee gets ready and rushes out the door with a fresh coat of cover-up on her leech mark.
Because of the juice, Renee is nearly bursting when she arrives at the photoshoot she landed for a men’s cologne. The place is already alive with chaos as lighting equipment and wardrobe racks are being moved around the warehouse space. She ducks into a bathroom stall before anyone can find her.
She emerges from the restroom as Lisa, a set manager yells, “There you are, just in time” and motions Renee over to a rack of dresses. “You’re going to need to put this on, then I’ll need you to get into hair and make-up. Fredrick should be almost done with Sienna by now.”
In her hands, Lisa holds a satin yellow evening gown.
“Not yellow,” thinks Renee, “I look like washed-out shit in yellow. It clashes with my hair and it catches the light and makes my hips look big. This is the worst,”
“Yellow?” she whispers to Lisa.
“Yeah, yellow. Got a problem with that?” Lisa raises an eyebrow.
Renee shakes her head.
“Is that one of those finicky rules that you models have hidden away in your contracts? No yellow?” Lisa now has her hands on her hips and her eyes are narrowing in on Renee on like a sniper’s crosshairs.
She couldn’t tell if it was hunger or bravery that made her say, “No, I just don’t think it suits me and you won’t want me to wear it.”
“You don’t get to tell me what I want,” snaps Lisa. “We had to pull a lot of strings at Givenchy to get this dress. So, you’re going to wear it. Capiche?”
“Denise, I need you in make-up now,” Lisa yells across the room and dashes off leaving Renee alone.
Renee slips into the gown right where she is. After years of modeling, she has made her peace with the lack of privacy that comes with the job.
A tall man with a high faux hawk motions for her to go to his chair. He brushes her hair and begins to roll it into soft curls with a curling iron. As the warm curls fall at her shoulders, she notices two other models, Sienna and Jade, lounging on a set of fold-up chairs. She recognizes them from other jobs and knows they are trouble.
Sienna looks up and says to Jade, “I guess I owe you $10”
“Why’s that?” Jade asks her.
“Because it turns out Renee can fit into a Givenchy size 2.”
Both girls erupt into laughter.
Fredrick turns her chair away from them and lets out an angry sigh, “Don’t let those bloodsuckers get to you,”
Renee smiles at Fredrick and feels their mean joke slip away.
As soon the last coat of mascara is applied to her lashes, Lisa calls her over.
A male model steps out onto a white platform in the middle of the set. He has chiseled cheekbones and thick brown hair that’s gelled back. The female models are put into position by Lisa and her staff. Each woman is standing or kneeling at various heights to form an arch of adorning women around him.
Renee get into her half-kneeling half-standing pose as she sees Sienna get placed standing next to the male model on the other side.
Sienna pretends to trip and catches his chest saying, “Boy, you must work out.”
She fakes falling again and he catches her once work. “You saved me twice in a row, I guess I owe you a drink,” she giggles.
“I’d say you do,” he beams at her.
A few other models groan at Sienna’s terrible flirting.
As the photoshoot continues, Renee’s back begins to ache from her position; it’s not easy for a woman of her height to stay hunched over for very long. The flashing camera lights dry out her eyes and the wind machine pushes dust up her nose. She almost sneezes when Lisa yells out, “That’s a wrap.”
“She pries the gooey bulge from her back. It’s a leech.”
Renee hurries back to the clothing rack, anxious to get the yellow thing off her. As she unzips the back, a voice says, “I have to say, out of everyone, you stole the show.”
It’s the male model.
“I doubt it,” Renee blushes.
“I work with a lot of beautiful women but you in that dress, perfection.” He says making a kissing gesture in her general direction.
Someone laughs behind them. It’s Sienna.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you made a joke,” she says.
“I didn’t,” he says.
“Wow, handsome and charitable, the perfect man. Now let’s get that drink.” She loops her arm in his, tosses back her red curls, and drags him away.