This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1260 words.
Sally would always remember the day she started her diet. She had been looking around the shops one Saturday, and picked up a dress she thought she might like to try on. Two women were standing next to her, looking at the same rail. They were about the same age as her, and one of them picked the identical dress. Her companion shook her head, before speaking out in a voice too loud for a public place. “Don’t pick the same dress as that fat cow, whatever you do.” The one with the dress hung it back on the chrome hook at the end, and they walked off, in search of something different.
Sally wondered at first. Was it really her the girl was talking about? She had never thought of herself as being very big. She did wear quite loose clothing, admittedly, and her legs were a shade too large to get away with shorts, but she was average, surely? At least she thought so. She put the dress back, and went home to her flat. The Internet offered countless diet ideas, and many guaranteed ways to lose weight. Slim girls smiled at her from the screen, proof positive of the efficacy of the chosen plan.
She tried liquid diets first. The weight fell off, but she was always hungry. And the prepared drinks from local shops were expensive too. It was cheaper to actually eat real food. So she went on a strict vegetable diet, with no starchy potatoes or anything like them. No bread, no rice, and definitely nothing sweet. Sally was a determined young woman, and had only one slip up. She found a forgotten chocolate Kinder Egg in a drawer, and ate it without thinking. To make up for that, she fasted for a whole day.
Very soon, people started to notice. Her Mum said she was looking thin in the face, and the girls at work agreed that she was looking very different. Sally bought some new clothes, two sizes smaller than she was used to. Then new bras were needed, as her breasts seemed to be shrinking. She also started to drink a great deal of water, and went to bed earlier and earlier too. Despite the early nights, she was constantly tired, and felt shattered all day at work. When Janice had her leaving party, she made some excuse. No point being tempted by the Tex-Mex offerings, and all the alcohol that would be flowing. She went home and ate a plate of kale instead, making sure to be in bed by nine.
Months later, something worrying happened. Sally stopped losing weight. She didn’t put any back on, at least she was thankful for that, but she was certain that she had stayed the same for a long time. Her new plan was to stop eating completely. She would just have lots of fluids, and take some energy-boosting tablets. That seemed to work immediately. Pretty soon, she even had to drop a shoe size, as her boots were too loose. The new clothes looked baggy too, so she bought some more. Another two sizes dropped. Sally was really beginning to see it herself now, admiring her trim figure in shop windows as she passed, or marvelling at the sight of her ribs, as she lay naked in the bath. Progress.
The following month, she missed her period. It couldn’t be a pregnancy, she could guarantee that. She hadn’t slept with a man since Graham, after the Christmas party two years back. Maybe it was just a blip. She decided not to worry about it. The people at work had stopped mentioning her weight loss now, and seemed to be leaving it to her to bring up the subject. Mum nagged at her all the time, and even sent things through the post, to try to tempt her daughter into eating. Sally had come too far now, and easily resisted the temptation. At the dental check up, her dentist told her that her gums were in a poor state, and two of her teeth were loose. She told him she hadn’t noticed, and promised to follow his suggested regime. When she left, she conveniently forgot to make the agreed follow-up appointment.
Late one night, the stomach pains started. Sally couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten anything solid, so it couldn’t possibly be some dodgy food. She got up and took some painkillers, but they only dulled the sensation of cramp in her side. After work the next day, she decided to cheer herself up by going to the shop and buying a new dress. The one she liked wasn’t available in a small enough size though. The assistant suggested she try the junior department, and Sally was pleased to find something meant for a girl half her age. The last two periods hadn’t come, and she settled into the knowledge that they would now be one less thing to worry about. The funny taste in her mouth was kept at bay by using lots of mouthwash, and the constant tiredness just about manageable if she went to bed as soon as she got home. The pains persisted, but she got used to them. Small price to pay, after all.
When more than a year had gone by, Sally stopped going to visit her Mum. Instead of congratulating her on the diet, she just moaned and nagged. “Look at your hair, it’s lank and thin. Your teeth look too large in your mouth. Your eyes sockets are dark. You look like a drug addict.” Blah…Blah…Sally just left, and didn’t go back. She changed her phone number, and didn’t tell Mum the new one.
One day at work, she suddenly felt very strange. Her legs wouldn’t support her, and she passed out as she walked back to her desk. An ambulance was called, and the manager insisted that she go for a check up. Old Margaret went with her to the hospital, holding her hand as she lay on the trolley. The doctor said that she had to stay in for tests. Sally refused at first, but a different doctor told her that they could force her to stay in, using a psychiatric detention order. He told her that she was self-harming, and that just made her laugh. When did trying to look good become self-harm? She didn’t actually say that though, she just smiled and nodded.
There was another girl in the side ward that they took her to. She sat in a chair next to her bed, appearing to just perch on the undented cushion, like some sort of weightless doll. The hospital gown hardly covered her legs, which looked just like bones dangling beneath the material. Sally looked at the girl for a long time. She could make out the bones in her jaw, and around the eye sockets. Her neck was so small, she could actually see the outline of her trachea as she breathed in and out. The girl reached out an arm that looked no thicker than a chopstick, pressing the call button with a pencil-like finger.
The nurse came in, an exasperated look on her face.
“What is it now, Miriam?”
The girl swallowed a few times, as if building up enough saliva to allow her to speak. When the voice finally came out, it was deep and scary, like a horror film voice. The finger pointed at Sally.
“Get this fat cow out of my room. It makes me feel sick to look at her.”