This story is one of the November Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
There are some days where the world seems pointless, Bella thought. Some days where it takes all the strength she can muster to roll out of bed, stumble to the kitchen, and pour herself a bowl full of cereal. Some days where she heads over to her shoe cupboard and hesitates, resisting the temptation to reach for her trainers and stepping into her lace-up boots instead, ignoring the spider hanging in the corner of the cabinet. Some days where she searches her bedroom for her old silver blade, stopping herself just before she lifts the lid of the exhausted cardboard box.
These days were becoming increasingly more common. She begins to trade cereal for tic tacs and water. Every morning she forces her feet into her old running shoes and dashes outside for a jog, chasing the thrill of her disordered days in the welcoming arms of the early October sun. One night, she stares lifelessly across the bathroom, her eyes landing on the scales as she feels the familiar crimson trickling down her forearm. This isn’t the same.
She’s frightened. This isn’t how it was before. She doesn’t feel exhilarated, impressed with her ability to reduce her intake, proud of her sheer internal will-power. Before it was a competition against the others, the ones trying to stop her, the ones too weak to abstain from Fruit Loops or Cheerios; now it’s all tears over shoulder blades and shivering and shaking legs on the way to work. She doesn’t flaunt her collarbones anymore. She covers them with turtlenecks and scarves. It’s no longer a thrilling secret but one that leaves her dirty and unfulfilled.
Spiders reside in her fruit bowl. Her happy memories decay along with the five years she spent in and out of treatment; her friends are now replaced with an intensive exercise regime and preparing meal plans for the next week. Anxiety weighs heavily in her stomach, filling space previously occupied by McDonald’s or M&M’s or her mother’s macaroni-cheese. Regret runs through her capillaries, embedded in her every thought. Maybe she’ll be ok when she’s thin again. A spider scuttles across the space where her Lucky Charms used to be.
She’s greeted by a snowflake the minute she steps off the train, mistaking the gesture for a bad omen. She knows what her mother will think the minute she opens the door to welcome her daughter to family Christmas celebrations. She knows she’ll wince when she draws her in for a warm hug to shield her against the harsh winter cold. She knows all this as she steps up the path to the door, her knuckles protruding as she grips her rucksack straps. She braces herself.
Nothing. Her mother smiles, genuine, and invites Bella inside. They make conversation, play games, suck on tangerine segments and demolish boxes of chocolates as Bella clenches her fists. She manages to make it through dinner, smiling like a cracked windowpane as she sobs internally at the thought of the turkey and potatoes dropping to the pit of the well that is her stomach. She considers throwing up later, but she can’t; it’s too risky. Her nerves spike like rockets on Bonfire Night, illuminating her thought patterns with self-hatred and disgust. She misses feeling normal. She misses the time when her brain wasn’t covered in spider webs.
She lies awake in her old bed that night, running her fingers over her melting skin, counting her ribs as they blink and emerge from the blanket of fat they’d been sleeping beneath. She fantasises about cereal, almost tempted to head down and get some, but she stops herself before she could swing her legs out of bed. She lays back down, watching a spider spin a thick cobweb on her teenage ceiling, watching as its spindly limbs create a piece of art. Some days, she thought, some days will be worth it.