Twelve Stations of the Scale
**content warning: eating disorder**
We are on the French virgin saints tour. Just steps from the sweaty tour bus with a broken bathroom, there is water coming out of a stone grotto. The only grotto I’ve heard about before is at the Playboy Mansion where half-clothed Playboy bunnies cavort with lounge lizards in Speedos in dimly-lit swimming pool niches. It is also where bad girls like Karen Smith go after they drop out of high school to live and work and work it. This isn’t that kind of grotto.
It is Lourdes. It is holy. There are people with holes in their bodies and no legs and no arms and no joy. We (the masses and the people with masses in the masses) walk in lockstep like good religious soldiers on a suburban French runway. The voice of God or god or gods calls out the twelve stations of the cross on a loudspeaker as French rain drizzles on the sick and un-sick and sickly and almost well and well-done, all like sunburned steaks.
I spend my vacation money on a stack of plastic Madonna bottles shaped like nun Barbies, filled with what could be French tap water (or sparkling) but no one knows for sure.
We learn the young Lourdes girl who was once sanctified and worshipped by tourists in a tiny French town was also viewed as crazy for her visions. The next young girl who saw the Madonna is forever immortalized in a glass case like a sleeping Disney princess. She is preserved and creepy and sleepy. No one asked permission to place her there in her nightgown as a tourist attraction, her skin shriveled like a shrunken apple head doll.
No one asks if I want to be thin like a French saint, but not a sleazy Playboy bunny who has sex with grotesque strange men in non-religious grottos. My mother wants me to be thin, but not thinner than her. She wants to lose down to one hundred and thirty pounds.
I am 110 pounds, soaking wet, lean from running cross country and track. My mother isn’t much more than 130 pounds but she decides it is a competition, a goal, a goal weight: Lose the last twelve pounds. She says this to us at dinner with carob and lettuce on her plate and gigantic meatballs and noodles on ours. After dinner, she shows us visions of herself in blurry black and white photographs, thin white legs and arms. Brooms in pillowcases, she says. My father laughs. I try to touch my finger and thumb around my thigh under the table.
Weight Watchers. Jazzercise. One point. Two hundred. My mother counts calories in front of me. I want to cut off my head or my arms and go back to Lourdes to get new ones. New ones that weigh less. I run 6 miles for track every day until I am thinner and leaner and faster. I wear the school issued shorts and tank top because it is too expensive to buy what the other girls wear. My mother wears Jazzercise clothes, bright leggings and leotard and headband and wristbands, a suburban Jane Fonda with a thin stretch of spandex up her butt.
Home all day, a stay-at-home mom, losing weight somehow requires her to go at night to in-person weigh-ins and exercise classes at a church. Losing weight requires prayer and a scale by the baptismal font. She heats us up frozen and shelf stable meals that make our house smell artificial and fat because there is no time.
It all falls apart one night when she does a plow move and throws out her back which means she has to be in traction with wires and weights pulling everything back in place. I run track to find my own traction. My grandmother brings Hot Pockets to “fatten us both up.” My mother and I both cringe.
Healed, my mother returns to the exercising and the weight-watching and the weight watchers. Probably light-headed and hungry, she turns left on a busy street and is t-boned by another car. I’m called into the high school office to let me know I am going to my grandmother’s because my mother is injured, a loose term for what has happened.
My mother worries about her weight in the hospital. I worry about my weight outside of the hospital. I eat less and less and the dog eats more and more.
I pray for my body to be sanctified. I pray for a tomb that isn’t clear glass so tourists can't gawk at me. I bathe myself in holy water until the last plastic Madonna souvenir is empty, and skinny.
About the Author
Amy Barnes has words at FlashBack Fiction, McSweeney’s, Gone Lawn, Popshot Quarterly, X-RAY Lit, The Molotov Cocktail, Lucent Dreaming, Anti-Heroin Chic, Janus Literary, Perhappened, Cabinet of Heed, Spartan Lit, and others. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor and reads for Narratively, Retreat West, NFFD, CRAFT, and Taco Bell Quarterly. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction and was part of the Wifleaf50 longlist in 2021. Her debut flash collection “Mother Figures” was published by ELJ Editions in June, 2021. A full length collection is forthcoming from word west in spring, 2022. You can find her on Twitter at @amygcb.