Like her friends, she became a C cup in high school, which was perfect. She was spared the adolescent plague of acne that may as well have murdered some of the girls. She was made to understand that she was lucky, but she felt like she deserved it. She studied, she joined the cross-country team, she got a job as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant. She borrowed her mom’s car and drove too fast on the county roads. She went to the school dances but never with the same boy. She wasn’t the prettiest girl, or the most popular, but she had the shining gem of potential within her. Once, in a bathroom at school, as they looked at themselves in the mirror, a friend told Kay, “I wish I had your nose.”
The girl’s nose was a small round knob and Kay felt sorry for her. She didn’t know what kind of nose might be better on this girl, but she suspected it had something to do with bone structure. A graceful nose was long, but not too long, small but not petite, with sharp lines and elliptical nostrils, a centerpiece to her perfectly symmetrical features. A good nose was essential to receiving the good life and genuine smiles.
She prayed that she might never have her nose broken. She prayed that if she were scarred that it would be somewhere she could cover up: on a toe or on her head beneath the hairline. She didn’t know what kind of accident might find those specific parts, but she would rather lose a lung than have her face scarred. She prayed that the pretty girls in college would recognize her as one of their own and that they would show her the things she didn’t yet know. There was a distance between who Kay had been and who she had become. She was once possessed of true beauty, and she knew by the way strangers had treated her, that it was not all in her head.
Z: You were prescribed antidepressants because of suicidal thoughts. Do you still have them?
Z: Are you taking the pills?
K: It depends.
Z: You need to take them regularly or there may be side effects.
K: I get side effects.
Z: What kind?
K: I feel superior to the people around me.
Z: The physical side effects would be: loss of appetite, dizziness, decreased libido. Anything like that?
K: Definitely not.
Z: When you say you feel superior, do you lose patience with people? Is the fact of others’ mere existence tiresome for you?
Z: Do you lash out? Are you often rude?
Z: Would you, if you found yourself in the right time and place, support targeted genocide? Say, of all the people you have no patience for?
Z: Would you want them to suffer?
K: I know it’s not right.
Z: We are talking about your feelings. It’s okay to have feelings.
Z: Have you noticed any pattern? Any reason you want to lash out? Times when you feel your sense of superiority rising?
K: Most of the time.
Z: Any particular times?
K: My time of the month.
Z: You think it’s hormonal?
K: My periods have changed.
Z: You were prescribed birth control.
K: I didn’t take it.
Z: You shouldn’t get pregnant. The antidepressants take a few months to leave your body. Do you use condoms?
K: I don’t want to talk about sex.
Z: We don’t have to talk about sex. But tell me about the periods.
K: I’m menstruating in synch with my dogs. We got some dogs. Rescues.
Z: Rescues are fixed. They fix them.
K: It sounds crazy, I know. Can that happen?
Z: Lots of things can happen. We shouldn’t call them crazy. What’s important is that you suspect it’s happening.
K: We’ve bonded.
Z: The dogs have been a good thing?
K: I love them so much.
Z: If you believe that you are in synch with the dogs, then that’s real enough.
K: You’ve had dogs?
Z: I had a boxer.
K: I’m so glad. Did he read your mind?
Z: Like most dogs, she was transparent.
K: It was good?
Z: Yes, it was good, owning a dog.
At dinner, Kay didn’t eat. Paul grilled steaks and she didn’t touch them. She ran her fingers up and down the length of her nose, agitated, and apparently unaware that she was doing it.
“Is it a cold? Do you have a fever?” Paul reached out to rest a hand on her forehead but she turned away.
“I don’t want to be touched.”
“Okay,” Paul said. “I’m sure it will pass.”
The dogs didn’t eat either. Normally, Kay would be the one to feed them, and to take care of their needs. Since she wasn’t feeling well, however, she didn’t make a move to feed them. Paul got out their bowls and he chopped up some of the steak to put over the dog food, but they didn’t respond.
Later, Kay was in the bathroom. She leaned in to the mirror with a tweezers and she plucked at the whiskers on her upper lip. She’d used too much powdered concealer on her nose and she’d been crying.
“I feel ugly,” she said.
“You’re not ugly,” Paul said, but he wasn’t convincing.
“I can’t go tomorrow. I’m cancelling.”
“Is this what’s been wrong?”
“It’s not in my head,” Kay said. “Look at my face. I’m hideous.”
She stayed in the bathroom, at the mirror. He left her there, to fret over her looks. When she came to bed, she didn’t sleep but tossed and turned, the dogs in the bed too, all around her. It put him on edge but he didn’t dare say a thing. She eventually lay still but let out a low growl with each slow exhalation.
John Minichillo’s novel, The Snow Whale, was an Independent Publishers Book Awards regional gold medalist for the West-Pacific and an Orion Magazine Book Prize notable. He’s a columnist at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and he lives in Nashville.
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