So Pretty When She Smiled
Indu started to disappear early in the morning, during her barre class. She was supposed to be doing hammer curls in the horse pose, but her heart wasn’t in it; the new instructor was so aggressive. “Dig deep and push yourself,” said the woman, her tight curls bouncing with vehemence. “Commit to making a change in your body.” When Indu looked down to check her posture, she was astonished to see her feet melting into nothingness. “Sorry,” she said, “so sorry,” when she caught the instructor’s glare.
She was late to work, a result of having to figure out how to shave her calves and knees while they slowly vanished. She hurried into her manager’s office for their one-on-one. Jeff came around to the front of his desk and sat on its lip, and Indu moved backwards to be out of the way. He thought her presentation the day before had gone well, considering, but her peer interaction left room for improvement. “You need to work on your likeability,” he said. “Your colleagues think you come on too strong. Try smiling more.” Indu thanked Jeff for his feedback, but had a little trouble making a graceful exit, since her hips were nowhere to be found.
At the team meeting, Indu found it much easier to make room for others around the table, now that her elbows had evaporated. Jason helped her into her chair before settling into his own, propping up his feet on the table. He was a wonderful ally when it came to sharing and amplifying her ideas. She’d just be sort of thinking out loud, kind of throwing something out there in a murmured aside, and he’d repeat it with so much more clarity and authority that everyone else immediately agreed with him.
During lunch, Indu locked herself into her room and closed her blinds, working the handles with her mouth, so that she could sneak in a quick ten-minute barre session. She liked the online instructor much better; she had this sweet way of smiling and giving a little shake of her head when she made a suggestion. “Maybe ignite your core? Maybe fire up your glutes?” It was important for Indu to stay in shape, even if most of her core had already faded away.
On the train ride back home, a man sat on Indu. She forgot herself for a moment and yelped, so the man got up. “Oh,” he said. “I didn’t notice you.” He peered at her. “Do you even exist?” Indu apologized for her mistake, and smiled to reassure him that it was really quite all right. She smiled until her heart dissolved, her ears and nose and eyes disintegrated, her body had dwindled into almost nothing, and all that remained was her smile. They’d told her, quite often, that she looked so pretty when she smiled.
Lavanya Vasudevan was born in a large city in South India that has since renamed itself. She is a recovering software engineer who lives near Seattle, Washington and reviews children’s books for Kirkus. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pidgeonholes, Paper Darts, Lost Balloon, and elsewhere. Find her on the web at lavanyavasudevan.com or on Twitter @vanyala.
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