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An excerpt from a short story


I often ask myself whether I’d even have noticed, towards the end of the first year of high school, that her face had contorted into unhappiness if she hadn’t previously been so beautiful. I watched her intently, like a rare, precious insect under a magnifying glass; the twitching of the wings, the flutter of the antennae, the squirming around, the quiet crackling voice – I responded to everything. I noticed details. I noted how the regal arch of her brow drooped ever so slightly. In a couple of months, the skin around her eyes took on a grey tinge, giving the appearance of her velvety green eyes resting in a spider web. The sheen of her hair was no longer elvish, merely greasy. Her hair was falling out like an animal’s winter fur, in clumps, which I discovered in the unlikeliest places. On the edge of a refrigerator shelf, between the pages of a fashion magazine, in the kitchen sink. Muscles were stripped off her arms by an unknown wind, taken off her bones, upper arms, shoulders. Her palms became comically elongated and her knuckles jutted out from her hands. One evening I saw her naked, just for a second, before she wrapped herself in a towel in panic: above her still round breasts, ribs stuck out crudely, making it look as if the breasts were hanging from a grating, sticking out from a prison. Her torso seemed thirsty. Dry. On the screen of my memory I can still see the sharp round edges of her pelvis into which her transparent skin was desperately sinking.


I took these changes for innocent erosion and enjoyed them. After all, they were just details, slight deteriorations, dust bunnies of ugliness. I hoped my time would come. The time for the sister who was born first and thus received less. For the first child, the one that’s taken for granted.


She started hiding. Even from me. She knew that the density of her body was an intimate concern of mine and often sneered at me that I was crazy. “And if you aren’t, you will be,” she screamed and slammed the bathroom door. I remember hearing her yelling at the top of her voice for the first time that spring, at dad, who was the first to voice his concerns. His dear daughter was no longer his ally. When he hugged her or placed a firm palm on her shoulder, she froze. Dread descended upon her face and her sternum tensed and jerked towards the ceiling as if the heart underneath it was trying to jump out. She never told him about school, never talked to him about her girlfriends. One night she ran into him in the hall, wrapped in a thick bathing robe. I heard him ask: “Been relaxing a bit, huh?” Afterwards she spent the night sobbing and twisting in her bed. I didn’t try to console her, as I couldn’t understand what perfection could possibly be grieving.



Ana Schnabl: An excerpt from a short story