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The Contents of a cabinet

Renee Ferguson

Someone I love so much keeps me up at night. With the banging of cupboards and drawers and the opening and closing of the fridge, with quiet footsteps on carpeted stairs and the sharp squeak of the third stair from the bottom floor. I heard her last Thursday and then I slept out on Saturday but she’s fumbled down the stairs every night this week, too petrified to turn on a light. Only the cold, blue glow of the fridge illuminates her but then, of course, she likes to keep this in the dark.

The kitchen’s the lowest point in the house and, as her room’s on the top floor, she passes all of us before she gets there, before she gets to the lowest point in the house. The kitchen’s her lowest point too or at least it is at 1:45 tonight and was at 2:15 last night and 12:30 the night before that. Tonight, she checks the slit below my door to see if a light’s on, to see if I’m still up. The light’s not on as I lie awake waiting – the light’s never on – for my vigilance too must remain in the dark. What if I kept the light on, if she knew I waited, would it be enough?

But it’s never enough, not when every cupboard is spilling over and the fridge door won’t close, not when it’s 1:00 am and, oh, “1:00 am isn’t a meal time, is it sweetie?”, not when she is sickened with her sickness, for hunger is satiable but never pain, and at the end of the night she’ll be as empty as ever, the top of her jeans digging into her disappearing chest like a heartbreak. Every one of us could march out of our doors as she passes, clawing at her shadow with signs of protest, could beg for her to stop. But the popular vote doesn’t always win.

I’m the only one that knows this time; we thought she was cured, thought she had purged herself of the hatred, and she’s real careful, real quiet as she creeps into the darkness, the red light on the microwave blinking like the glaring flashes of a crime scene. In this house, sickness is wrong, sickness is sinful, and I’d do anything, anything for her to go back upstairs to the soft luster of her bedroom, to end this nightly torture. The torture of doing, the torture of knowing, the torture of not knowing what to do and our shared guilt all for the contents of a cabinet.

Her fingers like a gun down her throat, she hardly thinks before she pulls the trigger and for what? The praise of a man in a locker room, the pursuit of size 0? And last week as I flipped through a magazine she told me that I couldn’t let those models do that to me, and I didn’t know what they were doing to me, but that was just the point. She pulled the magazine from my grasp and tore a line right through the beauty column, said columns supporting unattainable expectations must be torn down and she looked at me with such wisdom and concern, the way only an older sister can look at you. I wish I could tear down her sickness, tear apart each word upheld by the columns of a locker room but to think I could do such a thing would be an unattainable expectation. How could a girl ever have that power?

When did locker rooms become ovular, become so pristinely white?

The sound of her footsteps carries to the pantry followed by the crinkle of plastic, the clink of a spoon against a bowl, the monotonous hum of the microwave turning in endless circles, the groan of a drawer sliding towards her, the whirr of the fridge pouring out cold air as she stares blankly at the contents of the glass shelves, and then the patter of footsteps up carpeted stairs, the flicker of bright lights, the latch of the bathroom door, and the sound of water running down the drain, the sound of her repenting for her sin.

With that, she is beautiful again, and it was all just a nightmare because it’s only ever real if we know. She’s so perfect that even the impeccable marble columns surrounding her could never compare, and they should erect a statue of her replacing the Lincoln Memorial because that is today’s America. If tomorrow they sit in the locker room and praise her like an angel, if they decide that she satisfies them, that she satisfies this new America, would that be enough?

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