Content Warnings: mention of eating disorder
They sit in a circle of folding chairs and in their chairs they are folding. Some tightly, others softly. Decay materializes in all sorts of ways. One of the girls keeps her thighs lifted up from the seat in order for them to appear slimmer than they are. Her hip flexors strain. Another displaces the burn in her throat to her sacrum, making herself a nest of hot ash.
The therapist is not part of the circle. The therapist is standing. His ass leans against his desk, legs splayed open. “You are all here for a reason,” he says to the group.
His pelvis strobes out into the room, prompting a heatwave. Some do not notice the rise in humidity. That is, the one who will never again talk to her mother is not in the room to begin with. She is somewhere else each time she closes and reopens her eyes. The oil painting on the wall drips lilies.
His thick, ringed fingers sink into the candy bowl. Fishing for sweetness.
He paces around the inside of the circle. Small bowl clutched to his chest. He rips into the shiny plastic. Red in the face and shoving candy at them. He is excited when they recoil. He calls it, "exposure therapy."
The temperature in the room rises. Wrappers and untouched sweets litter the floor. One girl holds her head in her hands to stop the thinning of her hair, while another begins to obsessively pull at her own roots. They are sisters, put here by the state.
One of the girls looks at the wrappers and sees the underneath of each bed she has ever slept in. She leans toward the familiar terror. It is not a question of want.
Blues sweat out from the canvas.
Upon reaching the bottom of the bowl, the therapist laments.
A ripple of shoulders. Downwards. One girl goes so far as to let out a sigh of relief. She had to fight to be in this room. She had to fight for anyone to notice her disappearing. What is femme but the fight to take up space?
He tells them, “Wait here, I will get more,” in this room that smells of crotch and cheap candy.
Saturated with heat, a hole in the painting tears open. Pond water leaks out into the room. It skims across the floor, wetting their under-soles.
They rise curiously and approach the source. The first pushes her finger into the hole and is delighted by its cool wetness. The next plunges their whole fist in then pulls out to wipe the sweat off from their brow. One of the girls dunks her head in. The rim of the hole grips her shoulders, then largens to accommodate the rest of her.
The remaining link arms and form a chain. Not a decision to escape, but the impulse to survive. One by one, they are swallowed through.
The one with the untethered eyes recognizes this place inside the painting. It has a spot in the usual sequence. Textured layers, light strokes thin strokes, move in and out. Then below. She meets the base layer, the underpainting. The snarled veins behind her eyes take in a deep drink. This color is hers.
Two girls hide together beneath the sleek drapes of willow. Hip crease and scratched knees. Taste.
Meanwhile, another presses her face into the mud and begins an inverse conversation with microbes. She wants to know how they manage the hard work, day in day out. She wants to know how long it takes for things to change. Does it get easier?
One of them in the group feels so much better here, without the weight of three-dimensional breasts. They think it is nice and wonder what it is that makes a woman and what it is that makes a man. They would not let themselves think about it before. Now they would rather stay made of paint than have to choose.
They rub at their breasts. Blurring mounds of flesh as they wade outside the perimeter of the painting. Color spilling out onto plaster.
Brighde Moffat is the editor-in-chief of Hematopoiesis Press, an editorial assistant at VIDA Review, and a poetry reader at Anomaly. Their work has been published in or is forthcoming from The Rumpus, Autostraddle, Nat. Brut, and Cosmonauts Avenu