“You used to be so thin,” he said. “Like a ballet dancer.”
“Or a girl who’s sick?” she answered.
“Not fat,” he said. “Not exactly, but definitely different than you were.”
Her next meal was salad and the memory of bread. She held her sugar-loving tongue. By the third day, when she finished her meals, she moved through the smorgasbord of her house, inhaled each candle-scented room, swallowing the idea of pies made from their apple, cherry, and peach.
He told her how eating late-afternoon dinner helps the body cool earlier in the evening, preparing for deep sleep sooner. How extending that kind of sleep lessens the opportunity for calories. How the absence of light is an asset. How a warm shower tricks the body’s thermometer.
Like Beauty, she pricked herself with darkness. She rose to the mirror to ask the questions about waist and thighs. When it answered, mouthing the drab adjectives for size, she understood the anger of queens.
Once, after midnight, she woke and saw him sitting up and gazing at her in the night light’s glow. His watching brought a rush of desire. The sheet he’d drawn up to her throat for warmth was bunched by her side. She lay in a negligee so sheer the near darkness felt like a tongue upon her skin. It tasted the spaces between her ribs and the stubborn mound of her stomach before settling on her rising and falling breasts. He said, “Go back to sleep.”
He warned that she shouldn’t wake so easily. The sounder, the better, he said, and gave her pajamas to wear to keep her warmer. When, days later, she woke to him standing and staring, the sheet to the side again, she caught her breath and stiffened. “You scared me,” she said.
“Why?” he answered, smiling, she thought, in a way designed to make her doubt herself. He said he was in love with her sleep, the way it lessened her. Her closed eyes and steady breathing were time travel. When he watched, he imagined her retreating until she retrieved her childish shape, her princess body. “Give it time,” he said, and more weeks went by, so long that she believed he desired a stranger. So long that she imagined herself gone.
At last, when she opened her eyes, the sheet at her feet, he was standing on her side of the bed, his body so close that she couldn’t see his face until she rolled onto her back and looked straight up. “Oh yes,” he said. “Perfect.” But when he reached for her, she curled and faded like a long- forgotten photograph.
Gary Fincke’s flash stories have appeared recently in WigLeaf, Craft, Vestal Review, Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel, and Best Small Fictions 2020.