A little thinner
Ava was what the other waitresses called a big girl. Her legs were as wide and strong as oaks. Her forearms were as thick and firm as saplings. She took up more space and breathed more air than some people thought a woman should. And they reminded her every time she squeezed herself onto the bus, huffing and snickering as if her ears weren’t exquisitely attuned to subvocalized ridicule.
The horror of those breathless bus rides spent contracting and contorting herself to avoid brushing against seatmates was the major reason she bought her truck. She chose an older Ford, as sturdy and practical as she was. Tonight, driving home after the dinner shift, she gloried in her self-contained solitude. Moonlight filtered through branches and dappled the road with light. She smiled.
Ava had spent her twenties trying to whittle herself down, collecting an eating disorder or two along the way. Now at thirty-two, she had forgiven her body for its unruly dimensions, allowing it to exist without censure. She was wondering if she had the right ingredients for a tuna carbonara, when a cat streaked across the road and under her tire.
Ca-thump! Yowl! Screech!
Ava slammed on the breaks, but it was too late. The dark mass in the rear view mirror wasn’t moving. Heart juddering in her chest, she pulled over and climbed out of the truck. She turned on her flashlight app and found the broken feline crushed against the pavement. Her eyes flooded with tears. The cat wore a jeweled collar. Someone, somewhere, was waiting for a beloved pet that would never return home.
She carried the limp, furry bundle to the side of the road where she could look for a tag. When the light from her phone illuminated the crone, she almost swallowed her tongue. The old woman was nearly as tall as she was, with a mane of wild, bone-and-iron hair. She reached out her long, gnarled hands.
At first, Ava thought the older woman meant to strangle her. Then she remembered the soft, damp body in her arms. She held out the cat like an offering. The crone snatched it up.
Thinner, whispered the old woman, clutching her dead pet. The timbre of her voice was like an ill wind stirring up long dead leaves.
The next morning, Ava felt strangely ravenous. She supposed it was being so close to death the night before. She shrugged and padded into the kitchen, where she made a Brobdingnagian six-egg omelet with mushrooms and Gruyere. She devoured it and mopped up the eggy, cheesy remains with four slices of buttered toast. Then she washed it all down with three cups of milky coffee.
When she was finished, she debated running to the bathroom for a quick purge. It had been three years since she stopped vomiting and spent her life savings on fixing her teeth. She told herself she could probably throw up a few times without wrecking her veneers. No, you can’t. Not again. She took a deep breath and emailed her therapist. She explained the accident, the cat, the crone, and her sudden, uncontrollable hunger.
She spent the rest of the day in her garden, methodically pulling weeds and trying to ignore the burning sensation in her gut. When it was time to put on her waitress uniform, she cringed with dread. She remembered the bad old days, when she’d tended to retain water after a binge-and-purge cycle. She fervently hoped she would be able to zip the dress past her midsection.
But when she tried, the strangest thing happened. The uniform was loose. Cap sleeves gaped around her upper arms. The waist was decidedly roomy. Ava grinned. It was a miracle, a divine reprieve.
And then she remembered the dead cat, the crone’s whisper. She shivered with fear and a sickly kind of hope with the realization she might have been cursed.