I know now why I’m fat–I am heavy with child. I was seventeen and off to college, seventeen and full of possibilities and cream filling, full of caramel centers and cheese pizza. I was a tiny slip of girl and then I wasn’t. And ever since then, ever since the day I looked in the mirror and realized my cheekbones were being swallowed by my face, ever since I realized that my beauty would fade, ever since the moment I sucked in my belly so I could see my toes, I have been pregnant with this girl, this ninety pound princess coiled in my belly.
When she is born I will wrap her in pink and green blankets, but she will not be born on a dreary Sunday in November. No, she will be born at the height of summer with a fierce wind in the air, a summer storm full of rivers and creeks and she will swim with her mermaid’s tail, green-scaled and flapping and this girl won’t have a milk allergy. No, she will drink chocolate milk from a silver cup and rattle her silver spoon against the legs of the moon, so bright the stars are dim, so bright even the universe with its trillion eyes stares wide at her, a mouth full of Cheerios, a baby girl all dressed up in lemon yellow with lacey trim. The two of us will walk down the street, my footfalls timed perfectly to her toddler steps and she will lean against the drugstore window and blow bubbles through a tight, orange circle. She will not have stringy brown hair and blue-grey eyes. No, her hair will twist every which a way with red curls and her eyes will snap green fire when she laughs her magic laugh and the whole world will watch her growing and her mother will feed her tomato pasta with Parmesan cheese and golden toast with garlic butter and she will suck up Cherry Coke through a swirling pink straw while all the neighborhood kids gather to watch her through the kitchen window. She will not have a mother with Marlo Thomas curls. She will not have a mother with flat feet and a stubborn chin. No, her mother will never smack her across the mouth, her mother will never hard comb her hair until she cries with the ripping of it, her mother will never hide behind the bedroom door and then jump out all at once, all of a sudden the room full of a laughing mother who doesn’t understand little girls. No, her mother will soap up her hair and rinse her ever so gentle and douse her head with cream rinse until her curls are as soft as silk. And there will be no need for the little pink foam rollers on Saturday night because on Sunday morning she will be the prettiest girl in the whole valley, in all that country there won’t be a prettier little girl and when the choir sings to Jesus she’ll know that they’re really singing to her, their voices full of harmony and sincerity and she’ll pray the “Lord’s Prayer” with a weather eye on the clock, the big hand inching toward the twelve when the preacher claps the big Bible shut and there will be a Sunday dinner with all the fried chicken the little girl could ever want and doughnuts full of cream and raspberry jelly and there will be no June bugs to scare her and no mean little boys to pull her hair and when the late afternoon comes she will lie down for the perfect nap with the perfect brown bear nestled into her arm and her dreams will be fluffy and white with mint green streamers all over and she will never, ever snore.
This is the ninety pound baby, this is the girl with twirling red hair, this is the girl named Rebecca, named Rebecca Ann, named Rebecca Jane, named Rebecca Arleen, named first in line, named the greatest beauty in North Georgia, in the whole Confederacy, in the whole United States, she is number one, she was born just five minutes ago. It’s storming outside. The sky is deep purple with green sparks. She is screaming her first scream, the first of many, the first in a long line of getting her way, getting what she wants. See how the sea parts for her to walk across, see how her feet never get wet until she takes off her furry boots and socks and dips in, first her big toe, then her whole foot, then all the way up to her waist because she’s a water bug, she’s a marvel, she goes waterskiing and never loses her balance, she can dance straight up on her toes, she is a ballerina in every shade of pink and when she twirls her tutu twirls around her and the earth twirls on its string and old people whisper of secret things, secrets growing in the garden rows where her grandmother wore a lavender dress and dropped three tiny carrot seeds into her hand and she poked them into the freshly turned earth and washed her hands at the pasture spring and the sun sparkled the water over the stones. See how she skips stones across the surface of the lake, all her life she will do that, three perfect stones in her right hip pocket, her slim fingers closing around them, feeling their weight, their edges so smooth like the mirror in the hallway, a mirror full of Rebecca and all the Rebeccas inside her, skipping across the face of the lake, circle after circle all through her life, the movement of the water against her ankles, so slim without a hint of fat and no, she won’t trip over her own feet when she wears the pointy shoes or the strappy pumps with the impossibly high heels. No, she can walk down three flights of twisty stairs with an encyclopedia on her head because she burns with an orange fire and her feet never swell and everyone holds their breath when she walks into the room in her emerald dress and chignon-ed hair, everyone watches her take up her glass and bolt back the Champagne that never makes her drunk, just ever so slightly tipsy. No, this Rebecca does not drink so much that the room starts to spin, this Rebecca does not linger too long over the chocolate cake with the whitest frosting. No, this Rebecca is floating from room to room, the life of the party, the perfect hostess and when the time is right, when the moon has traveled to the edge of the sky, she will float lightly to her bed in the back bedroom where the night air is cool and sweet from the fan in the window and she will fall asleep as quickly as the baby Rebecca just removed from her mother’s breast, a slow steady breath of early morning summer under ironed-crisp white sheets and feather pillows.
And what luck she will have at love, how all the brown-haired blue-eyed boys will love her, will gather around her, will chase her on the playground because they want to kiss her and she understands this, from the very beginning, she is not deceived by their tactics, she knows what they want, and Blair Callaway loves her and Wesley Blevins loves her and Stephen and Roger and Doyle and most especially Mark Richards and Kip Thompson love her with a fierce love that never stops but she never says I love you back, she never lets them inside because you must understand that she doesn’t need them, she will never need them or anybody else and when she’s forty-eight she’ll walk through a house that is all her own, walk through the white rooms full of cats and sleek pianos and when she takes a lover she holds him at arm’s length because she’s the user, she’s the dumper. No one has ever dumped her, no one has ever kicked her to the curb. No man would ever dream of letting her go and see how she laughs at them all, how her best days are spent alone with Sunbeam toast and grape jelly and broad canvases that she fills with every shade of yellow and pink and green and orange. And no matter what happens in her life she will never have babies to break her heart. She will never let anything grow inside her. She will never have stretch marks on her breasts and belly. She will never feel the soulless pain of a needle in her spine. No, she will have Afghan hounds and Mocking Birds and a collection of stones from all over the world because she has traveled far and wide, she has been everywhere, every desert and jungle, every city and countryside and everywhere men clamor for her and she may take their orgasms but she never lets them inside.
See it’s like this. She had a father who loved her, she had a father with strong hands and a smiling beard and he lifted her up so high, so high that no man could ever reach her. She is a secret, she is a ballerina in a music box, twirling on her toes, round and round she goes, decked out in pink and red velvet and when she’s finished dancing, someone brings her white cake with white frosting, a three-layer cake all her very own and when she forks up a bite, she smiles at all the stuffed animals with their ribbon bows and button eyes, all lined up in a row in her high canopy bed where she spends every night in a deep sleep and dreams of lakes and rivers and twisty creeks and she swims with smooth strokes all the way across Lake Weiss, all the way her arms beating a steady rhythm against the waves. She is a magic girl and later her father will build a campfire for her and she will roast hotdogs and marshmallows and her fingers will be sticky and her face will be sticky and the inside of her will be blue clean through to her center and in all the world there won’t be a thing to trouble her. Her mother will never spank her with her bolo paddle. Her mother will never smack her toddler hands and make her cry. Her father will never push her out of his lap and he would never dream of missing her graduation. He would never dream of missing her wedding. All through her life she will call on him and he will be there, all for her. Her mother will pass away on a crimson breath, but her father will live forever and bring her yellow tulips in springtime and carve her many tiny wooden boats to sail downstream where the world never changes, where you never grow old with a catch in your side and receding gums, with a sag in the backside and troubled dreaming. No, the years will never catch up with her and she’ll never be lonely or afraid and her father will build her a pointy-roofed cottage on the shores of a mountain lake and she will read giant pop-up books every night and fairies will fly through the open window to weave ribbons through her curls and when she closes her eyes she dreams of dragons breathing orange fire and she slays them all, the highest of heroes in all that mountain kingdom and the people sing songs of her and all the boys carve her name into the willow trees and God smiles upon her and declares her the best, the very best girl in the whole history of the world.
And in this world, her brother will not be full of voices and poison and terrible scheming mothers with their sleight of hand and ne’er do well. In this world no one will come crawling through the window in the night, into the hot blue tent of the electric blanket in deep winter. The nights will never be so cold and driven full of ice. The chimney will always be clean and the creosote will never catch fire, the old wires will never smart and spark. The little white house will stand forever with the maples and oaks and the lone walnut tree with its blackest bark and high-reaching limbs against the afternoon blue. No, the smiling kitchen is still there, and the bouncy wagon seat is still there in front of the black and white TV, and the skinny bathroom is still there and the sock-footed girl is still sliding down the hall on her way to The Ten Commandments because in this world she really is a princess. In this world she is beautiful and evil and Moses loves only her when she pulls him from the water. She feeds him bitterroot and saltwater taffy and they drink lemon water without sugar and the night is full of stars that are never too close, they never bore into her insides and fill up the mid-afternoon with too much white. In this world Rebecca’s brain is sure and steady and when the boat pulls her up onto her skis she glides smoothly over the wake. Skipper watches her and finally decides right then he really does love her but she doesn’t care and years later she will see the sad, sad person he becomes without her in his life and she isn’t even the least bit sorry about it. No, in this life she is never sorry and never eats out her own dreams with worrying over her sagging middle and rubbery neck. In this life she is forever and ever taut and toned and thin as a little girl’s whisper, a little girl’s giggle because she is and always will be the littlest girl. She fits square into her father’s palm. He sets her down inside the heart of a tulip and she curls up and dreams the sweetest dreams of her horse running free across the pasture. She is chasing her down, she is grabbing handfuls of her mane, she is pulling herself up and they are flying together through the woods, deer flies and bottle buzz, the swooshing sound of her heartbeat in her ears, her steady breathing. They are leaping into the sun, into the land where it’s always yellow and the juicy center of the universe melts liquid on their tongues, just them two, the horse and the girl moving forever Amen down the years.