It is in my dreams that I still see her.
Tonight she is disappointed, which is not unusual. She sits across from me, the mirrors spanning the far wall reflecting our side profiles back at us. I do not look at myself in the reflection.
What little I can see in my periphery is bad enough.
"Darling," Miss Kate says, smiling a false, tight smile. Darling, she always says. As though we are the best of friends.
She has an elegant voice, cultured and moneyed and smooth like aged whiskey. Just listening to her makes me feel small. "You're so much better than this."
She lowers her tea to her lap, then gestures at me. She indicates my stomach, my round face, my thighs. "You've let yourself go."
I don't say anything for a long moment. I look down at my feet, my cheeks burning with shame. "I'm sorry, Miss Kate," I finally say. "I'm sorry. I'll do better."
I look around the hall, avoiding her eyes. We are in the dance studio around the corner from my childhood home.
The dance studio in which Miss Kate once taught me ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary, tap. I learnt it all. I loved it all.
But it ate me up, slowly, one bite at a time.
Miss Kate is staring at me, caught in the honeyed light of early morning. The sun slips in through the half open blinds, illuminating the dust motes.
Her face as she watches me is sharp and pointed, like a rat's. Her body, even as she ages, remains tall and lithe.
She doesn't look intimidating, but that is why she always got away with terrible things; she is entirely unassuming.
She reaches out to place a motherly palm on my cheek. Her skin is so cold it burns. "I just want you to be the best you can be," she says. "I see something special in you."
I see something special in you. I taste bile at the back of my throat.
I think she did see something special in me. I think she tried to encourage it, in her own way. But what she actually did was whittle away at whatever special thing she saw.
She whittled and whittled and whittled, until all that remained of it was something sharp and jagged. I can't breathe around it, sometimes. This thing she left lodged there.
She whittled and whittled and whittled, until all that remained of it was something sharp and jagged. I can't breathe around it, sometimes. This thing she left lodged there. This anger.
"I'll see you tomorrow night," she says.
I pull myself from bed and stagger over to my mirror. I have to set it on the dresser to properly examine my body. There are no full-length mirrors in this room.
I turn my body left, then right. I feel the fat at my middle, my back, my arms, my thighs. I feel it everywhere. Even my face looks swollen with it. I look away, blinking back tears, disgusted.
"Evelyn!" my mother calls. "Breakfast!"
"I'm not hungry," I whisper to myself. It is a lie I tell myself, sometimes. Perhaps if I say it enough, I will begin to believe it.
I remember dancing in ballet, my left hand resting on the bar. "You don't need to choke it, Evelyn," Miss Kate would say, then laugh. "You're not going to fall off."
I'm scared, I'd think. I'm so scared of you. My grip on this bar is the only thing keeping me standing.
Of course, I'd say nothing. Back then, I was a mouse. Less than a mouse. I didn't even squeak.
If she had to say something more than once, she'd approach. She moved like a panther, feline and elegant. She struck like one, too. She'd forcibly uncurl fingers.
She'd move legs and arms into the right position. Forcefully--but not violently. She was careful about that.
"In my day, they'd take a switch to the back of your legs for that sort of poor form," she'd say. As though we were supposed to be grateful that she didn't physically injure us.
As though she was doing us a kindness. As though she expected us to thank her. Thank you, batshit crazy lady. Thank you for your restraint.
If I could go back, I would tell her that there are other ways to hurt a person. Ways you don't see. Ways that linger.
If I could go back, I would smack her smug face; yell at her, kick at her, spit at her. I would act like the animal I am.
This anger this anger
This anger this anger this anger she breathed to life inside of me.
She was so cruel that we would cry, sometimes. At eight. At nine. At ten. We were only children. Still, we would be made to feel ashamed of our tears.
"Stop crying, cry baby," she would say, shoving wads of tissue into our hands. Then she would turn the music on, and we would dance, marionettes, smiling through the tears.
Sometimes, in my head, I wrap my hands around her neck.