They said her Greek toes were too pretty and started with them. She gave her toes willingly in exchange for the promise of even prettier ones. They pretended each digit was a little piggy as she watched them disappear; she dreamed they were kidnapped and murdered in a slaughterhouse. It was shortly after that she realized her piggy-toes were not coming back. That was the first time she felt the deep hatred of herself, and the nursery rhyme sung from her childhood chased her since.
(This little piggy went to the market…)
Toeless, she could now fit the shoes they gave her, perfect and proper. She thought she was prettier than ever and winked at herself every morning for days after. The nights passed by swiftly in peaceful sleep, the darkness just a means for morning light to arrive: the day she’d wake up beautiful. One day they caught her smiling in the mirror. She had to stop or they’d take it away. In the end, it didn’t matter what happened to the mirror because she had stopped using it altogether. There just simply wasn’t any time to be wasted in winking and thinking, they said as they took her thoughts, still young and fresh, and stored them in a jar. Later, they would steal more of them without her knowing. They told her it was better this way and gave her a new wardrobe, so as to dress her in concepts she could no longer think of. Beautiful, they whispered.
(This little piggy stayed home…)
She smiled discreetly from then on, an addiction to this secrecy setting into her body. When she had realized it, she thought they had injected in her a drug. It was a tireless thought, as each thought that was thought disappeared mysteriously. Perhaps that was also the drug’s doing. At night she touched herself, trying to remember her skin. From the space between her eyebrows, down the slow curve to the raised tip of her nose, she felt the shape of her face: her fingers roved feverishly about her eyelids, prodded gently at the inviting grooves of her dimples, lingered about the slope of her jawline to the smooth edge of her chin, teased shyly into slightly parted lips, felt the soft bite of teeth, or the slick of tongue, until they came away throbbing for more. But every memory made was sucked up in the blink of an eye. These little instances of bone and skin and cartilage–instances she held tightly to so she could be reminded of the small differences between the others and herself–was each a journey of rebirth that peaked into a moment of beauty. Tugging longingly at the corners of her mouth with fingers learned from muscle memory, she would flash teeth in the dark, hoping no one was watching. Darkness was blindness. She didn’t know her smile anymore–did she forget? Invisible toes wiggled in shoes caressing the smooth skin of her feet. A small comfort it once was. Many nights were spent with open eyes: attempts to see herself, to recognize. The mirror on the wall was forgotten.
(This little piggy had roast beef…)
After taking away the mirror, they took the sharp point from her nose. She didn’t remember when they shaved it down–what was it like before? After, they shaved her chin to a sharp point. The next day they took her eyebrows. Then her freckles. Her dimples. Each individual eyelash was plucked from her lids, then replaced with synthetic ones, curled like a doll’s and heavy. She had thrashed, once. Now, she stays still, her face a canvas of silence. They said to her, how pretty how obedient. She remembered her toes and how they stole them from her. She remembered how beautiful they were, how Greek, how perfect. When they came for her again she recited the rhyme they sung to her during operations and wiggled invisible toes.
(This little piggy…)
After shaving her bald, they gave her a mirror–a new handheld one. They required she inspect herself every morning to maintain her appearance before leaving the boundaries set specifically for her. She saw their smiles as they fitted a wig over her, stripped and admired her with unnerving ease (what could she do, they might set her on fire), then replaced her clothes with new ones. She could tell her breasts were exposed despite the thin fabric, could feel the slight breeze on her bare back. Her shirt was buttoned to the top, restricting her neck from expanding when she breathed. Smiles. Smile back. Applauding. Now, you are ready for the real world, they said. You are not pretty, but beautiful, they said. Precautions have been made, they said. She found she couldn’t stop smiling. The following nights consisted of minimal invisible-toe movement and much despair.
(…This little piggy…)
Snip, snip, cut. Lights blinded her, but she was only an eighth awake, and numb. Naked. Drowsy. They were all around her, gathered towards her chest, clothed against germs and the smell of antiseptic. She thought of her Greek toes turned into pork and sold to the market. In no time at all, they finished and handed her the mirror issued from before. Already the unnatural, unfamiliar weight was upon her chest, laboring her breathing. She thought she could cry. What had they done to her? They clothed her with care and wiped away any dust that befell her face. She relaxed under reassuring pats and sweet whispers. The tune of a nursery rhyme escaped her lips, but she could not quite remember the end. They unraveled the fiber from her body and stripped her down naked. Then they stripped her even more. Then they shamed her. Her lips pulled back tightly at the corners of her frozen smile. Beautiful, they said.
She blew all the breath in her body into the balloon given to her and tied it to the jar of fresh, young thoughts. They sent her home that night so she could lay in her bed and suffocate. On her way home, their cackles rang in her ears. They took everything from her, and now she had no breath to breathe. The sensation was a first for her body, but it was a familiar friend to her mind. The laborious, slow gasping of manual breathing was tiresome. It’s normal, they said, you’ll get used to it soon enough. The image of the balloon haunted her nights, and sometimes she awoke choking. This suffocation did not lead to death, and oh, how she longed for such sweet relief. That night and many more after, she clawed the walls with toothless nails, kicked the bed with toeless feet, and cried tearlessly with a smile on her face. The mornings that followed were filled with handheld mirrors in the morning before she walked among the others, sorely naked and suffering. Sometimes they came back to strip and shame her, but the tendency for this education had faltered as they watched. Sipping on premature thoughts and her sweet balloon breath, they enjoyed the spectacle of her and all the others, revelling in the glory of their god-like power.
(This little piggy had none.)
Edited. Originally titled “Breathing”, but, well.