fiction of reality CC
“The body is its own ritual…”
– Emily Rapp Black, Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg
Staring into the bathroom mirror in your open bathrobe, you look beyond your reflection and the cobalt blue terrycloth that hugs your frame loosely, and you let your mind wander. If the body is its own ritual—as your writing teacher has said--your ritual is preparing the body for men. You imagine that, like you, every girl wants to feel beautiful. You feel most beautiful when a suitor becomes engorged at the sight of you, then fills your body with his own. That instant when he—something outside of you—is inside of you, leaves you feeling not only desired, but also powerful; whole.
At least once a month, you follow these precise steps preceding sex so that the latest man will find you irresistible. Even if he’s a veritable stranger, his approval and wanting are paramount to your sense of self-worth. You know this, or at least the still, small voice inside you does, so you begin again—taking it from the top.
In the shower, you shampoo and condition your hair, which can run the gamut from long and wheat blonde to layered and chestnut brown to collar-bone length in a sassy red to jet black with bangs. No matter the length or the current color, you let the conditioner sit for several minutes, so your locks are silky smooth. Next, you soap up your entire body before tackling your legs. You lather shaving cream on them evenly and glide your razor slowly and purposefully over all that surface area. You wonder: Do skinny girls finish shaving faster? You suppose it depends how tall they are. At 5’7, 130 pounds—a whopping ten L-Bs more than you weighed a decade ago in high school—you know you shouldn’t complain about your physique or the width of your thighs, but with your Jewish hips and ample bum and full, pert breasts, there’s no way anyone is calling you skinny either, which is exactly why you check the “voluptuous” box on your online dating profiles.
After the shower, you apply smoothing serum to your hair, twist it up onto the top of your head with a clip, and let it air dry for a while before blowing it out straight or taking a hot, ceramic curling iron to it. This gives you time to begin your parallel routine—cleaning your space. This second routine is even more ritualistic and precise than the first. The trash has to be emptied from every room, the sweeping done, the bed made, the pillows fluffed, the dishes washed and put away—not that you ever let things get out of hand—but it’s all about presentation. You need everything to look its best.
As a preteen, cleaning was something you did to feel in control. You arose every morning at 5 am, so you could wash. With a loofah, you would scrub yourself clean. Then, you’d change your underwear and change them again and again and again. Now, you have so many panties—from boring, cotton workout ones to sexy lace ones in every color of the rainbow—that you hardly ever have to do laundry, and when you do run out of underwear, you usually just go online, hoping for a sale, and buy more instead. “Add to cart” are your three favorite words, second only to I love you.
Even as far back as childhood, you had cleaning rituals. You’d come home from school and try your hardest to erase any evidence of your messy home life. There was Mom, whose catering business, and other debris, spilled all over the kitchen: dirty dishes; greasy countertops; broken marriage. There was your neurodivergent pest-of-a-little-brother, who regularly put his sticky paws all over the glass coffee table when he wasn’t bouncing off the walls. And then there was Dad—cold and largely-absent—whose dusty, size-ten shoeprints marked up the chocolate-covered hardwood.
No matter. Armed with Windex, sponge, and broom, you fixed it all. No footprints or fingerprints on your watch. Anyway, this filth, this disorder, this chaos didn’t reflect you. “You’re sick,” your father said, locking eyes with you, whenever he made an appearance during waking hours and saw you cleaning. “You have a problem.” His words sent the same chill down your spine, every time, causing the peach fuzz on the back of your neck to stand at attention.
Now, an adult in your own apartment, there’s nobody around to judge your quirks but you. You feel free to pick up unwanted hairs from the tile floor and shower drain, and you do. You’re just as fastidious as you were then, but your energy is different: less frenzied; less feverish; less frantic. Afterward, you turn the focus back to you.
Up until the last moment, you repeatedly curl your lashes until they nearly touch your eyelids. Up until the last moment, you comb your thick eyebrows, so they are arched, just so. Up until the last moment, you sweep powder over your nose to eliminate any shine and hide your dusting of freckles. Then, you brighten your cheeks, apply a pinky-red lipstick, and put an extra coat of mascara on, just to be safe. You spray lavender mist all over your apartment; dab perfume on your neck and wrists and chest and arms; burn fragrant, citrusy candles with fancy names like Tarocco Orange, Pink Citron, and Red Currant.
There’s the doorbell now.
You blot your lips—your only pop of color—with a tissue and do one more appraisal, one final full-body scan. Black jeans, black boots, black silk top, black leather jacket, black cross body bag. Slimming. Edgy. Good.
You’ve got this, you say to yourself as you head to the door to greet him.
You’re finally ready to let go.
Essayist, poet, and book reviewer Melody Greenfield has an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has been published—both under this name and another—in Brevity, Lunch Ticket, Annotation Nation, The Los Angeles Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Pup Pup Blog, The Manifest-Station, Poke, Neuro Logical, The Erozine, Moment Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, Screenshot Lit, Pink Plastic House, Impostor, the Jewish Literary Journal, Potato Soup Journal, The Muleskinner Journal, Kelp Journal, Rejection Letters, Drizzle Review, Fusion Anthology, The Wave, GXRL, and Meow Meow Pow Pow, where her flash piece was nominated for a Best Small Fiction award. Her work is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys and HOOT's Cookbook Anthology.
Melody and her Canadian husband live in LA, where she teaches Pilates, and he teaches elementary school. When she’s not working or writing, Melody can be found reading, singing, or on the socials: https://www.facebook.com/melody.greenfield.520/ melody.greenfield_writer on IG.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.