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Reflections in Suburbia

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Eight-year-old Josh stares in the mirror. He wears Transformer pajamas, the water is running, and his toothbrush is untouched. He pushes his nose up and puffs his cheeks out. Giggles erupt. Josh likes to make goofy faces at his reflection; he does this every time his mother, Jean, says to brush his teeth. She used to yell about it, but he’s grown devious. Now he doesn’t leave the water running too long, he remembers to wet his toothbrush, and he squishes the toothpaste tube in a different spot so it looks as if he’s actually put some on his toothbrush.

 

After Josh leaves the bathroom, Tricia comes in and closes the door. She’ll be thirteen next month, but she’s already hit her ugly duckling stage. At least that’s what Jean calls it. She says it’s a natural thing all girls go through. Tricia knows that’s a lie; her older sister, Kelli, has never looked ugly or awkward or disgusting - ever. Tricia stands before the mirror now, staring at her sullen face. She opens her mouth and exposes shiny metal braces. The glasses she wears dwarf her face, but she wanted them because “they’re just like Mom’s.” Then Tricia looks down at her legs. A sob erupts. She jerks her head toward her reflection. “Four-eyed, brace-faced, bird legs,” she says, voice filled with contempt. This isn’t the first time she’s repeated the names her classmates call her while she stares at herself, feeling unadulterated revulsion for her appearance. From the counter, she yanks the orthodontic headgear the dentist said she must wear nightly and tosses it into a drawer. Kelli tries to hurry Tricia out of the bathroom, but the younger girl glares at the closed door and yells, “I’ll be out in a minute!

 

A few minutes later when Tricia opens the door, Kelli whispers, “It’s about time, dumb ass.” She sails into the bathroom and closes the door. When she turns to the mirror, the sour expression she wears disappears. She poses this way and that. Obviously pleased with what she sees, she smiles. Pulling her long hair into a ponytail, she reaches for the shower cap. When she drops her robe and turns sideways, a glint of fear changes her expression. She rubs her hand over her still-flat stomach, and bites her lip. Seconds later, she hunches over the toilet and deposits her breakfast. Jean knocks on the door, asking if “Kelli Belly” is okay. Kelli wipes her mouth; she lies, saying it’s just a touch of stomach flu.

 

After Kelli showers and leaves the bathroom, Jean enters. She heaves a loud sigh, drops her robe, and steps on the scale she’s scooted away from the wall. Her second sigh is louder. She puts the robe back on and kicks the scale back into the corner where it belongs. Her brow is furrowed when she glares at herself in the mirror. She’s taken to heart her husband’s teasing “pudgy” comment from last night. A tap tap tap comes at the door, and he pops his head in, saying, “Hey Babe …”

 

Jean, who usually calls her husband sweetie or honey, verbally backs Don away from the door. “Babe? Babe? Like that big fat pig in that movie? Is that what you’re trying to say?” She slams the door in his face then picks up the hair dryer and looks as if she’s about to throw it at the mirror.

 

In the bedroom, Don stares in the dresser mirror. He wears a bewildered expression. Aloud he says, “Women! I swear to God I’ll never figure them out.”

 

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