Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Birthday party

We've been to Hele's birthday party. This was not fun. Hele is aged fourteen and is an anorexic. She weighs 50 per cent under her body weight and had just come out of the hospital having had her organs drip fed with nutrients because she can't chew.

The first thing I noticed about Hele was not her body weight, because she was all wrapped up in layers of clothing, probably freezing to death despite the warm spring day. It was her gaze. There wasn't any of it in any focused way. She looked spaced out as if she'd been taking drugs, and so she looked off into nowhere, expressing nothing, having no feeling and no focus. Then because of her strange sliding eyes I noticed her face. The jaw bone was visible and sharp, as was her nose and the bones that emerged around her eye sockets and temples. Her thin wispy fair hair fell in straight lines about her. It looked as though some of it had fallen away. She sat, slumped in a chair and, like someone watching something horrible, I couldn't take my eyes away from her. I studied the vertebra in her neck bones and my eyes traced down to the bones making up her fingers. My eyes sought a curve in the line of her jeans. It looked as though there was nothing but a cut away shape and a shadow inside.

Perhaps I should have been respectful and not stared; I have no business in Hele's life and she may have resented the intrusion, had she noticed me gazing at her across the room. But as I watched her skeletal movements, the only emotion I felt for her was anger. I was angry that in her relentlessly selfish way she had brought this terrible happening to herself and to her family.

I watched myself, perhaps, in ten, perhaps six year's time, watching Shark, or Tiger, or Squirrel from across the dining table. I know what their excuses would be. 'I've eaten already, you didn't see.' 'I had a banana earlier and I'm not hungry now.' 'I don't need any food, I don't feel like it now, I'll eat later.' 'I don't fancy this, I'll make some soup for myself at tea.' 'I'm going out now, I'll eat while I'm out.' It would all be lies, of course, and I would know it and they would believe them. They really would eat soup at tea: hot water and a stock cube. They really would eat later: a bite of banana, spat out after seconds with the skin left on the worktop for evidence and the rest in the bin.

I was angry at Hele and angry at myself and gripped with fear for Shark and Tiger and Squirrel. So when the birthday cake came round and Hele melted away to the toilet, afraid to see the plates shared out and people eating, I made sure that Shark, Tiger and Squirrel ate every morsel, and licked the crumbs from the plate too.

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