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"Self Loathing" by Danica Popovic

“There’s hardly anything left. It won’t be long before it’s just your eyes,” Belle said, holding the sides of my head and examining my face.

I swatted her hands away. “Are you kidding? The face takes the longest to disappear. It could take years before everything but my eyes are gone, and I’ll be old and wasted away by then anyway. Nobody will care.” I said. I turned to the mirror to examine my fully solid and visible face. My head would continue to float around above an invisible body for ages, and would perhaps only disappear by the time I was gray and hideous. The thought of this made me nauseous. I turned away from the mirror.

Belle sighed and plopped onto my bed. “Knowing you, the rest of your face will be gone in a few months. I wish it would be years; I’m still hardly used to the sight of you as a floating head.”

I tried not to roll my eyes at this. Belle was always making comments like this–how terrifying, how unsettling I looked each time I achieved something significant and a new part of me disappeared. Her jealousy was evident. The only part of her that had turned invisible was her pinky finger, and I hadn’t an idea what she could have possibly achieved to gain even this small feat of invisibility. I never asked.

“What are you in such a rush for, anyway? You’re really young, Lola. Most people don’t even get close to being only their eyes until they’re in their eighties or nineties, if they get to do it in their lifetime. Most people don’t even get to be only their heads, which you are, at twenty.” She stared at me with this false, overdone look of pity.

Still, my organs seemed to contract at her words. Most people. I bit down hard on my upper lip, willing myself not to snap at her. But something seemed to be expanding inside of me, pushing against my thighs, my skin, and my ribs, an unidentifiable feeling that caused spots of color to bleed out on the surface of my eyes.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Belle? I have zero interest in being most people,” I said. Belle blinked a few times and looked away, the look of pity still stamped on her face. “I have zero interest in being like you.”

She stared blankly for a moment, then she lay down on the bed and turned away from me so I could no longer see her expression. But I knew what it was without having to see–I knew it was filled with hurt. Belle was simple, predictable in that way.

. . .

Eight years old is the youngest a person can be before they start disappearing. This was when the first body parts of mine turned invisible, three fingers for extraordinary achievements and impeccable underage advancement on the piano.

I was sickened by the invisibility, at first. I could still feel my fingers attached to my body–I could still touch. Blood still flowed, joints still bent, in the three that had disappeared. But they just weren’t there, and I couldn’t understand why, and I couldn’t understand what could possibly be appealing about uncontrollable invisibility. I wanted to abandon the piano in hopes that my fingers would show up again. I sat on my bed for ages, staring at my hand, pinching it, hitting it against the wall, in hopes of drawing blood. Instead, I would feel a sort of numb, dull pain.

. . .

The first time Belle and I met, our parents sat talking downstairs while Belle dragged me to her bedroom. I didn’t feel any sort of interest towards her at first–she insisted on grabbing my hand and intertwining her fingers with my invisible ones, marveling and gaping and talking incessantly about how cool it was. I ripped my hand away from her and ran downstairs to retrieve my parents, only to overhear their conversation with Belle’s parents from outside the door.

“She wants to quit piano,” My mother said. “I think she just feels too much pressure.”

“I don’t think so,” My father said. “She’s too young to feel pressure. I think she’s just scared. She doesn’t understand that having invisibility at such a young age is extremely impressive.” “It certainly is,” Belle’s mother said. “We wish Belle was more like Lola. She doesn’t seem to be good at anything.”

I stepped away from the door. We wish Belle was more like Lola. I had heard all I needed to hear.

I was much more willing to be around Belle after that.

. . .

“Would you please stop studying for ten minutes?” Belle whined as I prepared for my translation studies exams. Most of my body had turned invisible from accomplishments in school. I ignored Belle and continued staring at my computer.

“Can’t we watch a movie or something for a bit? I’ve just been sitting here for an hour.”

“I’m not studying anymore,” I said, still not turning to look at her. “I’m reading this article. About this twenty-one-year-old in England who just became only his eyes.”

Belle stayed quiet for a moment. I turned around to face her and observed her in all her solidity and clarity. I stared at her for a long moment, neither of us speaking.

“You’ll get there at twenty-one too,” She finally said. Her voice was practically a whisper.

You never will, I wanted to say. You will never get there. A headache bloomed in my forehead almost immediately and sweat started to gather on my upper lip. I bounced my leg up and down.

“Can’t you just take a break for ten minutes? I don’t understand why you even invited me here, if you just wanted me to sit quietly so you could look at me every once in a while.”

“Don’t leave,” I said quickly. “Please. I’ll be done in half an hour. You can sleep over here.”

She rolled her eyes. “We both know you won’t be done in half an hour. You’re never going to be done. Even if you were only your eyes, you would want to keep going and be the first person to disappear forever.”

I opened my mouth to tell her it was impossible to disappear past only your eyes, but she had already left the room.

. . .

Two hours had passed by the time I finished studying. I ventured to the guest bedroom, searching for Belle, and I found her buried underneath the bed covers, sleeping with her mouth wide open. I sat down on the bed next to her and watched her chest rising and falling evenly. I had the sudden urge to reach out and stroke her hair, and so I did. I tucked it behind her ears. Then I reached out and stroked her invisible pinky finger.

An intense feeling of nausea and embarrassment overcame me and I abruptly stood from the bed. This movement caused the sheet I had used to cover the mirror (as I had done for every mirror in the house) to come away and reveal me in its reflective surface. I winced at the sight of my floating face, which now had gaping invisible holes where my eyebrows, mouth, and nose used to be. I quickly covered it, as quietly as I could, so as not to wake Belle. Then I ran to the bathroom and puked in the sink, the image of my half-invisible face still poignant at the front of my mind.

. . .

Six months later, after intensive art classes and daily painting, I entered an art competition at the university in hopes of disappearing my ears by placing first. Belle and I sat in the living room, awaiting the results. They would be posted at midnight.

“Would you stop bouncing your leg?” Belle said, smiling. “You’re going to get first. I know you will. And then you’ll finally be only your eyes. Maybe then you’ll finally stop stressing out so much.” She tucked her hands underneath her thighs to stop them trembling.

I refreshed the page three times. On the third, the results showed up.

My name was nowhere on the shortlist. I refreshed the page again. I hadn’t been on the longlist, either.

An email popped up in my inbox. It was from the head of the department of arts at the university and director of the competition. He suggested that since I was so accomplished, I should drop any art class I was taking immediately, so as to avoid a ‘stain on my record’. He said that though my painting was proficiently neat, every artwork was empty.

Belle’s hand reached out for my shoulder. She felt out the air for a few moments before her hand landed on my skin. I winced.

“I’m really sorry, Lola. He’s a pretentious asshole.” She said. I was cold for a moment, then blood seemed to rush everywhere into my body at once. It was all gathering, pressing directly underneath the surface of my skin, as if at any moment my body would no longer contain me. I could feel it bubbling in my throat. I could feel it in my nose. My skin began to burn, and I was certain I was bleeding from everywhere, I just couldn’t see it.

I grabbed hold of my arms and pressed my lips together in an attempt to shrink and tighten myself to stop whatever was inside of me from bursting out. “How would you know that, Belle? You don’t know anything. You can’t do anything.” I said. I felt as if something was leaking from my mouth, the blood, probably. The blood was everywhere. I reached up and wiped my face.

Belle only stared at me for a long while, her expression entirely blank. Then she just stood and left.

. . .

Another six months had passed and I was finally only my eyes.

What had done it was a piano concert. I hadn’t gained any invisibility from piano in years, since I was a child, but something about this concert was different. It was applauded for being emotionally charged, for having some effect on the audience. It was as if something was pouring out of you, onto the keys, the concert director had said. When the award was placed in my hands, I felt the familiar tingle of disappearance in my ears. And it had finally happened.

Pictures were taken. Autographs were signed. Articles were written.

I went to the doctor’s office quickly after it had happened, because I felt an aching, dull pain in my entire body. I figured it was some side effect of near-full invisibility. The doctor said it was most likely just all the excitement, a buildup of pressure, and that it would go away soon.

I decided to stop by Belle’s house after. She hadn’t contacted me, nor congratulated me, nor answered any of my calls.

She opened the door as soon as I knocked and smiled at me as usual.

“Congratulations,” She said, after a moment of quiet. “You’ve finally done it. I knew you would.”

I nodded. “Yes, thank you.”

“Do you feel less stressed out now?”

“Yes,” I said. It wasn’t a lie. I didn’t feel the blood pressing against my skin anymore. It seemed to just be lapping, sloshing around inside of me now. Not rushing or anything, just existing, purposelessly.

“Good,” She said. She stared at me expectantly.

“I’m sorry for how I treated you, Belle. I really didn’t mean to act that way. I don’t know what was wrong with me. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, that’s okay, I know you didn’t mean to.”

“So can I come in?” I asked, stepping forward. She remained still in her position.

“No,” She said, shutting the door. “No, you can’t.”

“Belle, wait!” I said at the closed door. My voice sounded oddly quiet. I began to knock, but the sound seemed incredibly muted for the force I was putting on the door. I frowned.

I began to feel a light static in my body, as if I was a carbonated pill dissolving in water. I knocked again, but this time, no noise at all resonated from the door.

“Belle? Can you hear me?” I shouted. My voice was almost indistinguishable from dust floating in the wind. “Hello?”

My voice was silent.

I walked to the front of the house and stared into the window, but I couldn’t see myself at all. I walked closer and squinted, still seeing nothing in the reflection. Not even my eyes. I pressed my fingers against the glass. They left no mark, but instead, passed straight through to the other side. I stepped forward, and I passed right through the wall, into Belle’s house.

I ran up the steps to her bedroom and rested my hand on her door handle, preparing to open the door, but instead propelled myself directly into the room. She sat reading on her bed, something I had never known she liked doing.

“Belle,” I shouted soundlessly. “Belle, can you hear me?”

She made no reaction. I tried to knock over objects in the room, to indicate that I was there, as if I were a ghost haunting her. But nothing was affected.

I went up close to her, trying and failing to grab her shoulders, her hair, her invisible pinky finger.

“Help me, Belle,” I screamed, again without sound. “There is nothing to me. There is nothing to me at all.”

Danica Popovic is a 16 year old (aspiring) writer. ‘Self Loathing’ is her first published work.


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