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Every Shard, Every Speck, Every Particle Emma Brankin

CW: Eating disorder/body dysmorphia

Mai covered her bedroom walls with mirrors. The reflections reminded her she was still there, someone worth watching. From every corner, glass gleamed down at her like perfect smiles – she couldn’t see the blades gripped between their teeth.

Her body had become parts of parts that couldn’t quite connect. Eyes blinking. Hands reaching. A long leg stretching. Thought after thought that wouldn’t settle, that didn’t fit. She watched as her tongue scattered sentences, etching lies into the glass. ‘I’m fine, Mum.’ ‘I’m fitting in well.’ ‘Yeah, my conservatory tutors really seem to like me.’

But the mirrors would help, Mai soothed herself, as she hammered the last nail into the wall. The mirrors would make her whole again. A glass girl. Complete.

You’re making too many sloppy errors and timing mistakes.”

She dedicated hours to dancing in front of her mirrors. She practiced her pirouettes and plies on pointe, perpetually in motion, constantly assessing, criticising, repeating. She was determined to get it right so everybody at the conservatory could stop telling her she was getting it wrong. From every angle, she watched her limbs extend away from her body, each arm and leg travelling higher and higher, every muscle’s sinew pulled taught, as if that body part was attempting the most elegant of escapes. Mai pretended not to see her skin tremor with stress and strain. She ignored how the mirrors seemed to echo and vibrate her pain, the glass stretching tighter and tighter.

“You need to stop falling apart when even the slightest thing goes wrong.”

The mirrors’ unblinking company helped her scrutinise everything. She observed the jut of her chin, her lean legs like whittled-away wood, the deep grooves of her collarbone. She watched the different versions of herself multiplying down a never-ending corridor; reflecting, responding, replying to one another. Every day, all her selves brushed their hair together, read their books together, trawled their phones together, picked at their salads together. Each morning, all her selves spoke Mai’s mantra, the lies ringing out like a chorus, full-voiced and strong: ‘You can do anything. You are capable and strong. You are the perfect dancer.’

Then, when she made yet another mistake and her body crumbled to the floor, all her selves opened their delicate, dangerous mouths and let out a scream like an axe, each trying to cut and slash their way through the glass.

“We just don’t see you as the complete package.”

But if her tutors really looked closely enough, they would see how much she wanted it, how hard she tried, how she must be getting it right. Mai should be the one centre-stage, not stuck behind the graceful girls always picked for the front row. Because Mai had invested everything, travelled half-way across the world, cut off friendships and romances before they could begin, drained her parents’ bank accounts, missed grandparents’ funerals, nursed injuries, endured headaches, sank fingers deep into her throat – made her life nothing but mirrors. But when she tried to explain this to them, to excuse her flat feet and clumsy landings, the sentences stumbled out, her words as exhausted as her worn-out body.

In the conservatory canteen, Mai watched the other girls as they sat with full plates and made weekend plans she was never invited to. She could never find any cracks in their laughter or loneliness in their smiles. Instead, she spent each evening alone, her reflections nodding at her hungrily, encouraging her to stay.

“You have been cut from the programme. Please clear your locker and leave.”

When it was over, Mai had nowhere to go, no reason to leave her bedroom, nobody she dared speak to. All she could see were the mirrors and her many selves caged inside the glass, shards of failure sticking in their throats. They encircled her, hollow-eyed clones hunched over as they sat on her bed, the ridges of ribcages shining through paper skin.

She closed her eyes but, still, their reflections pierced through the dark of her lids, reminding her she’d been in here too long, invested too much – she’d be multiplied by mirrors forever.

Mai had created her mirrored room to do beautiful things, to marvel at the seamless flux of her astonishing body. She had never wanted to be here. Rejected. Grounded. Still.

One of her selves winked at her. Another rubbed her sad, tear-stained eyes. A third covered her mouth, as if stopping laughter from spilling out. A fourth walked right up to the glass and splayed both palms up against it and pushed, hard, willing her world to crack.

Mai tried to remember when dancing had been wonderful. When being nine years old and doing her best was enough.

Now, she could no longer tell what was real, what was solid and what was just an echo of ambition unfulfilled.

One of her selves frowned while tracing the outline of her silhouette onto the glass.

Mai watched herself and the herself watched Mai.

She felt the sensation of ribbons looping onto her extremities. Tugging at her. Gently, then, with more force. Her body – bodies – her own silhouette, seemed to splinter, distend and detach, as if pulling away from itself, each part floating an impossible distance away from what she’d assumed was her core.

Her eyes blinked. Hands reached. Legs stretched. Tongue scattered. Lies, truths, mantras, apologies, everything strewn free.

She was nowhere. Everywhere. Shattered and sprayed into infinite imperfect versions. A trail of glass levitating in the air. An endless scattering of self, flickering with energy and emotion, contorting into astonishing shapes, leaps and spins.

‘Mum,’ she said, some part of her clutching her phone, happy to finally share a certainty, her own unbreakable truth. ‘I fixed it. I’m fine.’

Because every shard

     every speck

          every particle

               was dancing.

PATREON EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR EMMA BRANKIN

FFO: Do you have a writing playlist or a particular song that reminds you of this story?

EB: I never write to music – maybe I should try it. It would have to be instrumental music though as I’m so distracted by lyrics. If I had to choose a song For Every Shard, Every Speck, Every Particle I would choose maybe… the instrumental to Lorde’s song Melodrama? I feel that has all the darkness but beauty and a mix of quick and slow-paced beats to mirror what’s swirling in Mai’s head.

To read the entire interview...

Become a Patron of Flash Fiction Online. Patrons unlock exclusive rewards like interviews with the authors, issues of the magazine, live chats with the FFO editorial staff, & more.
© Emma Brankin

Meet the Author

Emma Brankin

Emma Brankin

Emma Brankin is a teacher from Glasgow, Scotland with a Masters in Creative Writing and Education from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She was recently shortlisted for the Bridport Prize’s Short Story Contest as well as winning Fugue Fiction‘s Short Story prize and the To Hull And Back Short Story contest. Other work has appeared in places such as SmokeLong Quarterly, Reflex and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. You can contact her on Twitter via @emmanya.

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