Mor­gan’s Story: Ex­cerpts

MAG­GIE de VRIES

Room Magazine - - CHANG | TSEUNG FAMILY SNAPSHOT -

Mor­gan stood in the kitchen door and clenched both fists, hard, nails dig­ging into palms. She grit­ted her teeth, tensed her whole face, her best ef­fort at re­sis­tance. Her at­ten­tion was set on the snack cup­board, and she was do­ing bat­tle over the chips and cook­ies. Those were for Dad and Matt, the slim, ath­letic ones, not for her, but if she had some, the des­per­a­tion would fall away, and she would be able to set­tle. Or she could stick with re­sis­tance like she was sup­posed to. For another nanosec­ond, she con­sid­ered head­ing up the stairs, hands empty. The crav­ing reared its mas­sive beastly head and roared. Enough of that. A hand­ful of cook­ies and a bag of chips, and she was on her way to her room where the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of her favourite show and back-and-forth sweet-and-salty soothed the sav­age beast, for now.

Mor­gan was pretty sure that the ther­a­pist was Dad’s idea, even though Mom was the one who had brought it up. Two hours ago. At the din­ner table. Matt had run off to soc­cer prac­tice, and Dad had moved into the liv­ing room to an­swer a call, but Mor­gan saw the look he gave Mom as he rose from the table. Mom and Mor­gan were still seated, both poised to be­gin clear­ing. The in­jus­tice of that, the boy and the man off do­ing their thing while the girl and the woman cleaned up af­ter them, roiled in Mor­gan’s gut. Roiled. Mor­gan paused over the word, ran it around in her brain. Per­fect. She started to push back her chair and no­ticed that Mom hadn’t moved. She was star­ing at her plate and shred­ding her paper nap­kin. Mor­gan froze. “Dar­ling,” Mom said. And stopped. The sense of in­jus­tice, the roil­ing, shifted aside, re­placed by wari­ness. Mom was find­ing it hard to speak. “Your dad and I,” she said and stopped again, mouth open. Mor­gan could sense her scram­bling. Mor­gan waited, still and silent, though ev­ery in­stinct told her to run. “We think it might be help­ful. We think it would be good for you . . .” “What, Mom?” Mor­gan said. Another mo­ment of wait­ing and she would tip

over her chair in her haste to es­cape. “To see a ther­a­pist,” Mom said and sank back in her chair. A ther­a­pist? That Mor­gan had not an­tic­i­pated. She had ex­pected the usual: an at­tack of some kind—an at­tack on her flesh, or, if not an at­tack, a pro­posal, a diet and ex­er­cise plan, which pretty much amounted to the same thing:

• Smaller por­tions.

• No more snack­ing.

• Min­utes on a tread­mill tot­ted up on a chart on the fridge.

• Calo­ries and daily weight tot­ted up elsewhere.

• The mea­sur­ing tape trot­ted out monthly to en­cir­cle fatty body parts.

• Gold stars on the cal­en­dar.

• A trainer.

• A nu­tri­tion­ist.

• Goal set­ting.

• Chew count­ing.

• Wa­ter drink­ing.

Because, fat.

Ever since Mor­gan could re­mem­ber, Mom and Dad had been try­ing to slim her down. Since she was seven or eight, they had fussed about her weight. They put her on her first diet five years ago. She was nine. She lost seven pounds and gained back eleven, but they didn’t give up. Mor­gan knew that her fat was bad. She knew that it meant that she was greedy, that she had no self-con­trol; she knew that her fat was hold­ing her back. But, a ther­a­pist? The idea of some­one pok­ing away at her, ask­ing her about her feel­ings, ex­pect­ing her to talk about her­self, re­port­ing on her to her par­ents, sent her skit­ter­ing away from her­self. “I won’t,” Mor­gan said. Her voice squeaked. Mom sat up straighter. Mor­gan looked at her and felt . . . empty. A sort of yawn­ing still­ness set­tled in her ch­est. Some­how the rage over be­ing left to wash the dishes didn’t hold up when her body was un­der at­tack.

I should be an­gry, she told her­self. Briefly, she toyed with that idea, imag­ined reach­ing out her wob­bly arms, lock­ing her fin­gers around her mother’s neck, and squeez­ing hard. “We worry about you,” Mom said. You loathe me, Mor­gan thought. She flexed her fin­gers. She guessed they were un­likely to close around any­one’s neck, ever. She knew why she wasn’t an­gry. It was because her mother and fa­ther were right. She was fat. She was a com­plete fail­ure at los­ing weight, at tak­ing care of her­self. She was an em­bar­rass­ment. “I’ve got home­work,” Mor­gan said, her voice still squeak­ing. “I’ll call and make an ap­point­ment for next week,” Mom said. Mor­gan was al­ready on her way to the stairs, but she stopped. An ap­point­ment? They al­ready had some­body lined up? This was worse than the earnest chats with the fam­ily doc­tor. It was worse than the weekly weigh-ins, with her weight recorded on a sheet of paper on the bath­room mir­ror where Mom and Dad and even Matt could see it. It was worse than the spe­cial con­tain­ers of cel­ery and car­rot sticks and cu­cum­ber and red pep­per pieces, promi­nently placed in the fridge just for her. It was even worse than fat camp.

Now, in her bed with the chips and cook­ies, Mor­gan thought about Mom and Dad’s worry, and about all their ef­forts to slim her down. Why did all of it make her feel so small? Weren’t they just show­ing that they cared? That they wanted her to be slim and fit and happy. Like them. Maybe. But there was more. Worry meant judge­ment. It meant that they thought she was bro­ken, that she needed fix­ing, that she was an em­bar­rass­ment, a li­a­bil­ity, a mill­stone. Mom might as well have said she was a bur­den, weigh­ing them down with her bulging stom­ach and thick hips, with stolen bags of chips and late-night peanut-but­ter-and-jam sand­wiches, bury­ing the whole fam­ily un­der piles of junk food and flesh. Mom might as well have said, “We want you to go to a ther­a­pist and fix your­self so the rest of us can en­joy our lives. Stop get­ting in our way with that dis­gust­ing body of yours.” Chips and cook­ies gone, Mor­gan turned off the light and rolled over. She pulled

the du­vet over her head and closed her eyes. And opened them again, wide. She was still in her clothes. There were crumbs in the bed. And the il­licit food had not filled her up. The yawn­ing empti­ness was still there. I de­serve this, she thought. Some­thing buzzed right un­der her skin and up into her brain, a fran­tic, des­per­ate feel­ing fill­ing the empty spaces. She swung her legs out of the bed, stood and switched on the light. The buzzing in­ten­si­fied. Out. She needed out. She picked up her back­pack and looked around the room for things to pack, picked up a T-shirt, and dropped it again. Who was she kid­ding? She had nowhere to go. A sin­gle sob and she flung her­self back onto her bed, fu­ri­ous at her own help­less­ness. Im­po­tent fury bur­bled through her, clog­ging her veins, slow­ing her blood. Again she stood, shoul­ders heav­ing, fin­gers curl­ing into fists, lips pulling back from her teeth. She crossed the room and leaned her fore­head against the wall by the door, pulled an arm back and imag­ined her fist smash­ing a hole right through the dry­wall. It wouldn’t, though. She would come away with bruised knuck­les, noth­ing more. She picked up a pol­ished stone egg, turned and put the mir­ror over her dresser in her sights, turned a bit fur­ther and con­sid­ered the win­dow, imag­in­ing the glass shat­ter­ing, the fam­ily run­ning into the room. She brought her arm back, hand high. And let it drop. She sank into the chair at her desk, picked up a Sharpie. I hate you, she wrote in big black let­ters across a sheet of scrap paper. “I hate you,” she whis­pered. Who? Who did she hate? Mom and Dad? Matt? Or her­self? She tore the paper into sev­eral pieces, crum­pled it, buried it in the wastepa­per bas­ket and curled up in bed and cried.

Mom drove her to her first ses­sion. “I’ll be back in an hour to pick you up,” she said, lean­ing over and kiss­ing Mor­gan on the cheek. Mor­gan wiped her face as she stalked down the path. The ther­a­pist was in a house, and a sign pointed the way to the en­trance at the back. She turned the cor­ner and stopped in front of a door painted a dark for­est green. It had a small win­dow built into it, and Mor­gan rose on her toes to peer in, but she couldn’t see much because it was darker in than out. She rocked back onto her heels, breathed a breath

and opened the door. The room she en­tered was for wait­ing. Three straight-backed chairs lined a wall, a cof­fee table in front of them, bare. Mor­gan sat and poked her toes at the thick red rug that didn’t quite reach the chair legs. This ther­a­pist had not gone out of his way to cre­ate a wel­com­ing space for new clients. Another point against him. The list was grow­ing:

1. He was a man. That was a big one. Noth­ing against men, but in case Mom and Dad hadn’t taken it in, Mor­gan was not one.

2. He was old. Mor­gan had looked at his pic­ture on­line and felt mild dis­gust. What was a mid­dle-aged man sup­posed to know about a teenaged girl’s life in the twenty-first cen­tury? She won­dered if he had any kids. If he did, he might not be a com­pletely lost cause. Then she thought about her own par­ents and nixed that thought.

3. He had these big com­pli­cated the­o­ries about the brain and the ner­vous sys­tem. About trauma and ad­dic­tion. Well, Mor­gan might eat more than she should, but she had never been at­tacked or any­thing like that, and she’d never set eyes on a drug ex­cept for mar­i­juana a cou­ple of times.

And now:

4. He couldn’t even spring for a cou­ple of de­cent chairs and some de­cent art for his wait­ing room.

“Mor­gan, is it?” Mor­gan jumped and jerked her head up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to star­tle you,” he said. It was him. The man from the photo. His head was bald­ing. His eyes were tiny. His cheeks were big and droopy, though pulled up­ward right now in an apolo­getic smile.

“That’s okay,” Mor­gan said. “Yes. I’m Mor­gan.” He in­tro­duced him­self and guided her through a door. She had been sure she would be taken into a smaller, darker room, a slightly scary place with­out win­dows where clients were picked over by lamp­light, but the room was big and bright even though it was at gar­den level. The whole back wall was glass, and there was a good­sized win­dow in another wall as well, mak­ing the room feel like it was part gar­den. She was of­fered a choice be­tween a com­fort­able-look­ing leather easy chair and a couch that looked firm but comfy with fat, or­ange cush­ions. She chose the couch. He sat near but not too near on a grey chair with wooden arms and legs. He opened a note­book on his knee. “So, Mor­gan, what brings you to see me?” Mor­gan sat up straight. “What did my mom tell you?” she asked. Surely Mom had laid it all out for him. Fat, lazy daugh­ter needs to be pulled up by her boot­straps, needs to learn dis­ci­pline, needs to care about her health and her fu­ture. He looked thought­fully at her. “Not a thing,” he said. “Your mom just said that her daugh­ter would like to see a ther­a­pist. I stopped her there, and we set up the first ap­point­ment. From now on, you and I will set up ap­point­ments our­selves. This re­la­tion­ship is be­tween you and me.” Mor­gan breathed. In and out. Think­ing hard. She was re­lieved. Yes, she was. Though she took note of the words “would like.” Ha. That was a flat-out lie. Trust Mom. But if this man was telling the truth, he knew noth­ing about her. She took another breath. And another one. “My fam­ily thinks I’m all messed up,” she said. And stopped. Waited. “And you. What do you think?” he said af­ter sev­eral mo­ments had passed. Mor­gan’s brain drained, all thoughts va­cat­ing the space as if they had never been. She was left with a va­cant feel­ing, and with noth­ing to of­fer the man across from her. “What do I think?” she echoed. “Yes. I’m not here to help your fam­ily. I’m here to help you. They think you’re all messed up. What do you think?” Heat filled Mor­gan’s ch­est. “I hate them,” she said. “They push me around and judge me. They watch ev­ery­thing I do. They’re all so per­fect, and I’m just wrong.” She stopped, as­ton­ished. She could have sworn her brain was empty, yet these words had flowed from her mouth like lava. He took a mo­ment to re­ply, but he seemed en­tirely un­ruf­fled by the erup­tion

that had just taken place in his of­fice. “What ex­actly is wrong with you?” he said at last. “You seem all right to me.” “Well, I’m not,” Mor­gan said fiercely. “How so?” he said. “You only have to look at me to know,” she replied. He was toy­ing with her, push­ing her to say the hor­ri­ble words. “What do you think I see when I look at you?” he said. “You see a fat girl,” she said. Ad­jec­tives piled up in­side her head—greedy, lazy, slovenly, ugly, gross—but she could only man­age the one word: fat. It was a word she had thought count­less times, but never, not once, had she said it out loud with ref­er­ence to her­self. So far, ther­apy sucked. He de­nied it, of course. He said that he just saw a person, an un­happy person, per­haps, but fat, thin, tall short, those were just at­tributes of the body. He looked be­yond them—at least, that was what he said. “Do Mom and Dad know that?” Mor­gan asked. “They sent me here because I’m fat. Fat means bro­ken, and you’re sup­posed to fix me.” “Is that what you want to talk about? Your par­ents’ judge­ment?” “Well, they’re right, aren’t they? I’m fat. I’m weak. I have no self-con­trol.” Mor­gan glared at him, de­fi­ant, an­gry. “Tell me more about that,” he said. “What do you mean when you say that you have no self-con­trol?” “It means I can’t con­trol my­self. I have crav­ings. I eat chips and cook­ies in my room, even though I’m not sup­posed to. I can’t help my­self.” She was fu­ri­ous now. Fu­ri­ous and con­fused, like she needed to prove her own fail­ings in de­fense of her par­ents. “What do they feel like?” he, her brand-new ther­a­pist, dared to ask. “What do the crav­ings feel like?” She stared at him, as­ton­ish­ment at his id­iocy bal­loon­ing in her, forc­ing its way up her throat. Dis­gust, she al­most said. They feel like dis­gust. But dis­gust was the feel­ing she was grap­pling with right then as she looked at those chip­munk cheeks and deep-set eyes. “I told you,” she said. “It feels like I have to have it. Like noth­ing will stop me.” A mo­ment’s hes­i­ta­tion. “Those are thoughts,” he said. “What does a crav­ing feel like in your body?”

She re­coiled. Her body. What busi­ness of his was her body? Why was she sit­ting here talk­ing to a man, and a self-sat­is­fied chip­munk-cheeked one at that, about her body? How had it come to this? Fury boiled in­side her. She looked at the clock. Forty min­utes to go.

That was the first ses­sion, and it left her mis­er­able. But she obeyed her mother and went back. Once each week. She came up with the name Chip­munk Cheeks that first time, and it stuck in her mind even af­ter her opin­ion of him soft­ened a bit. Just a bit. In the mid­dle of the sec­ond month, he sur­prised her. “Next time you come,” Chip­munk Cheeks said, his voice, as al­ways, quiet and thought­ful, “bring two stones.” Mor­gan stared at him. “Stones?” she echoed. “Peb­bles, if you like. Small stones. One of them should be you. Choose a stone that feels like you. And don’t over­think it. The other stone should be them.” “Them?” Mor­gan said. “Not the peo­ple, ex­actly, but the tan­gle of their de­mands on you, your per­cep­tion of their feel­ings and thoughts about you.” Mor­gan sat silent, her gaze di­verted to the loose threads in the arm of the couch, the ones she al­ways wanted to pull on. Chip­munk Cheeks fell silent too, and the room was quiet for a long mo­ment, al­most long enough to draw Mor­gan’s eyes up from those threads. Then, “Bring two stones,” he said again. And, “Our time’s up, Mor­gan. I’ll see you next week.”

It was an­noy­ing when he made her think, when some­one so silly look­ing, some­one who had been forced on her, some­one who would ac­tu­ally be part of that sec­ond stone—part of them—cap­tured her imag­i­na­tion, even just a lit­tle bit. But Mor­gan liked the idea of the stones. When she got home that day, she went straight to her room and got the bowl of peb­bles off her shelf. She’d col­lected them years ago, and they were dusty now, un­touched, un­seen even, since she put them in that bowl and placed them there when she was nine. Maybe Mom had dusted the shelf once or twice over the years, but Mor­gan cer­tainly had not. Now, she got a dish­cloth from un­der the kitchen sink, swept aside the junk on

her desk and spread it out. As she poured out the peb­bles, an oddly-shaped one caught her eye. Ex­cite­ment rip­pled in her heart and her gut. She folded the cloth over the peb­bles and took her time rub­bing the dust off, feel­ing the peb­bles one by one, search­ing through her fin­gers for the one that had stood out. At last, she felt a peb­ble with flat sides and a flat top and bot­tom, longish, the size, per­haps, of her fore­fin­ger. It tipped up at one end and kind of flat­tened out at the other. She folded back the cloth and took a good look. Mor­gan didn’t choose the other stone un­til the day of her next ap­point­ment. Till then, the heap of peb­bles lay on the dusty dish­cloth on her desk, the spe­cial one set aside. She looked at it many times that week, but, as in­structed, she didn’t “over­think her choice.” She didn’t want to ruin her en­joy­ment by mak­ing it all about what was wrong with her. “I’ll be in the car,” Mom said, her voice stretched over the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage, which pro­truded painfully. We’re go­ing to be late. We’re al­ways late because of your dawdling. We’re do­ing this for you, and you can’t even be ready on time. Mom used to say those things, all of them rapid-fire, sharp with frus­tra­tion and judg­ment. A year ago, she had started her new “I’ll be in the car” campaign. Mor­gan saw right through it. Some­times those five words acted on her like mo­lasses and, by the time she made it to the car, it was prac­ti­cally rocking with Mom’s an­noy­ance. To­day, she re­mem­bered the stones. “I have to get some­thing,” she shouted as Mom opened the garage door. “I’ll be there in a minute.” She ap­proached her desk and grabbed the spe­cial stone. Then she turned her at­ten­tion to the heap. She needed another one. One that rep­re­sented . . . What, ex­actly? She paused. Them. It was sup­posed to rep­re­sent how they treated her. That was it. Some of the stones had been through a pol­isher. They were all rounded edges and bright colours. No good at all. Oth­ers were tiny pretty things. They wouldn’t do ei­ther. She reached down and pushed them all apart on the cloth, look­ing. Look­ing. Them. She needed a stone for them. There it was. The largest one. Lumpy. Rough. Small holes around the mid-sec­tion. It was per­fect. Into her pocket it went. Keep­ing the spe­cial one in her hand, she dashed down the stairs and into the car. For the first time ever she was just a tiny bit cu­ri­ous about what was go­ing to hap­pen with Chip­munk Cheeks. What would he make of her choices?

He perked right up when she showed him the stones. “This one is me,” she said, hold­ing it out on the palm of her hand for him to see but not touch. “What made you choose it?” he asked. Mor­gan hes­i­tated. She looked closely at the strangely-shaped peb­ble in her hand. “I liked it,” she said. “It jumped out at me.” “Why do you think that is?” he said. “I don’t know,” she said. “It just did.” Chip­munk Cheeks sat back in his chair. “De­scribe it to me,” he said. Mor­gan con­sid­ered shov­ing it in his face again so he could look at it him­self, but she knew that would do no good. He had some mind-bend­ing pur­pose; he wanted to make mean­ing. “It’s long with square edges. It’s white on top. It tips up at one end. It’s not very big. Maybe four cen­time­tres long.” “Hmmm,” he said. “Does it re­mind you of any­thing?” It did re­mind Mor­gan of things. It had from the start, ac­tu­ally. That was prob­a­bly why she had cho­sen it. It re­minded her of a ship, with that tipped-up prow at one end. And it re­minded her of an an­i­mal, a beaver es­pe­cially. She’d thought of the ship first, but she liked the beaver best. That’s what the stone was. A beaver. Mor­gan had even Googled images of beavers and read a bit about them. Their lives, their lodges, their big, sharp teeth and pow­er­ful tails, all were ap­peal­ing to her. She looked at the man sit­ting across from her. She had known him for less than two months. She was hardly go­ing to tell him that she iden­ti­fied with Canada’s na­tional an­i­mal, a fat, thick-skinned buck-toothed crea­ture. She could just imag­ine his eyes ap­prais­ing her, a smile push­ing those cheeks high up on his face. Yes, he’d be think­ing, a beaver is the per­fect an­i­mal for you.

She watched him see her. She waited for his next ques­tion. How was he go­ing to pry it out of her? “All right,” he said, at last. “I like your choice a lot. Not that that mat­ters. It’s yours, not mine. And I can see that you’ve got thoughts about it. I think you’re find­ing your own strengths in that small stone.” Mor­gan took it be­tween her fin­gers. She turned it over. Strengths. Yes.

“Let’s move on for now,” he said. “Tell me about the other one.” She picked up the other stone from where it had been sit­ting in her lap and looked at its lumps and bumps. “This is ev­ery nasty thing my fam­ily has ever said or done,” she said, “all stuck to­gether.” She stopped and looked again. “And there are holes too,” she said. “Those are the things they didn’t do.” The stone felt warm in her hand. She put it down on the table in front of the couch. “Why did you do that?” he asked. “Why did you put it down?” “I don’t want to touch it,” she said. “How did it get all lumpy like that?” She put her hand on her gut. “All that bad stuff goes in, and it never comes out,” she said. He smiled, and it wasn’t a chip­munk smile. It wasn’t an I-know-bet­ter-than-you smile. It wasn’t an aren’t-you-a-silly-lit­tle-girl smile. It was a smile of recog­ni­tion. “That’s it, isn’t it? ‘It all goes in and it never comes out.’”

The last week of the term was wa­ter­colour week in art class. Mor­gan was ten­ta­tive about it. What was she even do­ing in art? Her mis­shapen clay pot and dis­torted pencil draw­ing of a still life had quickly found their way into the garbage can when Ms. Ral­ston wasn’t look­ing. She had skipped out on art a fair bit, but to­day, for some rea­son, here she was, slightly cu­ri­ous. On Mon­day, they had finished up their col­lage project and cleared into bins the masses of dif­fer­ent papers and fab­rics they had been us­ing for weeks. Mor­gan grabbed her wrin­kled, glue-spat­tered col­lage from the pile and shoved it into her bag be­fore any­one could get a good look. It was too big to hide in the class­room garbage. On her way home, she’d have to stop by the bin be­hind the school. To avoid tor­tur­ing her­self over her class­mates’ oohing and ah­hing over each other’s cre­ations, she turned her at­ten­tion to the front of the room. Ms. Ral­ston had put out a stack of thin rec­tan­gu­lar boards and a stack of paper. Jars of brushes fol­lowed, and Mor­gan al­most groaned out loud. She’d al­ready demon­strated that she couldn’t draw. Paint­ing could only be worse. Still, when in­structed, she took a board and a piece of thick paper. She found a spot at a table and when a roll of tape came her way she tore off four long strips

and dan­gled them from the table’s edge. Keep­ing the corners square and the paper smooth, she taped the paper onto the board. “Another time, we’ll wet the paper be­fore at­tach­ing it to the board,” Ms. Ral­ston said, “but this is a fine way to get started. Now, you need wa­ter and brushes and paint. Take one of each of the three sizes of brush, and use the big­gest one to wet the whole sheet of paper. No paint yet, just wa­ter. And not buck­ets, just make the paper nice and damp.” As Mor­gan joined the jumble of peo­ple at the front of the room, she felt a ten­dril of cu­rios­ity, a wisp. And, once she was seated again, the other stu­dents, the teacher, the room, faded, as she wet­ted her wide flat brush again and again, and spread that wet across the sheet in front of her. While she did it, she looked at the colours. They were just a cheap set of hard disks, the kind you might get at a dol­lar store, but still. She ap­plied or­ange first, mixed it with lots of wa­ter, and stroked the brush all the way from one side of the paper to the other, start­ing at the top and slowly cov­er­ing a third of the page. Then came green for the mid­dle, bright like new leaves in March. For the bot­tom third, she chose blue, pale like a baby’s blan­ket. When the paper was cov­ered in colour, she picked up the board and tilted it so that the or­ange flowed down into the green and the green flowed up into the or­ange and down into the blue and the blue flowed up into the green. Mor­gan wished she could paint more in­stead of stop­ping to let the paper dry, but she fol­lowed in­struc­tions and stepped back, imag­in­ing what it would be like to use more sat­u­rated colours on the wash. To­mor­row, she told her­self. There was no art class, but Ms. Ral­ston would prob­a­bly let her in at lunch. The next day, ex­actly as she had hoped, Ms. Ral­ston did let her in, and then paid no at­ten­tion to her. It was lovely get­ting out the sup­plies in the empty room, set­ting her­self up at a table in the back. She dipped a thick round brush in the tub of wa­ter and pon­dered the colours. Her eyes stopped on the pur­ple disk. Dad, she thought, and made a large dark-dark blotch in the top cor­ner, a blotch that bled ag­gres­sively into the or­ange and green. Hmmm. What about Mom? Dark green seemed right for her. Mor­gan made the blotch just as big and dark, and put it as far away from Dad as pos­si­ble, in the lower, pale blue cor­ner.

Then came Matt. That was easy. Navy blue. Bot­tom mid­dle. Not as big and not as blotchy. She gave him a shape of sorts and then tilted the paper a bit so he could thread his way up and across. Last, Mor­gan thought about her­self. Which colour would she be? The three first colours, or­ange, green and blue, were the ones she liked best, but she couldn’t use them. She put the brush down and set­tled back in her chair. Was there no place for her in her own paint­ing? Then she got it. She un­der­stood. She was all of it. Af­ter all, it came from her. Her fam­ily were parts of her, but she was ev­ery­where, un­der­neath, around. She took up all her own space. And that was as it should be. They took up their space. She took up hers. She took the beaver stone from her pocket and set it be­side the paint­ing. If she had a big flat tail, she’d slap it right about now, not as a warn­ing, but an ex­pres­sion of joy.

“I’m tak­ing Matt to his prac­tice,” Mom said. “I don’t have time for this.” Mor­gan rolled her shoul­ders back and felt the stick­i­ness of her mother’s ex­pec­ta­tions slide off her. She imag­ined them sink­ing to the bot­tom of the pond in the park, the one where last week­end she had cer­e­mo­ni­ously thrown the ugly lumpy stone. “I’m not ask­ing you to do any­thing,” she said. “I’m just telling you that I’m go­ing to eat what I want. And I want you to stop bug­ging me about it. Dad, too.” Mom glared at her and opened her mouth. “You want to be un­healthy your whole life?” “I’m go­ing to be late,” Matt said. “Come on, Mom.” And they were gone, the door to the garage shut­ting ex­tra sharply be­hind Mom. Mor­gan was alone. She walked through the main floor in a cir­cle through all the rooms. She looked out all the win­dows. She saw birds fly­ing, trees sway­ing, clouds mov­ing across the sky. Back in the kitchen, she made her­self some lunch. She set a place for her­self on the table on the deck and went down into the gar­den, cut a sin­gle wine-red peony and put it in a vase be­side her plate.

Then she sat down and took her first bite.

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