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Sustenance - Chapter One

Jane was not sure how long her daughter had been anorexic. It had been about a year since she had first started watching the slow disappearance of her daughter's body under her sweaters, almost as if in a stealthy return to childhood. Even while her body shrank and flattened, Muriel developed a strange beauty, as her cheekbones sharpened and dark roses circled her eyes.

Jane often heard the springs of the scale crash as Muriel stepped on and off of it, nearly a dozen times a day. Once Muriel had tried to muffle the betraying noise by hanging onto the towel rack and releasing her dwindling weight onto the scale pound by pound. Now she no longer bothered.

Muriel was so used to thinking of her mother as computer-illiterate that she made no effort to hide her participation in Internet pro-anorexia communities, either. Jane followed her tracks through these monochromatic message boards, choked with exclamation points--another five pounds lost, the appearance of another pair of ribs, a new way to stifle the insistent pleas of appetite. Jane would never have imagined so many ways to fool hunger. These girls froze cubes of diet soda and crushed them as substitutes for ice cream. They clenched their fists and tensed their thigh muscles in sync with parental exhortations to eat, please, eat. Every moment could be used to exorcise calories, every meal was a test of willpower, every plea or command to eat "normally" was an enemy's trick.

Muriel contributed little to the message boards herself, but she read the other girls' words religiously--and Jane was convinced that she tried almost everything she read. It was a strange manifestation of the fastidiousness that had once kept her room pristine and her report card lined with neat rows of A's. Now her room was little more than surface-clean; dust and cobwebs greyed the corners and the blinds, now rarely touched. Jane would sit on the unmade bed when Muriel had left for school (both of them knew how little the charade meant, Muriel carried her books as exercise, she had not opened them in months), and try to mourn.
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