By Emanuela Barasch Rubinstein
When Sari walks along the beach she has a strange sensation of lightness. The murmur of heavy waves turning thin and invisible as they slide on the sand, the scent of primordial water, perhaps the weightless air, she is not sure why, but sometimes she feels she could fly. She takes off the headphones for a moment, silencing the rhythmic music so she can hear the constant humming of the water, and then she listens to the songs again. Her full body moves in complete harmony, indifferent to the people on the beach, vital, full of life. A handsome young woman, her honey-toned hair is blowing in the sea breeze, she saunters rapidly on the trail along the water, sometimes she thinks that if she turned aside and walked to the sea she could walk on water.
Sari knows heaviness for years. When she was twelve years old she went to a new school. An excellent student, she was admitted to a prestigious junior high school. Her parents were thrilled, they kissed her the first time she left for school, carrying a new backpack and wearing trendy sneakers, newly purchased. The first day was exciting, but an unfamiliar panic mingled with the joy: almost all the girls in her class were thin, almost transparent, wearing tight jeans and shirts covering their budding breasts. Next to them Sari’s round body seemed heavy, graceless, lacking the pleasant poise of her classmates, who seemed to almost dance while moving.
“But you’re so pretty,” her mother says as she whispers in her ear about the girls in her class. Sari has an aristocratic face, big green eye, a narrow aquiline nose, straight fair hair falling down her back, an unusual look in the ordinary street she grew up in. Plain looking two-story buildings, slightly neglected back yards, old people sitting in a small park staring into space, neighbors walking slowly, carrying heavy bags from the grocery store. Sari’s body is becoming of the women walking down the street, but her face suits the wide bright roads of the northern part of the city. Though she wears oversized shirts to conceal her slightly protruding stomach, men look at her with lust.
Sari is a bit sad in the new school. The girls move between the desks swiftly, she walks cautiously. They leap up the stairs, she takes one step at a time. They go shopping, she goes home to study. When they take dancing classes together, she whispers to her mom, “I hate them.” Mom fondles her hair, kisses her and says, “you’ll see, everything will turn out fine. It’s a difficult age.” But in the meantime, Sari feels heavy. Not fat, but lacking agility. A beautiful girl with a clumsy, awkward body: chubby arms, full breasts, a plump stomach, soft legs. Sometimes she thinks she is almost an invalid. If she could, she would have escaped her body. Even when she nearly fasts for a couple of days and faints in school, the body that became feminine at an early age maintains it roundness and doesn’t let go, refusing to adopt a childish form again.
A hierarchy is created in Sari’s mind, from lightweight to heavy. The girl sitting in front of her is not as slender as the thinnest girl in class. The most popular boy, with straight black hair and small blue eyes, is very muscular, but still lighter than her. The boy in love with her is very tall and skinny; Sari is not sure if she is heavier than he is. The biology teacher resembles her mom; they both have wide hips, a fault that cannot be concealed. A variety of human forms, different and distinctive, line up from thin to obese, and only rarely does she hesitate who stands before whom. But she always asks herself where exactly is her place, who is heavier than her, and who lighter.
When Sari was seventeen she met Daniel, a forty-year-old man. Boys her age drove her to despair. Smiling and staring openly at her body, asking her for a date and immediately trying to touch her breasts, insinuating that other girls are thinner, but maybe she wouldn’t mind giving them some pleasure?! It’s pointless, she contemplates, they only make me sad, deepen my sensation of heaviness. Mom watches her worriedly; she put on a smile. “I’m the best in math,” she says, and mom hugs her closely. But ever since she had met Daniel she finds it hard to surrender to her motherly embrace; she feels like a thief. Sparks of joy fill his eyes as they meet, his body stretches, he coughs slightly and offers to drive her wherever she wants.
He wants to sit in the coffee shops by sea, go to the movies, take a trip out of town. But ever since Sari discovered his desire she only wants to spend time at his home. When his body is on top of hers and his face is twisted by pleasure which looks more like pain, she feels a pleasant lightness. Her body is so fair and he is so dark, smooth silk next to rough skin and a sturdy body, her blond hair and eyelashes shine against the grey pillowcase. I am not a virgin, she says to herself as she gets out of the wide bed, looking at herself in the mirror, as uninhibited joy takes over. “Why are you laughing?” Daniel asks. She says nothing, only takes out a new lipstick from her purse and covers her lips with a pale peach tone.
“I want to marry you,” Daniel says one evening, the blush apparent even in his dark face. Sari looks at him, slightly sad. Soon we won’t meet anymore, she thinks, wondering if her heaviness will take over her again. After a couple of days she doesn’t answer his calls, texts, emails, and he stops looking for her. Sari studies from morning to night, an exceptionally gifted student. “Why don’t you go out anymore?” her mother inquires quietly, and Sari puts her head on her shoulder and says nothing.
When a boy in class tries to make fun of her excellent grades in math she looks at him, wondering how the mixture of lust and pain looks on his face, covered with acne and a sparse beard. And when she thinks she sees this weakness assuming the form of vanity, she approaches him, looks at him in a provocative manner, tosses her shiny hair from side to side, shedding the sensation of heaviness and adopting a new cover, seductive and mysterious; she stands erect, her breasts prominent in her white shirt, a slight, almost invisible smile on her lips, and she says in a deep soft voice: “Want to study with me?”
The boy is trembling, he takes one step back and another one and walks away.
The legs of the man leaving Sari’s home were trembling as he walked down the stairs and out into the street. Sex with this woman left him mute. He could hardly mumble the address to the taxi driver waiting for him. God, he thought, what a woman, what a woman. Sari was still in bed, under a heavy blanket, closing her eyes, envisaging again how her body became light and flexible, lacking the oppressive heaviness. The cell phone rings. Mom. The strong scent of flesh that still fills the room stops her from taking the call. She is waiting for it to stop ringing, and then she pushes the blanket aside and gets up and takes a shower. Another man, another victory, she smiles to herself as the water runs down her glistening skin and splashes all over, and a pleasant fall wind rattles the small window in the bathroom.
Sari is the second woman to join a team of senior engineers. When she walks into the room everyone is watching her with curiosity. Her face is serious and she places a couple of diagrams on the desk. She presents herself, elaborating on her contribution to the team. Next to her sits a man about her age, who seems indifferent. When Sari sees the back of his hand on the desk she finds she is shivering. She isn’t sure why, something about the long thin fingers, a few hairs on each one, the white skin evokes an unfamiliar fear. To drive it away Sari brushes her hair with one hand and turns her green eyes to look at him, as an almost imperceptible smile touches her lips. A surprised yet disinterested look appears behind the glasses. She leans back; he looks the other way. A thought about a collapse surfaces and disappears, something about a path leading to an abyss, and nothing more. When the meeting in over Sari rushes from the room; Saul walks slowly with a colleague.
When Sari appears in his office he is taken by surprise, dropping a couple of papers from the desk. But he collects himself, invites her to sit down and inquires about the new project. When she sits next to him at lunch he is deep in conversation with his colleagues. At the tall entranceway to the building, huge glass panels reflecting each other, Sari sees him leaving work with a slender woman, her black hair is pinned up in a bow. Sari stands motionless, watching them pass by, smiling at each other and observing no one.
When she walks in the parking lot her plump body is reflected in car windows. A transparent tear rolls down her smooth cheek and drops on the white shirt. On the way home, she swears not to give up. Car horns are heard around her, but she is immersed in her plan, wiping her tears, ignoring the deepening sense of heaviness. As she gets home she calls mom, elaborating on the new project. When she is done mom asks: “Are you okay?”
The humiliation, the humiliation, Sari sinks into it, recalling every word, turning every detail around in her mind, anything but admit she is teetering on the edge of an abyss. The doorbell, Saul taken by surprise, the plunging neckline and the smile, the dark room and old furniture, the sound of a TV from the other room, shining fair hair moving from side to side, a black transparent bra, suddenly he isn’t feeling well, excuse me, I am really sorry, you are truly a very attractive woman but not for me, the terrible wrath, the plate she tossed on the floor, never mind, I’ll clean that, I don’t understand you, why? You have such a beautiful face-
Sari hastens to the beach, sobbing, screaming in pain. At night the water makes a sensuous sound, swallowed by the darkness. The waves whistle and a full moon is planted above. Salty smell and minuscule sand grains engulf her as she walks slowly on the beach. The water is heavy and the sky airy, the sand is wet and the walkway dry; her rounded body is covered by a thin dress, her feet are bare, and her green eyes, watching the tiny lights visible on the horizon, resemble those of a child in despair. A handsome young woman, her honey-toned flowing hair is blowing in sea breeze, her legs stride heavily along the sea, she picks up a huge seashell from the sand and holds it close to her ear. If I only could hear its whisper, she thinks in desolation, I could have walked on water.
Cover picture: Woman Before a Mirror, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1897. Courtesy of the MET.