The bell on the door chimes as she walks into the 24-hour diner. The waitress sees her and nods, knowing her order. She puts in the order before Laura has even taken a seat, in her red leather booth by the window. She slurps down the extra-large chocolate shake. The waitress approaches her to ask if Laura would like some napkins, but it’s too late. Laura’s straw is already swirling around the last bit of the shake. At this point, there is only whipped cream and a cherry remaining. With it, she ordered a burger and onion rings.
She ogles the old cheddar melting over the side of the burger. Laura takes a large bite of her burger and moans. She hears laughter coming from the other side of the glass. Through the window, three cheerleaders giggle. Laura drops the burger. She runs to the bathroom with tears in her eyes. In the stall, she cries until she can’t anymore. Someone enters the bathroom. She peeks through the stall to see the cheerleaders. The one reapplies her lipgloss. Another walks into the stall beside her and throws up. Laura winces at the sound.
The cheerleader walks out of the stall and wipes salvia off her lip. She looks at her reflection in the mirror and grabs at her abs peaking through her uniform’s cropped top. “Sometimes I feel like I’m pregnant,” she sighs, “I just want to lose like ten pounds.”
The cheerleaders spend the next twenty minutes gossiping. When they leave, Laura creaks the stall door open. She looks at herself in the mirror. She lifts up her black t-shirt to reveal her belly. She grabs her rolls. “Sometimes I feel like I’m pregnant.”
She turns back to the stall and bends down beside the toilet, careful not to kneel in any urine stains. Laura notices a toothbrush peeking out from under the stall next to her. She grabs it, brings it to her lips, inhales, and. . .
“Don’t!” Screams the waitress.
Laura turns around.
The waitress sits down on the floor beside her. “My name is Angie. You don’t really know me and I don’t know you, but I know this version of you. I know this path. And I want to tell you that It’s pretty dark and lonely,” The waitress pauses and looks into Laura’s red, puffy eyes, “I’m sure you already feel alone. Or else you wouldn’t be here.”
“But there’s no reward for doing that. There is no high like there is when you eat. You don’t feel happy during or after. You only feel empty.”
Laura looks down at the toothbrush.
“If you don’t believe me, my shift ends in ten. Finish your burger and then we’ll go for a walk. I can tell you about the time I lost a hundred pounds.”
Inspired, Laura agrees to the walk. When she’s done her shift, Angie tosses a blue trench coat over her uniform and motions for Laura to follow her out the door. As they exit the diner, Angie lights up a cigarette. Her slender wrist struggles to hold the lighter steady in the wind. Now close up, Laura can see the dark circles under Angie’s eyes.
They walk along the boulevard as Angie recounts her teenage years. Angie and her sister Maxine were both bulimic. They enjoyed binging together. They would come home from school and share a tub of ice cream in one sitting. Angie remembered that there was 48 Oreos in a family pack. Maxine counted them once and decided that they could each eat 22. After they would shove the wrappers to the bottom of the trash bin, so their mother wouldn’t notice.
“Maxine had a purple toothbrush and I had a blue one. I remember how awful the tase was. I could never watch Maxine do it. I would hold her hand and wince a the sound. I felt awful afterwards. I spent nights counting my ribs in the mirror. But at the same time, it felt nice to be broken together. We would weigh in each morning. We were thrilled when we got down to 120 or 115. I hugged Maxine when she weighed in at 100 pounds. I was so jealous of her at the time,” Angie shivered and wrapped her coat tighter around her waist. She tapped the excess ash off her cigarette before continuing, “One night, I stayed late after school studying for a history exam,” tears welled up in Angie’s eyes, “I walked home and saw a stretcher being pulled out of our house with a black sheet on it. At that moment, I knew. I remember screaming at the EMT, while my father held me back. I didn’t want to believe it. ”
Laura stops in her tracks. Tears tumble down Laura’s cheeks.
“That’s how I lost a hundred pounds.” Angie pulls something out of her pocket and places it in Laura’s hands, “Like I said, it’s a lonely road.” Angie continues to walk down the street, leaving Laura behind.
Laura opens her hand to find a purple toothbrush.