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Third’s the Charm

My sisters and I lined up together, one-two-three, nine years between us in intervals of three and five. Daughters to a woman with legs from a magazine, legs that stretch out to a one-point perspective at the end of a sunbed. There’s a picture of her like that in the clip frame in the bathroom. Twenty-something in a yellow bikini—not polka dot, but teeny weeny all the same. I would never look like that, but Sister Number One might, which is why it was she who arranged the line-up, well aware of who would win.

We stood stripped to our knickers in the dining room beside the wooden high chair that remained in the corner, even though I—forever the baby—could no longer fit my arse into it. It was an impromptu shelf now, piled with table mats and coasters. Our mother was saving it, she said, for when we had babies of our own. Though in the same breath she’d tell us not to hurry—not to ruin our bodies the way she had, the way we had ruined hers. It was obvious whose fault it was. “You can bounce back after the first one—I was in my old jeans in six weeks! But third time’s the charm . . . ”

Not that I thought she was ruined. I saw the bikini girl, brown and shiny and taut and upright, and I saw the mother, hunched in half to dry her toes after a shower, belly folds rippling into one another like a waterfall. But that day wasn’t about stomachs, it was all about the thighs. No bones about it. Not that it was about bones, but girth and flesh.

“Whose are the biggest?” Sister Number One asked our mother, a gloating edge to her lips, knowing who the loser would be. Mother barely glanced up from her work before giving her decision, perhaps hoping the distraction would be averted if she answered immediately. Perhaps she didn’t consider the echoes her answer would leave reverberating through our limbs for years afterwards. And how would she know? She’d never worried about her legs before.

Flash Fiction by Jo Gatford

Published in Summer 2017


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