Literary Orphans

The Word Skinny by Z Zoccolante


I know my mind is sick because the words tell me so. They spill my disorder in the seclusion of the bathroom where I rub cold water against my face to feel clean again. The girl in the mirror stares through me. I don’t meet her eyes. I hate that she sees past my smile. She recites words from the bowl of sadness, before it swirls down the drain.

Half a gallon of ice cream, chocolate cake frosted with pink speckled clouds, raw brownie batter, water, potato chips, three glazed doughnuts, pasta shells (the middles hard as stone) drowning in linguini, brown rice with mustard and ketchup and olive oil, five pieces of bread with jam and honey, two handfuls of red grapes, an empty heart, a pretty face.

The words recycle on my command, over my tongue, past my teeth, exploding in a whisper. The soft plunk of a rainbow into water, the familiar sound comfort makes. Cradling the porcelain, my hair falls down in little streaks of sunshine, the straw tips of paintbrushes having come undone. Last, the grapes bleed from my throat like wine and watery corpses the color of rose petals. The grapes, the first that went in my stomach, mark the beginning. I’ve rewound time. It’s all out now. I can stop.

Elation fills me and quickly subsides. I pick my head up in shame; cradle it in hands of self-hatred. In a moment of lucidity, I attach to myself again, and for an instant, I get a glimpse, I see the reality that I could be so much more; that I’m wasting my life, and I don’t know how to stop. What I could have been now, at age 24 . . . I could have been beautiful.

Today will not be the day I die. This only makes me slightly happy. If the grapes had a voice they would say, “you can stop now, you are in control again; relax your mind.”

Downstairs, the last pint of ice cream melts. Clear glass bowls cover the countertop, clumps of color clinging to their insides. A twisty-tie, a half empty bag of bread, an uncovered container of jam, and the remnants of jars I must finish whole or waste. Everything salvageable gets put back in its place. Every dish is washed clean, the strange putting back of time. Everything else deserves a new plastic bag, the one I hold as I creep down the block to the perfect trashcan where my husband would never think to look.

I must do all this between two hands on the clock. I must do all this in the silence between my husband and me. I must do all this because in less than fifteen minutes he will plagiarize my counterfeit smile and wander through our kitchen, inspect our dish rack, and count the dishes.

When he walks through the door the word skinny lingers. Its frequency is specific. He’s not attuned to how full the room is, the weight and space words carry.

They whisper. They scream. They are constant. They pound beneath my skin in frantic melody reaching for my heart, arching gnarled fingers, plucking across my ribs like symphony strings. Peace has become a word I recognize only when sounding out the letters.

My smile is a brilliant blue star. I am the pathetic failure collapsing with the guilt of being found out. He is holding a flat cardboard box. He sets it on the table. Beneath the cellophane is a huge chocolate chip cookie. The red letter icing spells, “Happy Anniversary Peanut.” He makes me promise that it will last at least a week. He tries to trust me and treat me like a normal person.

When he goes to sleep I sneak downstairs. I eat other things so I don’t break my promise about the cookie. A halo from the kitchen light reflects off the cellophane. I can trust myself with one bite. Then one more . . .

The words follow me up the stairs. The one who loves me is asleep in our bed. His eyelashes flicker, gold at the tips. My feet trace the carpet. I am a shadow. I am the wind. The sheets are cold under my palm. He shifts his arms around the pillow at his chest. My heart spikes. I am a deer. I am nothing.

I back away from the bed, across the carpet, through the open door, down the hallway to the bathroom. I shut myself in with the lights off. There is a sliver of white light peeking through the bottom of the door. I twist the shower on hot and fold under the watery flames. Darkness surrounds me but I cannot escape the words.

You do not deserve him. You are weak. You are worthless. You lie. You always lie.

I put my fingers in my ears and press until it hurts, until there is silence. When I take my hands away from my face, fiery raindrops slide down my skin. There is a blessed pause, an interlude where the alternate reality of my life plays before my eyes. I am with the one who loves me. We are laughing. My smile is honest. Happiness overwhelms me making it hard to breathe. And then . . .


When I turn off the water the steam presses into my lungs. A trail of wet footprint follows me along the floor. Eyes closed, my finger slides along the mirror. I pretend I am spilling the words in blood, on a scroll that will bind me for all time.

I flick on the light. My pupils retract. The letters bleed at the edges but the message is clear.

I need help

I place the end of my finger between my teeth reviewing the design. I add one single dot, touching my finger to the mirror, after the words. The period makes all the difference. It is now a decision, complete at the end.

I cannot do this on my own. I need help.

O Typekey Divider

Z Zoccolante is an author, actress, and fairytale dreamer. She loves to laugh and is deeply fascinated by a good fairytale villain. Her debut memoir will help those with eating disorders attain happiness and freedom. Originally from Hawai’i, she now lives in LA. Join her on her mind’s weekly adventures at and @ZZoccolante.

Z Zoccolante headshot

O Typekey Divider

–Art by Karamelo

–Art by Mariya Petrova-Existencia