TW: eating disorders, drug abuse
In the winter of 2012, the Mouse King sold me drugs behind Greene Theatre on Hill Street. It was a freezing, sharp-toothed winter. A slush winter that rawed the tip of my nose and my cheekbones, made hair grow on my spine, downy, like fur, my wasting body trying to protect me from the cold. In the theatre it was warm and bright. Snow fell over the dancers, dusting their inverted arms and long legs, elegant as bone. I never paid for the show, but I snuck in the back. I must have seen it a dozen times. I don’t remember if it was any good.
After performances I went around to the stage door, and knocked onetwothreefour. He came quickly, still in his costume except for the hideous paws. So I never saw his face–all I could see were his hands, slender and scarred, the color of ash. He always wore the mouse head. Bared fangs and beady eyes. And so much fur, knotted gray and brown–like a goat or some kind of dog–it didn’t smell synthetic. Sometimes, now, I wonder: did he ever pity me, half-dead, tiny enough to fit in a walnut shell? I try to recall any kindness, sympathy, something, but there’s nothing there. Just the mouse head. Inscrutable.
The Mouse King didn’t speak, just handed me the paper bag. Thumbelina scrawled across it. The Meridia inside was taken out of the box, packaged sheets of pills snapped off in fragments. I think I got the ballerinas’ leftovers. He would count my money with his lovely marred hands and I would smooth my fingers over the plastic-protected curves of capsules. The miracle drug. Make those pounds drop away. Illegal as of 2010, but then, that was the real stuff. I never took the pills right after I got them. I saved them for the bad days, when I slipped up and couldn’t stop crying, dammit— I chased them down with tap water until the chalky sludge was gone from my throat. Sometimes the pills made my heart beat faster: onetwothreefour, until I thought it would burst out of my chest, bloody and freed. I thought it had escaped, for a while, but now, when I put my hand over it, there’s a thumping. Yesterday it snowed, really snowed, and I lay in bed and watched it out my window. Put my hand over my chest–and it’s slow now. One. Two. I’m warm.
When I was really little, five or six, I found mice curled in the corner of the cupboard, sleeping twined around each other. Or maybe they were just dead. I don’t remember. I only remember their tiny bones, their near-translucence. And their scattering of fur, like down. My mother scooped them up with gloves and threw them into the snow. “By spring there’ll be nothing left,” she said.
Once, around the time I started to get dizzy spells, the Mouse King didn’t come at all. It was Clara who opened the door, not so young or so pretty as she was under the spotlight. She was still in her costume, her little girl nightgown with its blue sash, and the fake snow was caught in her hair and the crook of her collarbone. “Thumbelina,” she said, thrusting the bag at me. When she spoke her foundation split across her face. Faultlines. I grabbed the Meridia and ran.
On closing night I couldn’t stop shaking. The ground crumbled under the dancers’ feet and the walls curved in, and the snow, the snow was cold and real. The dancers, the turning dancers, like music box figurines. Knife-thin, they cut themselves on each other’s hip bones. Red and white, red and white, and the sound of scurrying feet. The mouse king’s tail grew and wrapped around my ankles, pinned me to the awful velvet seats. Stay, and then I blinked and they were sweeping the stage of paper snow. I stopped buying Meridia after that, because what if one day I didn’t blink? “I can’t stay in the Land of the Dolls forever,” says Clara. But I’m sure he found other Thumbelinas.
Last Tuesday, a mouse ran across the floor of my apartment. I’m so far away from the gold-lit theatre and its paper doll ballerinas, from spinning rooms and blood and vines, from the winter of 2012. I still cried. Even after it had disappeared under the fridge. Even while my roommate set a trap and patted my shoulder, bewildered. Even though I hug myself and like being solid, being soft, being here.
It’s the head that got to me, I think. He never once took off the head.