When her daughter was quite young, but just old enough, and as good looking as she would be, the mother sent her off to a remote but distinguished place – she wanted the best for the child. For a long while, nothing happened. When the daughter came back eventually, she confessed to having been completely ignored. Nobody had touched her, nobody had looked at her, she had been stored in a place with other hopefuls, equally bored, equally disregarded, and finally the lot of them had pooled their subway tokens and come back home.
The mother was disappointed, but glad her daughter was back safe. The child, though, seemed disillusioned.
“You were meant for a more intimate place,” the mother told the daughter. In turn, she sent her off to a few well-regarded intimate places. The first one…the second…the third… What the mother did not wish to imagine, and the child never talked about, were the horrors experienced there: the child was rudely fingered and crudely labeled, and people took turns imprinting their greasy fingers on her innocent form. In the end, they sent her back with a “thanks, but no thanks” note around her neck.
The mother wept. She saw the ashamed expression on her child’s face. She saw the toll the experience had taken on her.
“These were not the right people,” she said. “You are gorgeous. Don’t worry.”
Inwardly, she was less sure. Was she gorgeous? Really even close?
The mother thought she could use a teeth whitening. Some plucking of brows and stray hairs. A breast enhancement, maybe. On close inspection, her chest was flat.
Once spurred into action, the mother spared no expense. The daughter looked better for the changes, she thought, and she felt confident about sending her out again. This time with a letter. “No need to pay,” the letter said, “Just please give my child an honest chance.”
She didn’t hear back. The child was gone for a long time. “They must like her,” the mother thought, “to keep her so long.”
Finally, a letter came. “Your child didn’t win permanency this time,” the letter began, “but we want you to know that she came very close. Some of us thought her pretty and all her parts are in order. However, you may want to fatten her up some before you send her back out.”
Well, the mother thought, at least some of them had liked something about her.
But when she saw her daughter again, the mother gasped: the child was so skinny, she could see through her! Her eyes were unfocussed and she had developed a tick of stretching her mouth open as wide as it would go. Yet she wasn’t hungry and refused food.
“What am I going to do with you?” the mother cried out, sticking the spoon back in the still full bowl, “I see now you weren’t cut out for this world.”
Then she regretted her outburst, because the child – pathetic looking as she was – was still her child, and a good mother shouldn’t give up that easily. She put the child on steroids, and true to the promises of the steroid manufacturer, the girl soon bulked up.
When she was nice and husky, the mother repeated the teeth whitening and hair removal procedures, and for good measure once more increased her breast size. Then she sent the girl to a local place that had such low standards that they were basically guaranteed to appreciate her.
Again, she waited. Months passed and nothing happened. But every day, the mother thought, she was closer to learning about her child’s elevated status, and to having the neighbors congratulate her.
Then one day, when the mother went outside to get the mail, there was the girl, propped up against the mailbox. She was weaker and skinnier than ever and made no move when the mother extracted a folded note from her hands.
“Your daughter sure knows many tricks,” the note began. The mother flushed in anger, but read on: “However, she’s a bit old for us and, no offense, common. She lacks innocence and individuality. We wish you best of luck finding her a home.“ There was a PS, but the mother didn’t bother. She carried the girl inside and locked her into the storage room.
Years later, when a friend helped the mother empty the storage room in preparation for the sale of the house, he came upon the petrified form of the girl.
“Whoa,” the friend cried out, “what have we here?"
The friend was a bit of a drama queen and when he found the note attached to the girl, he read it out loud.
“PS: She was close,” he said, and winked at the mother. “PPS: Not everyone receives personal feedback. You should be proud of your child’s accomplishments and read this note as encouragement.”
The mother ignored him and went on packing.
Helia S. Rethmann grew up in Germany, but now lives in Nashville, TN, where she teaches, writes, and cleans up after animals. Her fiction has been rejected by publications as diverse as The New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Joelton Shopper. Luckily, it has also been accepted by other diverse publications and for that she is grateful.
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