When she was twelve, Alice was the commander-in-chief of the skeletal army of the underfed. At lunch, she and her group would patrol the cafeteria, scanning the plates and trays for any evidence of creamy salad dressing, complex carbs or two percent milk. (This patrol first started the cycle of hiding for the bulimics.) If a transgressor was spied – no matter how fat or ugly she was to begin with – Alice and company would stop and sneer:
“Enjoying your lunch?”
One of the girls behind Alice would make a pig-like snorting noise, and then pretend to cough to cover it up.
But one day, when Alice sat with her geeky new friend Sarah, and had pizza, it rocked the whole social body.
Rachel, formerly one of Alice’s best friends, came and sat down.
“Alice – you okay?” she asked in a hushed voice. “Hey Sar…” (It was amazing, Rachel’s power of put-down; she gave the impression of using the single-syllable version of Sarah’s name not from intimacy, but because she didn’t rate the effort of a second syllable.)
“Yeah, good…” said Alice, glancing at Sarah. They had discussed this for five hours the previous night. Show no fear!
Rachel stared at the pizza. “But – that’s carbs, an’ fat, an’ just calories. That’s like, half a marathon!”
“Why are you eating it? You’re not, you’re not…” Rachel’s voice dropped to a hush, and she pretended to insert a finger into her throat.
“Nah,” said Alice, taking a deep, deliberate bite and making Rachel flinch. “Just hungry.”
“Hungry!” cried Rachel, then softened her voice. “We’re all hungry – but that’s no reason to…”
“To what?” demanded Sarah – against the agreed-on rules – show no fear, but don’t get angry either! “To enjoy your food?”
Rachel turned and looked at her coolly. “Did I ask for your opinion? I think not.” She turned back to Alice, and murmured the word ‘loser’ under her breath. Sarah knew better than to call her on it. It would just be denied anyway: hey, but if that’s what you heard…
“’Member, Alice?” said Rachel. “We made a pact. ‘Don’t let me get fat!’ I can’t – let you do this.”
“I take it back,” said Alice.
“You can’t – we…” she lowered her voice, “…spat on it. No take-backs.” She grabbed what remained of Alice’s pizza and stood up.
“Put that back!” said Alice, leaping to her feet.
“It’s for your own good,” said Rachel – and this broke another rule, which was never to use parent-isms to correct anyone in the clique. She began walking over to the garbage. Silence flashed over the cafeteria; the tribal joy of watching killed all conversation…
The die was cast. Alice stood up. “That’s mine. Put it back.”
“Once on the lips, forever on the hips!” smirked Rachel. Another girl made a snorking sound, turning it into a cough.
Sarah stood up too.
Rachel said, “You’ll thank me later,” and held the paper plate of pizza over the garbage can.
“You tip that, you’re in trouble,” warned Alice, her cheeks flushed. To the watching boys – weaned on Xena – she had never looked more beautiful. Do we dare hope for – for a cat-fight?
Rachel smiled and tipped the pizza into the garbage.
There was an awful pause. Alice and Sarah had not discussed this possibility. They expected the exquisite swordsmanship of feminine insults and put-downs; they dreamed of, perhaps, grudging approval. But a fight…? Alice stared at Rachel’s face, and made a decision. She reached into her purse and took something out.
“Bad thing to do,” Alice said.
Rachel glared back. “What are you going to do, hit me, like some trailer-park trash?”
Alice glanced at Sarah. They understood. It was magic, but it was their friendship.
They leapt forward quickly, dragging Rachel to the ground. The kids all burst into wild cheers and leapt on the tables, scattering food. The cook picked up the phone – but everything was over by the time she finished dialling. Alice and Sarah stood up. Rachel jumped up, her red face contorted.
“You bitch!” she cried. “What do you think you’re doing?”
She stared around, suddenly feeling a complete loss of power, of control – even the fat kids are laughing! “Shut up!” she shouted, thinking: my hair is a mess… But something was wrong, very wrong – as a girl who spent thirty minutes every morning doing her hair, she felt it in her very bones…
And then she saw it. Lying on the floor, like the corpse of a loved pet.
What is that – is that – my – hair?
She reached up, touched her head, and screamed.
“You bitch! You fucking bitch!”
Alice smiled. “Now we’ve both lost some weight!”
The teachers came in, then, and whisked Alice and Rachel away to wait in separate classrooms, to consider their actions until the Principal returned from lunch. During this time, Rachel cried in front of her little compact mirror, caressing the stump of her missing ponytail, while Alice worked on her defence.
Eventually, Alice was called in to Principal Boettcher’s office.
Ms. Boettcher was built like a squat trucker with man-tits. She was very political, very anti-male, but respected her students enough to let them come to their own conclusions. She hated the media with a passion (and had spearheaded the movement to keep news and commercials out of the classroom). She disliked capitalism – but also environmentalism, which was an unusual combination. She was an old-school Marxist, believing in rugged industrialisation and staunch collectivism.
Yet she ran a private school for the economic and intellectual elite… This garnered her much ribbing at her Wednesday-night International Socialist meetings. “So what?” she’d say. “You either start a revolution or work from the inside.” The motley group of bike couriers, Arts students, Starbucks employees and wannabe Jazz musicians did not impress her much, but she needed something to do with her weekday evenings, and there was good cruising at socialist meetings. Somehow, lesbians – except of the lipstick kind – so rarely turned right-wing. Capitalism was a penis, the State a vagina. No reason why, just was.
When Alice came in, Ms. Boettcher was quite sceptical. Alice was the head of an evil capitalist clique, which promoted conspicuous consumption of the worst kind – and was thin, beautiful, and entirely unlikely to swell the lesbian ranks, which was a shame, since they could use some thin and beautiful members. (Bad word, ‘members’ – too close to ‘penis.’) We’ve already got enough pear-shaped women in comfortable shoes…
However, news of Alice’s fight cheered Ms. Boettcher somewhat. Scrap of ‘tomboy,’ has potential…
“So, tell me what all this is about,” she said, gesturing for Alice to sit.
“Well, I’ve decided to stop dieting…”
“Really?” Ms. Boettcher leaned forward, a revolutionary gleam in her eye. “And why is that?”
“Well, it’s not really healthy…” murmured Alice.
“No – statistics say you’re all getting fatter, but you lot are really bucking the trend.”
“I mean, I was thinking the other day, watching a music video…” (Really, these buttons were almost too easy to push!) “…and I thought hey, I can spend my whole life worrying about being fat, but will that make me happy?”
Ms. Boettcher jabbed her finger skyward. “Yes! Yes! And just think of the companies making fat profits over everyone trying to be thin!”
“Yeah… So I had pizza at lunch today…”
Ms. Boettcher frowned. I didn’t realise it was that serious… A popular girl eating pizza was about as common as an unpopular girl taking ballet.
“…so then Rachel comes over and throws it out, because she says it’ll make me fat. I asked her not to, but she did anyway, so I got mad. So…”
“So there was a fight, yeah, I know…”
“No – not a fight, not quite.”
“I just cut off her – ponytail.”
With heroic effort, Ms. Boettcher suppressed a smile. That works on so many levels, my little Red Guard! She caught herself, and frowned mightily. “That was very dangerous, though, using scissors.”
Alice stared at her feet. “Yeah, I know, but… But I don’t like how girls just talk, you know, and are always mean. I mean, why not fight? Boys do… I didn’t start it.”
“Look – I know how you feel. I really do. You’re starting to think about your life, and that’s great. But you can’t go around shearing your classmates if they act – in a reactionary manner.” Oh good word, mouthpiece of the revolution! Why not just give her your mantra: WWTD – What Would Trotsky Do?
“Yeah, I see that…”
“And I’m going to get calls from Rachel’s parents.” And, as fashionable capitalist running dogs, they will be outraged that a fresh-faced daughter of the bourgeoisie has been so cruelly violated! “She went for property, you for flesh. So here’s what we’ll do: detention, one week. And an essay on the – limitations of violence.”
Limitations! thought Alice with glee. Hah – she approves!
“And Rachel?” she asked.
“That’s between me and her,” said Ms. Boettcher. “But her ideology will not escape my notice. Okay, now run along.”
In Biology, Sarah gazed at Alice as she slid into the seat next to her. Alice glanced back, grinning. Sarah raised an eyebrow. Alice mimed cutting something, pushing it over on a plate, then taking a bite with a fork.
It was an old communiqué, easily understood: Piece of cake!