I’m running again. Running down the monotonously tree-lined Kingsway Crescent, the neatly alternating houses and driveways. I’m running and I hate it. There’s only a couple weeks left of school. I was hoping to be a stunning creature by now! Tonight as I run, my feet are pounding down the street to the lopsided rhythm of my breath—two in, two out. I still feel too humiliated by my jiggling, overtly touchy-feely thighs to pay attention to much else besides the squishing of my legs. This running is definitely not helping, I’ve decided. Each day that I run, I’m more aware of them. I grunt as I sigh out of my mouth and push myself to run down the street. I pass from the street down into the gravel lined road, it’s a steep pebbly decline down to the river road. Seems appropriate punishment for any unlucky exercisers like me. I let the hill carry my throttling forward down to the river with my knees jarring rough into each step. How is it that I force myself to suffer under the June sun to run for increasingly straining lengths, but it only seems to broaden my fluid legs even more. It only makes them stronger!
I used to love to go and hang around that Humber River path—to climb things and rollerblade. I just resent it now. The sun sets as I run down Kingsway Crescent to reach the sloping turn that leads down to the river. I run in the dim with leggings firmly encasing my legs, but loose enough to not be entirely irritating. It feels like I could convince myself there’s progress happening. The sky becomes dusky enough that I can’t tell the difference between it and the deep shades of summer clouds, the light warm pattering rain starts to fall a bit. Just softly meeting me, and gliding down my bare arms and soaking gently into my leggings. The rain warming on me and my sweat cools—mingling and it feels like joy. No, I’m wrong. I don’t hate running more than math class, than stiffening in my vinyl seat in a schoolroom, than the Loblaws checkout, than the loneliness of news anchormen echoing from the other room at home. But I can’t run forever, be in motion forever, I have to slow and stop after the river loop finishes and my legs walk in steps that shake them loosely.
Tonight, after school and after work, I bike across Dundas and then Dupont, and get home for a run just as the sun was setting. I work at Loblaws sometimes, tonight is the first time in a couple of days. A sweltering heat wave has hit Toronto, it’s like a desert town now. Tumbleweeds blowing across roads, people sitting on cement steps sweating thickly—the unlucky air conditioning have-nots. It feels like I have forgotten how to be conscious when I fall into a stupor, laying on my stomach and watching TV or any moment I’m not dragging myself through school or sleeping. Today at work consists of an endless stretch of staring blankly out of my cashier station at the floor-to-ceiling front windows, with the pale reflection of grocery lanes superimposed on the street outside against the glass I am looking through.
I tried running on the first of those hot, hot days and the air was so thick, hot, difficult to push through. Dust, and smog, and hot, and sun weighing down on my body, I swear, it felt like the dense air was breathing more life into my blooming legs, as I forced my way through it. There weren’t any of the usual families, runners, or bikers around. I finally let myself walk the rest of the way and slouched home, defeated, I tried not to feel my legs too keenly.
Those girls at work with me, they seem so vibrant, the way they move themselves—who they are is stretched out to the full breadth of their body, they have life in every part of them. They comfortably and confidently move through the world with that vitality I envision suddenly arising when my legs are slim enough. And if not that, if they are more fully hipped than slim and lean, they fill up and absorb all the space given—when my own body gains ground against my diminishing self, as the soul of me withdraws in defeat, and becomes more compact.
There at Loblaws today, I watch the lane two girl sidle out of her position to join her friend at the cart as they casually push it away together. I stay stocked still and stare at the backs of their legs, I couldn’t help it. They bop along with animated conversation between them, the skinny one’s pony tail waving in the wind to the rhythm of her walk. Neither of them wear the strict Loblaws-issued attire, but they’ll never be called on it by Loretta, our alternating doting and severe Front End Supervisor. The girl on the left, her thighs don’t travel down lean and clear of one another like her friend’s. But she’s beautiful. Her legs are a seamless black contour swelling out from her hips in sloping curves. There are stretches of horizontal pulls of fabric running from side to side across the pants at the back of her legs, where her thighs subtly stretch them. I watched each firm step that pulls one plush leg against the other in a brush against themselves, forward in a fully feminine friction that keeps me entranced in my envy until she has moved too far away.
Now at home, I feel exhausted from sliding from checkout screen to plastic bags constantly, repetitively. I lie in bed with the familiar lethargy of this heat wave. My thighs still feel squishy but all my skin is so prickly and dry. As if the pores in the lower half of my body have been breathing in the brittle dust of the hot air, pulling in the dryness. Maybe, hopefully, it’ll draw that deep inside and dry up and shrivel out my full thighs into smallness.
But my only feeling of shrinking is something like my spirit pulling in, like the me that exists is not large enough to stretch to fill in every crevice of my body. At home in my room with its dark hardwood floor that creaks comfortingly beneath my feet as I move within its four walls. I take off my uniform. The green Loblaws shirt is baggy and stiff—it both enshrouds my body and restricts it. My body looks the same staring down at it here, between the two pale green collars and button seams, as it did inside the cold beige bathroom stall in the work change room. I was certain that I would be able to move freely and exuberantly if I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d jar anything loose. If I could let my petite personality loose into all of my body, but this body looms away so beyond control. It doesn’t adhere to rules of justice—it’s this strange thing, all its own, that’s swallowing the rest of me up. It’s a violation of me, this renegade body.
Aahhh! I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going on! It’s only the morning after I wrote all that, but things have changed drastically. I’m heading towards school on the TTC. I should be panicking, but maybe it’s the lingering lethargy from the heat that has now broken, or maybe with only a couple of days left in school all I have to be concerned about for now is just to make it out of the house discreetly. If I’m just at home, perhaps a summer vacation of laying down and taking in the television will go almost unnoticeable. Alright—what happened.
When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t separate my legs above the knees. Getting out of bed was weird, but it was early . . . Sometimes my eyelashes stick together, or I can’t see when I get up quickly and all the blood rushes to my head, I assumed it would regulate in a minute. When I awkwardly slid out from under the sheets, I stared down. Sometimes in hot summer nights I wake up not wearing clothes. I suppose that happened, my shorts and underwear were crumpled up at the foot of my bed. My legs—from the knees my legs could move and step and turn as good as ever—but above the knees, all the way up, they were stuck together.
My seat on the bus is draped over with a blue silk flowing skirt I happened to have, the backs of my knuckles rest just under my legs, where the skirt edges the seat. I brush my fingers against the fuzzy red fabric of the seats and stare out of my dirt-spattered window at the familiar scenery of my bus-ride to school. Plaza parking lots and the dry cleaners. Grass medians before the Royal York exit and the small gated cemetery on the right side, next to a little community of mid-sized houses that can be peered at just over the tree tops.
This is baffling, but there aren’t even any lines down the middle of my merged thighs. They’ve fused! And so evenly. Just one wide and looming thigh—joint to the knob of my knees, where they emerge out as separate legs. I seem to be taking it remarkably in stride somehow. I manage to find this ankle-length skirt to wear. It’s long enough and flowing enough—blue draping silk—to mask my melted thighs. From beneath the hem of this skirt I can only see the clean angular boniness of my ankles, and my legs are still clear and clean of each other from knee to heel. I hope the point of fusion that’s been brought down through my thighs to my two knees, like a zipper being zipped down from my hips, has descended as far as it will go. And despite walking slowly I might be able to pull off walking with a range of motion only below these locked knees . . .
After a long languid walk from school, I didn’t get home until the rest of my family had already finished eating dinner. I made myself a plate of leftovers while a television or radio buzzed dully in the other room to a few assembled, and there were footsteps creaking upstairs.
I wonder, will the merged thighs extend past my knee? I don’t think it’s at my calves, but I swear they’ve gathered around. I should contemplate my next move after school goes by—it’s been an endless stretch of waiting for the day to be over so the next one can be over too. Day in and day out, a few days ago I thought would just begin the same again next year.
Our neighbours have apparently offered to have my family stay at their old cottage for the weekend, starting tomorrow. On Georgian Bay, and I’m told the house is right on the beach off the shore of that choppy lake.
I never understood the point of baths. Just sitting in water, waiting. But here I am in one now. I want to see how it would affect these hard scaly things popping up all over my uni-thigh. As I splay my fingers above my knees, deeply contemplating and considering this remolding body, the darkening patches of rigid but shiny smooth skin that has grown. I feel easy, relaxed in the water, but I shouldn’t be, with these rough patches spreading. Is this whole shifting thing spreading farther down? How far? Under the water, the little scaly bits begin to tip upwards at an angle—tiny bubbles float up out of the cracks. It’s dark underneath these things on my skin, and I don’t want to look.
I’ve been staring out at the lines of trees, dappled yellow fields, and old fences whipping past, and finally out the car window I see us draw close to the cottage on Georgian Bay. There’s an overwhelming sense of finality here . . . I’d be willing to say that the condition of my legs has exaggerated even more, but I don’t mind enough to check and pry at it. Once all the cottagers have assembled, car doors are slammed and gravel is crunching underfoot, they then swan inside to begin having wine while cooking dinner, unpacking, and digging up games. I go around the side, taking my time, to gradually reach the beach. All I want to do or can think of is getting to the water. I don’t pay much attention to threading my toes through the dunes as I always used to, even if I can barely move my steps forward at all—my legs join now at the outward curve of my calves. A little elastic and malleable still, but closing in.
I’m finally at the water. I don’t know why, but I absolutely know writing these words is important. My steps to bring my toes into the lapping shore seem tremendous. The narrow range of motion at the knees makes me lift each toe timidly toward the waves. As soon as I touch my toes to the water, I feel an overwhelming physical surge in the lower half of my body—needing to feel that wet all over everywhere. I push myself forward until the conjoined leg meets the water—the little scales grow beneath the point where my legs are merged, and the scales of those inner sides of limbs still separate and start to partially break off. Only half-attached to my leg still, the scales wave sideways in the water, but clinging on. I know what this means. I shuffle my ankles together and the waving stretching scales enfold in one another along the separate calves and ankles, to my feet and toes. They’re drawing the last bits of my legs together. I teeter slightly, my centre of balance narrowing to one beam—I look over at the cottage for one vague moment. I look at this diary, I don’t know whether to bring it to the waves with me or throw it to the beach. I don’t know if it will matter either way if it falls through the water. Whether it’s retrievable or not. I hold this book in one hand as I take off my skirt, shirt and bra. I skitter out farther into the waves, I can still see the form of my feet, but they’ll be melting away soon too. Smoothly I slip sideways off my balancing feet. Covered in scales, in the water my feet mold together and then branch out into something slim, flat, and strong. And this is what they are—mermaid thighs. I’ve changed fully, and now I’m going to join the waves and the water. I’m holding my diary and pen as I float above, close to the shore for the last time, knowing I’ll let them go soon.