This Week’s Short Story: Meant for the Light – The Signal
By Megan Finan
Meant for the Light
She is meant for fame. For the spotlight, the limelight, the flash of the cameras. Her mother calls her a ray of sunshine: all she has to do is smile and the world will fall at her feet. Like attracts like, and light attracts light.
Her mother is right. She becomes famous at sixteen. Sixteen, the perfect age for fame. Perfect for high school movies, perfect for the tabloids, perfect for those tight little outfits her publicist loves.
At her first red-carpet event, she straightens her hair until it glistens like oil and wears a tight white dress with a neckline down to her bellybutton. The satin shimmers in the spotlight, the limelight, the flash of the cameras. Reporters holler their questions and admirers scream their praises. She bathes in the light, in the cacophony of admiration. They all love her; she is finally home.
Her Instagram blows up the next day. The top comments have little blue check marks and sing her praises. She scrolls down to the unchecked, checkless comments. Then. Then the sweet words sour.
Tiffany, a fifteen-year-old, thinks she’s brave to wear a plunging dress when she’s flatter than roadkill. Mark, a balding man whose profile picture looks like a gopher, thinks Tiffany is wrong and that she’s still hot even though she’s a little bit overweight. Tom, a college student, agrees with Mark; he’s happy that she will be eighteen in only 421 days. A Harry Styles stan says she’s all baby fat.
She turns off her phone and tries to ignore Tiffany and the Harry Styles stan. At least Mark and Tom like her, want to date her (to fuck her). That’s good, right?
Her publicist sees the comments too. He tells her that she needs to lose some weight if she ever wants to book another movie. He puts her on a diet of kale and chicken.
Her mother doesn’t see the comments. She just sees the glamour of fame. She chatters on and on about how beautiful she looks and how happy she is that her daughter – her daughter – made her dream come true. Just like Cinderella! Natalie Portman! Anne Hathaway!
She feels too tired to correct her mother, tell her that the world doesn’t think she’s beautiful. Her mom drags her on a shopping trip to that mall in Beverly Hills they only dared to step in before. Isn’t it shiny, sweetie?
She always loved the shiny things. The pretty things. The pink tutus in her baby dance class, the velvet red curtains at the community theater, the white roses after a performance. There was something magical about it all. She was always good at ballet, at singing, and, most importantly, at acting. She knew that. But, more than that, she loved it. She loved stepping into someone else’s shoes, body, ballet slippers and that moment on stage when anything can happen. Giant movie sets never tainted that feeling.
And she always loved this mall. It felt like the stage, like somewhere she was destined to be one day. And suddenly, she isn’t tired anymore. She grabs her mom’s hand and pulls her into the store they never dared to step foot in before just in case they muddied the perfect Persian carpet and were forced to pay thousands by the snooty sales associates.
By the end of the day, they wear shopping bags as bracelets on their forearms, yards and yards of chiffon and lace and sequins and beauty overflowing out of its cages. Their stomachs are full of every dessert they saw in the food court; her diet can wait a day.
She feels like Cinderella. She can be Natalie or Anne: the perfect role model for little girls, untainted by the industry and full of satin magic.
The next day, she stands on a scale. She’s only a few ounces heavier, but when she looks in the mirror, she sees the rich red velvet cake on her hips, the rose macaroons dusted in gold on her thighs, and the crème brûlée on her stomach. The people watching her will see it, too.
She stops eating the chicken with her kale. She can’t be Natalie or Anne if she looks like this.
Less food has to be better, right?
She gets a Barbie doll body, just like her publicist wanted. The only problem is she’s got no boobs. But it’s okay because her publicist knows a guy who will operate on a sixteen-year-old.
She sits on her mother’s bed while her mother dresses, knees pulled to her chest, just as she used to when she was little and needed her mom’s advice. Her mom sits in front of her vanity, adjusting her blood-red ruby earrings the size of a quarter, and she tells her mom what her publicist said.
Her mom shrugs, then removes her earrings, testing out drooping silver teardrops instead. Whatever will make you happy, sweetie.
If her mom says it’s okay, it’s got to be okay, right?
She calls her publicist, tells him she’ll do it. She wants – no, needs – the people to love her like they love Natalie and Anne, and she can’t do that if she’s not beautiful. If she needs to mutilate her body for Tiffany to like her, for men to want to date her (to fuck her) then she will mutilate her body.
She gets the surgery. The anesthesiologist tells her her boobs are perfect now. Guys like small tits. She ignores him though because they told her they didn’t. She needs the limelight, and for that, she needs bigger boobs.
Mark comments that she looks unnatural now, that she isn’t hot anymore. People in the comment section agree: unnatural, weird, scary. Monstrous.
Her publicist puts her on a carb diet. If she gains weight, the boobs will look more natural. After eating pure kale, one slice of white bread makes her sick. She feels like she is going to break the bathroom scale with every additional pound, and she dreads being fat again.
But anything for fame. Sanity? Sanity is no cost.
At her next red-carpet event, there’s the same adoring fans and the same flashing cameras. But she also hears the hecklers, the people screaming that she’s too fat, too thin, that her boobs are too small, too big, that her ass isn’t big enough, isn’t small enough, that she looks like a whore, that she needs to loosen up.
At home, she cries. Her publicist texts her. Smile more next time! Give the men something to think about.
Something breaks inside to match her broken outside. Acting, fame, applause… it’s no longer magical. Shiny seems dull, and dull seems dead.
She stops crying then. She knows what to do. She goes to sleep staring at those words, lets them lull her to sleep. When she wakes, she puts on the tight white dress. It doesn’t fit anymore because her body is unrecognizable, the creation of a monster, but she wears it anyway.
She grabs her mother’s gun out of the safe and marches down to the publicist’s office. He looks up from his laptop, smiling dazzlingly. The smile of the spotlights, the limelights, the cameras. The pedophiles and the perverts and the assholes.
She raises her gun and finally, finally, he isn’t smiling anymore. His hands are going up, and he’s pleading. He has a wife, he has kids, he has-
Well, she doesn’t know what he has because his brain matter is on the window of LA behind him. Blood spatters on her white dress. She likes it better now.
A stolen life for a stolen childhood. That’s just, right?
No. Don’t answer that. It is just.
The police are there in minutes and she’s posing in front of a camera once again. This time, a mugshot. “Don’t smile,” the policeman says.
For once, she is happy to comply. She snarls at the camera. It flashes. She’s home. This is what she was meant for.