Patina

response to this challenge.

They call it prestige.

My friends – though I don’t truly call them my friends – and I are handpicked, were selected years ago and cycled into a rotation. Each year we perform exams, swallowing chunky, chalky vitamin supplements to see ourselves through, downing sugar-free energy drinks at night and black coffee in the mornings. Each month there is a progress report, a series of tests which puts us through our paces. Some girls don’t survive; they leave the school or worse – their class rank dips. At these times, it is every girl for herself.

We spend our class times in our clusters, simultaneously smiling glittering white at each other and mentally tearing them down. Smiles are too wide; teachers’ pet… this is just the beginning, and only in my head. Publicly, we don’t denounce each other. The school has a reputation of strength and support. Privately, it is like this for every girl. When someone is selected to leave the class, the others group together in hushed whispers and rumours begin drifting by mealtime. If someone performs especially well, she will receive fake applause and silent, behind-her-back death glares.

We’re an expensive group to look after, with a team of nutritionists and counsellors, private studios and the school down the road who sometimes lends us a musician or five. Tutus and shoes are ordered by the dozen; school books are swept to the side in special dispensation for a starring role. Scholarships are prized, so rare that there’s a joke about them being urban myth.

I’m warming up, silently chanting French as I move. It’s an old habit, one I developed when just beginning, and it soothes me now, more than prescribed tablets could.

The room is empty, other than myself and a silent pianist. I know I’m lucky, I really do. Many girls would kill to be here. There are stories of sabotage, passed down the years and twisted through time. As I practice, my hair begins to stick to my face, and I’m desperate to open a window. Only that would break my rhythm, so I don’t.

My pianist – I don’t know this one’s name – does not break from his rhythm.

In this room, this bubble, I am grace. I am physical. I am elegant, flawless. I am perfection.

My body remains a highly-tuned machine.

And I hate it.

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