Corinne’s always been as graceful as a ballerina. Everything about her seems so natural, so right. Her hair flows perfectly no matter how she styles it, always so bright it matches her white-gold wedding band. Her limbs are long and taut, her skin flawless and white like cream.
Cathy’s always wanted to be like her.
Maybe, without even realizing, Cathy’s always wanted to be with her as well.
She gets away with sleeping with Corinne some nights when Dad is late at work; Chris does, too, on different days, and they never talk about it but they both know exactly what the other is experiencing. There’s something undeniably exquisite about the feel of Corinne’s silk sheets on bare skin, of Corinne’s expert hands showing Cathy new things she can do to herself, new ways she can feel.
Who knew that touching herself between the legs could feel so good? It never occurred to her until Corinne showed her, those long, beautiful fingers questing down Cathy’s stomach to her inner thigh, teasing her and tickling her in a way she’d certainly never been tickled before. Chris knows, too. She sees the new knowledge sitting in his eyes when they play house together, a spark of information he can’t hide.
He thinks about touching her when they’re alone together. Cathy can tell. He wants to touch her like Corinne touches him, and that flatters her more than anything else — to think that she could serve as Corinne’s substitute, to think that she has even a tenth of Corinne’s fragile beauty.
She looks in the mirror and sees Corinne’s white-gold hair, tangled and brittle on her head. She sees Corinne’s peaches-and-cream skin, dirty and flushed from playtime. Corinne’s hands, but pudgy and small, the fingers not quite long enough and certainly not elegant.
Someday, she tells herself.
Someday she’ll be just like Corinne.
They’re in the attic when she and Chris first talk about it in explicit terms. They talk about it only at night, when their siblings are asleep.
“I feel bad for Carrie and Cory,” Chris whispers, and Cathy knows instinctively that he doesn’t just mean their current circumstances — the dark attic, the lack of sunlight, the incessant gnawing hunger.
What he means, she knows, is that Carrie and Cory barely know their mother. Carrie and Cory were never able to crawl into her bed at night when Dad was late at work. Carrie and Cory never discovered the strange, exquisite pleasure of Corinne’s lips on their bare skin, her fingers between their legs, the privilege of having her beauty all to oneself, just for the night.
“I do, too,” Cathy says, her own voice barely audible. She puts her hand on Cathy’s head, scratches her scalp, feels how thin Cathy’s hair is. Her feelings toward Corinne are conflicted these days, but she can’t pretend that her most pleasant dreams don’t still involve her mother and the silk sheets they used to sleep on.
Does Cory know how beautiful Corinne is? Has Carrie ever looked in a dusty mirror and dreamed of looking like her mother, promising herself that when she turns sixteen she’ll be thin and blonde and beautiful, that she’ll be simultaneously breakable and strong, as fragile and bright as the paper flowers they spend their days constructing?
“They deserve what we had,” Chris says, and when Cathy looks over she thinks she can see him stroking Cory’s head the same way she’s stroking Carrie’s. “I mean, they deserve whatever happiness they can get. Especially now, don’t you think?”
Cathy says nothing, but they both know she agrees.
She looks herself over in the broken mirror the next day, when no one else is looking, when she can still smell Carrie’s skin on her fingers and her gut is still churning from what she’s done. She sees her hair, more thin and brittle now than it ever was when she was a child, the color dull, almost grey. She sees her ruined skin and emaciated, ugly frame, the bones sticking out in all the wrong places, her complexion sallow and ill.
Somehow, she looks more like Corinne than ever.