AT BURKE HALL ON HER TWENTIETH NIGHT AWAY FROM HOME
By Jennifer Duval White
Ashleigh stands back and studies herself in the mirror, setting her hair free from the teeth of a blue plastic clip. She crinkles her nose- it always feels so tight after washing with Ivory. Two fingers rise to touch the freshly scrubbed skin of her face. She reminds herself to breathe.
She wonders if pink is her color and if her breasts will ever get any bigger and if it would be silly to put her make-up back on now. She glosses her lips with her tongue. Her smooth, pale hand reaches back and rips the tag out of the nightgown, then adjusts its hem. If only that scab on her knee had fallen off yesterday; if only the nightgown was just a little bit longer. She wishes she'd tried it on in the store. Baby blue really would have looked nicer with her eyes.
Her flip-flops slap the three steps to the nearest sink, their orange rubber soles protecting her from any unknown bacteria that might lurk amidst the cracked tile floor. Her mother, the doctor, had warned about the dangers of tinea pedis- athlete's foot. Ashleigh kicks off the flip-flops and stashes them underneath the sink. Orange doesn't go with pink, and Ashleigh doesn't always listen to her mother.
Someone in a stall flushes, and when they come out, Ashleigh ducks her head, hiding her face behind a curtain of soft brown curls. When they leave, she looks again at the girl in the mirror and tests out a smile. The girl in the mirror blushes back. I'm not as young as I look, she tells herself. She's younger than she'll ever be again.
Down the hall, in Ashleigh's room, a young man sits on the lavender bedspread. He is picking lint off his sock, reminding himself that she'll only be a minute. Reminding himself to breathe.
Jennifer Duval White writes from her little home in Massachusetts that she shares with her husband, four daughters, dog, cat, and house bunny. It’s crowded there, so she mostly lives inside her head. Jennifer’s work has been published or is forthcoming at Haypenny, Literary Mama, and Writer Online. Contact Jennifer.