- The New Louise
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[End Page 106]
On the first morning her husband was away at a conference upstate, Louise Lampert sat up in bed, strangely awake and aware. On summer mornings like this one, she generally rolled over and struggled back to sleep, finally rising, half in dread, by ten or eleven, but today the city beckoned, and the sun streamed optimistically across her peach area rug. Walking toward the bathroom, she noticed her feet: they were narrower than usual, and paler. No bunions or visible veins, and her toenails were the palest shell pink. Normally, when Louise bothered to paint her toenails, she picked bright scarlet to warm up the sallow undertones in her skin. [End Page 107]
She had someone else’s polish on her feet.
In the mirror on the bathroom door, she suddenly saw her—or rather, Louise saw herself: a woman about 5'10", with straight blond hair past her shoulders, hair variegated in color, as if touched, constantly, by lighting from behind. Her skin was creamy and unlined, peachy now rather than sallow; she had large, expressive blue eyes and a perfectly straight nose, the tip forming a tiny, upturned ball; her mouth was small, but her lips matched, top and bottom equally full. Most startling of all, she had narrow shoulders, the narrowest of hips, and breasts that did not require a bra: small, springy breasts untested by gravity.
Where had she seen this woman before? Certainly not in her own reflection. She rifled through the magazines they kept in a rack near the toilet and found the catalog for a trendy chain with high-end, glossy images. There she was, on page seven, wearing a bikini top, cargo shorts and flip-flops, tripping through a field. She held a leash, walking an English bulldog. Louise was now a girl in an advertisement for cargo shorts—a series of advertisements, actually.
For most of her life, Louise had read catalogs and fashion magazines, turning the pages dreamily, staring at the lanky, smiling women in their appealing and confounding outfits, women without pores or cowlicks. Just last week, she’d looked at this particular ad and wondered, as she had so many times throughout her adolescence and adulthood, “What would it feel like to be an ideal?” But it was one thing to wonder, another to wake up, suddenly, as the woman of one’s dreams. She flipped to the last page. The girl was missing. There was the path, and the bulldog dragging a dropped leash, no girl.
Unsure how to proceed, she stuck with routine and brushed her teeth, splashing some water on her face. Then she went to her dresser to put on a fresh T-shirt; it fit like a tent but came barely to her belly button. There were some bike shorts in the back of her closet. The seat sagged, but it wasn’t too bad if she belted them at the hips (with an old belt that barely fastened, under normal circumstances, around her waist). Her hair required nothing. She raked her fingers through it, as if to remind herself, this is my hair, and then pulled—would it come out, or off, like some strange Halloween wig? But no, her scalp tingled as it might have on any day she tugged that hard at her hair. Then she shook her head, watching it cascade, caressing her shoulders. Her hair felt like silk, no, like water, no—she resisted the search for another simile and sprinted toward the door, grabbing her purse on the way. She was going shopping. [End Page 108]
In real life, the life she had led before waking up that morning, Louise stood 5'4", with auburn curly hair streaked with gray; in the past few years, her once lush mane, her best feature, had become too thin and scraggly to wear past her collarbone. She was slightly pear-shaped, twenty pounds overweight on a good day, and had hazel eyes set too close together, a nose too sharp, and...