One long wall of the yoga studio was made up of a row of 4’ x 8’ mirrors crossed by a ballet bar, the other a sprawling storage rack made out of PVC tubes. Several of the tubes had slipped from their joiners, skewing the rack and leaving exercise balls rolling along the floor. The yoga teacher paced in front of the class, her reflection moving across each of her students in the mirror.
“In plank pose roll your shoulders back and tilt your pelvic bowl forward to take the curve out of the small of your back. You should be in one straight line from the crown of your head to your heel. Now the only thing that is going to move is your arms as you lower halfway down. Not yet, not yet—stay in in plank pose. I want you to imagine your favorite animal.”
Dara pictured a unicorn. She didn’t have any particular connection to unicorns, she didn’t have an affinity with any animals really—that was what prompted her to choose an imaginary one. It wasn’t the unicorn’s positive attributes that attracted her, innocence or untamed magic, but rather its most glaring negative quality—it isn’t.
“This animal is underneath your torso. Now as you lower from plank pose into vinyasa, try not to crush your favorite animal.”
Dara bent her arms. The tiny unicorn waited expectantly underneath her torso. She lowered herself until her elbows grazed her ribs. Suddenly, she was pierced through the chest by a horn.
The last year of elementary school Dara’s best friend moved away and she spent all of her time with Jamie, a neighborhood girl who was a year older. Jamie was not as smart as Dara but she was already in middle school and looked for every opportunity to test Dara. Sometimes Jamie’s tests were obvious. When Dara was following her up the steps of the basement, Jamie suddenly stopped and blocked her way. “What’s 5 times 23?” she said.
“One hundred and fifteen.”
“What’s thirteen times twelve?”
Dara answered each time as quickly as she could and when she didn’t know the answer, she made it up. That Dara might lie seemed never to have occurred to Jamie, who was first annoyed and then amazed at her friend’s ability to do multiplication in her head. Forgetting that her questions had been intended to humiliate Dara, Jamie went to get her mom to show off Dara’s trick. Jamie’s mom also seemed not to notice when Dara made up an answer.
Other times, the tests were more ambiguous. Neither girl was allowed to walk to the park without an adult, but after Jamie turned twelve she thought her parents would change their mind and one day she told Dara to wait on the front lawn while she asked. When Jamie came out she asked Dara to guess what her parents had said. Dara couldn’t read her friend’s expression: first she guessed no, then yes, then no again as Jamie remained inscrutable. She told Dara they had said yes, but that they couldn’t leave just yet, then she admitted that they had said no, then she tried again to convince Dara they had said yes. The afternoon light began to fade and Dara knew they couldn’t go to the park now but still Jamie insisted they would. Dara felt foolish for having ever having believed her.
Jamie was developing breasts and spent so much time looking through the bras in a JCPenney’s catalogue that her mom began to make jokes about it. She talked about boys at school and wanted to practice with Dara for when they had boyfriends. She tried to make Dara pretend to be the boy, but Dara didn’t know how and finally Jamie grew impatient and said she would be the boy.
They were in Jamie’s parent’s room with the drapes closed; the sunlight made bright pink shapes when it showed through the heavy tan fabric, but the light exhausted itself there, leaving the rest of the room dim and dusty. Jamie took Dara’s shirt off on the big, adult bed. She ran her hand along Dara’s chest.
“It’s so flat,” she said.
Dara didn’t know what to say. Jamie was quiet for a while and then seemed to come to a solution that satisfied her, “I’m a serial killer and I cut off your breasts in a fit of passion.”
She put her hand over Dara ’s mouth and began to kiss the back of her hand. Dara felt a warm throbbing where her breasts had been. At first this was exciting and she wished Jamie would touch her chest again, then she began to feel that the hand over her mouth was smothering her and wished Jamie would move. Not only could she not feel Jamie’s lips, soon she couldn’t feel her own and she imagined Jamie’s hand sinking into her head without resistance, landing on the pillow underneath and severing her spinal column. It was the sound of her own screaming that brought her body back together.
Not this time. The horn, in piercing her chest, seemed to drive into a knot in her very core. The terror of Dara’s childhood dismemberment came back to her but she couldn’t find the scream that would make it stop. Her shoulder blades released from her back, letting her arms slide out and roll along the floor with the exercise balls. The weight of her torso dropping seemed to loosen her legs; suddenly the space between her pelvis and thighs was infinite, swallowing the whole room. Her head shattered and everything went black. Only the unicorn remained, prancing though the vast space of the unknown.