Jenna stands in front of the mirror; her body marked by a black Sharpie pen and knows things are going to be different next year. Lines where her belly fat creases and folds, rings around her double E boobs and the wedge of underarm fat. The part where her thighs rub together, the skin raw and shiny. She’d like to draw a circle around her moon face but its Sunday night and work tomorrow.
Through the open window she can hear the drone of Asif’s computer monitors in the flat downstairs. The flicker of his screens reflected in the glass. He works 24/7 in IT support for an airline. There will be an accident somewhere in the world he says, if he doesn’t respond. She wonders when he eats.
Outside, Hackney High Street is alive with Christmas lights, Poundland tinsel and the smell of burnt meat. She thinks about Juicy Burger, the Turkey Flame Grilled Whopper, and the boy with the paper crown who always gives her an extra side. No she won’t fall into that trap tonight.
Instead she scrolls through her Kendall Jenner Insta feed, new pics of her in a tight yellow bondage dress and killer heels, her body wrapped up like sausage skin. Jenna makes a mental note that yellow is the new black. Kendall’s abs look tight and toned. Her butt cheeks pert. Jenna’s already decided that she’ll treat herself to a copycat dress on Boohoo, with next-day postage she’ll be wearing it by tomorrow.
She finds herself at the counter of the Shell petrol station. The light flickers amber, but it’s still gloomy inside. The guy behind the counter who smells of dope, never looks up from his phone porn, so she pushes the family bags of crisps and tubes of Pringles into her carrier bag, adds a tub of Carte D’Or ice cream from the freezer. Jenna has a Shell Go+ rewards card but doesn’t own a car.
On Monday morning, the girls at L.A. Wealth Management all look wrecked from the weekend and drink fizzy Berocca. The fake Christmas tree on her desk has fake presents underneath it. Jenna’s boss is out of the office so she takes a long mid-morning break sitting in the disabled toilet where she can spread her legs wide. She eats a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Salted Caramel, lets the soft chewy sweetness sit in her cheeks. There’s another bar waiting in the pocket of her handbag, and she licks at the melting chocolate, sucks the soft caramel. Afterwards Jenna pushes the wrappers into the flap of the sanitary bin. Makes a show of drinking black tea when she gets back to the office.
There’s a message from Greta on her phone inviting her to stay for Christmas but she deletes it. Jenna and Greta were Guinea pig girls. They shared a love of the furry creatures and Curly Wurly’s. Best friends until Greta went to the local college for ‘A’ levels and got a boyfriend. After that Jenna spent all her time in her room, watching ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ on endless repeat and Kendall became the best friend she never had. They both love fashion, make up and Teen Vogue. When Kendall posts pics to Instagram, Jenna knows she posts them for her.
‘We’re all going out for Christmas drinks on Friday,’ Charlotte-from-accounts says. ‘Why don’t you come with us after work?’ Charlotte doesn’t say Jenna’s name because she’s unsure if its Jen, Jenny, or Gemma.
Her boss lands in the office at ten to five and hands Jenna a thick wad of papers. Charlotte has already gone Christmas shopping and asked her to finish off her monthly report. Once the office is empty, Jenna can relax. The Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars are in the bottom of her handbag: Caramel, Whole Nut, Popping Candy. But first she pops open days numbered 8-25 on the office chocolate advent calendar and pushes them into her mouth in one go.
Its nearly nine when she gets home, and Asif is smoking in the courtyard. He hands her a parcel. ‘You sure do like clothes,’ he says. ‘Something to wear for a party?’ Jenna doesn’t answer. She can’t wait to unwrap the yellow bondage dress, to drape it around her neck and photograph it in the mirror. She imagines Kendall blowing her a kiss as she steps out of a limo. Her toned stomach and lean legs. Afterwards Jenna hangs the dress up in the cramped spare room, the wardrobe doors heaving with dresses, tops and trousers, boob tubes and halter necks, all size 6. Kendall’s size.
At Christmas drinks, there aren’t enough chairs and Jenna perches on a stool at the end of the table near the kitchen extraction fan. The girl’s voices remind her of the high pitched squeals of Guinea pigs. It’s too late before Jenna realises that the girls have all ordered small plates and when her Spaghetti Carbonara and garlic bread arrives, they’ve all finished eating. The girls watch her as she pushes a forkful of food into her mouth, tries to swallow. The table erupts with shrieks of laughter. Charlotte says that they found the empty advent calendar and hundreds of chocolate wrappers stuffed in a filing cabinet at the office. That there must be a . Dean from the post room polishes off her food after Jenna slips away.
She can’t wait to get home, to draw lines with her Sharpie pen across her belly and thighs. She’ll step out of one body and into a new one in the New Year, which looks just like Kendall’s.
Asif is waiting outside the flat. His voice is soft when he says, ‘Hi Jenna, you look nice.’ She’s had a couple of glasses of wine and Jenna wants to tell him that yellow isn’t really her colour. That she’d really like him to come for Christmas dinner.
This story was chosen for our Christmas countdown and the author wins a ticket to our next Flash Fest
About the author: Helen Kennedy is a Mancunian writer who is just completing her MA in Creative Writing in Oxford. Her flash and short fiction has been shortlisted for the Bristol Prize in 2022 and the Cambridge prize in 2021 as well as being featured in Flashflood 2022.