They never rested during rest hour. Naps were for the junior campers,
the little girls who cried with homesickness, who wore frilly pink suits
to swim lessons, who adorned their arms with the lumpy macramé bracelets
they made in arts and crafts.
But they were the senior campers, fourteen years old, and they never
rested. Their counselor, Beth, herded them back to the bunk after lunch
– the heat of the day – waited until all twelve of them had lain down on
their beds, grown quiet, before she left them, easing the screen door
shut behind her. A moment of stillness, heat, in which one of the
girls, genuinely tired, might drift asleep, slipping instantly into a
dream of home or flying, the brief twitch of eyelids before Michelle’s
footsteps woke her.
“She’s gone,” said Michelle from beside the door.
Once, their counselor had waited on the cabin porch, caught them out of
their beds, and they’d had to wash lunch dishes as punishment. Michelle
had been furious at Beth, pouted, complained behind her back that they
weren’t babies, didn’t need to take a nap. Another time, Beth had
fallen asleep on her own bunk, exhausted in a way that made her seem
indefinably old to the girls. She’d slept, even snored softly, the
entire rest hour, and only Michelle had dared to stir from her bunk,
walk quietly past the sleeping form of the counselor, pausing to make a
face at her. The other girls giggled quietly from their bunks before
they resumed reading or writing a letter home, careful not to fall
Jen joined Michelle at the door. “She’s gone. All clear.”
The other girls slid from their bunks to sit on the dusty wooden floor
of the cabin. Some days they played cards, sprawling games of ‘I Doubt
It’ with two decks mixed together. Early in the summer, they’d played
truth or dare, but by now they had no secrets left to share.
Michelle always decided the day’s activity. Lately, she’d left behind
the games, the cards, the twenty questions – “too babyish,” she’d said.
Instead, she sat them in a circle to give each other back rubs, Michelle
gently scraping her fingernails along Jen’s neck, “Bet I can give you
The others were already sitting, waiting, when Michelle came back from
the door. Amy was fiddling with her braid, Kate was picking at her
cuticles. Michelle sat down, grabbed Jen’s hand. “Let me tell you your
fortune.” They all crowded close, watched as Michelle turned Jen’s palm
up, traced the line that ran from the wrist to above the thumb. “A long
life. 80 at least.” She gently rubbed the crease across the middle of
Jen’s palm. “Twisted, but not broken. You’ll struggle in your
marriage, but it will last.”
None of the other girls questioned what Michelle said. They never did.
She was the first out of the cabin every morning, the first to declare
what food was too gross to be eaten in the dining hall, or the dessert
that only a fatty would consume. If Michelle wore a tank top, everyone
wore a tank top. A few girls had even written home, asking their
mothers to send up a certain type of sandal that Michelle had proclaimed
Amy watched Michelle’s fingers move across Jen’s palm. Her own fingers
tugged at the braid that sat, thick and heavy, on her shoulders. She
picked at the loose brown hairs, fought the urge to put the end of the
braid in her mouth, gently chew the fibers. It was a habit Amy had had
since kindergarten when she’d given up sucking her thumb. But on the
first day of camp Michelle had seen her chewing the braid and declared
it disgusting. “You’ll get split ends. And your hair will smell like
spit.” So Amy just tugged and picked, let the loose hairs fall to the
cabin floor and blend in with the other dust. She doubted very much
that Michelle knew anything about reading palms; she doubted that the
future could be read from palms at all, but Amy kept her mouth shut. It
was better to be quiet and unnoticed, part of the group if only by
A few of the girls leaned in to study the lines on Jen’s hands; one of
them, Susan, said, “There are so many little lines. How do you know what
it all means?”
“There’s a system for everything,” Michelle said mysteriously. “You
have to look carefully at each line and wrinkle. The future is really
written there.” She drew her finger across the top of Jen’s palm.
“This one’s money. And this one is health. I can even tell how many
children you’ll have.”
The other girls giggled. “What if I don’t want any kids?” asked Susan.
“It doesn’t matter what you want, or think you want,” Michelle said with
great authority, “Your hands tell what’s written for the future.” She
took Susan’s hand, pushed it into a fist, counted the wrinkles below her
pinky. “See,” Michelle insisted, “three. Three kids.”
Just as the other girls began to reach out their hands towards Michelle,
eager to know what could be told from their palms, the screen door
opened. Beth had returned. “Back on your bunks. You girls need some
rest.” She moved from the door to her own bunk, watched as everyone
retreated to their beds. “You’ll be doing dishes tomorrow.’
“And then our hands will be too wrinkly to read,” said Jen. Michelle
“Quiet,” said Beth.
Amy stretched out on her bunk, glad the palm-reading had been broken
up. If Michelle had grabbed Amy’s palm no doubt she would have been
informed that she would die early, unmarried and poor, and, oh yes,
fat. One of Michelle’s favorite words. Fat. The second day of camp,
during another unsupervised rest hour, Michelle had used Amy’s thighs to
show how if you pinched a wad of skin you could see the fat cells.
“Cellulite,” said Michelle, her fingers squeezing hard. “It looks like
oatmeal.” She opened her fingers, releasing Amy’s flesh.
“Gross,” everyone in the bunk chorused as Amy tried to rub away the red
Fat, fat, fat, Amy thought to herself, her eyelids heavy in the heat of
the cabin. Before this summer, she’d never really thought of herself
that way. She’d grown five inches during eighth grade, which made her
taller than most everyone, boys and girls. But she’d always been tall,
always played sports. That’s why she had let her mom talk her into
coming to camp, where she could ride horses, swim, play soccer all day
long. But she hadn’t counted on someone like Michelle, or on being in a
bunk where you couldn’t possibly avoid the other girls. There was no
getting away. They ate together, slept together, sat on the same bench
during campfires. Michelle’s blond pixie-cut hair, her tiny stick-like
legs even haunted Amy’s dreams. There was no getting away.
After rest hour were swimming lessons down at the camp’s sandy beach.
Amy was a good swimmer: she was in the shark group while Michelle was
still a minnow, a triumph that buoyed Amy’s spirits. At the end of
swimming lessons, Michelle and Jen, along with the rest of the minnows,
sat on the dock, watching the shark group race. Amy made it to the dock
first, her hand slapping the wood triumphantly. As she pulled herself
up to sit beside the minnows, she saw Michelle look at her, lean over
and say loudly to Jen, “She’s only good because fat makes you float.”
Amy let go of the dock, slipped back into the water, entered the cool
world where she could turn flips with ease, where her feet dangling
below looked pale and eerie, where the only noise was the whine of a
distant motorboat crossing the lake, or, better, a silence that pressed
on her ears. She held her breath, pushed herself deeper into the lake.
By the time she surfaced, Michelle was gone.
After the campfire that night, all the girls returned to the bunk along
the path that ran from the beach to the cabins. Amy had stared,
mesmerized, at the fire for so long that she could barely see a foot in
front of her as they walked through the pine trees. Her vision was
dotted with streaks left from the final flames, and she kept stubbing
her toes on roots, stumbling in the thick darkness.
Back in the cabin, Beth supervised idly as the girls brushed their teeth
and hair, changed into pajamas. She let them read in bed for a bit
before telling them to turn their flashlights off. She waited for the
bunk to grow quiet, for some mysterious amount of time to pass before
she deemed them asleep or grew bored with her vigil. A few light steps,
the door opened and closed softly. Amy listened to Beth’s diminishing
footsteps, imagined she could hear them long after it was impossible to
Michelle’s flashlight snapped on, a thin beam that pooled, white, on the
cabin floor. “Who wants their palm read?” she said.
“Don’t you think we should be quiet?” Whispered Jen. “The counselor
might come back.”
Michelle snorted. “She was wearing her nice earrings and she put on
the one pretty blouse she has. She’s going to town tonight. Don’t you
notice anything?” The flashlight beam moved around the cabin. “C’mon.
Who wants their palm read?”
“I do,” said Kate, keeping her voice low, as if she wasn’t quite sure
about Michelle’s claims.
Kate slept in the bunk below Amy, and Michelle padded over to them, her
bare feet slapping lightly against the wood floor. Amy felt the metal
frame shift as Michelle sat down on the bed below her.
“Hold your hand out,” she said.
Amy rolled over to the edge of her mattress, stuck her head out to peer
down. She watched as Michelle moved her fingers slowly along the lines
of Kate’s palms. If she hadn’t traced them, Amy wouldn’t have known the
lines were there; the concentrated beam of the flashlight erased all
shadows, made Kate’s palm look pale and empty.
“Oh, you’re going to be rich. Look at that wealth line.” Michelle drew
her fingernail along the top of Kate’s palm.
“Will I be pretty?” Kate asked. “Can you tell?”
“Let me see your thumb.”
Amy watched as Michelle looked at the wrinkles on Kate’s knuckle, slowly
turning her fingers, bending her thumb. Kate watched, her face broad
and flat, looking anxious.
“Will I be fat?” She whispered.
Michelle dropped Kate’s hand, laughed. The flashlight beam bounced on
the floor. “There’s an easier way to tell that than your palm lines.”
Amy heard the girls in the other bunks stirring, the rustle of blanket
and sheet. Everyone wanted to hear, to see.
“Lift your shirt,” said Michelle. “Just show me your stomach,” she
Leaning further over, Amy saw Kate grab her shirt, lift it a few inches
to reveal her belly.
“Now bend over,” Michelle commanded, “and let me count the folds.
That’s what shows how fat you’ll be when you’re older.” Kate hunched
over, back rounded. “Two,” Michelle declared. “So you’re not going to
be fat, but you won’t be thin either. Two is okay. One is better.”
Amy could see other girls lifting their shirts, bending over in their
bunks, trying to count. The bed creaked as Michelle stood up, walked
around. “Who’s got one?” The flashlight beam moved across the room,
stopped on another bed – Susan – her pale belly almost seeming to glow.
One. Michelle moved the flashlight to Jen, who bent obligingly. Two.
“That’s okay,” said Michelle, heading back to her own bed. “Two’s
okay. It’s three that’s bad. Or, God, four. Does anyone have four?”
The bunk was quiet.
In the near-blackness that came after Michelle turned her flashlight
off, Amy sat up in her bed, silently lifted her shirt, bent over. She
could not properly see her stomach, but instead ran her hand over the
scrunched flesh. One, two three, certainly. There was a pucker, not a
full line, around her belly button. Did that count? Did that make
four? Amy lowered her shirt, turned her pillow to the cool side. Three
or four. Her unbraided hair spread in waves across the pillow. Amy
shut her eyes, wished she was underwater, slowly drifted off to sleep
before she could realize that Michelle hadn’t lifted her own shirt to
show her stomach, her one perfect fold.
On the last day of camp, Amy’s mom helped her lift the trunk into the
back of the station wagon. They drove down the camp’s dirt road,
bumping along past the lodge, the dining hall, the lake becoming a
distant sliver through the trees, then vanishing. The tires hummed
softly as they turned onto the paved road leading to the highway. In
the front seat, Amy kicked off her sneakers and propped her feet against
the dashboard. Slouching in her seat, she watched the summer cottages
fly past, the outside world she forgot existed while she was at camp.
Her mom talked about their house, how it had just been painted. “I want
your opinion, Amy. The painters said they used the same color as
before, but it looks darker to me. You’ll see it with fresh eyes and
know for sure.”
Amy nodded, slouched lower to get her thighs away from the hot vinyl of
the car seat. Her flesh stuck as it pulled away, a hot, wet sound, and
Amy thought fat, fat, fat, imagined the oatmeal of cellulite right below
her skin. She rolled her window down, let the air flap at her. “Where
do you want to stop for lunch?” Her mom asked. “We’ll pass that clam
shack with the lobster rolls you like.”
White bread, mayonnaise. “I’d rather just get home,” Amy said.
The house looked the same to her when they arrived. If her mother
hadn’t told her it had been painted, Amy would never have guessed. She
walked around to the back of the car, turned to her mom. “It looks like
the same color to me, Mom. I can’t see any difference.”
Her mom smiled, opened the back of the car. She reached out with a
hand, touched Amy’s braid. “I’m so glad you’ve stopped chewing your
hair. The ends look much neater.”
High school began two weeks later. In the confusion of a new school,
the press of people in the hallways, the demands of her class schedule,
the memories of summer camp faded away. Sometimes, stuck in a hot
classroom, Amy would wish she could be back in the lake, cool and
floating. Or she’d catch sight of someone across the cafeteria who
looked like Michelle and feel her stomach clench, imagining that she’d
moved into town. Amy’s friends were other ninth grade girls, other
soccer and basketball players. They watched movies together on
weekends, called each other when they needed help on homework, sat
together at lunch. They were not the pretty girls, not the popular
ones, but Amy wasn’t jealous; she was happy not to have to share a table
with girls like Michelle. At lunch, Amy carefully unpacked the food her
mother had made for her: sandwich, crackers, fruit, cookies, chips.
Slowly, deliberately, she offered it to the other girls, eating an apple
herself, drinking some juice, giving everything else away.
Fall was soccer season for Amy, hot afternoons on the field behind the
school. Theirs was the last field out, past boys’ soccer, past the
practice football field. Amy dragged the mesh bag of balls, which
bounced along, sending up poofs of dust. Ahead of her, two teammates
carried a large jug of water between them. She watched them walk, the
dimples of their elbows, the shin guards flapping loosely on their dusty
legs. She knew they looked like her, tried to evaluate them
objectively. Were they fat? What would someone say to describe them:
solid? Heavy-set? Did they have an athletic build? It depended on who
was saying it, how nice that person was. The cheerleaders practiced on
the next field over and even without their skin tight uniforms, the
difference between the two teams was apparent. Solid versus wispy. It
was like an English class analogy: heavy-set is to lighter-than-air as
girls’ soccer player is to cheerleader. Amy shook the balls loose from
the mesh bag, joined the team for a warm-up lap. She felt light-headed
In a month’s time, the last of the summer heat had faded, and in biology
class, they were studying the systems of the body, preparing for the
fetal pig dissection, a rite of passage Amy heard about from all the
older students she knew. Mr. Foster led the class easily through the
respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive systems. He ran into a few
snickers with the endocrine system and really suffered during these last
two weeks as he presented the reproductive system. Amy’s notebook was
filled with carefully labeled cross-sectional diagrams. She’d copied
them down from the board, double-checked them in her textbook and knew
they were right. But somehow she couldn’t believe that she was full of
these sponges and squiggles, that miles of small intestine lay curled
beneath her belly button, that her lungs hung like two damp wings inside
her ribs. It wasn’t gross, but it wasn’t her.
At the front of the room, Mr. Foster began lecturing. “Prenatal
Development,” he wrote in large letters on the board. Just yesterday,
the class had been led through the basics of conception. Even from her
seat in the third row, Amy had heard the boys in back adding their own,
not so scientific, terminology. Today, the class was on safer ground,
inside the womb. Mr. Foster launched into a description of the
trimesters of pregnancy and the developmental hallmarks of each. Amy
divided her blank notebook page into three neat sections. She wrote
quickly, trying to keep up with the terms Mr. Foster put on the board as
he continued to lecture. “Around the twentieth week, really interesting
things start to happen. Up to this point, the fetus has developed into
the barest blueprint of a human: organs, limbs. But now, for the first
time, the fetus becomes an individual, unique. How?” Mr. Foster barely
paused; he’d taught long enough not to expect an answer. “Fingerprints
form – each person’s unique – because the skin of the fetus and the
liquid in the womb rub against each other. And,” here he paused, turned
out the classroom lights and started the slide projector. In the
darkness, the class fell into a deeper silence. A picture of a fetus
appeared on the screen. “See here,” Mr. Foster pointed with his
yardstick to the fetus’s clenched fists. “In addition to the
fingerprints, characteristic grooves start to form on the palm, making
the lines that will mark the folds of the hands for that individual’s
entire life. In fact, you could say that the fetus, for the first time,
plays a role in its own development. How it curls up, where it puts its
arms and legs, that’s what determines these permanent skin grooves –
where and how the flesh will fold for the rest of your life.” His
pointer moved around the slide to the neck, stomach, knee, foot, where
thin gray lines, like pencil marks that had been poorly erased, were
In the slide, you couldn’t tell that the fetus was floating; it just
sat there, sightless eyes staring straight ahead. Amy looked at the
overlarge head as Mr. Foster continued on about the development of the
nervous system; she studied the tiny clenched fist, where lines that
determined the future were starting to grow and twist, the friction of
water and flesh. Behind the knees that were tightly tucked to the
chest, Amy examined the fetus’s tummy, counted one, two, three folds.