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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Girls at 17 Swann Street

A Novel

Yara Zgheib

St. Martin's Press

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

1


I call it the Van Gogh room. Just a different color scheme. Hazy peach blanket, hazy peach walls. Pastel-green carpet on a cherrywood floor. White blinds and shutters, the window and closet creak. Everything looks pale and tired, a little like me.

I look around and think, This is where it starts. In Bedroom 5, on the east side of a pink house at 17 Swann Street. As good, as bad a setting as any, I suppose, for a story like this. Plain and mildly inviting, dubiously clean. At least there is a window; I can see the driveway, the edge of the street, bits of garden and sky.

Four hangers, four towels, four shelves. I have not packed much, I do not need more. I have, however, packed my makeup kit, a red one my mother used to own. Not that I need it; I will not be going anywhere for a long time. No work shift to check into on Monday morning, no plans for the weekend. But I will look nice, I have to. I set the kit on the white shelf and dab blush on my cheeks.

Deodorant, coconut lotion. My apple and jasmine perfume. A spritz behind each ear, two more. I will not smell like a hospital bed.

Four magnets on a whiteboard. Oh, I will need much more. For the time being, I spread my thick stack of photographs in a rainbow on the floor. I contemplate all the faces I have loved in my life and put up my favorite four.

My mother and father. Maman et Papa, on the faded day they eloped. She in her borrowed white dress and white shoes, he in his father’s suit.

A picture of Sophie, Camil, and me on a picnic by a stream. It must have been autumn; the sky above us was cloudy. Camil must have been five or six; Leopold in his lap was still a puppy.

Matthias, gorgeous Matthias squinting at the sun and my lens. The first picture I took of him, that first morning in Paris. A quietly happy day.

Last, Matthias and me, mouths covered in chocolate, hands holding messy half-eaten crêpes. Our official wedding photo, posed for proudly outside the Métro three years ago.

The kaleidoscope goes by the bed, the slippers and a box underneath. Blinds up, night-light on.

I have moved into Bedroom 5, 17 Swann Street.

My name is Anna. I am a dancer, a constant daydreamer. I like sparkling wine in the late afternoon, ripe and juicy strawberries in June. Quiet mornings make me happy, dusk makes me blue. Like Whistler, I like gray and foggy cities. I see purple in gray and foggy days. I believe in the rich taste of real vanilla ice cream, melting stickily from a cone. I believe in love. I am madly in love, I am madly loved.

I have books to read, places to see, babies to make, birthday cakes to taste. I even have unused birthday wishes to spare.

So what am I doing here?

I am twenty-six years old. My body feels sixty-two. So does my brain. Both are tired, irritable, in pain. My hair was once wild-lion thick, morning blond. It is now a nondescript, mousy beige that falls in wisps around my face and out in my hands. My eyes, green like my mother’s, are sunk so deep in their sockets that no makeup will fill the craters. I do have lovely eyelashes. I always liked those. They curl up at the edges like those of a doll I used to own.

My collarbones, ribs, kneecaps, and streamer-like thin blue veins peek through paper-thin skin. My skin, largest organ of my body and its first line of defense, has been more decorative than functional lately. In fact, not even that; it is cracked and taut, constantly bruised and cold. Today it smells of baby oil. For the occasion, I used lavender.

I have a flat stomach. I once had lips and breasts, but those shrank months ago. Along with my thighs, my liver, my behind. I lost my sense of humor too.

I do not laugh very often anymore. Very little is funny. When I do, it sounds different. So does my voice on the telephone. Apparently. Not that I can tell the difference: I do not have many people to call.

I realize that my phone is not with me, then remember; they took it away. I am allowed to have it until 10:00 A.M. and after dinner in the evenings. One of the many house rules I will have to learn while I am living here, however long that will be. How long will that be? I turn away from the thought …

… and hit a tidal wave of panic. I do not recognize the girl, or the reality I just described.



2



Clinical Intake and Assessment Form

Friday—May 20, 2016

Patient Identification Information

Emergency Contact Information

General Background

Occupation:

I tell people I am a dancer. I have not danced in years, though. I work as a cashier in a supermarket, but my real occupation is anorexia.

Yet. Hopefully, maybe, after this is all over?

I skip Ethnic Background, Family and Social History, Education, and Hobbies.

Physical Health

I feel fine, thank you.

I cannot remember.

Birth control? Contraceptive medication?

What for? And what for?

So I am a little underweight. So what?

Daily Habits

Tobacco:

No. I do not like the smell.

Alcohol:

A glass of wine, once a week on a Friday night.

Recreational drugs:

No.

Caffeine:

How else do you think I function on only three hours of sleep?

Number of meals eaten on a normal weekday:

Define the words “normal” and “meal.” I keep a few apples in my bag in case I get too hungry.

Number of meals eaten on a normal weekend day:

Why would that be different? Well, I do sometimes make popcorn in the microwave. Single serving. Nonfat.

Regular exercise routine: Yes.

Naturally.

Frequency: Every day.

Please describe:

I run, build strength, and stretch for two hours, every morning before 7:00 A.M.

What do you do to manage stress?

I run, build strength, and stretch for two hours every morning before 7:00 A.M.

Mental Health

Basic problem or concern: Difficulty eating certain foods.

Difficulty eating, period. Loss of interest in food, loss of interest in general.

Significant changes or stressors in recent history: None

that I have any interest in disclosing here.

Previous mental health diagnoses: None.

I said I feel fine.

Feelings of sadness?

Check.

Hopelessness?

Check.

Anxiety?

Check check.

Please check any symptoms experienced in the past month:

Restricted food intake.

Check.

Compulsion to exercise.

Check.

Avoidance of certain foods.

Check.

Laxative abuse.

Check.

Binge.

Check. A whole box of blackberries last week.

Self-induced vomiting.

Only with guilt. See above on blackberries.

Concerns about weight, body image, feeling fat.

Check. Check. Check.

Total weight lost over the past year:

Pass.

Lowest weight ever reached:

Pass again.

These questions are inappropriate.

Diagnosis

Anorexia nervosa. Restricting type.


Copyright © 2019 by Yara Zgheib