I made a cardboard cutout of me. Clodagh, I called her, and my family took to her well. That first evening at the dinner table, they didn’t register any difference, as they slurped and gnawed, licked their lips, and gorged on their lavish daily meats. At last, I was spared the disgusting sounds of them eating. I spent more time alone in my bedroom, reading tales of the headless Dullahan grinning on his night-black horse, and slowly starving myself, praying that I would one day become invisible.
My parents grew to like that Clodagh endured, without disruption, their long-and-short-of-it stories of misfortune. My brother Aidan liked that Clodagh never ate any of the food set down in front of her, so Aidan could sneak spare chips for himself without any complaint. A cloak of relief settled itself over the house.
Soon it was clear that my family actively preferred the cardboard me. I let them drag Clodagh to the park and the shops when there was an outing. My Aunt’s Cath’s birthday, Easter Sunday Mass, a bank holiday at Skerries—Clodagh took my place on all these occasions.
I wouldn’t have suffered except Clodagh seemed increasingly perfected, her smile ever more winsome, her clothes pristine, her hair now tidily combed, a smart-arse gleam appearing in her eye instead of the dopey expression my parents always chided me for. I was never this brilliant, never this lovable.
I wanted to no longer be part of my family, but I wanted to be missed at the same time. This was not how it was meant to be.
Baffled, I began to deface her, the picture-postcard version of me. Something compelled me to snick at her skin with a Swiss Army knife. I ripped the edges of her fingers where they pointed absurdly at whatever was in view. I graffitied vile abuse across her forearms. I yearned to rip her goddamn dazzling head off.
Slowly Clodagh was disfigured until finally my family could see the inevitable path that they set all their children walking down. Both of us, cutout and I, faced a ravaged future. We were no more than scrap ready to be thrown on the fire. Ash amongst ash, we could keep each other company through the long Dublin winter.