Pica, a tendency or craving to eat substances other than normal food (such as clay, plaster, or ashes), occurring during childhood or pregnancy, or as a symptom of disease.
16th July 2016
I didn’t notice Gemma running to the toilet in the middle of the night. I woke to the sound of her dry heaves. At first I thought it was a fox screaming out for a mate, but as I came to and saw the sliver of light escape from beneath the bathroom door, I knew it was her.
I entered slowly and asked if she was okay. She stayed silent for a moment, catching her breath.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
My body chilled at the news.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
Without taking her head out of the toilet bowl, she held up the pregnancy test.
“Are you going to say anything?” she asked.
As the news sunk in, the initial anxiety turned to excitement and my smile grew.
30th July 2016
When I got home from work, I cooked dinner. I did my best to steam the vegetables and grill the chicken, though I didn’t do a good job.
“I think I may have overdone the broccoli,” I said, taking a bite and feeling it turn to mush in my mouth, “I know you like it al dente.”
She used her fork to push the food around her plate.
“I’m really sorry, I did overcook it, didn’t I?”
“No it’s not that,” she said, trailing off.
“I can make you something else if you like?” I offered.
She continued to play with her food.
“Hey, Gemma, if you could have any food in the world now what would it be?”
She perked up and said, “Water melon and cream cheese!”
“That’s an odd combination!” I replied smirking.
“I don’t know, I’ve just been craving it all week.”
She pushed her fork into a piece of chicken and raised it to her mouth. She hesitated at first and then closed her eyes and chewed. Almost instantly she rose from her chair and ran to the sink, spitting out the slightly chewed meat.
“I’m so sorry,” I replied, “I didn’t think I cooked that bad.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said before breaking down into tears.
I got up and hugged her, “It’s okay sweetheart. It’s probably the pregnancy.”
I reached out a hand and caressed her stomach, “you’re growing our child in you, it’s only natural you are not going to feel normal. Do you want me to go out and get you that water melon and cream cheese?”
“No that’s silly,” she said.
“I don’t mind at all. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”
She stayed over the sink as I left for the shops. The dog whined as he saw me put on my coat and get my keys.
“Don’t worry buddy, you’ll have some chicken when I get back.”
He cocked his head to one side and quietened down.
I returned with the water melon and cream cheese. Gemma was no where to be seen. In the kitchen our plates were now on the side, covered in cling film. The dog followed me in, wagging its tail.
I pulled the plastic wrap off my wife’s plate and took out the chicken breast, ripping it up piece by piece, Ziggy jumped up eagerly and chomped down the meat.
“Gemma?” I called up the stairs, holding a plate of the fruit and cheese, “have you gone to bed?”
I heard nothing in response.
When I reached the bedroom, I saw her sleeping. I placed the plate on the side table.
“Jeff, is that you?”
“Yes, I made you your food.”
She sat up.
“You went to bed early.”
“I’m feeling exhausted.”
I handed her the plate.
“Oh my God, this is amazing,” she said, shovelling down the food as if she hadn’t eaten in days.
I took the plate and returned to the kitchen to eat my cold food and wash up. By the time I returned, she was asleep.
29th August 2016
We sat in the reception area, waiting for the doctor to call us in for our first scan. Gemma’s leg jiggled with anticipation.
“It’s going to be all right,” I said, rubbing her knee.
Gemma Hamilton was read out in a robotic voice and I saw her name on the small LCD screen on the other side of the room.
She audibly winced as the cold gel was applied to her belly.
“Let’s see how the little one is getting on,” the female doctor said, looking away at the small black and white screen.
She moved the device around, pressing harder than I’d expected. I wanted to tell her to be more gentle, to not hurt our baby.
“There it is,” she said, pointing to the screen.
“I don’t see anything,” Gemma said.
“Look, it’s just there!” I replied, seeing the small dot, no larger than a monkey nut.
Gemma stayed silent, staring in awe at the child that was growing within her.
This was the first time I really felt I was going to be a father. It was a proud day for me.
13th October 2016
I had stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up Gemma’s latest craving – steak tartare and ice cream. Just thinking about it made me heave, but this wasn’t the worst she’d asked for. We’d had rice pudding and mayonnaise, peanut butter and pickles, and raw eggs, so today felt like just another day.
I placed the groceries in the kitchen. The nights were drawing in, but it wasn’t dark yet. I saw Gemma crouching in the yard. I opened the back door and called out.
Her face turned to me, almost feral, black stains covering her face. Her eyes were large with surprise.
“Jeff?” she said, before wiping her mouth with her nightgown sleeve.
“What’s going on?” I asked, trying hard not to appear upset.
She flopped back into a sitting position. Her bare feet dirty and her hands dark with grime. I peered around the yard seeing little divots all over the grass.
“Have you been eating dirt?” I asked.
Her eyes locked onto mine, so confused and innocent.
“I don’t know what happened, I just really wanted it.”
I felt disgusted, then saw her now proud stomach protrude out from beneath her nightie.
“Let me run you a bath. I got you the ground beef and ice cream,” I said and I opened the back door again.
“I’m sorry, I don’t really want that now.”
26th November 2016
Gemma hadn’t craved anything for the past couple of days, which was a relief, as I had been away with work. I arrived and was exhausted. There was a note on the sideboard saying that she had already made my lunch and it was in the fridge, that she had spent the day in bed. Surprised I opened the fridge and took out a plate of sandwiches.
I browsed my phone while I ate. It was nice to have food made for me again, it had been a long time.
I gazed at her as she slept.
“Is that you Jeff?” she asked, turning to stretch, then yawning.
“I was just watching you sleep,” I said with a big smile on my face, “it’s the last scan on Monday, are you looking forward to it?”
She nodded with her eyes closed, a large grin covering her face as she stretched again.
“Do you need me to get anything for you today, pickles and cloves? Jelly and hamburgers?”
She chuckled, “Nope, not today,” she replied, “do you mind if I just sleep?”
Surprised, I responded, “Good, maybe that part of the pregnancy is over?”
“Maybe,” she said, “maybe. I love you Jeff.”
“I love you too.”
I began to close the door, “I’m just going to walk Ziggy.”
“Oh, he’s not here at the moment, he’s at my mom’s.”
“Really? Your mom hates dogs.”
“She did some grocery shopping for me and offered to look after him until you got back.”
“Oh okay,” I said, slightly disappointed.
28th November 2016
The ultrasound of our baby was incredible. You could see its face, its fingers. I could tell it was a girl, just by looking at those features. Gemma squeezed my hand, so happy and proud, a tear rolled down her face, and I’d be lying if I said the same didn’t happen to me.
When we returned home I phoned Gemma’s mom.
“Hi Helen,” I said.
“Oh hi Jeff, how’s my gorgeous daughter doing?”
“Very well, thank you. We just had our last scan. She, I mean it looks like a very healthy child.”
“It’s a girl?” she said happily.
“Shit, sorry, we’re not supposed to know. Gemma wanted it to be a surprise, but it’s obvious.”
“Have you thought of a name yet?”
“No, she doesn’t know I know.”
“You have to tell her,” Helen demanded.
“She doesn’t want to know, so unless she asks, I’m not going to say anything.”
I heard a sigh.
“Thank you for looking after Ziggy, do you mind if I pick him up today? I miss the furry little thing.”
“Gemma said you are looking after him.”
“No such thing, I hate dogs.”
A chill tingled down my spine.
“Are you sure? She said you took him when you went grocery shopping for her.”
“I don’t know what’s up with the girl, I never went shopping for her. I offered, plenty of times, but she said she had all the food she needed.”
“It must be my mistake,” I said, “good to speak to you again.”
“Likewise, make sure you kiss my little grand daughter before bed.”
“I will,” I said.
Gemma was in the living room, reading a book. I didn’t know how to approach the subject. I didn’t want to stress her.
“I was just on the phone with your mother, she says she’s not looking after Ziggy.”
Gemma stared at me, something vacant in her eyes.
“Gemma, where is Ziggy?”
She remained silent as her eyes welled up.
“He… he ran away, when I answered the door to a cold caller. I guess he thought it was you, and when it wasn’t, he just ran off. I’m so sorry, I’ve been calling the shelters every day.”
She broke down and cried. I didn’t know whether to be angry or upset. But seeing her, the mother of my child, I couldn’t stay mad at her.
“Oh honey, it’s okay. I’m sure he’s fine,” I said, holding back the panic that my little guy was out there somewhere.
We cried in each other’s arms and I tried to think of other things, things that would make me feel better.
“Can I make you something to eat, or get you something?”
“No,” she said, “I’ve got some meat left from when mom went shopping for me. I can do that myself.”
I was about to tell her that her mother hadn’t gone shopping for her, but I stopped myself.
I spent the afternoon phoning shelters to see if Ziggy had turned up. Unfortunately no-one had seen a dog matching the description. Gemma cooked.
I sat down at the table as she served dinner.
“Are you sure you are up to this?” I asked, admittedly after she had spent the last hour slaving over the stove.
“Yes, I like cooking for you. And besides, my cravings have gone away.”
Beef casserole, she said it was. The meat was so tender.
“Where did you get it? I’ve never had meat like this.”
“Oh, mom got it from the butchers when you were away.”
I smiled and continued to eat.
As I finished, I said, “You blew me away with that. Let me do the washing up.”
“Are you sure?” she replied.
“Yes, that was the best meal I’ve had since you’ve been pregnant, it’s the least I can do.”
“If that’s the case, I’m going to go up to bed.”
“You deserve it,” I said.
I spent the next fifteen minutes cleaning the cutlery and plates. I opened the front door to take the left overs to the bin. I lifted the lid and slid the uneaten food into the container. Just before I closed it, something glinted in the light and I stopped.
I took a closer look and reached in, I shivered as my hand touched days old food and pulled it out. I panicked picking it up. It was Ziggy’s collar.
I went to the kitchen to clean of the detritus off my dog’s collar before taking a deep breath before returning to the bedroom.
Anger consumed me as I held the collar up, wanting to shout at my wife. I did my best to calm myself before asking.
“What is Ziggy’s collar doing in the bin?”
She pretended to be asleep.
“Gemma, wake up!” I demanded.
“Huh,” she said ignoring my question.
“Did you kill him?”
She was silent.
“Did you kill my dog?”
“I was hungry,” she said, rolling back to her side, covering her head.
“WHAT?” I shouted.
Anxiety and panic filled me, “What the fuck do you mean?”
“It was the cravings!” she said throwing back the covers, “you don’t know what it’s like.”
“Is that what I ate tonight?” I asked as a reflex.
She was silent.
“And the sandwich?”
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Now you know how I feel,” she said, shouting at me, tears streaming down her face, her eyes red.
I dry heaved over the toilet bowl. Heave after heave until the partly digested food finally came up. I looked at it in the bowl, pieces of my best friend grey and mutated. I pulled the flush and looked away.
“I’m sorry Jeff, I couldn’t help myself.”
“Where’s the rest of him, did you eat all of him?”
“In the freezer.”
16th December 2016
Some of them looked so forlorn, others really happy to see me. They were just happy to see someone new.
“What’s wrong with this one?” I asked.
“He’s blind in one eye and has a lame hind leg.”
“I’ll take him,” I said.
“Are you sure? We have plenty of others who are in much better condition.”
“He’ll do just fine.”
I filled out the paperwork and the dog was brought out. He limped and pulled against the collar that choked every time he resisted.
“Thank you,” I said, picking him up.
“No, thank you, sir. It takes a wonderful type of person to look past the disabilities and to adopt a dog with so many ailments.”
I feigned a smile and left. The dog pissed himself in the passenger seat as we pulled away, my heart sank. But it’s better him than one of the others. They could find real families that would take care and love them.
When we returned home, Gemma was in the living room.
“I haven’t named him,” I said, “I’m going to go out for a while.”
I disconnected his lead. He wagged his tail and looked up at me. I ignored him, shut the door and drove to the gas station to buy cigarettes.
21st February 2017
Gemma asked when I’m going back to the pound. I’d been putting her off for weeks now. I’d been asking if there was anything else I can get her. There’s this annoying squirrel in the garden if she wants that, but she doesn’t. She knows what she wants. I can’t go back to the pound, three dogs in three months, they’re going to get suspicious. I’d seen this one dog roam the streets at night. It looked like it belonged to someone at some point, its toes were painted, but the way its fur was, it hadn’t been cared for in months.
12th March 2017
Gemma was in some destress. I’d refused to indulge her pica. I couldn’t do it anymore. Too many innocent animals had already suffered. Though she cried, I was done. I told her to push past it, there was only two weeks left to go. I told her I’d get her anything she wanted, apart from that. She wasn’t happy.
15th March 2017
Gemma had cold sweats. She’d been shouting that she thought she was losing the baby. We’d had three different doctors visit, they said there was nothing wrong with her, that she just needed bed rest. But she didn’t cry and demand when they were there. They didn’t see it. I was scared we’d lose the baby.
19th March 2017
Gemma had a fever. She refused all food. I called off work and spent time in bed with her, holding her close. I felt the baby kick. She was almost there, just a couple more days, that’s all she needed.
21st March 2017
A piercing pain woke me in the night. Initially I thought my arm had fallen asleep, but as I opened my eyes, I saw Gemma on top of me, holding me down, sinking her teeth into my arm.
“Stop it! That hurts!” I cried.
But the maniacal look in her eyes told me she wouldn’t.
I almost passed out as her teeth dug further. She flicked her head back, ripping off a piece of my flesh. She scuttled off the bed and crouched in the corner, munching on my muscle and skin.
She moaned with pleasure, a peculiar urge being sated.
“You’re fucking crazy!” I shouted, running into the bathroom, blood pouring from my arm. I wrapped toilet roll around it until the blood soaked the paper through and it fell away. I grabbed a towel and held it. Reentering the bedroom, I saw Gemma asleep on the floor, more peaceful than I’ve seen her in weeks.
23rd March 2017
I’d been sleeping in the car. I had my phone on me, just in case she needed me. She slept the whole of yesterday.
Today she wanted to apologise. She rapped on the window of my car and I startled awake.
She held her hands together in front of her, pleading with me to forgive her. Her muffled voice barely audible through the glass, tears streaming down her cheeks.
I was conflicted. I hadn’t sought medical attention and my arm throbbed. She was only a few days from being due, and I had promised myself I’d do everything I could to make sure she was comfortable, except allowing her to eat more of me.
Rationally, I knew she isn’t a cannibal, it was just the cravings, they’d end when she gave birth – they would.
I opened the car door anxiously, she stood there with her arms out open.
“I’m sorry, Jeff, I really am,” she pleaded, “I don’t know what got over me, I’m scared.”
Reluctantly, I embraced her. Her crying stopped as I allowed her to hug me tightly.
I kept my distance from her that day. She could tell I was doing it, and it upset her.
“You think I’m going to do it again, don’t you?” she said waddling over to the dinning table, pressing one hand to her lower back.
That was the first time I saw her do that. I wondered if it was a show, put on to make me think she was more vulnerable than she was. When she sat, she winced and made me think it was genuine.
“Can I get you anything to eat?” I asked, refusing to advance further than the threshold of the room.
“No, I’m fine.”
“What have you eaten?”
“Not much. But I’ll make do with what we have in the house.”
“So you have no cravings?”
“None at all.”
“None at all?”
I was suspicious, but she had gone long periods of time without them.
“So you’re fine then?”
“Okay,” I said looking at my watch, “I’m going to call work and tell them I’m not coming in.”
I spent the rest of the day in the living room, trying to watch the TV, but having an eye on the doorway, in case Gemma decided to run in.
At bedtime, I said I was going to sleep on the couch. She didn’t like it, but didn’t put up much of a fuss. As she left, I waited until I could hear the floorboards creak overhead before closing the door. I sat on the couch, in the dark and stared at the door. I couldn’t sleep here. There was no lock. I continued to stare, feeling my heart race in my chest.
A toilet flushed, a few footsteps, and the creak of a bed as Gemma got in. I waited another ten minutes, then quietly slid the second couch in front of the door endwise, jamming it against the other couch on the far side of the room, making a furniture T-shape, securing my fort for the evening.
I led down and closed my eyes. My arm throbbed with the beat of my heart, though it didn’t take long for my exhausted body to fall asleep.
24th March 2017
A delicate rocking woke me. At first I didn’t know what it was, then in the low light, I saw the door handle jiggle quietly on the other side of the room. Light strobed in as the door open and shut gently.
“Gemma, is that you?” I asked, still groggy from sleep.
“Jeff, can I come in?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“I’m your wife, please let me in,” she said in a soothing tone.
“Do you need anything? I’d gladly prepare some food for you and bring it up.”
“Can you just let me in?”
“No,” I said calmly.
“Jeff, you’re pissing me off,” she said, her voice slightly raised.
The door pressed against the load bearing couch with force. I got up and held it in place.
“Fucking hell Jeff, let me in!”
“No! Calm down and let’s talk.”
She didn’t respond and I sighed with relief.
With a large thunk, the door opened as Gemma slammed into it with her shoulder. The couch twisted, allowing her to force her head through the opening. Her eyes were wide and maniacal, lit from the bright light of the hallway.
“Give me what I need! Give me what the baby craves!” she demanded.
Panicking, I pushed the couch back against the door, trying my best not to crush my wife’s face.
“Calm down, Gemma. We’ll get through this,” I said, gripping the couch tightly.
“Just a little teeny weeny bit, off your gut, you’re a fat fuck anyway.”
“Gemma!” I pleaded.
“Open this God damn door you little shit.”
She tried to push her stomach through, with no regard for the baby growing inside of her. I let go of the couch and raced to the door, pushing her back into the hallway. She grabbed my left arm and bit.
“Shit!” I exclaimed, pulling my arm back in the room and slamming the door.
I held the handle up and felt her force press down in resistance.
“Gemma, just cool it okay. Let me get you another dog, I’ll go now.”
“I don’t want a fucking dog, I want you! You’re my husband, it’s my right.”
“NO!” I shouted, pulling the handle up so hard I thought it would break in my grasp.
She screamed in rebellion. Her voice shill with fear and panic.
I prayed to a God I didn’t know existed, that our baby girl would be okay. It was only a few more days. Only a few more until this madness was over. I promised I’d be strong enough, for both of us.
I don’t know how long it was until she stopped screaming and left. It was only when I heard the creaks from above that I realised I could let go. I slid down in front of the door, the side of the couch staring me in the face.
My heart felt like it was trying to break free from my chest. Small slivers of moonlight crept in through the living room curtains and illuminated the swelling bite mark on my arm and I was relieved to see no missing flesh.
I replaced the couch, jamming it in front of the door again. I didn’t return to sleep. For five hours I sat, gazing at the handle, ready to pounce if it moved again.
As the sun rose and gradually lit the room through the breaks in the curtains, I stood up and quietly removed the temporary barricade. In the hallway I called up.
“Gemma, are you up there?”
I heard nothing in response. Seeing the large metal flashlight propped up under the coat hooks, I picked it up. Its cold metal heft asked me if I was willing to use it. I held it anyway, knowing I wouldn’t.
I arrived at the top of the stairs, and saw the bedroom door stood open. The soft light of the nightlight warmly lit the room in defiance of what I saw. I didn’t realise I dropped the flashlight until the dull thud of it hitting my foot made me jump.
For the first time in a while, Gemma was peaceful. I smiled at first, seeing her hold our baby in her arms. The blood distracted me. I’d been looking forward to seeing my wife hold our child for as long as I can remember. The tableau that presented itself broke my heart. The sheets were drenched in blood, her stomach torn asunder. She’d finally satisfied her craving. Our baby didn’t cry, she was as silent as my wife.
I approached the bed, knowing Gemma was no longer going to lunge at me. I closed her eyes gently with my fingers. I wished she could have waited those last few days before seeing our child. But she couldn’t. Her urge was too strong. If only I let her take from me, it may not have happened. I took a towel from the bathroom and wrapped it around what was left of our child and cried.
30th March 2017
Today is a Saturday and I’m exhausted. My arm is in excruciating pain. If anything, the pain has increased in the last few days. I’m trying not to think about it, but when I look at the bandages, I see the dried blood and ring of yellow that has crusted around the edge. I don’t want to take it off and check it, I know it’s bad and it’s going to get worse.
I rock my baby in the cradle side to side. She’s sleeping so soundly.
I did my best to swaddle her, this is the third time, but the blood still seeps through. If I squint, I can pretend she is still alive and just sleeping.
I’m going to give myself a few more hours before I make the call, the Vicks is barely masking the smell from the bed next to us.
Sleep well my little baby girl, sleep well.