I’d known Laura since I was a little girl. She’d always struggled with her weight. She hadn’t had many friends, and the ones she did have drifted away as we entered our teenage years, until I didn’t see her at school at all. I recognized her on the other side of the road, in that way you recognize an actor before realizing it was someone who looked familiar though not the same. Her face was gaunt, almost grey. Her hips that once accentuated an hourglass figure now gone; her frame pencil thin.
I raised my hand to wave, though she wasn’t looking in my direction. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure it was her. She stepped off the curb. Nothing prepares you for the sound of human flesh hitting metal, it’s so loud, like a wet thud with as much bass as a nightclub beat. Her head stayed momentarily in place, the momentum of her body lurched sideways, towards the ground. The hydraulic brakes of the bus hissed as the driver, his face grimaced in fright, did his best to stop the vehicle. Her head followed her body soon after, hitting the floor with a bloodcurdling crunch.
It was as if the world grew smaller, my vision tunneling, as I raced towards her, an instinct to help that came as a surprise.
“I didn’t see her,” the bus driver said, his voice shaking, “I didn’t see her.”
His head peered out of the window, pronouncing his innocence to anyone that would listen. Everybody’s eyes were fixated on the mangled mess of a little girl who lay motionless in the road.
In the distance I heard someone shout, “somebody call 911.”
Then, one by one, screams started emanating from all around.
“Laura?” I croaked, trying my hardest to calm myself, feeling my own anxiety build, and an overwhelming urge to be sick, to purge, to be in control.
I saw her chest rise and fall sporadically, as if she didn’t have the strength to hang on. A small pool of blood, beneath her head, searched outwards filling the cracks in the tarmac, seeking lower ground.
I gasped as I felt her hand frantically grasp my arm. She pulled her head towards me.
“I’m sorry,” she said, as I heard liquid rain down from the back of her head.
“You’re going to be okay,” I replied.
She knew that wasn’t true, and so did I. I wasn’t sure if I saw her smirk when her eyes rolled back and the grasp on my arm relented. Her head hit the road with a squelch. Then her face was peaceful. The tightness in her muscles receded. The husk of Laura Baker lay peacefully in the road, and I shuddered.
I sat alone in my room, my mother hovered at the threshold of the door, waiting for me to speak, though I wanted her to leave. I stared at the blank screen of my monitor, watching her ghostlike reflection out of the corner of my eye. My body was tense, wanting her to go, so I could run to the bathroom and purge. I didn’t want her to know what I was going to do, but I’m sure she knew I did that. I was embarrassed. I hated that part of me. I hated being fat. Mom told me I wasn’t, but she would say that. The urge to do it became unbearable. I couldn’t look my mother in the eye, not like this. She’d tell me I needed help.
It had been two weeks since I held Laura’s hand in the road. Two weeks of an insatiable hunger that wouldn’t relent. It wasn’t the trauma that had stuck with me, not the blood, not the sounds of screams, it was her almost skeletal form. I wanted to look like that.
In the monitor, I saw mom turn to leave. I continued to look straight ahead, listening for her footsteps that padded down the landing and down the stairs, almost somber. I left it a few more minutes before getting up, feeling my head rush as I got to my feet. It had got worse in the last few days, but I kept telling myself that meant I was making progress.
I stumbled to the doorway, holding the frame for purchase. My stomach readied itself. My mouth watered. The bathroom spun around me. I lurched over the bowl and heaved. My abdomen fluttered; the muscles trained so well hurt from repeated use.
I heaved so loud mom shouted up the stairs, “is everything okay?”
Nothing came out. I pushed my finger down my throat, instantly gagging. Nothing. I continued to try, hoping just a little something would release. A trickle of bile coated my throat and ran into my mouth sending a putrid burning sensation onto my tongue. My head throbbed. I sat with my back to the wall. I could feel mom wait outside the bathroom, she was too polite to come in.
From downstairs, I heard my mom’s boyfriend, Alex, shout up, telling my mom to leave me there, saying if I wanted to do that to myself it wasn’t her problem. Mom did what she always did, obeyed her precious Alex and retreated.
Before leaving the bathroom, I stood on the scales, taking off my top and bra to get the weight down as far as possible. My heart skipped a beat, something it was doing more often lately, though I didn’t care. I saw I’d lost another three pounds. I smiled, ecstatically. Eight stone, dead on.
I redressed and left. I always celebrated weight loss with a chocolate bar. I know. Though, I could enjoy it for thirty minutes and then get rid of it.
My mind swam as I descended the stairs, feeling my heart flutter. That tunnel vision from only weeks before, when I helped Laura, was back, though this time it was because I was losing consciousness.
“You’re a real asshole, aren’t you?” were Alex’s first words to me as I came around.
“Alex, don’t be so cruel,” mom said sheepishly.
“If you gave her some discipline, she wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“Fuck off,” I said.
“You’re bleeding,” mom announced.
I wiped my hand on my lips, it came away with a streak of red.
“It’s probably from you hitting your god damn head.”
I knew it wasn’t, so did mom.
“We need to take her to the hospital.”
“She needs help.”
“And what are they going to do? Tell her to eat a sandwich. Hey, Sarah, do you want a sandwich?”
I said nothing.
“See. She’s brought this on herself.”
“I’m going to call Dr Karl.”
“Like fuck you will,” Alex snarled, “I’ll sort this right here and now.”
Suddenly I felt a fear I’d not felt before. Alex had never been violent to mom or I, though his ex-wife had a restraining order on him for domestic abuse. He told mom that was jacked up shit, he wouldn’t hit a woman.
Alex stormed out. Mom and I stared at each other, wondering if now we’d find out if it was true.
He returned with a knife, a loaf of bread and peanut butter.
“You are going to eat, whether you like it or not,” he said, frantically ripping open the plastic and spreading the peanut butter.
He slid the sandwich over the table, and played with the knife.
“Eat,” he demanded.
My eyes darted from his to mom’s and back again.
“Don’t you dare think I’m joking.”
As soon as he stood up, stood up with a purpose that sent my heart into overdrive, I shoved the sandwich into my mouth.
“See,” he said, turning to my mom, whose face was now filled with fear, “that was easy.”
With every bite, I did my best to swallow. I’d not had bread in months. Its texture so foreign to me, it disgusted me.
When I finished, I gasped. Straight away, Alex set to making another.
“You’re staying here until you eat the whole fucking loaf.”
This time he slammed the sandwich down in front of me, sending out a wet thwack that reminded me of Laura’s head hitting the tarmac.
Something strange was happening. That hunger I had ignored so well was now being satiated, and it wanted more. By the third sandwich I was hungrier than ever, though I didn’t give that away. I pretended he was forcing me.
As the end pieces were put together as his final offering, his face was almost pale. He was in shock, his eyes wide, in awe.
“That wasn’t hard, was it?” he said, his anger now subsided.
I shook my head.
When I finished, he said softly, “don’t you dare think about purging or whatever you call it. That is staying down.”
I had been sleeping for a couple of hours when I woke. It was a routine. It was when I’d try, one more time to get out whatever was left. I felt ravenous. I needed to eat. One out one in. I sneaked to the toilet, seeing the door to my mom and Alex’s room ajar. I shut the bathroom door behind me quietly. In my underwear I got on the scales. Anxious to see how much weight I’d gained. I had to look twice when I saw I was now under eight stone, by a few pounds. I crept downstairs, a new found excitement for food, I’d never had before, was brewing.
I opened the cupboard and found a Mars bar, I almost inhaled it, I ate that fast. Though it didn’t stop my hunger, it only grew. In the fridge, I saw the leftovers of Alex’s steak from the night before, he ate that shit every day. I ripped a piece off with my teeth like a dog. Finally enjoying the taste of something, instead of hating myself.
I finished off with beans, straight from the can. I could feel my stomach swell, almost uncomfortably. Though I was compelled to continue, like a voice in my head was goading me on. That hunger in my stomach burned.
I checked out my face in the mirror, examining the sharp outline of my cheekbones, moving my head from side to side. I ignored the fact my pallor was ghostlike. I ignored the dark rings that now decorated my eyes. I ignored the shadowy blotch that clouded my vision. All of that was incidental. I was almost a normal weight. I didn’t care it had come so suddenly. I’d worked months for this and I was finally getting somewhere. That hunger in my stomach pleaded with me to eat, and I was okay with that.
I heard Alex shout obscenities from downstairs.
When I arrived in the kitchen Alex seethed.
“Did you eat my steak?”
“Alex, please!” Mom pleaded.
“Shut up. Did you, did you eat it?”
“I may have done, you said I should eat.”
I barely registered his hand above his head, before it came thumping down on my cheek.
I heard ringing in my ears.
On the ground I peered up. Seeing that shadowy blob hang in the air.
“Can I have some eggs and bacon?” I asked calmly.
“I’m sorry. It was her fault. She ate my food!” Alex insisted. “Cheryl, don’t go.”
Alex raced after mom, as she slammed the front door.
I want eggs and bacon, I thought to myself. I got up, opened the fridge, then stood in front of the cooker, waiting for the frying pan to heat up. The bacon was almost cooked and one egg sizzled when Alex returned without mom.
“I’m sorry,” he said from behind.
“It’s fine,” I replied, feeling a sense of power over him.
“Please, don’t say anything.”
“I won’t. But I will eat your food.”
“Yeah, that’s cool,” he said nervously, “do you want me to finish cooking?”
“I can’t go back to prison.”
Alex sat on the other side of the kitchen table, nervously watching me eat his food. I offered him a piece of bacon. He shook his head. How ironic.
To the left of him, the shadowy thing in my vision began to take on form. I watched it with curiosity, and crunched my food.
Alex was fat, real fat. I felt my mouth salivate. I was so hungry. I’d heard human tasted like pork, and took another bite of bacon.
I wondered if the shadow was a hallucination brought on by my weight loss. It swirled around him, as if it was trying to tell me something. I reasoned he weighed at least 260 pounds. I wondered if that amount of meat and fat would satiate my hunger.
“How’s your heart, Alex?” I asked curiously.
“Do you know where your mother has gone?”
“Knowing her, her mom’s.”
“Should I call?”
“Or the police.”
“I doubt it. You have her scared like a mouse, she wouldn’t dare. But then…”
Alex stood and began to pace. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“You did,” I replied, “but that’s okay, it’s what cowards do. Hit women.”
I pushed my fork into the egg, the yolk spilling out onto the plate, like blood into the cracks of tarmac.
“What did you do to your ex-wife?”
“You know NOTHING about that, don’t talk about shit you don’t know about.”
He was getting angry, and I liked it. The shadow excitedly raced around the room, energized by the atmosphere. I chuckled.
“What are laughing at you little bitch?”
I felt an overwhelming urge to eat. I stood up, a little unsteady on my feet and approached him.
“What do you think you taste like?”
“What?” he said, his anger giving way to confusion.
On tip toes, I licked his forehead. He tasted of salt, a sweet salt that sent my stomach flipping.
“Get away from me,” he backed off.
I grasped his arm and sunk my teeth in, ripping away a chunk of flesh. I shivered with delight, tasting the foreign but somehow familiar flavor.
“What the hell did you do, you freak?!”
“Can I have one more bite, just one more?”
His arm raised up again, a familiar warning. Instead of bracing for this hit, I lunged.
It’s strange how all hospitals smell the same. A generic odor of disinfectant and fear, is it? The florescent lights flickered above me. A drip slowly sent saline solution into my arm, topping up that hunger that brewed in my stomach.
“Honey, are you okay?” mom asked.
She was sitting in the chair next to the bed. And next to her was Alex. I sneered at her, knowing she’d not told anyone what happened to me. Alex’s arm was bandaged. We stayed in silence. The family that lies together, stays together.
When the doctor entered, he was frank.
“She’d dangerously underweight. Just over six stone.”
I was delighted.
“If we don’t get her weight up…”
He trailed off, pulling my mother to one side.
I was so hungry. My vision was blurry. I felt weak.
My attention was taken by a shadow on the wall, it looked out of place. My body tingled when we recognized each other. It was almost as if it acknowledged I knew it was hiding from me, from us. Slowly it crept off the wall. I traced a small wisp like tendril down to my arm, I hadn’t noticed it before in my house. In the bright florescent lights, it was obvious. It was interested in Alex. He startled, swatting what he thought was maybe a fly away from his face. I giggled. Alex stared at me. He knew he couldn’t do anything here, and I knew it too.
Playfully the shadow encased him. He held his chest. I wished he was having a heart attack.
Then without warning, like your ears clear when flying in a pressurized cabin, that wisp like tendril broke off. I saw the shadow race down Alex’s throat. Instantly, my hunger was gone.
“Cheryl, I’m going to get a bite to eat,” he said, getting up to leave.
“Alex,” I croaked, so weak I could barely move, “I’m sorry,” I said, with the largest smirk I could muster.
I was in hospital for a few days before being discharged. My weight was up. I didn’t mind though. In the length long mirror in my room I could see how gaunt I was. I didn’t feel as hungry anymore, but all that food made me remember what I was missing. It’s not going to be easy, not by a long shot. When dad visited, he cried.
“You’re going to be okay,” he said.
I believed it and I think he did too.
He asked if he could take care of me. I told him I think that would be a good idea. I loved my dad. I think I’m going to be okay. And besides, I don’t want to be there when Alex gets hungry; mom’s brought that on herself.