Hungry

A year ago, the wonderful Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal published this surrealist flash fiction of mine, so to honor the event, I am reprinting it here. I hope you enjoy!

weird

Jane sat at her desk and pressed the paper flat against her tongue, its dry texture sticky inside her mouth. It tasted bitter, like all those unsayables that had reared up at the back of her throat over the years.

She crumpled the paper into a ball. An edge caught her tongue and she tasted harsh, metallic blood splash against her teeth. She chewed up the paper until it was a wet, pulpy clump, and it felt good when it slid down her throat. Relief. One less thing.

Jane’s life was all about one thing after one thing after one thing. They weren’t the kinds of things you could hold, yet still they crushed her, sat heavy on her chest until she couldn’t breathe. No matter how hard she tried to peel herself from them, they stuck.

If she couldn’t remove those other things, she could at least remove this paper. Unable to feel it down in the sewage pipes of her stomach, it was like it didn’t even exist anymore. Vanished. Gone. She liked that.

The desk had a single drawer; the other had been missing when she first found the rundown desk on the sidewalk and dragged it to her even more rundown house. Jane pulled a mirror from the drawer and tried to smile. People were always telling her to smile, even when she didn’t want to, and she felt those bilious words come up again. She snarled instead. That felt better. She could still taste blood and her molars wore the red of a crime scene. Caution: do not enter. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

Next she ate a paper clip. It tasted like what her husband said to her after punching the wall beside her head. The metal scraped her teeth with high, sharp sounds, like tiny shrieks. She rolled it and bent it and folded it between her jaws. It pricked her gums and more blood pooled, but still she folded it until she could swallow, and when she did, when the clip was vanished, gone, it felt good. The clip didn’t exist anymore. She liked that.

Jane looked at the cup of pencils. Their woody smell reminded her of school, when she would gnaw their yellow hides while her peers practiced their four-letter vocabulary at her back. She didn’t want to remember anymore. But she couldn’t eat memories, so she ate the pencils instead.

One less thing. One less thing.

It felt good to see them disappear. The weight on her chest shifted an inch or two to the right. But the desk was still there. Jane pushed back her chair, leaned forward until she could smell the varnish. It felt cool and slippery against her lips. She bit down on the edge, and the piece came off easily.

With the desk finished she started on the rest of the furnishings: the chair underneath her, the sofa with the stuffing popping out like pus, the garish cow-shaped lamp she kept out to annoy her mother when she visited (and couldn’t find the will to toss when her mother stopped). Jane ate it all. The more she ate, the larger she grew—bulging, distending, bones and flesh creaking as they stretched. Objects disappeared inside her, and Jane’s body took over the space left by them. She had walked hunch-shouldered and tight-kneed her whole life (smiling, of course, always smiling) and this new occupancy felt foreign to her. Her jaws grew stronger and soon she was able to rabbit her way through the walls themselves until the entire house lived in her stomach. Everything, the plumbing, the wiring, was gone. It didn’t exist anymore. She liked that.

Topping it off with her mail box, Jane continued down the street, the weight on her chest now shifting an inch or two to the left.

She ate the cars and the light posts and the cats in neighbors’ windows. She ate the neighbors too. She ate every apartment building and grocery store and coffee shop. She ate the police that tried to detain her and the pedestrians that tried to run from her. She chomped and chewed and slurped and swigged. With her new size, Jane found she could scoop up piles of things at a time, dump them all into her maw. Juice ran down her chin and her breath stank of gasoline. She wiped the grit of concrete off her cheek.

One less thing. One less thing.

Larger and larger her engorged body grew, until she had to bend beneath clouds to see. When one town was gone, she moved on to another. When one country was gone, she moved on to another. Finally, when no land at all remained, she picked up the earth and tilted it to her lips, oceans pouring down her throat.

The world had disappeared. It didn’t exist anymore. She liked that.

With one bite she swallowed the rough and crunchy Mars, inhaled the storms of Jupiter with one sip. The rest of the planets followed suit while asteroids pocked her forehead. The sun burned her tongue, but she gulped it down. Stars lit her way as she drifted through the universe, shoveling galaxies down her gullet, until she ate the last one and then there was nothing. All gone. None of it existed anymore. She liked that.

But Jane still existed. And the weight on her chest had not disappeared with the rest; it had merely moved. The hurts were still there. The memories were still there. They were not gone. Jane was not gone.

She looked at her hand, still slick with the grease of the cosmos.

And took a bite.

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