FICTION April 2, 2021


Day 1—

I have never been offered this much money to starve. Rather: to starve, then to eat again at last while the other woman plugs in. Marcia. I often wonder what she looks like. We have spoken on the phone. I picture her blond, standing over a farmhouse sink full of gardenias. But a woman who can afford this obscene treat does not do her own dishes or arrange her own flowers. She wears a cream-colored blouse of heavy matte silk; she crosses her ankles on a wicker deck chair. I cannot decide on her figure: I assume she is neither large nor small. Perhaps she likes movies like Cast Away, and watching is not enough. She wants to drag herself through the sand by her dirt-blackened, broken nails, sun scarred, blind with need, toward a grimy coconut that has washed ashore; to smash it over and over against a rock; to feel the last of her strength, cracking the hull, prying it open; and then to suck its divine fatty marrow, rocking with pleasure. 

Some clients pay for that very package. They fly by private jet to an island, where they have planted some desperate host to scrabble and starve, trying to catch fish with their hands for a few weeks, building little fires. I have thought of trying it, but I mean this time to be my last.

I’ve read reviews—perhaps Marcia has too—of these adventures. The problem: the twenty minutes or so you can maintain the bond is not enough. You feel the host’s hunger, yes, but it gets lost in all the other bodily shocks: the salt-cured sunburn, the dizziness, the chapped and infected lips—you have to want to suffer some. But most distracting (one client wrote) is the filth: the sudden awareness of clumped, greasy hair, a foul taste in the foreign mouth. And, worst of all, the overwhelming odor of your (another person’s) dirty body. It ruins the immersion—it is too strange, I guess, to smell like someone else. Most would rather watch others suffer on television.

And so I will stay in my apartment, bathing, drinking water, and seeing no one.

Day 2—

The first day is nothing. Cake. On the second day, an untouchable itch reaches everywhere and nowhere. My stomach growls and aches. 

I read that some bodybuilders find it exhausting to eat all the food they need to keep growing. What whiners. Until yesterday, I would wake up and have two fried eggs on buttery toast, with a mess of potatoes and a milkshake. Why not? I felt my stomach stretch—I could eat more and more. With mild pride I watched my belly button deepen and my breasts swell. I lifted weights each day to build as much muscle as I could, and rode my bike in the sun, stopping, if I wished, for an ice cream. Day two, and my thoughts already linger on food. If I didn’t like eating, I wouldn’t be worth so much.

Nothing to eat here now, though I have fit the cabinets with empty cereal boxes, empty cans, empty wine bottles, which I have been saving for weeks. If Marcia ever sees the footage, I want her to think the temptation is real as I open and close the cabinets, open and close the cabinets. I am not sure why—she did not ask me to do this. Perhaps it is for my own comfort.

Day 3—

I had planned to read a stack of classics but have not touched one yet. Why? What else is there to do? Watering my plants, scrolling on my phone, watching stupid shows, as usual. My hunger coils, expands, and clenches. It is early spring, and I open the windows in the afternoons to let air through the house. I feel like I am waiting for someone to come home in the evening. But I’ve been alone three years now—divorced, already, longer than married. 

If I go outside, I will crack in two minutes. I want to run cussing from the house to the nearby Mexican restaurant. I want to order a plate of enchiladas sizzling in rich sauce, refried beans drizzled with white cheese, and a mound of glossy yellow rice. I remind myself I’ve done this all before—all I have to do is nothing.

Of course, the point is not for it to be easy: the point is to be overwhelmed with desire. This time, when I pass the point of wanting food, I will have to make myself want it again.

Day 4—

Hunger pangs have stopped, on schedule. My breath is so foul with ketosis, already, that I gargle every hour. My throat burns. My gut is churning and purging. I find all of this awful. But of course I have a talent for it. As a kid, I loved reality TV—Fear Factor and Survivor, Naked and Afraid. While my siblings shrieked and squirmed, I leaned in. I would have done it, I said, for the prize. The rewards were so staggering—I would think of all I could buy if I won, and I would. I pictured myself doing each dreadful thing: lying still in a clear vat full of maggots, swallowing each bite of a bull’s barbecued penis without retching, being buried alive in a coffin while the little green light of the camera lit my face like a ghoul’s. 

Where did they get all those maggots? 

Day 5—

Filled with manic energy this morning, then crashed. My family thinks I am at a silent meditation retreat in Colorado. They won’t investigate. They think I have done several shorter retreats already, and that those weeks changed my life. I watch them online, scrolling through photos, remembering to leave no likes or little hearts. I am supposed to be sleeping on a hard mat and waking at dawn to the sound of a gong. Instead I wake in the rumpled mess of my deep bed at eleven, at noon. My sister has a picnic with my small nephews in the yard. Homemade popsicles with floating bits of fruit. An acquaintance shows off her new tattoo, peeling back the cellophane bandage. My cousin has been laid off, but thanks Jesus anyway.

I like to shuffle into the kitchen in my slippers to boil water in my kettle, pour it steaming into a mug. I have a metal pitcher of chilled water in the fridge, and a bowl of gleaming ice in the freezer. I keep refilling the ice trays, sometimes plucking out a cube to suck or crunch.

Day 6—

Exhausted. Spent so long in the tub today, soaking with bubbles and oils. I see no need to be ascetic: there are still other joys. Body lotions, face masks. Scents of patchouli, lavender, cypress, sandalwood. I wanted to drink those bitter oils: to throw back each charming little vial like a shot. As the bubbles dissolved, I watched the space between my thinning thighs, fingered the emerging bones of my pelvis. I enjoyed soaping between my legs, between my toes, lathering the bar in my hands. I imagined nibbling a corner of the soap, like biting into a creamy coconut popsicle. I dozed off and woke up in cold water, shivering in the dark. I drained the tub and drew another steaming bath right away. 

Now I am lying in my bathrobe. My finger pads are too shriveled. Going hungry feels easy so far. But I have so long to go. It is important to Marcia that this fast is the longest I’ve undertaken—twenty days—that I am pushing my limits, hungrier than ever, mad for food. It is also important to her that I come well-reviewed. 

“Cassandra is clean, professional, and a joy to dine with. Her hunger is robust, but it is not obscene or obsessive. She eats at the proper pace. Cassandra’s mouth feels clean and healthy and waters pleasantly, her taste buds are sensitive, and she chews with savor. Her palate, while naïve enough to thrill in new flavors, is sophisticated enough to be discerning. She has tidy manners and was not distracted by my presence. When we took our first bites together, I thought I would die of pleasure.” 

Day 7—

I wonder what Marcia is doing. Drinking mimosas at brunch, or doing calisthenics in a headband. I tried to look her up online but found nothing. She must look something like me: if you want to focus on one sensation when you bond with someone, you eliminate distractions, and slipping into a body too different from yours can be a shock. 

I tried it with my ex once, and it wasn’t romantic. I felt my center of gravity and my body temperature rise. I felt the sudden hair on my back itching. The soft thing alive between my legs disturbed me. And of course I saw my own distant body as he saw it, from his height. Felt his faint glint of want through his bored, empty recognition. I was so zoned out over there, under a net of sticky sensors, my legs fallen open. 

“What should I do?” I/he asked the air, though I couldn’t answer. The large hands waved limply. You can use a host only once—then you have to use someone else. We were high, and had no plan. 

My movements are slowing. My hand reaching for a glass seems to drag through the air. I don’t mind. And the edges of things are bright and gelid. Crystalline leaves churning outside, white spider moving in stop-motion over the counter.

What will this look like, if she ever does watch? Dragging myself from room to room, staring at one thing or another. Too dull to tolerate. I keep glancing up at the lens today. 

Day 8—

Nausea in waves, coming whenever I watch TV or read too long. I wish I had not painted every wall in warm colors, meaning to stimulate the appetite. I loved choosing those paint chips: wet terracotta, petaled rust, Tuscan tomato, sunflower farm, buttercream daisies. Now I think: McDonald’s, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise. 

I know all of Marcia’s favorite foods. I know the first thing I will eat for her: crème brûlée. I have never had crème brûlée, which is one of the reasons she chose me. She will again get to taste it for the very first time. 

It occurred to me today to put on music. Perhaps I would even sway my empty arms above my head. But when I started the first song, I felt as though strangers were banging on all my building’s doors and windows. I turned off the song. I have grown too used to the quiet.

Day 9—

Woke from half-sleep, hypnogogic dreamlets. Tiny cartoon slices of cake for a doll, with dollops of plastic whipped cream. Red light from a flashlight casting over undergrowth.

Have been lying in bed fourteen hours, unable to sleep, dozing a little. My mind is empty. I tried to masturbate out of boredom, but the effort of moving even one finger, of drawing up vigorous scenes in the mind, exhausts me. Of course, vicarious sex is popular now. You can try the things you never would. But if you’re willing to share a room with two coupling strangers, I wonder what you dare not do.

When I was in my ex’s body, he ate some chips from a bag, lay down on the couch, and unzipped his fly. I wanted to say no thank you, to stop, but of course I could not. I/he glanced over at my half-catatonic form slumped in my chair, and felt no guilt. I/he sucked my large tongue around in my/his mouth and clutched myself. I/he felt this tacky damp flesh compress under my/his fingers and jump to life. Little shoots. Strange. And yet it was banal—just what I would have expected. I was struck by the dullness of sensation, but also by the way it suffused the whole body, the air, in a way I thought it did only with women. I/he did not look over at me in the chair, was hardly aware of that other presence. I could feel his thoughts, but not make out their outlines. Perhaps that is a skill you can learn. They were not about me. I/he stared blankly down at what the hand was doing. Much harder and faster than I would have thought. I wanted to look away, to close my eyes, but could not. 

After, he said he thought I would like it. Hadn’t I always been curious? He asked me to do it when it was his turn. I never let him have a turn. 

And now, somehow, like a pathetic animal, I am almost aroused. Perhaps if I touch it slowly for an hour or so, I will get a little shudder. 

Day 10—

Woke up angry. I think Fuck you, Marcia. If you want this so badly, just do it yourself. But that’s the thing—it isn’t worth it. 

When I first fasted, I was delighted at how my bulk fell away, how frail I became. A perk. I turned in the mirror, looking at the body of a preteen. Dizzy, I tried on my lingerie, took a few secret photos. Now I know better. My muscles will wither, and my organs will continue to shrink. By today, my liver must be suffering. My kidney function is impaired, my immune system compromised. At the end of these three weeks, I will have lost bone mass I can never recover. My resting metabolic rate will slow nearly to a trickle, and it will not readjust until I’ve put back the fat I’ve lost and more. My blood leptin levels will diminish, and I will not know when I am sated. I’ll balloon out. But my muscles will take much longer to rebuild. People say that fasting detoxes your body, but I don’t believe in toxins. Or don’t care. Whatever toxins are supposed to be, I have never noticed them, and I would rather be full of toxins than shambling around with loose teeth, thinning hair, rotten breath, and the dreadful nauseous vertigo I feel today, blacking out my vision whenever I stand.

That I do not enjoy this will make it sweeter to eat at last. Anorexics are the worst candidates for this ordeal—they take too much satisfaction in fasting and none in food. They have artistry for hunger but none for eating. Seeing a table laid out for them, they fill with panic and dread, shame and fear.

Day 11—

The tap water tastes different depending on the faucet and time of day. In the morning, the water from the bathroom sink is slightly sulfurous, eggy. I suck at it. The kitchen water is more metallic. My favorite is the hot water that falls into my open mouth when I slurp at the air in the shower—warm, robust, almost brothy. 

To stay motivated, I dream of what I will do with the money. I will pay off the interest on my loans; I will buy a used car and save the rest. I have begun to spend some of my payment already, on credit, which is motivating. I’m invested, can’t fail. 

My head hurts nearly all the time, blaring red and orange. I can’t look at a screen for long. Instead I paint my future life in detail. In my head, I move through a morning hour by hour. But when I try to imagine my breakfast, it turns to ash in my imaginary mouth. I am losing my cravings. I have a backup plan for this, but it will cost me.

Day 12—

Spent hours flipping through a cookbook, walking through steps in my head. I dice onions, I simmer them in olive oil, I crush garlic with the flat of a knife. I give up, walk to the bathroom mirror, as I’ve been in the habit of doing. My empty eyes, sharp cheekbones. I am growing zits on my forehead. Detoxing, I’m sure. 

If Marcia hasn’t looked at the live-stream yet, she might begin to look now—now that I am truly starting to wither. Perhaps she likes to watch my pain. I’ve heard that some businessmen pay desperately poor women to take meth, just to watch them writhe and rage. Earlier I walked into the yellow kitchen where the camera sits in its ceiling corner, wearing only a bra and underwear, bending and stretching to show my ribs, the jutting bones of my pelvis above the loose waistband. Look what I have done for you. 

Today I broke down and called a number I’ve been saving. I knew I would do this, deep down. The woman on the other end of the line knows about me, and will come to help me for cheap. She will come by in three days. I keep walking to the closet where I keep the machine, staring at it. My investment. It’s four years old. Marcia will have her own, of course: state-of-the-art. 

Day 13—

I want her to like me: I want her to tip me perhaps two hundred dollars, because she is so grateful for what I have given her. I also want her to resent that I am a real person she has done this to, with an inner life. It would be better if I had hopes and dreams, plans and a family—I would seem so human then. 

Is she married? Has she told her husband about me, what she has hired me for? Does she have children, and do they know? Or perhaps she and her husband will do it together: perhaps he has his own host. I picture a young man pacing his own bare apartment, picking up magazines, perhaps trying, like a fool, to do push-ups. Perhaps we will all meet in the same room. 

Of course, her husband might choose to use a woman. There is something so matter-of-fact about a man eating a meal. It’s different for us. No matter how daintily we eat, it is always in some way obscene, guilty, voluptuous, for us to chew and swallow.

Day 14—

This is the longest I have gone without food, it occurs to me mildly. Going another week seems both unimaginable and inevitable. I am not supposed to be able to stand it. I need Marcia to feel my yearning pumping through me.

I am glad the camera can’t reach this back room. This was never forbidden, but it can’t be allowed. Still, I am not cheating. It takes ages to drag the machine out, to sit by the back door. Slowly I unfold my card table and set it up there, out of sight. I hope the camera I agreed to is the only one here. When I have done this, I am so dizzy I lie down all afternoon and all night, ignoring my need to urinate.

It seems I cannot sleep anymore. I only doze. Once I wished I could live my whole life without sleeping, and so extend it twice as long. I loved being alive, awake. Now each hour pains me with its glacial passing. I watch the dark ceiling. I should listen to something, a podcast, a quiet song. I can’t do it. What I crave most is human touch. 

Day 15—

My host came by today, said hello, and sat at the table I had prepared for her, setting down her plastic bag. The aroma was overpowering, mouth-watering. Maybe that was all I needed. The smell of fish oil made me slightly ill. My host was a curvy woman. She understood the arrangement. I passed her the netted cap, and she fit it snugly over her scalp. She smiled and said, “Ready.” Painfully, I laid myself flat on the floor. I shimmied my cap on. She reached down and hit “enter.”

Then a jolt of vertigo, and I was looking down at myself lying there, and I was riveted, I admit. I used to wonder so much what I looked like—photos never seemed to get at the truth. Even videos were hard to trust. This, I thought, was the only way to truly see yourself as you were to others. Wealthy women like Marcia hire people to look at them like this when they try on pricey clothing. 

But now I have seen how emaciated I am. It looked like another woman prone like a corpse on the carpet, pale as a cave fish. My hands looked oddly large on my wrists. I have never been pretty. Of course, my host had no real interest, and her gaze didn’t linger for long. 

She sat at the table and closed her eyes, darkening my world. I could feel the largeness of this feminine body, this heft, even of the stomach cavity and lungs. Her stomach was full. It flooded me with relief. It was as if an emergency siren, endlessly blaring these past two weeks, had been suddenly silenced. I felt the lovely plumpness of her cheeks from the inside. Even her eyelids felt heavier than mine. To be in her body was such a comfort—I felt warmed and held, comfortable and benevolent. I could taste on the back of her tongue something savory under something creamy and sweet. Thai iced tea, perhaps, and drunken noodles. Leaning over the table, she inhaled the smell of her leftovers. 

It ended before I was ready. I wanted to go on as her forever, sitting and standing, full of peace and warmth, digesting a belly of warm food. When she pulled the net from the top of her head, I wanted to apologize, but didn’t. She helped me up, and tears sprang to my eyes at her touch. I paid her in cash I had snuck from a stash in my bedroom for just this purpose. She raised her eyebrows at me, and I added a larger tip. She left. I felt—as I expected—just dreadful. I cried for the first time in months.

Day 16– 

Marcia called. My first thought was that she knew I had seen a host, that she was spying on me. I was so stiff with rage that I let the phone ring, then listened to her voicemail. 

“Hi, Cassandra. This is Marcia. I’m sorry to bother you. I just wanted to check in and make sure you were doing all right. Remember, you can always stop. You’re at the reins here.” She paused. “I also wanted to let you know the car will come at three on Sunday, not two. OK—I’ll see you then. Take care.” 

I held the phone. Surely she was watching me hold it. I sat down on the linoleum, feeling as though my blood were still suspended above me. I hit the call button, but she didn’t pick up. I thought of waving up at the camera, but instead I dipped my head between my knees to rest. 

I texted, “Sorry I missed your call! I am doing fine. I am *very* excited for Sunday.”

Day 17—

Now that I remember living without it, my hunger is back full force; it obsesses me. I feed it by thinking not of my favorite foods, but of Marcia’s. I need to focus hard on the right things to train my urges. When I feel this is all too difficult, I remember the yogis who would hold one arm in the air for weeks, fighting through the pain, until the limb died and locked that way, and they could never put it down again. They would go on tour, gathering crowds and coins. Some paralyzed both arms. I am not so tough. Of course, they could not dress themselves—they needed attendants, or wives. I do not know if the arms could feel or not—perhaps they began to blacken and rot. 

Looking down, my breasts seem shriveled. Slight nausea. But I return to the video I am watching: “How to Make Crème Brûlée at Home.” I watch six bright yolks run under a pair of beaters, watch sugar crystals turn to liquid and crackle under a sharp blue flame. 

Day 18—

I sleep and bathe, hydrate myself and my houseplants. Which are thriving. I want to eat them. I want to suck the jelly out of a spear of agave, or crunch the leaves of my peace lily like lettuce. Instead I chew on ice. I fall half-asleep with an unread book on my chest. 

After the initial bites of crème brûlée, there will be other morsels to taste: seared scallops, lemon risotto, smoked salmon with cream and capers, raspberry sorbet, and—oddly—circus peanuts. It must have been hard to find someone else who likes them. How many did she interview before me? 

I know I will enjoy this food. I also know this is not the way to break a fast this long. I should be starting with broth or juice for the first two days, before having a piece of fruit, working up perhaps to a mashed potato. But I will eat and savor, bring my mind into my yearning mouth. Then, after Marcia unplugs, my stomach will ache and contract—perhaps I will vomit. Perhaps she has a little vomitorium all set up for me.

Day 19—

I am making my slow preparations for tomorrow. My instructions are detailed: I am to wear my hair pulled back in a ponytail and dress myself in an outfit provided for me. It was delivered yesterday through my mail flap: flowing pants and a matching tunic. The ochre fabric is dense, rich, and silky. It has no tags. I am to wear a particular scent—hers, of course. I’m given a full-sized bottle. Perhaps I can water it down and sell what’s left online. 

My instinct is to try to look even frailer, maybe by shading the hollows of my cheeks with powder. I don’t. As a kid, I always tried to act a little sicker than I was, in hopes of some vague reward—another day away from school, another cool washcloth on my forehead. 

I prick my finger for a blood sample and put it back into the case I’ve been sent. I have two pills to take: one hundred milligrams of thiamine and five milligrams of folate, to help prevent refeeding syndrome. They will be the first solid things I have swallowed, and my mind keeps reaching toward them. I set them out on a tiny plate meant for an espresso cup and watch them. I hope I can keep them down.

I rotate through daydreams of going unpaid, being scolded or accused of fraudulence. I feel as if I am about to take an exam. I watch more cooking videos; I work my hunger up to a howling rage. Somewhere a ramekin of custard is being covered to cool overnight.

Day 20—

I must have slept a little, because I woke early to a thunderstorm beating at the windows. The sky split white with lightning twice. There was relentless white noise, an empty sucking and roaring that must have been wind. I knew other windows were open, I knew that a pile of books and papers was soaking, but I could not get out of bed. 

I spent the morning in the bath. I shampooed my scalp with slow, bony fingers and went through three disposable razors as I scraped three weeks of hair from my legs and underarms. I nicked my leg and the cut barely bled, unspooling a little brown curl in the water. The surface was gummy with soap scum and clumping hairs. But I can’t stand in the shower now. I drained the water around me and pulled a towel down to where I sat. 

I want to look nice for Marcia. I spritz her scent onto my wrists and neck. I daub blush onto my cheeks and apply mascara. There is something grotesque in this visage: hollow cheeks and sunken eyes, made up like this. A sugar skull.

When the call comes, I stand too quickly, and the world goes black, my head sears—but I shuffle to the door, undoing the chain lock with shaky fingers. The world outside is almost unbearably fresh, like old bandages have been torn off. A slim man waits there, greets me by name, and offers his arm. I take it. I want to lean on his shoulder, and do. When the car starts moving, my head lolls and I fall asleep at once. I am saving my strength.

We jerk to a stop at the end of a coiled driveway, at the base of a large, modern home. We make our way to a small door flanked by potted cypresses. We are entering through the back door, then, not the front.

This whole time, I realize now, I have been picturing a baroque room, perhaps hung with velvet curtains. An embroidered silk chaise lounge for Marcia to recline on, a tall window. I thought there would be a small, round table laid with a heavy tablecloth, candlesticks, and silver. A fine French restaurant with a single table. Instead this ground-floor room is minimal and modern. Every detail looks expensive, but it feels as if I have walked into an empty museum. The aesthetics of the monied class always disappoint me. I am offered a seat in a clear plastic chair. The machine gleams and hums behind me; I see the black leather armchair where Marcia will sit. The slim man climbs a staircase. My pulse is coming faster now, which dizzies me.

He returns with Marcia at last. She is a short woman, fit but slightly stocky, like I used to be. She has dark hair. She is wearing a tunic and trousers just like mine, with a matching manicure and fluffy shearling slippers. Marcia is no one you would ever notice. She is the kind of woman you might leave behind in the washroom by accident on your way out of a restaurant. She is one of those people who was meant to be middle-aged. I drag a smile across my face.

She regards me for a moment, her hand on the bannister, and I see her face is lit with longing. She is on the edge; she is bursting. Her eyes are shining as she offers a shaky smile. “It’s so nice to meet you in person, Cassandra.” 

“Thank you for having me,” I say. 

“Thank you for coming. Can I get you anything to make you more comfortable?” She glances at the man. 

“No, thank you,” I say. “I’m ready now.” I smile again. I am cold but hardly care. I can feel my stomach twitching. I can smell something excellent floating in. 

Marcia sucks her lower lip as she sits in the armchair. She places on her head a diadem of soft plastic orbs. The newest version. The man arranges mine, disappears upstairs, and returns holding the ramekin on a simple porcelain plate. I want to seize it, smash it to the floor, and lick it up. I unfold a napkin and place it on my lap. The napkins are monogrammed. I have Marcia’s, and I find this touching—though she is only trying to make herself feel at home. The man lowers the plate and tiny dessert spoon. I had always imagined a butler tying a bib around my neck for this part. 

I look at Marcia, and she nods at me. She looks like a child, wide-eyed, tensed. The thin man clears his throat. I look down and close my eyes. Marcia wouldn’t want me to watch her go limp. When I open them slowly, I can feel her with me. I have been waiting for this, my fabulous treat. 

I look at the crème brûlée, the glassy amber surface marbled with bubbles and dark nebulas. I know what to do. But my eyes flick sideways, and I look at Marcia’s body. I cannot stop myself. Her fingers clutch the arms of the chair—her head is thrown back and to the side, her mouth open, like someone frozen in coitus. Though it can’t be, her body seems tense, about to spring. She looks so vulnerable like that, somehow lovely. I have looked too long now, too long, and I force my gaze back to the food. My mouth fills with water, and I swallow. 

The little spoon is heavy. I tap its round edge against the glassy surface, once, twice, and it cracks. I lift my first bite, a shard of hard caramel perched on a large pearl of custard. I feel faint, urgent—sugar. My hand is shaking, and as I lift it, the spoon clatters against my teeth and topples in slow motion to the floor. I stare at it horrified—the gob of it wobbling there. The thin man’s hand appears in seconds with another spoon, as if expecting this. I take it quickly, stab it into the custard again, and push it into my mouth.

An explosion, a cloudburst. It feels like silk, mousse—I was braced for a shock of sweetness, but the custard is balanced. Tangy and rich, heavy with fresh vanilla scraped by hand from the black pods, it is not too sweet. The dissolving grit of the sugar lacing through the pillowy mouthful, catching on my tongue, is too much. I moan. I look up to see the man bringing a tray of other small confections, exquisitely plated. How could I think of anything else? I see the circus peanuts—two of them—peeking their ugly orange heads out of an eggcup. No time to waste. 

When it is over, when Marcia moves in her chair, my stomach is stretched so full it hurts, though I haven’t had so much. Still, I want to stuff every last crumb into my mouth—want to eat and eat, then lick the plates. I place my hands in my lap. Marcia sighs, stretching. “That was wonderful,” she says. “Wonderful.” Her face is drowsy—bored now. She is bored. She thanks me, hands me a sealed envelope, wishes me well, and climbs the stairs. The man helps me up. Once I am out in the yard, I feel my bile begin to rise. 

Day 24—

“I had the pleasure of dining with Cassandra following her longest fast yet. Inside her, I felt a ravenous, aching hunger I could not have imagined. I now understand what so many impoverished people must endure. While painful, the experience as a whole was exquisite. Cassandra was so weak with desire that her hands shook, and she dropped the first spoon I provided her. Her pang of grief at having done so was quite endearing. Though she wasted a bit of our precious time together, and though she was a bit chilly, Cassandra’s ecstasy once she began to eat was sublime, and those minutes of decadence were unlike anything I have ever experienced. I provided her with the highest-quality cuisine and was rewarded with a sensory adventure. This was a profound personal journey for me, and it was a pleasure to feed Cassandra. I recommend her to anyone hoping to try something new.”

Emily Lawson is a recent graduate of the MFA program in poetry at the University of Virginia, where, as a Poe/Faulkner Fellow, she taught poetry and edited Meridian. A graduate of Hampshire College, she is entering a doctoral program in philosophy at the University of British Columbia. Her poetry and lyric essays can be found in Sixth Finch, Indiana Review, Thrush, Waxwing, Muzzle, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. This is her first fiction publication.