Cold, only cold; hungry, always hungry. Only after she met and ate Eddie did Elizabeth begin to warm up.
She never was fed as a child. Went most of her young life with a low body fat and an insatiable hunger. Would study the way her bony hands turned blue and venous, fingertips bulbous and icy to the touch, skin paper-fine and milk white. A mother who likened sin to food, who thought a hot meal was cause for guilt, kept the luxury of food at bay. Meager scraps, just enough to quench the stomach pains, were given to her. And so, because of this, she got to know her body well. Every last ache gurgling within her empty bowels. Knees and shins and shoulder blades shark-finning the sheets as she curled up into herself, gone to bed hungry. She slept with a plate underneath her pillow and at night she’d tuck her arm into a little wing underneath her head, her palm touching the cool china beneath the feather pillow, and she’d swear that one day she’d never go hungry again; somehow she’d find a way to stay full, everlasting full.
No pitties, no kitties, no beards, no blacks, she writes in her online dating profile. Chefs. She’ll only accept chefs. Elizabeth knows it’s a dicey business. Chefs barely have time for a pet, let alone a woman to love. But as she types she knows she wants a man who who won’t stop cooking until she’s well fed. She posts a picture of herself, a daisy in her hair, standing outside of the New York Public Library, her librarian badge hidden underneath her wool sweater. She’s skinny and flat-chested but she has a lovely smile and it’s less than 24 hours before she gets her first response.
She meets him at a gastropub wearing a heavy cardigan. Twice, she’s asked the bartender to turn down the air conditioning but her requests have gone unanswered. He stands when she arrives. Gently, but confidently shakes her hand. Instantly, Elizabeth likes the meaty weight of his palm. The heavy, hot, comforting feeling it gives to her. He orders scotch and is surprised when she does the same. It’s been her drink for such a long while. Filling her belly, keeping it warm when nothing else could.
Eddie is meaty like his palm. He wears a goodly stomach, sports a piebald 5-o’clock shadow and has hairy knuckles. He dons a buffalo plaid shirt, jeans and the typical shoe of chefs: Crocs. All these things Elizabeth finds attractive. He does not look hungry and when he orders a pork belly appetizer her mouth begins to water. Her knees go weak. Weaker still when he slides a fork her way and tells her to “dig in.”
Elizabeth grips the fork, knuckles white. She forgets how many appetizers they polish off. But she’ll always remember that first one – the pork belly. She imagines telling their children how they met. Over a belly of pork, she’d laugh. They’ll serve it at their wedding; order it every anniversary. And it will still never taste as good as the day they first met.
Elizabeth loves Eddie because he feeds her and Eddie loves Elizabeth because she eats what she is fed.
She waits with sweaty palms, with mouth salivating, and watches with longing to see what’s set before her. Hearty dishes like pot-au-feu, boeuf bourguignon, quail terrine. She tears at the food hungrily, licking butter-coated lips, loving the way the fork tines sound on Eddie’s fine china. She lives for fleur de sel nestling into her cupid’s bow, turbinado sugar sticking in the corner of her mouth or dark cocoa dusting her fingertips.
A normal weight returns to Elizabeth; her hips rounding nicely, her breasts slightly heavier. Gone are the heavy cardigans, the pilled sweatpants. Elizabeth can tempt tank tops, bristling only somewhat when she encounters an draft from a window or air conditioner.
And on those nights when Eddie is home and the kitchen is cooling off, when she gets on her knees and takes Eddie in her mouth, she’s never felt so full.
The ring is a yellow diamond. Like a cut of hard cheddar.
She will plan for the dress (a mermaid cut to accommodate her new curves) and pick a venue (somewhere outside, but it must be in the afternoon so she can be warm in the midday sun) but the food, the cuisine is up to her chef.
Elizabeth listens with bated breath as Eddie describes the caterer he’s planning to hire. “Canapes galore!” he cries and unable to help herself, Elizabeth clasps her hands together in childlike glee. The cake will be vanilla. Five layers covered in whipped buttercream and decorated with a string of edible pearls. Elizabeth pictures this. Pictures being finger-fed a moist piece of wedding cake and letting the creamy frosting slip and slide across her tongue.
Elizabeth bristles with pride in the presence of their new apartment. Especially the kitchen. It near brings her to tears. Pots and pans hang over the stove. A butcher block of knives, a full spice rack, a marble cutting board. She imagines the meals her husband will cook here. The food that will fill her belly.
Six months into their marriage, Eddie tells her at breakfast, over corned beef hash and eggs Benedict, both of which she’ll never eat again.
Unprepared for his news, Elizabeth wrings a cloth napkin between her hands as Eddie explains he’s retiring from chefdom to become a doctor. Horrified, she listens as Eddie details the situation, cooking merely a hobby until he discovered his real calling. Now it’s back to school for seven years where he’ll still work with his hands and with knives, only now saving lives instead of filling bellies.
Eddie teases, “Don’t worry, my little hangry one, I will still feed you.”
Elizabeth says, “don’t” and turns away. She does not take kindly to anyone making fun of her hunger. Not even her husband. His words do nothing to kibosh her fears – the sheer betrayal of it all. This is not what she wanted. Elizabeth asked for a chef. Her dating profile had specifically stated it. She required a chef.
She told herself she hadn’t been meaning to use it. But then it was just a dash and then another, and then Elizabeth found herself pouring a heaping tablespoon of rat poison into Eddie’s coffee.
She watches the mug steam, debating, and then she remembers her online ad and how it was answered with a lie. Decided, Elizabeth gives the coffee a hearty stir and then calls her husband down for a breakfast she has cooked.
The twitching stopped a little more than an hour ago. She was sad to see him go. Eddie, the only one she ever loved. The only one who had ever fed her. So it seems only right she should feed on Eddie. That he make her full one last time.
Kneeling beside her husband, Elizabeth brandishes Eddie’s chef knife. A large, weighty object. The steel glittery in the kitchen light. Eyes to his thighs, she makes a notch, a tiny cut really, and ignoring the blood, ignoring everything else except her hunger, she cuts and carves and cutsandcarves and then it’s done.
She prepares a pan on the stove, dials the heat up high and after a good three minutes adds a pat of butter and some chopped garlic like she’s seen Eddie so often do. The oil sizzles and spatters and Elizabeth adds the piece of meat. Briefly, she sears it on each side, but not too long for fear of making it leathery. When it’s done, a perfect golden brown color, she lets it cool. And then she cuts a perfect piece. Only a nibble, really.
She sheds her cardigan as she eats, her bare arms hot, flushed even. A warmth spreads throughout her body, one she’s never felt before. Delighted, Elizabeth giggles aloud in that quiet kitchen. Oh, how Eddie tastes like what she’s been fed on. Truffled risotto, cheesy poutine, buttery foie gras, and let’s not forget, salty pork belly.
Fed and finished, swollen is her stomach. She holds its roundness beneath her palms, feeling the fullness within.
Eddie – he’s everything Elizabeth had always wanted to eat.
Jules Archer likes to smell old books and drink red wine. She once threw up in a gutter in Haight-Ashbury and couldn’t be prouder of that fact. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, >kill author, Pank, Northville Review, and elsewhere. She writes to annoy you at julesjustwrite.com.
–Art by Helen Norcott