Hunger

Published in Corium Magazine, August 2012.


The house sat on a hill three miles outside of town at the end of a dirt road. When she woke with the sun on an August morning and found his lifeless body cold beside her, she threw up her shock and held him in her arms for two days until he started to smell of rotten fruit. She bathed his body and wrapped him in an old quilt and buried him in the field behind the house. The earth was soft and broke easily under her shovel. She lay on the fresh wound of the world in her soiled nightgown and wept on the earthworms.


When the sun had set and her body shivered she went inside with her swollen eyes and stood useless in the kitchen. A sharp pain stabbed at her stomach and she steadied herself on the counter. She hadn’t eaten since he’d died. Her glazed eyes settled on a dirty glass. His dirty glass. She lifted it to her nose and inhaled rum and cigarettes. She could smell his breath on the rim. Hot tears flooded her eyes soaking and salting her face as she licked the glass for every trace of him. When she’d licked it clean she sank to the floor. She dragged her fingers across the ceramic surface and felt the ghosts of his naked footsteps, heard the echo of his hum as he ate leftovers out of the fridge with his hands. She brought her fingers to her mouth and tasted the dusty memory, the salty song. She lowered her face to the floor and let her tongue glide across the tiles. There he was. She could taste the arch of his shoulder rising up in a shrug, touching the edge of his curly hair. She licked the floor again and rejoiced—she’d never tasted him so clearly—the burnt ember, the grassy sweetness, and her hunger grew with each sweep of the tongue.


Upstairs, she fell into their bed. The vast continent of their mattress was devastated by absence. She pushed her face into the shell-shocked sheets. He was there, pungent and full. She laughed out loud and bit the bedding, pressed her tongue against the dry folds, teeth tearing, choking on cotton. She gathered the sheets in her arms and carried his bundled scent down to the kitchen. She boiled water in a giant pot and ripped the sheets into small pieces and added them one by one like leaves of greens to the boil. The steam ran down her face, bittersweet. She drank it like tea and tasted him in every sip. He burnt her tongue and warmed her throat and soothed the cramp inside her.


Over time she devoured everything that remained of him. Everything he’d touched, everything he wore, everything that had tasted his life, she ate in turn. What she couldn’t eat raw, like his collection of ferns or his shaving cream, she boiled into broths or teas, or grated into fine powders. His typewriter took months to eat, shaved over pasta like parmesan. When she began to eat the house itself, people noticed. Kids buzzed by on their bikes with dares in their pockets and sped away when they saw her pale-faced and wild-eyed through the large holes in the walls. She didn’t notice the winter raging through the half-eaten house.


A group of teenagers found her lying blue on the floor with a leg of armchair gripped in her frozen hand like a drumstick. They called the police and she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, unconscious. Surgeons cut open her swollen belly and removed a melon-sized ball of debris.


When she woke up, she sniffed the doctors and nurses for traces of him. She licked the plastic tubing and metal railings, but he was nowhere in the sterile wasteland. She refused food and water and they kept her alive on a drip.


One night in autumn she pulled the tubes out of her arms and found her way back to the house on the hill where she’d lived with him and where he’d died in his sleep beside her. What was left of the house had been levelled, the foundation uprooted. A for sale sign stood erect in the ruptured earth. She made her way to the field behind where the house had been to his unmarked grave. She could smell him there in the dirt. The grass was dry and matted and nettles grew mangled like dreadlocks. She sank to her knees and ran her hands along the brittle autumn weeds. Seasons had passed since she’d buried him here—how many she didn’t know. Grasses had grown and lived and died again and again in the earth he had fed with his flesh. A nettle scratched at the palm of her hand and she squeezed it until full red drops of blood appeared. She sucked at the tiny wounds, tasting something other than him.