I recently discovered that Teresa from Today is a Good Day to Diet has a goal to finish a novel and that started a little discussion between us since this was an old aspiration of mine as well. I actually have completed two novels but they are both horrid and not worth publishing.
This reminded me of the days when creative writing was my passion, not detailing my days spent eating healthy (or not) and exercising (or not). Remembering a short story I’d posted on my Myspace blog years ago, I went back and dug it up and thought I’d share it here since the dieting part of it is relevant. Dieting has been a big part of my life for the past ten years, big enough to be at the core of a short story I wrote on a whim, inspired by a box of pudding mix that was sitting on my kitchen counter.
It took considerable willpower not to edit it, but I am resisting the urge and leaving it in its original form. So you will see why I have nearly given up on my previous writing aspirations and now just enjoy mindless blogging. Enjoy if you can! :)
Clutching a wire whisk, I stared at the chocolate pudding mix—thinking how innocuous it was in its current state. A small cardboard box with a pretty picture of the dessert it promised to become, and an envelope of brown powder inside. I turned my attention to the jug of milk that I had put beside it on the kitchen counter; white, innocent and pure. Separated as they were, the milk and pudding mix held no temptation for me. But together, they would spell certain disaster for my diet and waistline.
My stomach growled—moaning and groaning with a ferocity that pained me. It begged me to mix the two and gobble the combination before letting it set in the refrigerator. My stomach was a demanding creature, always hungry for the things I would not allow it.
Giving a growl of my own, tinged with the same frustration that my stomach portended, I snapped the cap off the milk and poured it into the pudding without measuring it. I whisked it with a vicious urgency, slopping a little of the bowl’s contents onto the counter. As soon as it thickened, I stormed to the drawer which held the saran wrap and I yanked off a piece, covering the bowl and trying not to smell it as I carried it to the refrigerator and plopped it on the shelf—practically slamming the door to shut myself off from it.
“Your pudding is in the fridge,” I called.
I didn’t hear a response and doubted I had been heard over the heavy metal music blaring from the den. I continued looking at the refrigerator door, studying the pictures that Adam had pasted there. Starving children to remind me that I shouldn’t waste food by overeating. Pictures of myself that were void of the crow’s feet and gray hairs that had begun to sprout and lacking the pounds that had crept onto my frame in recent years. That younger version of myself smiled back at me, mocking my corpulent body while flaunting a tan, flat stomach and lean thighs in a bikini on the beach with a smiling man beside her. She was so happy that I hardly recognized her. They were so happy that I didn’t think it could really be us. It surely wasn’t us any more.
Adam entered the kitchen, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts and dripping sweat. He had been on the treadmill, getting in his daily five miles.
“Chocolate?” he asked, opening the refrigerator.
“It’s not completely set,” I said, moving back so the door wouldn’t hit me.
Adam lifted his water bottle from the refrigerator and gulped from it, draining it without taking a breath. Once it was gone, he sucked air into his lungs and took the pudding from the refrigerator and brought it with him to the silverware drawer to take up a spoon.
I looked at the wadded cellophane that he flung onto the counter, feeling hollow and bitter. I thought about taking the plastic wrap and stretching it over Adam’s face—cutting off his breath and holding it there until his heart stopped beating and he no longer felt an urge to inhale. Thinking this horrible thing made me want to cry. Thinking of how good it would feel made me want to cry even more.
Adam looked up at me for the first time, his spoon hovering over the surface of the pudding and suspicion in his gaze.
“It doesn’t look like much,” he said. “Did you eat some?”
I swallowed. “No. I didn’t measure the milk—I don’t think I used enough.”
He eyed me and then glanced down to the pudding in order to scrape up a huge spoonful. He met my eyes over the bowl and watched me as he took a slow, purposeful bite—every trace of the chocolate disappearing from the spoon as he pulled it from his mouth.
“Aren’t you going to use the treadmill?” he asked, glancing down at the mud on my trousers.
“I’m tired,” I said, heart beginning to pound. “I’ve been gardening all morning and afternoon. I think I’ll just take a shower and start dinner.”
He looked at me, the spoon slowly returning to the bowl before he slammed it on the kitchen counter. I jerked involuntarily.
“This pudding is too thick,” he said, face dangerously impassive.
I didn’t want to move toward the pudding, but I did—whisking it away from him before he had a chance to stop me.
“I can fix it,” I said, adding some milk and stirring it with a trembling hand. “What would you like for dinner?”
Silence. I glanced back to find him staring at my back, a scowl in place.
“I’m going out tonight. Don’t bother with dinner.”
He left me standing there, pudding bowl in hand. I looked down at it, inhaling the smell of chocolate with furious, rapid breaths. I glanced back at the cellophane, still crumpled on the counter. Then I looked back to the chocolate and reached for the spoon he had left, my hand shaking so badly that it looked like I was suddenly manifesting symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s.
Yes, yes, yes! My stomach was screaming, urging me to do it. My heart was pounding and it ached with a desperate sadness. My husband didn’t love me any more. And I didn’t love him. I hated him.
I screamed and flung the bowl at the wall and watched through my tears as the dark goo splashed over the pristine white of the kitchen wall and began to melt down it in thick, globular strands. The wall was bleeding chocolate like my heart was bleeding angst. Like the chocolate, it moved through my veins thick and slow, poisoning my soul like the pudding would have poisoned my body.
I heard Adam’s feet pounding on the stairs and I turned toward the door, my fists clenched and my chest heaving. I felt fat and ugly and I wanted to blame him for it. I wanted to blame him for my hunger and my hatred and the lack of love between us. I wanted to blame him for everything.
He didn’t look angry when he blasted through the kitchen door, and that surprised me. He looked at the bleeding wall, and then at me, frowning with something akin to confusion and looking surprised.
“What happened?” he asked. “Are you all right?”
I quivered with the extent of my rage and stalked up to him, slapping his cheek hard. His head snapped to the side and I slapped him again. The itchy sting felt good against my palm but didn’t wholly satisfy. I wanted to hit him again, but he caught my wrist and when I looked at him, expecting to see anger, it still wasn’t there.
“No, I’m not all right!” I could feel tears on my face and my throat was tight with emotion, causing my voice to sound strained. It hurt to speak but I screamed, wanting to release my pain vocally if I couldn’t do it physically. “I’m starving. I’m so hungry that it hurts and I’m terrified to eat anything but salad, so that I won’t gain back the weight I’ve lost. I live with a husband who doesn’t even notice I’m alive, except when he suspects I might have snuck a chip or a spoonful of pudding or thinks I might dare to skip my exercise routine. A husband who doesn’t love me and spends his nights with other women…”
I couldn’t go on. I was sobbing with the extent of my torment—a hurricane of swirling emotions that were so powerful that they threatened to overtake the remaining sanity in my mind.
And then I felt Adam’s solid chest against mine and his strong arms around me and I didn’t smell chocolate anymore, but the combination of his soap and sweat. I let him hold me and I held him back, grasping him to me like a life preserver as I fought to survive the stormy sea of desperation that surrounded me. He held me with equal strength and I sobbed and sobbed, knowing that this would be the last time I would ever feel my husband’s embrace.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. I felt his hand on my head and it traced the length of my back, rubbing it lightly.
I swallowed a hiccup and made a strangled sound as I choked on my tears. I was a child in his arms, filled with juvenile incomprehension. I angled my head up to look at him and saw that his eyes were soft and sad he suddenly seemed as young as I felt. He looked like the boy I had fallen in love with and I wanted to hate him for looking so handsome when I was so ugly, but I didn’t. I didn’t hate him at all. I hated myself.
“I didn’t know you weren’t eating,” he said.
“You don’t eat meals with me any more,” I said, straining to keep my voice from breaking.
“I didn’t think you wanted me to.”
This took me aback and I couldn’t respond immediately. “What do you mean?” I finally asked.
“You’re always looking at me…like you can’t stand the sight of me. I thought it was because you had lost your weight so much faster and thought yourself superior and found me…”
“Disgusting,” I finished, my heart aching with a new kind of pain.
“Yes,” he said.
I looked at him. Really looked. The handsome angles in his face didn’t look mean to me any more. They just looked handsome. “I never found you disgusting, Adam. But I felt that you thought it of me.”
“No,” he said, eyes bright and voice gruff. “You’re…you’re my angel. You’re beautiful.”
He was still holding me, though not as tight, and I could feel the sweat from his shirt soaking through my dirty gardening clothes. Our bodies were sullied, just like our hearts. Just like our minds were dirtied with false assumptions.
“And the other women?” I asked, heart skittering a sudden, panicked beat.
He smiled and surprised me by laughing. “What other women?”
He kissed me then and I suddenly remembered the chocolate on the wall, because I could taste it on his tongue. It was sweet and good and one thousand times better than it ever would have tasted on the spoon.
Copyright Veronica Miller 2006