Nina, you eat too much. Every meal you tell yourself, You’ve got to stop eating like this. You never feel hungry. You never feel full. You’re always out of control. Now it’s 9pm. Again, you’ve sent yourself to bed to stop yourself eating. Again, you can’t sleep: all you can think about is food.
Maybe Glen’s right: you’ve overstretched your stomach. How does he put it? You’re like Dr Who’s TARDIS. Tard-arse, he says. Tard-arse lard-arse. Or you’re like Mary Poppins’ handbag, your guts looping around inside you without limit or end. He says you’re a walking talking black hole. That you could swallow stars. That you’re a star’s graveyard. He’s getting very cosmic about your condition. There’s no metaphor, he says, astronomical enough to explain where all that food goes. I could have done my thesis on you, he says. A new physics: Arsetronomy!
Well, of course you haven’t defied physics. Energy is always conserved, and last week he caught you arranging your stomach around the table—with your hands—as if it was an annoying object that was getting in your way. The shame! Worse, the realisation: it was an annoying object that was getting in your way! Since then you’ve noticed how your fleshy armpits pinch and pull when you reach for things, and how when you drop something you just peer helplessly at the floor, distrusting your body’s turgid hinges. A few nights ago, when Glen was in his room schmooping on the phone to Sally, you set up the bathroom scales. You filled a bucket with seven kilos of water: the weight you’ve gained these past few months. You told yourself, That’s fat, Nina, blobbing through your blood, plugging your heart, exploding you slowly—a slo-mo super–duper-nova. You lifted the bucket: it was heavy! How disgusting, to pour such muck into yourself. How exhausting, to carry such weight around with you, all the time, all the time.
I’m getting in my way! you cried to Glen last night, as you shared the feast you’d cooked him because it was his birthday and he was missing Sally badly. Look, sis, he said, you know the deal. Energy in—he stuffed in another mouthful—must be equal to, or less than, energy out. He leaned over as if to fart. You didn’t laugh. He stopped fooling. He patted your arm. It’s just flab, Nina. Just food. Accept yourself, or change yourself, but stop obsessing ’cos you’re driving me nuts. He went back to his dinner, muttering, What is with women and food? You found yourself travelling his words up, up, up into space. You looked down at the earth and you saw how its men never thought about food, beyond wanting it and eating it, while its women cooked and gorged and starved and vomited and cried, their food morphing into all sorts of strange things in their guts: thoughts, feelings, rituals. Glen burped you back to the table, demanding, Cake, woman! Of course you’d baked him one. Of course you ate the whole thing once he’d taken his slice and disappeared for some optical sex with poor Sally stuck in Wadeye.
Well, it’s easy for Glen to lecture you, with his laddery ribs and his hoppery limbs and his horsey face, all bony plains and stretched skin. It’s easy for him to reduce everything to rationality. He might be right—you’ve just got to get a grip—but what if he’s wrong? Can physics really explain everything? Can it explain compulsion, this force that’s not quite a thought or a feeling or an urge, but some sort of a cell-deep, primal call to just eat and eat and eat?
Oh, rubbish! It’s not your flab getting in your way, Nina. It’s not some profound ancestral memory dictating things. It’s you. It’s just you.
Once again, your nightly prayer and promise. Today was the last time. Please let tomorrow be a new day.
This is an excerpt from ‘Eat. Shit. Die.’ from H.C. Gildfind’s short story collection, The Worry Front, out now through Margaret River Press.