A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Drink"
Originally featured on 12-02-2008
As part of our series "Holiday Fiction Drive (The Things Holidays Drive People To, The Things Holiday People Drive)"

I hold the left side of my abdomen in my hand like a cutlet. It reminds me of my grandmother and the way that skin falls easily over cruel elastic waist bands. I stand before the full length mirror and lean into the fat, making myself into a loose tube belt with scoliosis.

Julie is coming over at 7:30 for dinner and I don’t want to go. I don’t want to address it. We walk to the cafeteria, down three tunnels of hallways and we get wet white plates off a two foot stack. We look at the headers over the international food stations and we get everything. We talk about the value of flax and flavonoids. She is already thin, which I notice. She’s petite, which I am not. She has an unlucky build for metabolism, which she resents. The Fantanas are on the tv in the cafeteria, with their “Wanta Fanta?” and I think that they are lucky and happy in their ridiculous color coded jumpsuits, and I think about the value of the eight dollars on my meal card and what kinds of proteins I can eat to stave off the hunger. I want that kind of farcical, free femininity. To be in neon spandex, singing.

We sit down to portions of macaroni and cheese and chicken teriyaki. Portions that were decided for us by other students, with scoops. Maybe portions they thought we deserved, whether big or little. We get side salads of dark colored vegetables. We eat and then are ashamed. We tell each other it’s ok and our eyes say otherwise. My pants are a size nine. We get ice cream and add dark chocolate sauce.

I go to my evening class and it’s world history and I see the pictures in the text. They are muted and green. The voices in the class are muted and I imagine eyes on me, and I know they are imagined. I blend into the text. The figures of people come in friendly peach shades. I see the Edwardian figures with their corsets and I fantasize about the way that that fabric holds them in. I feel the tube of my stomach over my pants and I wish I could skim it off with an exacto and throw it in the trash, a beige gutted snake.

Julie calls me at 10:30 and asks me if I want to go running. We do. It’s snowing and we wear our back packs, gauged tight to our shoulders, trekking across campus to the library. Our cheeks windburn with the tiny chunks of sleet. Portions of my lungs freeze stiff and our tennis shoes slip on the ice. We laugh at the intensity. We stop at the library café and order large white chocolate mochas. We laugh on the sugar. I excuse myself to the bathroom and I wipe the mascara from underneath my eyes. I catch a view of my profile and spend the next five minutes determining at which angles my double chin shows up less. I push it out and then in, making it worse and enjoying the ripple. I feel invigorated. I pick at the skin. I return to Julie and we unpack our bags and begin to study as we dissolve into the oversized red foam couches. I focus only for a moment and for the rest I count.

We walk slowly back and I’m counting calories. 2100 is the count for the day. My stomach pushes out like a newborn. We discuss moderate and anaerobic exercise and how long we could run before falling to exhaustion. When do muscles stop?

At 12:32 we talk about splitting a pizza. There is a shop called The Muncherie less than a block away between two dorms. Its low ceiling helps me feel contained. We order a Hawaiian pizza because it is feminine and I get Poptarts and chocolate milk as well. I start drinking the pint on the way home and gulp it. It is 2/3 gone before I realize it is sour. Julie agrees that I should return it. I return it to The Muncherie and they give me another. I drink a quarter of it because I have to.

About 2 in the morning one of us mentions a diet plan. We’ve tried low calorie and we are bad at it. We encourage each other to lose control and sometimes put food in each other’s hands or on each other’s plates. Heaps of mashed potatoes. Mike and Ikes. The new diet is called Forbidden, a name that makes its extremity laughable. Only raw fruits and vegetables are permissible.

On day 2 I am dizzy. I feel fanatical. I have a cup of noodles in my hand and it’s 3 in the morning and I’m thinking about the saturated fat. I go sit on the bathroom floor and hope my roommates don’t wake up. The plywood of the cabinets is etched and I wonder who else sat here too. Tiny silverfish come out of the cracks in the concrete block walls. I pinch the fat hanging down from my forearms. It reminds me of curds and whey.

I put down the cup of noodles and walk to The Muncherie. The wind is biting my face and I feel more vulnerable in this without Julie. I wander the aisles, Baked Sour Cream Lays have less calories. I think about having to pay twice, once for the price and once for the calories. 3 chocolate cupcakes have 300 calories in the reduced fat version. I buy only a 2 liter of Orange Fanta. Something about the unabashed chemical content lures me. It is not an imposter. I wait for the monotony of this eating to break into terror, as it always does. I return to my dorm room and fill 4 travel mugs with Fanta and line them up in our mini-fridge.

Brunch on Sundays is the worst because I am barely awake and vulnerable with weak ideas of what I should be. I go with my roommates, for socialness, and the chocolate chip coffee cake has at least 170 calories a slice. I smell the eggs that are mixed with powdered milk and I wish for that push back of texture. I clutch my coffee mug. I sip the orangeness and the chemical fizz fills my nose.

I put only 1 muffin on my plate. Something brown and full of grains. I put the muffin in my book bag and make a game out of trying to get it out of the dining hall. The attendants do bag checks. My roommates ask me why I am not eating and rant about how wonderful the apple crisp is today. I know it isn’t that good, that the game is to deify it. They want to make me like them. They want to give up as a group, in hedonism, so they feel less guilt. One of my roommates has gained at least 10 pounds in the first few months of college and I wonder how she can accept it. She talks about the weight. Her fiancé comes over and they say it’s fine and then they go to the gym. I resent their presence.

In my room, I tear that muffin apart into tiny pieces. Crumbs and bits of bran. I smush them between my fingers and I’m crying. I put the pieces in the garbage, covering them with paper towels. I run my fingers over my stomach and try to invert my belly button, a sick game of reversal. I want to be outside of this body.

Mark comes over and he’s already a bit drunk. He puts his ipod directly onto my stereo. I’m relieved he’s drunk, but when we lay down, I feel his hand on my thigh and can only think of the way it is dough. I imagine his fingers pushing through it and the sticky white bulk pulling from his hand when he sits up. I see it stuck to him and the way he would try to pull it off, but it won’t ever come off. His lanky limbs slide off the couch when he realizes I’m not participating. He mumbles and walks out.

Julie and I decide to go to run at the gym. We go late at night, after our 10 pm classes. We ride the bus because it is at least a mile away and there is too much ice to run outside today. We split up once there and while she does the elliptical, I consider skipping out on running. I forgive myself and walk for a while. Then the guilt comes and I run until I really hurt and I keep going and I step out and vomit in the locker room. I flush and flush the toilet to cover it. I imagine vomiting the Fanta in class. It would be so obvious in its orangeness that it was the only thing in my stomach. The way people would remember it always, because it would be so visual. They would see the bubbles and the acid smell would go to them too. I mention the vomiting after running to Julie and she agrees that it happens sometimes.

I step on the gym scale and I weigh 148 pounds, an all time high. I feel powerful and disgusting. I am daring to be this huge. My size is my definition, come to fruition. It fights its bounds, never coming to a lovely place. I know that I am losing my waist; my thighs are touching each other at all times. I move the flesh that hangs loosely around my femurs. It keeps moving after I let go. Julie weighs a lot less and she is shorter and this somehow makes the competition less horrible, though we always watch each other’s weights, pretending not to compare. I know that she thinks it’s too much and so do I.

I clutch my coffee mug on the way home on the bus and smell its acidity. I tell people it is herbal tea. Good for digestion. The Fanta makes me feel slightly nauseous all the time. I love the way it leaves a stinging sour aftertaste. It coats my teeth and reminds me that I have eaten.

Back in my room, I hide the Fanta bottle behind the couch. When I need some, when it’s overwhelming, I reach behind the couch. I pretend it’s a joke and take long sips of the orange, like I’m an alcoholic. My roommates and I laugh.

Read More By Alice Clark

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