2 March 2004 | Vol. 4, No. 1


"Pat, you should start doing the wangs now so that the sass is nice and tacky," Tom says to me as he pumps the keg. Tom is wiry and handsome. I'm neither of these things.

"I prefer, Patrick," I say. Raw egg yolk bursts and then gushes up through the spaces between my fingers as I massage it into ground meat. It's a sensational texture, fleshy and wet. Next, I work a ball of pink meat and breadcrumbs over in my palm and place it into the frying pan. "Actually, the buffalo wings have been in the oven for over an hour now and the sauce is going to be magnificent. Just how you like it, I hope."

"Cool," Tom says adjusting the zipper on his pants. With the same hand he swats at a tendril of his long curly hair that has bounced onto his forehead. I watch Tom walk away as I wash my hands before tending to the rest of the food. I hope he doesn't come back soon. I get awkward and nervous around him, and I hope it doesn't mean what I think it does. My mother would disown me if it were anything as unsavory as that. But then I spot Ali and feel an entirely different brand of panic and disorientation.

I nearly knock the deviled eggs from the sill when the three girls walk into the party. Ali is standing in the middle of two others and she's tiny, in a new body. I recognize her cameo necklace first, and then her face, however uncomplicated by folds of flesh, becomes familiar. She seems like a sapling bolstered by two stiffer stakes on either side. The outer two girls don't give me a second look. Ali does. She narrows her eyes at me as I use my other hand to support the tilting tray of eggs. I use Tabasco sauce and sometimes chili powder in the mix. It makes mine distinct. Only a few have fallen onto the snow two stories below. I need to occupy myself with the food, rather than her reappearance or metamorphoses, or whatever has happened to Ali.

It's sort of a shame that I have to put my deviled eggs in the window. But the fridge of course is full of beer. It's late January, specifically Super Bowl Sunday, so they'll stay plenty cold on the sill of Tom's second floor Jamaica Plain apartment. Tom asked me to help with the cooking, said he'd rather get drunk and high and watch the game than fuss with the "squaw work." I agreed. I'm an excellent cook even if it is simple fanfare, you know: boy/bar food.

The party is filling up with people, trays of cellophaned food, and bags of chips. Ali backs away from the table at the center of the kitchen as the fifth platter of seven-layer dip is laid down. There are thirty-five layers of toppings oozing with orange grease and only three bags of tortilla chips. This is going to be a problem, maybe I should run out to the store now before my meatballs brown. No, because then I'd have to pass Ali standing in the vestibule. And what am I going to say? The last time I saw her she was fatter than I am and put me in a rather awkward situation. I don't really know how to phrase this appropriately; she wanted to engage in intercourse.

I replenish the baby carrot pile in the veggie platter and then check on the wings. They're a brighter orange than the carrots. The meatballs are beginning to look exquisite, but it's getting harder to maneuver around the kitchen amongst the party guests. The keg line is inconveniently close to my work area and a tall broad-shouldered blonde steps on my foot as she crosses in front of me en route to the beer. There are a lot of girls here.

Tom has a lot of girlfriends. At least that's what he tells me from over the cubicle wall that divides us at work. He says things about them, the things they can do and the things they let him do to them; things that I couldn't repeat without blushing or laughing. He tells all the guys at work and most of them are here today. We write code for a firm near Faneuil Hall. Our drab sweaters and smudged glasses set us apart from the rest of the party crowd, but I'll get to them in a moment.

Matt, in encryption, is already drunk on wine coolers. He punches my arm. Some fraternal gesture intended for my bicep; instead it lands on my elbow. It hurts.

"Nice balls, Patty," he says as he lifts a meatball from the pan. His glasses fog up as he dips it into the sauce on the back burner. He dribbles on both his shirt and the stovetop. "So, Buccaneers or Raiders?"

"Um, Raiders. Yeah, of course," I say, as soon as I realize that he's talking about the teams contending for the title. Do they win an actual bowl? Is that why? I never cared enough and I still don't. I want him to leave so that I can focus on seasoning the sauce. He's always makes me nervous. I'm stuck making superfluous banter with Ali only feet away.

"Well would you look at that sassy wench," Matt says pointing at Ali with a broccoli spear. Matt, or Mathias as he likes to be called on those occasions, re-enacts medieval battles on the weekends. Unfortunately his hobby infects his vocabulary.

"Don't call her a wench!" I protest and swat the spear from his hand. "And stop disturbing the vegetable arrangement."

"Relax, big guy," Matt says picking up the spear from the floor and throwing it away. "It's just food," he says as he heads for the living room.

I shouldn't have come. Parties have never been fun for me. And Super Bowl parties are just so unsavory; all the drinking and yelling at the television screen. Actually this is my first Super Bowl party. And hopefully it will be the first of many parties where I can engage with people my own age, or people in general besides the clerks at William Sonoma and Trader Joes.

I'm twenty-three and my life really hasn't begun. It hasn't because I haven't let it. My mother told me that. No actually she said, "Commence and engage, my son. You can't put your life off waiting to lose that extra baby-fat." I hope that she's right. It's easy to blame my lack of social savvy on the extra weight. I guess I just don't feel like a fully effective person at this size. It's like I have a handicap, a deformity that makes my gravitational pull as strong as two men, rather than one. If I were lithe and handsome, like Tom, I could navigate the room making repartee and handing out beers in red Silo cups. Or maybe I could even work a party now, despite the way I am, but people wouldn't receive me the way they do Tom. He's basically charm-less, but they embrace his crudeness because he's so handsome and warm. He's got lots of friends, both at work and here in his neighborhood.

Now the party is packed with these friends. People spill over from the living room into the kitchen and stand in small clusters with handfuls of chips. I don't know many of them besides the guys from work, but they've all got that Jamaica Plain vibe; liberal, self-righteous, earnest, with hand knit sweaters, and a propensity for world music. I can peg them even more specifically. Compulsively neat law students with fresh haircuts are talking torts and Bush-bashing. A glassy eyed girl isolated in the corner scribbling notes into an empty box of Marlboros—obviously the writer. There are a few freaks from the Berklee College of Music in black turtlenecks making a meal from the hors d'oeuvres, probably their first in a while.

And then there's Ali still slumped in the vestibule by the back door. The friends she arrived with are no longer with her. What is she doing with this crowd? The last time I saw her , maybe a year and a half ago, she was at least 150 pounds heavier. Is that even possible? I peer around the fridge to watch her. I stroke my beard and feel the fold of skin and then the roll of my double chin beneath my facial hair. It's supposed to hide the extra weight on my face. My mother suggested I grow it as soon as I was old enough to carry it off. I'm hiding behind facial hair and a fridge, but I'm still fat. Ali is thin. Ali is so damned thin.

I had said it was for the money. Five hundred dollars for one month of what I wouldn't even consider work, is a great deal. I was a senior in college, so of course needing money was a legitimate excuse. But actually, I did it for my mother.

She was thrilled over the phone, and certain that, "this experiment would do the trick." Just like the dermatologist had "done the trick" with my acne as a teenager and the contacts had "done the trick" with the way my old glasses made my eyes seem to recede into my skull. Braces certainly did it too with my snaggletooth smile. I explained to her that it was a study, rather than an experiment and that there was a good chance that I might be given a sugar pill rather than the diet drug, which from what I was led to believe was a cocktail of ephedrine, Ma Huang, and some pharmaceutical grade speed. That in conjunction with some vile cabbage-based diet was going to "do the trick" for my weight problem. My mother isn't beautiful, but she has always thought that she was. She thinks that I should think that I'm beautiful too. She also wants me to meet women.

But I'm overweight, so I enrolled in a study at the New England Baptist Hospital in Boston in order to get some help and try something new. I don't have a problem admitting that I'm fat. I say it aloud to people, and sometimes they're so uncomfortable, they say, "oh, Pat, you're not fat…" and then they can't think of what else to say. I admit, I used to want to believe them. But I know the truth.

The weight, the heft and shape of it, well that's not what really bothers me. What upsets me is the way people look at me: the disapproving eyes when caught on the street with a Krispy Kreme bag or a steaming pizza box, the shaking heads above my cubicle when spying the stash of goodies I keep in one of my file drawers, and the eyes hot on the back of my neck while in line at fast food restaurants. It's the pity and contempt that's so awful and if I want people to see me, then I'm going to have to get rid of some of the weight.

So, that first Sunday in September, I took the T to the Brigham Circle stop, clumsily maneuvered my girth out of the plastic molded seat and around the other commuters. I remember their scrunched faces as I brushed up against them on the way to the door. I couldn't help it.

But wait, yes, I could help it, and I was going to help it that day!

The hospital was at the top of a rather steep hill. I remember thinking as I began to make my way up the hill that hot day in September, starting that fire of caloric burning, that I was really going to help myself for once. I could change everything. And then my life would actually begin.

But that damned, steep hill might have prompted a cardiac emergency even before reaching the hospital if it weren't for Ali rescuing me in that cab. I was about a quarter of the way up, near the 'Noodle Wok' on Calumet Street when I had to pause and lean against the building. I was soaked and when I looked up at the sun I became dizzy. Was I hungry or sick, or both? Did I need an egg role to fuel my ascent? Little dread-locked children laughed at my exhaustion, and one in a bathing suit referred to me as the "Rowly, Powly, Puller Bear."

I remember being troubled over what one might wear for a study that morning when I dressed. I had on loafers with a sweater vest over my t-shirt. A fat guy in a poor neighborhood going towards the hospital in a sweater vest: of course she picked me out.

"Excuse me, but might you be headed up the hill to the Baptist for the thyroid study?" She called out of the halfway rolled down cab window. She had a big, pretty face. Round and soft, a large place to put many different shades of pink makeup.

"Well, yes, indeed I am." I said. We both knew that the study at the Baptist had nothing to do with glandular function or malfunction. It was a polite way of saying, I'm fat and am going to the same place.

As soon as I got in beside her in the air-conditioned cab I noticed that she was bigger than me by at least 50 pounds. The flesh of her legs spread heavily on the hot vinyl taxicab upholstery. It made me feel superior. I wasn't nearly as far gone and my journey towards happiness would be shorter and easier than hers.

We introduced ourselves with a moist handshake and a series of "Why it's a pleasure to meet you" and "I'm delighted to make your acquaintance." Utterly formal. Neither Ali nor I had that offhand, comfortable quality to our speech. Our conversations commenced in chat-rooms and in hypothetical daydream dialogues.

"This is my third study at the Baptist. I used to go to Mass General, but the Baptist pays so much better. I'm earning money to pay for nursing school," Ali said as we exited the cab at the top of the hill. We were high above Boston and Ali stood large against the blue sky. The Prudential building was the size of crayon behind her. The famous Citco sign lined up below her ear like a delicate earring.

"You've been doing this for quite some time now and you're still—" I stopped myself but it was already too late.

"Well, a few of the studies were sleep depravation trials," she said as her fingers fumbled around in the neck of her blouse. Her hand uncovered her bra strap, wide as duct tape, cutting into her flesh from the burden of her giant breasts. I wasn't at all aroused. Her fingers followed a gold chair around her neck to the cameo hidden in the folds of her shirt. In her hand was the head of a beautiful woman. She fingered the pretty ivory profile and frowned. I was afraid that her swollen thumb would crush the cameo's delicate curls and tiny nose.

She slowed her pace and walked behind me through the entrance of the Baptist's west wing. She was a few paces behind as I checked in at the administration desk.

She didn't speak to me in the lobby during the hour that it took to fill out the twenty-page questionnaire.

How many calories do you consume during the course of a day?

What measures have you taken to improve your cardiovascular health?

What types of medication are you on?

Do you currently have a heart condition you are aware of?

Is there a history of obesity in your family?

She kept her face down as she worked through the paperwork, not even picking it up to acknowledge the room filling with other test subjects.

People wearing sweatpants, wide shoes, anklet bracelets pressing into flesh like sausage ties, and shirts with enough fabric for five shifted on the shallow couches. Some of them talked and joked to one another; laughs and shaking bellies erupted at different intervals. "That walk up the hill was the first exercise I've had in years, and it was tough enough to hold me for another few years I'm sure," one man said. It's the case, I've noticed, that heavy people develop great senses of humor and social savvy to compensate, but this wasn't the case for me, and it didn't seem to be for Ali either. She seemed to be ashamed of herself and the company, and certainly my rudeness at our meeting had made matters worse.

All of the participants were separated for the weigh-in and physical. After I was stuck, band-aided, and finally dismissed, I picked up my check and vial of pills. I waited for Ali at the entrance. I still felt horrible.

"Please allow me to apologize for my rudeness. I'm really quite sorry."

"It's quite alright, really," she said walking through the automatic doors with her head down. It wasn't all right. She had on those trendy flared jeans that I'd seen girls wearing, but hers had an elastic waist. I decided that a grand gesture of apology was in order.

"Well, listen. We should have coffee sometime. Would you like to, as the English say, take tea? Or maybe we could dine together?"

"Really?" her head popped up and she was already gushing. Her face blushed deeper shades of pink.

"Well, yes, of course, sure."

"I could cook for you. I'm a rather talented chef. You could come to my apartment. When can you come?"

Obviously, Ali was hungrier than I was.

"Ali, I'm still sorry about what happened that night in your apartment," I say.

"Do I know you?" she asks flicking ash out the same window that held the tray of deviled eggs. They've all been eaten. She tosses her cigarette and it lands with the few that had fallen into the snow two stories below. Of course she recognizes me; I haven't changed at all. Even if she thinks she's a new person, her former fat self is excited to insult me.

"You smoke, now? It's Patrick, from the obesity study at the New England Baptist Hospital… We ate cabbage soup together."

She has a face full of dull skin and it doesn't flash into recognition, but she smiles with half of her mouth and says, "Oh, yes. Pat. Yes, I remember you."

She takes a sip of her beer and then the little bone woman perched in the notch of her clavicle leaps with her hiccup. The way her cotton t-shirt is stretched over her rib cage reminds me of a picked-clean turkey carcass wrapped in cellophane. Her voice has changed; her vocal cords must have contracted.

"You've changed. So, the study did the trick?"

"Oh, well, I guess you could say that." Her meatless body leaps in another hiccup and then falls slumped. She still carries herself meekly and I wonder how much she's really changed. She looks out the window and crosses her arms over her chest with her hands in her armpits. It's snowing now.

"I had to withdraw from the study. I think I was allergic to cabbage," I say. I hear myself speak and I know that I'm a failure. Who am I kidding? I take a backwards step towards the food table and pick out a chip. Ali watches me coat the chip on both sides with even layers of guacamole. She cocks her head and follows the chip from the dip container to my mouth as if she might be watching a rare bird fly away.

I hear Shania Twain holding out a note in the living room. There's a rush for beers and windows to hang out of for smoking. It's half time. Ali moves away from me into the corner and begins to dig through her purse. She's still searching for something, trying to look busy as I knead dough for pizza. There are many hungry people in the kitchen now. I press out the air bubbles and like the consistency of the dough through my fingers as it warms in my hands. I'm evenly distributing cheese on the first pie when I see Tom invade her corner.

"Well, hello. How 'bout a binger little lady?" He asks. She doesn't answer and pulls a cigarette from her purse. I rub my hands together to get rid of the cheese and go to them.

"This is Ali," I say and then I have no idea why I said that or why I'm standing there. "We used to be in a study together at—"

"Allison. I'm Allison," she interrupts and then takes the first drag. She's cured her hiccups. Immediately after inhaling she flicks her cigarette. There was no need to ash; she isn't a real smoker! She's a faker. She's just a shell now. She's fake. I want to tell Tom, but Ali/Allison has agreed to whatever a binger is and they're headed toward the bedroom with smoke seeping under the door. Ali walks so contrived. Her weak hips should pop from her sockets the way she is tossing them. As they enter, Matt/Mathias exits giggling. He heads straight for me at the stove and begins to eat my toppings before I can put them on the pizza. He takes a handful of sausage pieces and eats from his cupped palm like one would eat chips.

"Looks like that sassy wench has fallen pray to ol' Tommy's charms."

I step in front of him, nudging him a bit, and continue to dress my pizza. Every bite should have an even representation of all the toppings' flavors. Artichoke hearts must be applied before olives and onions for textural and architectural reasons. They would be too heavy on top. The crust must be at least an inch thick for handling, but less if the pizza's diameter is fewer than twelve inches.

"How do you know that girl?" He asks wiping sausage grease on the counter. Then he begins to eat pepperoni rounds like cookies.

"Stop eating my food." I say. I want him out of my work area but I don't know how to get rid of him.

"Maybe you should stop eating your food. Have you ever heard of self-control?" he asks mid-masticate, his mouth blackened with chunks of olive.

I see the back of my hands rise in front of me before I shove him towards the stove. My left hand slips off his arm and the force of my right is not enough. Both his feet stay planted and he bends his knees only slightly to absorb my force. He chokes for a second on olive and then spits a chunk on the floor. He's laughing now.

"You fat little faggot," he says still laughing as he walks back into the living room.

I hear the halftime show rise to finale and then the upsurge of millions in applause, so much it sounds like static. Ali and Tom come out of the bedroom in a haze of what I think at first is mist. She might be smiling, but he looks glorious. I see them take a seat in the living room beside one another on the bowed couch. A thick stink invades my work area and I put a fist full of fresh basil leaves beneath my nose and take a deep breath.

Rows of stuffed animals waited for Ali on both her bed and her couch. She populated every corner and crevice of her apartment with a happy figurine. A cat with a banjo beside the soap dish in the bathroom watched me urinate. Her salt and pepper were shaped like chicks. A monkey with a plastic microphone popped out of the plant hanging in her window. Panda's peering from atop her cabinets watched us eat boiled cabbage from Mickey Mouse plates. Donald Duck was on the bottom of the bowl we ate our cabbage soup from. I didn't finish mine, but Ali said he was there nonetheless. We commiserated about the awful diet that the Baptist study had held us to until Ali stood up and spun for me.

"Do I look thinner to you?" She didn't. "I feel thinner."

"One of the doctors told me it would take a while to notice significant weight loss."


"Well, I'd better get going," I said rising from the table. The cabbage was going to give me terrible gas any second.

"Oh, you're leaving. Why?" She asked after depositing the Disney dishes into the sink.

"I need to be getting home."

"Look, I'm sorry the food was so terrible. I need to stay on this diet."

"The food was fine."

"Well, do you think maybe you'd like to date me again," she said smoothing her hands firmly down her wide dimpled thighs; I could see the topography of her flesh beneath her stretched pants. Then she rubbed her cameo.

"No, Ali. I don't think so. I'm just not interested," I said looking down at my sleeves as I pulled on my coat.

She looked at me as if she was ready to eat me, like that passionate moment in movies right before people kiss, expressive eyes that seem to ask for something. She dropped the pendant and then threw up her hands.

"Well, then would you at least like to fuck me?"

I flinched, disgusted. It's such an ugly sounding word.

"Goodnight, Ali. I'm sorry." I said.

In the parking lot, I could see her through her kitchen window. She was pulling Pyrex dishes from the fridge and arranging them on her table. Then she began to move around it eating from all the dishes, passing herself from dish to dish. She was cheating on the diet the Baptist had put us on. And of course I was rushing home to do the same.

Alone in the kitchen again finally, I make a pizza with pesto and sun-dried tomato, a few traditional cheese, and one vegan for a dashiki-wearing musician who complained earlier. I replenish the veggie platter. The chip baskets need their napkins changed before refilling. I also start to bring out dessert. I nearly cut my hand on bakery string while trying to break into a box of cannoli. A few people have baked cookies and someone has iced cupcakes with little drawings of footballs. Tacky but nonetheless tasty. When Ali walks into the kitchen I'm washing down my second with a can of Coke.

"I'm sorry I pretended not to remember you, Pat. I was embarrassed about what I said that night in my apartment." She sounds slightly intoxicated.

"It's quite alright," I say after another bite of cupcake. I'm out of soda and am summoning all the saliva I can to force it down. The oven timer goes off and I pull out the first pizza. It's oozing and beautiful with a golden crust. Ali is leaning against the table, one hip jutting so sharp that it might cut me if I get too close. I place the pizza in front of her and I see her body shift and she steps back from the rising steam and aroma as if it is tear gas.

"Well you did it Ali, excuse me Allison. You're thin."

"Oh, no I'm not," she says still looking at the pizza. I'm not sure if she's delusional or just trying to be modest.

"Maybe, I should give cabbage a soup another shot."

"It's awful, Patrick. It's really just awful." She's slumped forward again although her head is raised towards me. She's trying very hard to make eye contact with me. I attempt to dissuade her by cutting the pie. She's looking at me with the same eyes as that night in her apartment, and it's something, not pity. I'm not really sure, but she seems to need something.

"Yes, the cabbage soup was awful. I didn't want to tell you that that night at your place I went home and—" she interrupts me.

"No, not the soup. Everything, everything is awful. I can't eat anything now but that's not as awful as the way everyone looks at me. It's like I don't have privacy anymore. Last night some guy followed me off the T and asked me for my number. Why would anyone want to be around such a disgusting person? I just want to be left alone. I can't go back to the way I was, but I can't deal with this. Everyone treats me like a totally different person."

I don't know why she's telling me this. Does she think that I will understand such an insignificant problem as getting too much attention? It's not fair. Cheers and angry voices rise from the living room as she waits for me to respond. I've got the circular pizza cutter in my hand and I hate her more than ever. This thin bitch who put me in such awkward positions, snubbed me, and even forced herself on me is now asking me for even more things that I can't give her.

"Ali, I don't know what you mean. I'm sorry you're so unhappy, but your life has begun, you don't have to hide in kitchens anymore."

She picks up her head and pushes her hair behind both ears. She stands up straight and with this gesture seems to retract her vulnerability.

"And what makes you think that I still don't. I've been right beside you this entire night and you've practically ignored me."

"What is it that you want from me, besides someone to gloat to?"

"I don't know, I guess I just thought you'd understand."

"Please, leave me alone Allison," I say for lack of anything better. And then what needs to happen occurs to me. I tell her, "I think you should eat."

"Why?" she asks and then takes a deep breath. As she exhales an odd, rotten smell diffuses through the air between us, as if dying from the inside out. I don't know how to answer her, but she doesn't need me to.

She narrows her eyes at me again and begins to finger the cameo. She fondles it for a moment before turning back to the food.

I think I see a tear as she raises the first chip to her mouth. Yes, she is crying. And then she's moving around the table like I'd seen her do when I watched her through her window a year ago, passing herself from dish to dish. She's faster now, more agile. She cuts through the coagulated layers of dip with sharper chips. After the third one breaks she sets in with a spoon and continues. She piles two slices of pizza on top of one another at a time. At first she covers her mouth to chew entire meatballs at a time, but then she forgets and lets chunks of brown chuck fall from her lips. She sucks the meat from chicken bones and doesn't seem to notice the spicy sauce.

Lustrous clumps of cheese oil change the face of her cameo. What else can I do but match her pace?

Shouts and cheers come from the living room again, but we only acknowledge them when we stop to take a breath or a sip of something to wash it all down. After we're done, the paper tablecloth is covered in grease and crumbs. Pyrex dishes and foil-covered trays are all but empty beside brown splotches of burnt cheese. Bare bowls are gaping mouths in awe of what has just happened.

Ali stands straight again and her face changes as if she has woken up. Above the grease tang, she stinks like a corpse; although I've never smelled one, I imagine it's like her breath. Her face is the same color as the woman hanging from her chain. She arranges her hands on her bloated belly and around her neck. Her thumb leaves a print beneath the weak line of her jaw.

Tom enters the kitchen and pumps himself another beer from the keg. His long curly hair reminds me of a Botticelli.

"Lady, you don't look so good. Let me take you outside and get you some air," he says sipping his beer. He approaches her and reaches for her hand.

"Don't fucking touch me," she snaps before heading towards the door.

"What the hell crawled up her bony ass? Do you have any idea what's wrong with her?"

He's too close to my face demanding answers. I panic and follow her down the two flights of stairs.

I find her in the backyard standing in snow that is blued by the moonlight. She's hunched over with her hands on her knees.

"Ya know, Patty, it's really a shame," she says maybe laughing, maybe crying. "He really isn't my type. It's a shame that guys like you still are." And then she's laughing and I'm sure of it.

She lifts her hand to her mouth. I'd never seen anyone do this before, and I'd imagined it to be a stabbing motion. But her head is steadied by her knuckles pressed into her chin. I hear a small gag and then a gurgle.

Why is she showing me this?

And then I understand, I helped her and now she's going to help me. Ali can show me how to help myself.

I imagine the cheese, still stringy with elasticity, stretches from her gut, through her esophagus, and past her eroded teeth. I see it pile and coil in the snow. Chunks of ground beef, whole salad leaves, and chip triangles are suspended in a yellowish goop that I can assume is beer based. After the first session she rises and breathes before going in for more. I reach down and hold her hips to steady her. They feel like chicken bones.

"Stop it," she says swatting at my hands.

There's more gagging and gurgling, but she gets more out.

"Fuck," she says as she rises to standing. "I scratched the back of my throat with my fingernail." Her face is flushed and puffy but it pales again after a few seconds.

"Do you do this often?"

"No, not often. I'm not a bulimic if that's what you mean." She unwraps a mint from her purse. "Sometimes, I just lose my self-control. It's just like going back in time and correcting your mistakes."

"I think it's disgusting."

"No you don't. Why did you watch me?" She says this too fast. I want her to be awkward and formal, like she used to be.

Ali is tall and thin. People see her, watch her, and want her. But she isn't beautiful. The only thing beautiful about her is that cameo necklace, even if it hangs big and sloppy in contrast to her body like the tag on a dog collar. She holds that beautiful head in her hand and throws her razor hips back and forth like a metronome when she walks. She has power and control. And that's everything and that does the trick.

I lean forward and feel my finger pass under my front teeth and on top of my tongue. I heave and cough in the winter air. My throat is desiccated and nothing is coming up.

"No, no, you must be doing it wrong. You have to pluck it like a guitar string."

I pluck and stab, but still nothing.

"I can't do it, Ali. I just can't." It's humiliating and probably nearly as awful as when I left alone in her apartment that night.

"It's okay if you can't." She says putting her hand on my shoulder. I stand up and turn to face her. She's smiling at me and twisting her cameo. "Its okay, Patrick," she says as she moves into me. I feel her slight arms come around my back. Her hands only reach my sides.

For a moment I feel good, engaged, and maybe even understood. I take in what little warmth she emits despite the coldness of the evening. I go to reach around her when I feel her head come off my shoulder. Her face arrives at mine. I smell her rancid breath just before I taste the acid on her tongue. I let her kiss me, not completely accepting her tongue but not yet refusing it. She is repellent, but I should like this shouldn't I? I should like to have a girl that every man wants kissing me. She slides her hand under the last roll of my stomach and past the elastic band of my trousers. Her hand is cold and when she reaches my penis she discovers what I had been aware of from the moment she touched me, I'm completely soft.

"No, no I don't want this," I say stepping away from her. I'm embarrassed so much that I'd like to shove her the way I shoved Matt, but I don't. She's just as lost as I am. The only difference is that she's thin enough to be this bold.

"Well, that's what everyone wants from me now. Do you even know what you want?"

"I'm not sure," I say even though I do know. I see the deviled eggs that leapt from the window ledge hours before sprinkled with snow. Who was I cooking for then? The food was for me, but it had everything to do with making Tom happy. There was more nourishment in his approval than anything I had concocted. I haven't realized this until now, or maybe I had, I don't know. Still there's nothing that can be done because he wants her.

If I want my life to begin, I have to start right now. I lean forward towards the snow.

I can feel the mass of my stomach press against my thighs, making it difficult to stay in this position. I re-insert my finger and it's almost sensuous as it penetrates past my moist lips, the fleshy smoothness of the inside of my cheek, cradled by my tongue to the bobbing nodule at the entrance of my throat. I pluck and push it until I feel something rising inside. Everything gushes up with such a force that I can't breath. As I panic and thrash against it, it comes up and out onto the snow. Here I come.


The former contents of my stomach clump in the fine flakes and I think, well it isn't so awful. I couldn't be as bad as Ali said.

Some has splashed onto her shoes, but she doesn't jump back.

"It's okay, Pat. It's okay, I wouldn't want me either," she says.

The acid stings my lips and I'd rather cut my tongue out than deal with the flavors it's interpreting. But it's okay, it's fine. This person, this thin, silly, stupid girl sees me. She's sad and small, but she can start everything. And when I get smaller people will see me clearly. Their perception of me will be uncomplicated by the folds of my fat and extra handfuls of flesh. I wipe my mouth and as we ascend the stairs to the party and I realize that this will do the trick. I can change everything, and everything is about to begin.

About the author:

Kate Kostelnik is a first year MFA candidate at the University of Montana at Missoula. She is a submission reader at Cutbank magazine. Her poetry has appeared in the anthology, Flowers from the Ashes, and her nonfiction has appeared in the Colgate University publication, The Trimmer Award: Prize Winning Essays. "Cameo" is her first fiction publication. She enjoys painting and referring to herself in the third person. She can be reached at .

For further reading:

Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 4, No. 1, where "Cameo" ran on March 2, 2004. List other work with these same labels: fiction, short story, editors' select.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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