She dreamed of food. She always did, these days. Pork chops and creamed corn. Hamburgers with concentric rings of onion, thick rounds of tomato. Long skinny French fries crystallized with salt. Golden-skinned chicken. The quivering density of the pimento loaf her mother favored. Loaded baked potatoes pocked with bacon bits. Lemon cake. Bouquets of broccoli.
Even in her dreams, her stomach saluted the images with a symphony of longing.
The food dreams always ended the same, with her standing in a hole or a well looking up at faces peering down: her mother in her perpetual curlers, her daddy when he still had all of his hair and the intent, absentminded expression he wore when he was getting ready to go out (she could almost hear the jingling his keys in his pocket,). The woman from the poetry workshop who said she had a promising voice. The therapist she went to for smoking. The doctor who found the cyst. The man she’d dated for nearly four months two years ago.
And her own face, a pale disk with unblinking dark eyes like gunshot wounds.
Then everyone – even herself – pulled back from the mouth of the hole and there was nothing to see but the white round eye of nothingness. Then she’d wake up.
“They keeping you busy around here?”
Lynette started. She was sitting at her desk, eating her lunch. The remembered dream popped from her consciousness, an ephemeral bubble.
Skir-ilil went her stomach.
Lynette blushed, but the associate did not seem to notice. She smiled pleasantly at Lynette.
Lynette did not smile back. She knew the difference between nice and needy. She’d seen it before: the new associates scurrying around, frantic as chicks, eager for any approval, even from the dowdy little assistant. Then they got their first big case, their first pat on the back, and never noticed Lynette again except to ask for copies and coffee.
“Um, yes.” Lynette swallowed a mouthful of her sandwich. She always ate at her desk in case one of the partners needed something.
Her stomach gave a small falsetto moan.
“It’s amazing you can stay so slim,” the associate said. “I don’t know how you do it!” She patted her stomach, which looked admirably flat to Lynette.
Lynette plucked at her dress, which bagged loosely around her small breasts. She probably weighed the same as the associate, but the pound distribution was radically different: the petite associate was all rounded melons and perky peaches whereas Lynette, taller by three inches, was all asparagus and wax beans.
Lynette looked down at her lunch and shrugged. “I guess I have a high metabolism.”
“Lucky you,” the associate said, peering down the hallway.
Lynette took a deep breath. “You know what they say – you can’t be too rich or too thin.”
But she was talking to an empty doorway – the associate had wandered off.
Grrr-rrrr went her stomach.
She finished her lunch and did some filing, her stomach cheeping and screeping in the afternoon quiet. At the end of the day there was a small celebration in the conference room – cake and punch to celebrate a junior partner’s birthday. Lynette wrapped up two pieces to take with her when she visited her father.
“You’re too damn scrawny.” Her father talked through a mouthful of soggy black crumbs. He ate the cake with a studied determination that suggested perseverance rather than pleasure.
“I’m fine, daddy.”
Feey- illlll – rill, her stomach sirened.
“A man likes a woman with a little meat on her bones.” Her father cackled unpleasantly. He jingled his bathrobe pocket. Lynette winced, wondering what keys he could possibly be carrying – the doors here did not lock, his house and car were long since sold. She certainly hadn’t given him a duplicate to her little flat.
“Anita Bryant. Jane Mansfield,” he continued. “Yes sir. They don’t make women like that anymore.”
Lynette’s intestines moinked and poinked.
He frowned. “What ails you, girl?”
Lynette shrugged. “I’m fine daddy.”
He cocked his head and gave her a sympathetic look. She smiled tentatively back. then jumped as she felt a light scratching on her thigh. She pushed back from the table with a gasp, in time to see her father’s crabbed, blue-veined claw withdraw.
“Spider!” he chortled. “Spider gonna get you! Crawl right up your pants!”
“That’s not funny, daddy,” she told him, trying to control the tremble in her voice.
“Sure it is. Jumping like a sissy at a little spider. Never saw the like.” Still laughing his harsh crow laugh, he rose and shuffled out to the common area to watch television.
Lynette took deep breaths. Twenty years and he was still making the same stupid jokes.
When she was a girl, her father had a workshop in the basement; Lynette would loiter there as he worked on his projects. He usually listened to a ballgame on the radio as he worked, but sometimes he would deign to explain something to her. If she asked good questions, he might even boost her up to sit on the table so she could see what he was doing.
On one of these occasions, a spider crawled into the opening of her Bermudas. She had leaped from the table, screaming. She had sprained her ankle but barely felt the pain – it was the skittery feel of the spider moving up her thigh that made her scream. She had screamed herself hoarse, unwilling to crush the crawling thing against herself, unable to take her shorts down and see its hairy-legged reality crouched blackly on her underwear like a living stain.
Her father wrestled her pants off and then held the spider in his palm, commanding her to see what had got her caterwauling like a scalded cat. She had refused, actually put her hands over her eyes. She had stayed that way until Daddy pulled her pants up and told her to run upstairs and not bother anyone about her stupid spider stories.
When her heart had resumed something like a normal rhythm, Lynette followed the sounds of “Wheel of Fortune” into the common room.
A man sat on the long nubby couch in front of the TV. He wore a dusty-looking orange velour robe. An ammonia smell hung around him like a toxic yellow cloud.
Lynette’s father sat in a folding chair next to the couch. He ignored the robe man; the robe man ignored him.
“May I sit here?” Lynette asked the robe man.
“Certainly. It would appear Mr. Churchill has been detained.” The robe man’s eyes never left the television.
”Um, thanks.” She sat gingerly on the couch. Stiff wooly nubbins poked itchily at the backs of her nyloned knees.
“Your robe is very nice,” she told the man.
“Your tits are very nice,” the robe man said in a pleasant voice, still staring at Wheel.
Lynette wasn’t sure if the man was talking to her or Vanna White. Her stomach yodeled. The robe man looked at her and winked. The tip of his gray tongue poked out beneath his stringy mustache.
Lynette rose and moved to the only other couch in the lounge – a green vinyl affair. An enormously fat woman with the small, flattened head of lizard sat dead center, the cushions sticking up on either side of her thick hams like wings.
Nur-nur-nur, Lynette’s lower gastrointestinal tract confided. The fat woman looked at her but did not move. Lynette perched on the arm of the couch.
“It is just as I thought,” the robe man announced.
“Shaddap your yapping,” Lynette’s father grunted.
The contestants on the television chattered with Pat and Vanna, the conversation like a volleyball match played with marshmallows. Her father barely looked up when Lynette told him good night and asked if there was anything she could bring next time.
Her apartment was a small gray box nestled in a rectangle of identical small gray boxes. She put her key in the lock and cracked the door open a few inches and listened for a moment. Then she reached her hand through the crack and flicked the light switch as she swung the door open.
As always, there was a sense of movement- of furniture leaping back into place, the rug subtly righting itself. Of tall thin men receding quickly into shadowy corners. Of doors snicking shut. The whispery scamper of feet across carpet.
“Ah, what a day!” She meant the words to sound homey, relieved, but they came out sounding tiny, swallowed by the thick wooly quiet.
She pushed through the door, turning on a path of lamps to the kitchen to begin her nightly ritual: heat up leftovers, eat. Wash her face and brush her teeth, into her pajamas and then an hour of TV before bed.
In the eleven years she had lived in this apartment, her routine never varied, except for the Larry period. Then, they’d eat at a restaurant or sometimes his place. During the four months they dated Larry had came back to her place only once. He had called it nice, which made Lynette disinclined to pursue her occasional dream of getting a condo closer to her father. It would make her commute to work longer. Besides, if she moved, Larry would no longer know where she lived.
She patted her stomach, which seemed to roil beneath her hand like a pit of snakes. Lynette snatched her hand away, rolled over and slept.
The next visit she brought her father a two pack of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The nurses at the home didn’t like her bringing sweets. They thought sugar late at night disrupted his sleep. But Lynette had learned that when he was eating, he didn’t talk, which was something of a relief. And though the sweets didn’t make him compliant, exactly, Lynette imagined he was somewhat pleased with her for bringing them. His teasing proved it.
He was asleep when she arrived. Lynette sat next to him for awhile, in case he woke up. After awhile she glanced up from her book to see his open eyes on her. She flinched in surprise.
“What time is it?”
“It’s ten o’clock, daddy. A little after. How are you feeling?”
“You’re late,” he said.
“I’ve been here for an hour, daddy,” she told him.
He closed his eyes. “Are you still seeing your young man?” he asked.
He said the words young man, Lynette thought, like they were two old turds he was spitting out of his mouth.
“No, daddy,” Lynette told him. “I told you, his momma got sick.”
“Dumped you, huh?” he cackled. In a minute he was breathing the long harsh breaths of sleep.
She kissed his forehead and slipped the doughnut box into his nightstand drawer, leaving it open a crack so he’d be sure to see it. After a moment she removed her black hair ribbon and dangled an end over the lip of the drawer – now he couldn’t miss it. But then again, the nurses would see it too…one of them might take the donuts for herself. The nurses here were all fat. Lynette sighed and re-tied the ribbon into her limp hair.
Maybe it was her father’s teasing that made her dream of Larry. In the dream, he perched on her desk at work, brazenly toying with her hair, caressing her ear. She giggled and slapped playfully at him, but the dream-Larry kept caressing her, his fingers as long and dexterous as the bendy straws they put in her father’s drinks at the home.
”Stop it, Larry,” her dream self laughed, her eyes on the door. She was half-hoping, half-afraid the assistant would wander past and see them. Beneath the lank cave of her hair, Larry’s finger slid to cup the back of her head. She shivered as it continued its journey to stroke and tickle the nape of her neck. When it tenderly circled her neck she smiled and opened her eyes and saw how Larry’s fingers had grown long and pink and wormy as octopus tentacles.
“Eeeeee rrrrrrr,” Larry said, and she tried to scream but for a second the fleshy loop of his finger tightened, tightened like a noose and she couldn’t breathe…
She woke with a gasp, her heart pounding. But in a few moments she quieted; it had, after all, been nice to dream of Larry touching her, even if he had tentacle fingers. Larry had taken her virginity, something she hadn’t told him at the time. She had no regrets, though. No matter what daddy said, thirty-one was old enough to have a mature relationship. She was only sorry that Larry’s mother had become ill so soon after their first real time.
She drifted off to sleep again, and when she felt the ghostly finger trace her spine and slip upwards to caress her shoulder she gave a sleepy smile.
Mmmmmm, she moaned.
Rrrrrrrrrrrrrr, came the soft reply, and the lightest, featheriest touch on her cheek…
“Did you get those briefs copied like I asked?” The new associate stood in her doorway, clutching a box of files.
Kweee ki ki!
“Um, yes,” Lynette told her. She took a sip of water, hoping to quiet her stomach. “I’ve got them right here. I mean, I’ll have them done in a minute.”
The assistant cocked her head. “Goodness, is that your stomach? You should get yourself some breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day, you know. ”
“OK,” Lynette said.
“So!” The assistant was brisk. “Put those files on my desk? And there are two more of these…” she hefted her box “…in the conference room. Bring those too. And bring me a bagel and latte from downstairs when you go get your breakfast. ”
“OK, sure,” Lynette said.
“Goodness, you better go now before you stomach stages a revolt or something. Oh, and make sure to get that latte with 2 percent milk and one artificial sweetener – the kind in the blue packet, not the pink,” the assistant said.
“Blue packet, sure,” Lynette said.
The coffee shop was in the lobby of the building. The travel agency on the first floor had papered the café walls with posters of Mexico.
Lynette stared at them. Larry had talked once of taking her to Mexico. She had bought a new swimsuit – a white one piece with little bunches of cherries all over – plus a hat and sunglasses and two new dresses. And a negligee – her first.
But Larry had broken up with her before the trip. Well, not really broken up with her. His mother had gotten sick, and he’d had to care for her, and then his work had gotten more hectic …the two times Lynette had called him, he’d been so hurried he couldn’t talk for more than a minute at a time.
So the clothes stayed in her closet, unworn. She could take them back anytime – they still had all of their tags – but she waited. There was always the chance that Larry’s mother would recover. Or not. Either way, Lynette promised herself she would be understanding…not some demanding, huffy me-first type, like the new assistant. She would have returned the clothes, Lynette was sure. Or even worn them on a date with another man.
“They didn’t have the blue kind,” Lynette told the assistant when she delivered the latte and bagel.
“Oh.” The assistant made a moue of disgust at the pink sugar packet. “I wouldn’t put that stuff in my body for a million bucks. It causes cancer, you know.”
“I thought that was just in rats,” Lynette told her.
Keee heee heee
That night her father refused speak to her, though he took the coconut macaroons that she brought him. He chewed them noisily. The last mouthful he spat into his napkin.
“Gah. Nasty. Must have got the day olds.” He tossed the warm wad into her lap, where the napkin promptly unfolded to spill the spit-soaked cake onto Lynette’s skirt.
“Time for Wheel,” her said, and shuffled out into the common room. Lynette followed. The fat woman was there again; the tit man was not. Lynette perched on the plaid couch until Pat Sajak invited Vanna down to the stage to wave goodbye to the audience.
“Goodnight, daddy,” she murmured.
On the screen Vanna twirled to show off her dress. The fat woman rose laboriously and shuffled away, farting.
“”Your mother never had an ass like that,” her father remarked.
She came awake as if ejected from sleep. She’d been dreaming of food again – French toast rafting a maple lake, golden sun puddles of butter on their brown tops. Grapefruit halves glistening pink. Yellow mounds of fluffy scrambled eggs. The eager tumbling of blueberries.
Currrrrr, illll her stomach purred.
She listened in the ticking dark. After a moment she pinpointed what had woken her: heaviness in her bowels. Her dinner was seeking an early exit.
She sighed and swung her legs out of bed. In the lightless dark she gingerly felt for her robe and belted it tightly around her.
In the bathroom, the street light filtered through the high pebble-paned window, giving the room an underwater ripple.
She sat on the cheap plastic ring, resting her elbows on her knees and her forehead against her palms. She waited.
But though she still felt the heaviness in her bowels, she didn’t feel the need to go.
Curr-urrrr-urrrr. The weight in her lower abdomen seemed to shift.
Good, she thought. But nothing happened.
She leaned forward, put her elbows on her knees, and pushed. Immediately the shifting sensation in her abdomen increased and she was rewarded with a sort of slow uncoiling deep in her gut. Her lip curled in desperate disgust.
She pushed harder, straining, her sphincter reluctantly flowering open. There was a sensation of crowning and her lip curled again in a silent snarl of revolted effort. She peered between her thighs but in the lightless room couldn’t see what she was straining so mightily to discharge into the toilet – the shadow of her body blocked all but the dimmest sheen of light on the water’s surface.
She pushed a third time, this time holding the effort. Her face slicked with a thin layer of sweat.
Slowly, slowly, it began to descend. She grunted in effort.
curr ur ur
She thought the cry from her stomach was louder than usual, though it could be it only seemed that way. Normally the symphony of her stomach competed with the sounds of a bustling office, her father’s barking, the frantic hamster run of her own thoughts. Now there was only the ticking quiet of night.
Of course it sounds louder, she told herself. Even her own breathing was loud. She sounded like a weightlifter hoisting a personal best.
The realization embarrassed her and she stopped pushing, but the feeling of something descending continued. It felt like her entrails were slowly unraveling into the bowl.
A small flaring pain burned deep in the saddle of her pelvis. The unraveling feeling stopped, but there was no following splash into the toilet. She pictured whatever had emerged from her now hanging, suspended above the rippling toilet water like some bizarre brown fruit.
She gave an involuntary cry of mingled distress and disgust at this mental picture.
There was an immediate, answering cry from her stomach. Except that it was so loud it sounded as if her stomach was somehow …outside of herself. As if her stomach itself was descending through the aperture of her anus.
ARARA RAROWRRR AOOOR
She sat very still, her heart thumping so hard she fancied the…thing…depending from her body trembled with the force of it. She found she did not have the courage to peer through her thighs. Instead, she jiggled her bottom, hoping whatever was hanging would dislodge and drop into the water. She squinched her eyes in disgust as she felt the pendulous weight pulling at her ass as it described small circles within the porcelain bowl.
She became aware of a low moaning and was shocked to realize it was herself making the sound.
Unh! Unh! Uhn!.
kirie koolo lil la came the answering cry from the toilet.
She felt something lightly brush the underside of her thigh. Her nerves spiraled tightly in fear. She knew that feathery scrabble.
Spider! she thought.
She screamed, forgetting about the sound from her stomach (toilet?), forgetting about the ass fruit depending from her buttocks.
The tickle came again, this time in the middle of her back.
Spider! She screamed again (and again she heard an answering cry – raaa sir lirl – but distantly).
She pictured it, a thick black spider crouched in a nest of her hair. She leaped up, beating at her hair, whirling around and around and shaking her head madly, dimly aware of the weight which swung wantonly from her ass.
The crawling tickle came again, this time between her shoulder blades, and her mind narrowed to a single bright point, a simultaneous mind-mouth scream that drowned all other thought in its shrill intensity:
Her scream bounced crazily against the porcelain tiles. It pooled in the sink and rippled the plastic shower curtain.
Her feet stuttered and danced. Spider! Her hands fluttered and beat. Spider!
Something slithered to caress the nape of her neck and coil behind one ear. She was dimly aware that she was still screaming, the sound ricocheting darkly around her head, like panicked bats.
Daddy! Spider! She was no longer aware if she was screaming out loud or just in her mind. She was drowning in thought-scream.
Spider! Daddy! She pictured it burrowing deep into her hair, peering out with beady, bloody little eyes.
Spider! came the thought scream as she waved her hands around her head, cringing in anticipation of her fingers coming in contact with its bristly legs.
Daddy! Spider! came the thought scream as she felt a distinct pulling; the thing hanging from her anus suddenly unfurled, a sensation that somehow seemed linked to the questing presence (spider!) in her hair.
Spider! came the thought-scream, louder now as she danced faster, flapping her hands in a wild halo around her head. Her thoughts became a jumbled whirl, her mind playing tricks on her – was it a spider, or was it daddy’s hand, hairy and crawling as a spider, slipping its way around her body, her hands flying like panicked sparrows to deflect him, but the spider hand was everywhere.
Spider! came the thought-scream as her finger caught on an unusually thick strand of hair, a strand that seemed to be too wide and far too flat and not dry like hair but wet and gristly……Spider! came the thought-scream as her finger caught on this strand and she pulled it away from her head…. Spider! as the slithering length in her hair pulled from her fingers…Spider! as the slithering length from her anus pulled tight against her buttock and Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! as she screamed and fell, screamed and beat at her head, screamed as a long flat segmented length wound itself around her forearm, screamed and screamed, still thinking Daddy! even as she fainted and with the shrill chirruping loudly echoing, echoing in her ear.
She woke in a diluted pool of sunlight, her cheek pressed against cold tile. It took her a moment to realize she was not in her bed, but on the bathroom floor. She sat up, wincing and sore, and looked around in confusion. She looked down and saw that her nightgown was rucked around her waist, her panties hobbling her ankles.
The immodesty of this pose and the knowledge that she’d actually slept like that made her face go hot. She pulled her panties up in one swift motion the memory of last night – the feathery scrabbling on her thigh, the shit swinging from her ass like a deflated balloon – sprang into her consciousness like some evil jack-in-the-box
She tried to reach back to feel her bottom, reach up to feel her bead, and brush the imagined spider legs from the backs of her thighs all at once: the result was a clumsy little jig that pretzeled her legs and thumped her back on the cold floor.
She cried out in pain. Her stomach bleated back:
gir a gir a gir a geeeeee!
The sound focused her thoughts. Slowly, she reached behind her and felt the back of her panties. No lump or bump. She stood and pulled them down – the cotton crotch was white and blameless. She took a swatch of toilet paper and wiped – more white blamelessness.
She remembered the shit-thing depending from her ass like some alien pod, her desperate efforts to dislodge it. What had happened to it?
She checked the floor around the toilet, but the tile around the bowl was as starkly white as a nun’s wimple. In the bowl itself, clear water reflected her tousled hair and puffy face.
You flushed, she told her reflection. You flushed and then fell down and hit your head. The thought was assured, confident…but the girl in the bowl did not agree, only stared up at her with eyes deep as underwater caves.
She lifted a hand to push the hair from her forehead….and movement caught her eye. Something deep in the throat of the bowl seemed to draw back.
Just your reflection. Of course it was. But to be sure, she flushed, jumping a little at the bang and roar. The bowl emptied and refilled. Was it slower than normal? Perhaps she’d clogged it last night. She looked at the plunger and winced in disgust. Whatever she had flushed down she wanted to stay down – not suction back into her life.
She flushed again. The bowl emptied and refilled. She closed the lid on her watery reflection.
When she checked her head in the mirror she saw a raised knot at her temple. She must have hit her head when she fell last night. How long had she been unconscious? The knot was mostly on her hair line, hardly noticeable once she cleaned the blood out of her hair.
Daddy’s right, she thought as she dabbed at the sore spot. I’m a grown woman acting like a scared little girl over nothing but a little old spider. I could have hurt myself last night. Then who would take care of daddy?
She made the shower as hot as she could stand and then cranked it an extra quarter turn. Her skin went lobster red but she made herself stand there for at least a minute, eyes closed, enduring the crawly sensation of the water sluicing over her shoulders like a million tiny tumbling black hands, hairy, groping hands with probing fingers……
Spiders, she corrected herself, shuddering.
Despite her rough night, she did not feel sick at work. She ate her breakfast with trepidation but there was no nausea, no noisy chorus. In fact, she felt inexplicably good. Lighter, somehow.
“Lynette, did you get those files sent over to the courthouse?” the assistant asked.
“I sent them an hour ago,” Lynette told her.
“Greeeaaaat. Hey, you OK? You look a little tired.”
“I’m fine, thanks,” Lynette told her.
The assistant cupped her ear with a hand and leaned toward Lynette. “All quiet on the western front.”
“Your stomach,” the assistant explained. “I guess you took my advice and started eating breakfast.”
“Oh. Yes.” Lynette told her.
“Greeeeaaaat,” the assistant gave her a wide smile. “If you head down to the coffee shop, grab me a latte, will you? Two percent, blue sweetener!”
That night at home the ritual: heated leftovers, pajamas, face washed, teeth brushed.
She looked down toward her stomach, cocooned in her favorite flannel nightie. It had been quiet all day. In fact it was still quiet – the sound that she just heard was like the sound her stomach usually made…except not coming from her stomach. It was both louder and more muffled.
She looked around the room. It was pristine as always: bath mat, towels, shower curtain. All white, the way she liked it. Even the soap was white.
Spider gonna get you! her father’s harsh cackle ricocheted in her ears. Ghost fingers skittered up her spine.
She went to the living room for her hour of TV. Her stomach sounded only once – oddly distant. She turned up the volume of the TV and let Pat Sajak soothe her.
She woke from a dreamless sleep with a heavy bladder.
Kirrr iy iy iy!
She placed her hand on her lower abdomen but there was no shifting heaviness in her bowels, no coiling sensation. She just had to pee.
Grill pri irr irr
She slept-walked to the bathroom. The bathroom was all shadows and light; in the smeary moonlight the commode glittered with an icy splendor.
KIEV VEEE REEE!
A thin black ribbon detached itself from the darkness of the toilet and unfurled itself upward. It made a straight line like a snake from a snake charmer basket.
Lynette’s feet tangled together and she fell backwards into a sitting position. The fall knocked the wind from her lungs; she had no air to scream. Her tailbone cracked hard against the tile.
The snake-thing in the toilet curled at it’s top like a slim cobra, questing toward her.
“Get away from me!” Lynette gasped.
As if in response, the thing straightened. It rose perhaps three feet beyond the toilet seat.
Sssssshhhhhhhhh rrrrrr rrrrrrr
It swayed in the moonlight, an improbable ribbon of dark.
Lynette stared. She remembered the other night, the questing (spider) presence in her hair, the unseen ass fruit hanging out of her. That’s it, she thought. There was no spider. That was the thing that came out of me.
“Oh God,” she moaned.
Sssssshhhhh rrrrr, the ribbon-thing in the toilet repeated. It curled into its question mark pose again and slithered through the air toward her.
Lynette scooched backward on her sore tailbone. The ribbon-thing reared back, giving her distance. It seemed almost…polite.
“Stay there,” Lynette said. The ribbon-thing straightened a bit, opening a distance of perhaps a foot.
“Okay,” Lynette whispered. She sat for a long time, staring at it. It swayed lightly in the moonlight, as if waiting.
She was unsure what to do. If she moved, it might come for her. If it didn’t, she’d lie awake all night listening for the sound of it slithering outside her door.
It was best, she decided, to keep her eye on it. Maybe it would get tired and go back into the bowl. Then she could slam the lid and flush, or something.
After awhile her eyes became heavy; it became hard to distinguish the ribbon-thing from the other shadows. Several times she jerked her eyes open, straining in panic to see it.
But it was always there, questing in the air where she had last seen it.
“You won’t hurt me,” she told it.
It swayed left to right, as if in negation. Keeeeeeeeeee, it soothed.
Eventually her eyes grew too heavy; she closed them and slept. At some point later she felt a light brushing against her cheek and eyelids. The touch was feathery light – nicer than Larry, certainly nicer than her father. She smiled in her sleep, and there was a light brushing against her lips.
For the second time in a week, she woke on the floor in her bathroom. She looked immediately toward the toilet bowl. From here she could not see over the lip. She stood, wincing, and from the toilet a long ribbon majestically unfurled, as if standing with her.
It swayed there, eye level. The end of it curled backward and then forward, into the question mark shape of last night. Her heart beat hard, but she recognized the feeling as more excitement than fear.
She reached forward slowly and placed her hand on the flusher.
Just as slowly, the thing curled down and stroked her hand with it’s headless length.
“Oh,” Lynette said.
It was gray and segmented and slimy looking but somehow not ugly. It curled tentatively around her wrist, as if waiting for permission. When Lynette did not react, it looped itself loosely up her arm.
It was a playful move, the tapeworm equivalent of a gamboling puppy demanding attention. The thing’s head? end? snaked upward and nestled in her hair. Up close like this Lynette saw that it wasn’t really one shade of gray, but many – a mottling of light and medium and dark grays that blended and glistened like a thousand different rainy days on a canvas ribbon.
Rrrrrr, it murmured near her ear.
It was, she decided, quite beautiful.
“Um, I have to go to work,” she said, feeling foolish.
Instantly it uncoiled from her arm. Now it swayed in front of her, waiting.
“You’ll be ok here?” she asked it. It moved back and forth in an assenting motion.
“Okay,” Lynette said, and watched its graceful descent and efficient recoiling deep in the throat of the bowl.
“You can watch me get ready, if you want,” she said. Again, the majestic unfurling. It hovered behind first one shoulder, then the other as she brushed her hair, questing close to her face as she applied her makeup. When she reached for her coral lipstick it swayed next to her reflection, right left.
She put her hand on the pale pink gloss. It moved forward, backward, briefly touching her cheek. Lynette smiled.
“Pink it is,” she said.
“Lynette, when’s the last time you were out to see dad?” It was Eric, her brother. He lived in California and generally only called her on her birthday and emergencies. She checked the calendar – it wasn’t her birthday.
“Is there an emergency?” she asked. There was a slight pause as her voice traveled thousands of miles of fiber optic cable.
“The nursing home called me. They said they haven’t been able to get hold of you for two weeks, that dad has been acting out. I had to give them permission to up his meds.”
“Then everything is fine?” Lynette asked. Again there was a slight pause on Eric’s end.
“I wouldn’t say fine, no,” Eric said. When Lynette was silent, he sighed.
“Look, Lynette, I know it’s tough on you, me being out here and you having to be the main contact for dad. You know I do what I can. I’ll tell you what – I’m sending you a check. Get dad some presents, you know what he likes. Use the rest for yourself. Get yourself a new dress.”
Lynette smiled. At that moment the new assistant passed by her office. Lynette gave her a little wave. The assistant looked startled, but waved back.
“Sure, Eric. Thanks for being so generous.”
Lynette smiled as she pictured him hastily adding another zero to the check he was undoubtedly writing as they spoke.
“Hey, everything OK with you?” Eric asked belatedly. Then: “You sound..different.”
“Everything’s fine,” Lynette assured him. “I’m, um, seeing someone.”
“That’s just great Lynnie. I’m glad to hear it. Really. Don’t forget about dad now. Gotta run.”
The day the check arrived Lynette visited her father.
“Where the hell have you been?” he grumped. “Must be out whoring around.” He lay in bed, his robe tied too loose. She could see his wasted, hairy thighs but the sight did not make her heart leap in panic as it usually did.
“I told you about men, Lynnie. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Whatever trouble you get yourself into don’t come bawling to me.” He kept his eyes on the television, his thumb pressed to the channel changer. Newscasters, polar bears, skateboarders, mountains, sitcom families flashed by on the screen.
“Guess you’re too busy to bring your old man something decent to eat. They starve a man here.” He kept his eyes glued to the screen and increased the volume.
Lynette opened the nightstand drawer and removed the Krispy Kremes, sweating in their box.
“Of course I brought you something, daddy,” she said. She had to almost shout to be heard. “Don’t I always?”
He looked at the box and grunted. “What, did you get day olds?” But he grabbed them away from her and ate them with gusto. Lynette smiled.
“Daddy, I won’t be coming around next week. I wanted you to know.”
Her father didn’t look at her. “More whoring,” he said through a mouthful of donut. On the screen, Pat Sajak bantered with a retired schoolteacher from Dayton Ohio.
“I’m going on vacation,” Lynette told him. “To Oaxaca. That’s in Mexico.”
“Lots of hoors in Mexico,” her father said. “Your young man will go to a hoor and give you the syph.”
Lynette smiled. “I’m not going with Larry,” she said. “I have a new friend.”
The night before her flight, Lynette packed carefully. She was glad she had not returned the clothes she had bought for the trip with Larry. Having them meant she’d been able to use Eric’s money for a nice beachside resort.
There would be a Jacuzzi, right in her own bathroom. It would be a real luxury after the confines of travel. And who didn’t like taking bubble baths together?
When she finished packing she unfolded the negligee, admiring the creamy white lace. She modeled it in front of her mirror, bashful and proud.
“I look like a bride,” she giggled, waiting. But the room was silent and she froze for a second, fearful.
Just a hoor, that’s all, you’re just a….
Shrrr rrr rrr! camean answering cry from her stomach, drowning out her father’s voice.
Lynette stroked the soft silk over her stomach and smiled at her reflection. It was going to be a wonderful vacation, she knew it. Just wonderful.