Like none of us have ever seen. It’s late in the party; a bold arrival. The room slopes to meet her steps. Some girls are magnetic forces of hair and nail and skin that asks, won’t you touch me?
I do not touch her. When I was young and went to stores of priceless things, my mother told me to put my hands behind my back and keep them there.
Oh happy birthday, she tells the birthday-haver. Oh, one more year!
Her cake is set down on a table, forgotten.
The partygoers think food is a hazard of living; nutrients that sustain, create energy, take up empty space in refrigerators. Good for them. I watch them glitter and love, faces I have seen before, friends and coworkers and the woman who cuts my hair. They fill up my glass. I drink to get drunk.
The cake-bringer sits on an aquamarine settee and watches from across the room.
She is lusting for something. She is hungry for something. I think I know: Me and the cake, no fork or knife, just fingers, pure selfish indulgence, gorging myself, engorging myself, a display of addiction, a performance, absolutely unselfconscious.
She craves gluttony. Mine. Her with her thin bones.
I have my own lust. I imagine we align our naked selves, edge for edge: The tips of her fingers on the tips of mine, the crest of her forehead on mine, yes, our nipples kissing. The art piece is called Those that whither and she is the those that whither. In my imagination—in the collective imagination—I have consumed versions of her body in order to become something immense.
I will eat until I am full, and even then I will not stop eating.
Somewhere in the night we land next to one another. I ask her if she remembers what it feels like to devour. Her cake is on the table, uneaten.
Yes, she says. I remember an orchard full of apples ripe and pink and red and purple. She says, I ate as many as I could, my mouth spilling with the lovely young flesh, my body swelling, and I felt like I would burst with goodness, sweetness, and hoped the apples might simply become a part of me, something I could share with every other mouth.
She can share at least the idea of the apples with me, with my mouth. I envy the me I might have been had all my consumption been apples, been orchards. She takes my hand and says, it’s just a cake. It has no other meaning.
We slip between my friends and coworkers and the woman who cuts my hair like water spilling from cracks. In a small apartment, she undresses with her back to me. Her body is a surprising map of moles, tiny, flat things. She asks if I care for some water. I watch as she performs this service, bare feet on the blue kitchen tiles, line of vertebrae curving as she bends. Her body a body I imagine feels like light.
I do not think our love will be unbalanced. I will teach her to overindulge.
She is worried I will swallow her. I tell her not to worry, this is perfectly safe. Come rest on the palm of my hand; come let me eat you.
Emma Stough is a Midwestern writer living in Charleston, South Carolina, where she teaches creative writing. She has work out in Third Coast, Quarterly West, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Jellyfish Review.
Artwork by: Jovan Curayag