Jay Merill

What do you Thin

Jay Merill

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My old mate Ellie. She won’t be coming for a while yet but we’ll have a good giggle when she gets here and catch up. To pass the time I glance across at the beds opposite. Three blank faces stare back at me and I shout out ABC. Then I smile because I don’t mean simple, starting at the beginning, kids’ stuff, do I. The letters stand for secret words – words I cannot say out loud. What ABC really means is Another Binge Coming and if I just stick to the capitals I can shout it out as and when and nobody knows a thing. I feel better then, lighter. Like I’ve spewed out everything, but kept the soul. ABC. 

        I’m talking to myself. I know that, but that doesn‘t mean I‘m cracked. It‘s only thoughts. Everybody has em. If they didn’t they’d be what you’d call empty headed. So what’s the difference if you say them out loud? As long as you hide what you’re really talking about you stay safe and can’t be got at but still you’ve said what you want. Clever. Makes me laugh. In this place you need survival techniques to see you through. Can’t let on to Ellie about any of this stuff, naturally. She’s my old mate, true, but you know. We’re more like opposites.

        Bingeing’s one thing but out of control is another matter. I remember when we were at school doing cookery-class, wolfing down the custard behind the door. Ellie swallowed hers and no going back on it but I threw mine up out the nearby window. That was the difference between us.

        F off. That’s what I shout next. Two visitors passing my bed start walking a bit quicker. They look away from me cos they believe I’m angry or something. They don’t know I’m talking about fat. Fat’sa word I can hardly get my mouth around, it scares me, makes my tongue feel huge; swollen. Everybody in here’s telling me to eat up. And till I get out of this place I’ve got no effing choice. They’ve got me on the drip. Makes me want to puke. But I can’t, can I. 

        Ten to one everybody who hears me will think I’ve had a row with someone or am rehearsing a row which I haven’t had yet or am pretending to be having a row only I don’t know it’s not real because I’m mad. Well you know what, let em. Even Ellie don’t know what’s hiding inside the F word. 

        Truth is I need to get this fat off and double-quick about it. Fat. Ouch! It hurts me to say that. Though if we want to get really-real it’s the substance of fat that‘s the nightmare, not the word at all - d’you think I’m a fool or what? Still, from now on I’m just gonna imagine three dots for fat cos why give yourself the heebie-jeebies if you don’t have to.  I’m gonna think thin that‘s another thing and slip it in where I can. It calms me. 

        And Ellie herself is you know, much too … She’s coming to visit in a bit; and that’s probably why I’m going through all of this. When I see her I might say O. B. City out loud but looking away so she won’t guess I mean her. She’ll admit she eats way too much ice-cream and says she feels bad about it. But it doesn’t stop her. She doesn’t have control. I understand but I don’t want to understand. I never want to get like Ellie.  She’ll be here at 2 O clock. Oh shit, it’s that now. 

 

There’s a shadow behind the glass-screen where you come in to the ward. It’s Ellie, I can tell by the way it moves - so heavy, so unstoppable. It’s the weight of Ellie pushing her along. She’s always been this way. She says hello and wipes off a tear when she sees me but I can tell she’s thinking how she’s bloody starving as she hasn’t had time for lunch yet. Though she’ll have been non-stop snacking on the train down, that won’t count with her. Because Ellie’s always got her mind on food. 

        I know she thinks it would’ve been cool if the two of us could’ve gone out for a bite. And if it was just the one bite on its own you could trust Ellie to make it as big as possible and if there’s a mixture of stuff, say burger, bun and onions, she’ll try and get some of all of em crammed in there together and she’ll keep on chewing round and round and suck the moisture down. And then there’d just be the dry stuff left, but knowing Ellie she wouldn’t dream of spitting it out, though I don’t know why not. She’d still be getting the taste of the burger, bun and onions, wouldn‘t she. Who needs more? But there you go, some people seem to think they’ve gotta keep on eating - by which I mean, biting, chewing and swallowing; think they’ve gotta do the whole ritual thing. Of course, me, I’d get rid of the dry stuff at the end of the chewing stage. I mean, who’d want that crap being stuffed down into them and bloating them out? But if our Ellie ever caught me doing such a thing she’d say a word I never use. Begins with a b and figures an l and a c somewhere but its not bollocks. Because Ellie’s the type who seems to think that once you’ve bitten something and started chewing it you’ve gotta carry on with all the rest. But it doesn’t follow. It’s easy to say no to the dry stuff. Easy as ABC, but she won’t get it.

        She’s been even worse since she got shacked up with that Steve. The two of them together are just what they look - a couple of ADB’s -  that means they’re at it morning noon and night never mind the indigestion. You guessed it, the All Day Breakfasters salivating over the bacon, egg and sausage, whatever, on a non-stop daily basis.

        Ellie leans down to give me a kiss. I see her staring at the drip and I make no comment. Then she’s saying how it’s a real pity the two of us won’t be able to go out somewhere together as it’s a special occasion, and I can tell she’s wishing we could have gone for a colossal slap-up, a fancy once in a blue-mooner, no calories spared. Because, as I’ve already mentioned, she’s food crazy. I wish she’d spare me those meaningful looks and I ask her what she’s got to celebrate and she says, ‘I’m pregnant.’ And I just stare at her wondering what the hell she’s gonna look like soon cause she appears to be about 10 months’ gone already. It’s a frightening prospect and no sign of her going on a diet.  Can’t you just see her scoffing all these …ty foods nonstop.  That eating-for-two myth is what she’s gonna bank on to excuse herself, I know her. ‘And you look as if you could do with a good square meal Dina,’ I hear her thinking, running her eyes all over me rudely, and I just wonder where she gets her clichés from.

        But ABC’s a good disguise for … .because this is what a binge leads too if you don’t have the will to purge. And in a way it’s more of a cover-up than F as it doesn’t offer any clues. Also ABC could mean A Baby’s Coming, which makes you … too so it’s weirdly appropriate. If somebody’s worked out the secret behind the capitals and they somehow twig I’m not just talking about the basics I can keep staring down at my stomach when I’m shouting out the letters, to guide them into this one. They’ll just think I’m pregnant and I’m angry about it. I find that comical because, what do they know? What it boils down to is the three dots. Which brings me back. 

 

So pregnant. Am I or aren’t I?  Well no, I’m not. But I sodding well look as if I am. I saw myself in the hospital reception mirror when they brought me in and I thought, Fuck me that woman’s about 6 months gone. Only I knew I couldn’t be, without being the Virgin Mary mark 2 or something. While I’m here I’m being force-fed by the drip, but as soon as I can I’ll take control. As for Ellie, she’s turning into one of those people who are … as hell and getting …ter. I say O. B. City out loud but making big gaps between the three parts so she won’t think I’m saying just the one word. I’m not looking for trouble, am I.  What’d be the point? It wouldn’t change things one little bit. She’s my mate and I know she can turn nasty if upset and I don’t want to think of all that flesh on her starting to wobble with rage. It don’t bear thinking about. I feel sad for her but I can’t save her. She wouldn’t listen. So I say what I need to say but keep a low profile at the same time and look the other way.  Besides which I don’t want to see too much  …, makes me gag. Like when I’m on the street and a bunch of these …ties slouch by. When they’ve gone past I admit I sometimes turn back to watch them waddling along away from me but that’s just to remind myself what can happen if you’re hooked into BCS  (short for biting, chewing and swallowing). It’s a warning. I mean, I don’t want to weaken.

        Ellie says it’s kind of dry in here, and the heat’s making her thirsty. She says it would have been nice if we were sitting in a bar and having a real cele, but hopefully I’ll be better soon and then we’ll go. We’ll have a laugh together and it’ll be something to look forward to. She does have a point. A laugh would be a better way of spending the time than thinking about …ness and part of me wishes we could do it. And then the nurse comes in, says Ellie’s gotta leave now, even though it feels as if she’s only just got here.  Says I mustn’t tire myself. I shiver a bit and wonder if I’m ever gonna come out of this. Ellie looks scared I see, and I want to say, ‘Don’t look that way, you’re spooking me’, but I keep it to myself. 

        So Ellie’s standing up to go and I can’t help noticing ABC, meaning in this case, she’s expecting, and I’m glad for her about that though at the same time I’m sorry she’s so huge and lumpy looking already. And it feels as if she’s years older than me and I could be her child even. It‘s like, there’s this barrier she‘s passed through and I’m stuck here on the other side of it and always will be. She’s going through the door now and staring back at me as if it’s for the last time. That look of hers, how shall I describe it? Frightened, sad, lonely even. It chases all the words and their secret meanings right out of me and I feel this panic and search around inside my head for something to calm me down.

        ‘You’re gonna be fine Dina,’ Ellie’s calling out, but that big … smile on her face doesn’t fool me.

        ‘I know,’ I shout back to her. ‘Goes without saying. What do you thin.’

 

                               

Jay Merill


Fiction by Jay Merill has been published or will be appearing shortly in 3 AM Magazine,  Berfrois, The Bohemyth, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bunbury Magazine, Crannog Magazine, Fictive Dream, Flight Journal, The Galway Review, The Irish Literary Review, Litro, The Lonely Crowd,  Minor Literature[s], The Nottingham Review, Platform for Prose and elsewhere. She is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee, has two collections published by Salt, Astral Bodies and God of the Pigeons, and is the winner of the Salt Short Story Prize. Jay is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.