HUNGER PAINS by Lindy Biller

HUNGER PAINS by Lindy Biller

Eating nacho-flavored cauliflower chips is like eating the crisp skeletons of dead leaves. Still, there are far worse things I could be doing with my mouth. I sit at a drop-leaf table, grinding the so-called chips between my teeth, and you streak around our apartment, rabbit-like. You’re terrible at acting cool, aloof, whatever you want to call it, and I will always love this about you. You are tender to the bone. “Why am I doing this, what if I fuck the whole thing up?” you say, although you’re not really asking.

I stand up, ignoring the subtle aftertaste of nail polish remover. “What are you looking for?”

You drag a hand through your melting chocolate hair. I want to dip into you like a strawberry. “The cord,” you say. “The good one.”

We have two power cords for your amp and only one of them works. I stand stone-still in the middle of the apartment, mentally retracing our steps. Then I go to the coat closet and dig through the pile of mittens and scarves we threw there a few weeks ago, after the last cold snap.

“Here,” I say, holding out the tangled-up cord. 

You grab me and kiss me on the mouth, without warning, and don’t seem to mind the cheese dust on my lips. You taste like organic bison jerky and coconut oil chapstick. The idea that anyone could enjoy that combination makes no sense, but oh god do I want a bite of you. I curl my fingernails into the soft fur at the nape of your neck.

“You’ll be great,” I tell you and I mean it. Also, I am ready to go to the venue, where there will be witnesses. 

You stow the cord in your bag. I grab my purse, which I have crammed full of foods that supposedly nourish. Raw almonds, plantain chips, two small, armored clementines. What I want is a brownie, what I want is an entire pizza, a sheet cake sagging under clouds of buttercream, a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips, what I really want is none of those things. But I’ve read that when you consume all your calories from sugar, your stomach empties fast. You end up hungrier than before.

Your fingers slip between mine, unsuspecting. I carry your bag of tangled wires out to the car and sneak a dried fig between my lips while you drive. 

The show is pretty good. You are amazing, and sexy as hell. I stand toward the front, drinking whiskey sours, smelling the dinner menus and deodorant preferences and body odor of all the people sardined around me. It’s a full house. I’m proud of you, even though the crowd isn’t here for you, exactly. Most of them are here to see the girl who plays the synths and sings with a voice like whipped cream, sweet and smooth and swirled on top of something more substantial. This morning, her bass player apparently woke up with food poisoning from an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet and the whipped-cream girl texted you. Wanna sub in tonight? She included a string of suggestive emojis, peaches and eggplants and drops of water and winking faces, which I noticed before you thought to angle your phone away from me. I can’t remember what her band is called. There are fliers everywhere but I didn’t read any of them. I know it’s something sultry and weird. Foxblush or Labial Wine, maybe. Her music is all airy keys and airy vocals; things floating, ghostlike. It makes me feel a little lost. I need music I can feel between my teeth. At home, you slam chords into the old piano, you sing with a voice like browned butter. I dig through my purse. What was I thinking. Clementines. Plantain chips. None of this will do. I go up to the bar and ask for another whiskey and two full-size Snickers bars, figuring the bartender won’t judge me, and if he does, fuck him. 

It takes 75% of the emergency chocolate, peanuts collapsing between my stiff jaws, caramel sticking to the flats of my molars, to feel better. I stuff the remaining half into my purse and sip my whiskey blank-faced, like a good hipster girlfriend of the band. On stage, the girl with the creamy voice says something to you, and you laugh and say something back, leaning close so she can hear, and I lick the chocolate off my teeth.

After the show, you are glowing. You can’t believe how well it went. I help you wind up your cord, the one that still works, and the guitar player invites us out for drinks. 

“I want to get home,” I say. “You go ahead.”

“Nah. I want to be with you.”

How sweet you are. Layers upon layers of flaky devotion. Not boring, though. Not uncomplicated. You did angle your phone away from me, you did shoot a furtive glance at my face to see if I’d noticed, and that only makes you more enticing. A slivered almond crust. A hint of cayenne, just enough to burn the back of my throat. You could’ve gone out tonight with that airy dollop of whipped cream and I’m sure she would’ve fucked you, if you wanted. Maybe she would’ve done more. Not because of her sultry band name, or the plunging neckline that showed her sternum, sugar-spun, pressing through milky skin. I’m not trying to stereotype anyone. It’s just, the way she looked at you. I squeeze your hand. 

“I need a smoke,” I say. “Meet you at the car?”

You nod, still glowing. “Love you, babe.”

I love you too. That’s why I can’t have you in small plates, unhurried sips, delicate bites at the end of a cocktail fork. Not like the others. I’ll wait and wait until you’re ready for my hunger, until you’re prepared to be swallowed whole and your bones spit back up in random order. I’ll wait if it takes forever. But I hope it doesn’t, because there are only so many ways to trick your body into believing it’s full.

I go out into the alley behind the building, where bands load and unload through a dented garage door, and I light a cigarette, and wait for the creamy voiced girl to come out with her keyboard. There’s no one else around. This is a local show. She doesn’t have roadies or adoring fans or even a friend with her. When she sees me, we recognize each other immediately, even though we’ve never met. I ask her, and she nods, and oh god she’s so good going down, the mouthfeel silkier than expected, the flavor malty and rich. I make a mental list so I can recreate parts of her later, in our tiny galley kitchen, and feed her to you. There are notes of sweet cream, as expected, and salted caramel and tart cherry and raw hazelnut and cold brew coffee. Thankfully, there is no trace of cauliflower. When I’ve had my fill, she takes a turn, and it hurts, the way she cleans her teeth with my rib bones, and I surrender to it. I wonder what she tastes in me. I wonder, if you ever end up fucking her, if you’ll taste it, too.

After she’s finished, I put my bones back together, mostly how they were before. We share a cigarette and go our separate ways. You’re waiting at the car and you hold the door open for me. I can smell your warmth, like bread baking. I can hear your rabbit’s heart. But my lips still taste of sweet cream, and it’s enough to get me home without biting, without even showing my teeth.

Lindy Biller grew up in Metro Detroit and now lives in Wisconsin. Her fiction has recently appeared at Okay Donkey, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Heavy Feather Review. Find her on Twitter at @lindymbiller.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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