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The Fairy Egg

By RS Benedict
Feb 18, 2021 · 11,691 words · 43 minutes

Lovely eggs.

Photo by Hello I'm Nik 🎞 via Unsplash.

From the author: A modern retelling of the story of Bridget Cleary.


This novelette first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in Sept/Oct 2020. If you like it, please consider nominating it for a Locus Award, a Nebula (by 2/28) or a Hugo (by 3/19).

 

Ever since Mike’s accident, the leghorn’s laid nothing but fart eggs.

She used to be our best layer. Mike says it’s from gratitude. We rescued her and a couple other chickens from Mom’s house, where the birds were bound to get killed by mom’s too-many-cats or else pick up a disease from mom’s too-much-catshit. The hens live in a coop behind our trailer. The park’s owner doesn’t care as long as we pay our fees on time and give him a couple of fresh eggs every now and then.

But now Mike spends all day at home on Symposia, and the leghorn dumps a new fart egg every three days.

A fart egg (some people call it a fairy egg or a rooster egg) is a dark little thing about the size of a quarter with no yolk, just liquid white.

Folktales say that under the right circumstances, a fairy egg can hatch a monster.

***

symposia.com/s/relationships April 18 14:37, post by @he_is_unbroken

I (35M) miss my wife (26F)

My wife and I have been together ten years, and it’s mostly been good. I helped her escape her mother’s house (her mom is an animal hoarder—it took my wife about a month to get used to living in a place that doesn’t smell like shit all the time), and we’ve taken care of each other up until recently. But since I got hurt in a car accident, she’s been avoiding me. She’s always at work or at her side gig delivering eggs. She doesn’t cook or clean anymore. When she comes home (usually late, sometimes after the last bus), she just feeds the chickens, collects the eggs, and goes to sleep. She’s like a roommate, not a wife. How do I fix this?

@iamsharticus: I’ve been there, bro. It sucks. Do you have friends or family you can reach out to so you don’t go stir-crazy by yourself all day? If my sister hadn’t come by every week to hang out and drop off a casserole I would have shot myself, not kidding.

@grignrsloincloth: Wait . . . you’ve been together since you were 25 and she was 16? ಠ__ಠ

@pokeslutwent: Sorry your child bride is too busy working and paying the rent to wait on you hand and foot, pedo.

@frit0p3nd3j0: When a rooster fails to establish dominance over his hens, they stray from the coop and start looking for a bigger, stronger cock. Maintain hierarchy. Join s/frontiersmen.

***

I’m in the dairy aisle mopping up piss from a customer’s emotional-support puggle when a woman with turquoise rings on all her fingers scans the shelves and asks, “Is this as local as you get?” She points to a carton of eggs from a farm in Argyle.

“That’s about a two hour drive from here,” I say. “Pretty good, right?”

“My naturopath says it’s got to be from within walking distance, Bridget,” she replies. She’s one of those customers who study your ID badge so they can repeat your name over and over again like it’s a fucking magic word.

“I mean, everything is within walking distance eventually,” I say. “But if you want to go really local, there’s the farmer’s market tomorrow.”

“They don’t open till ten, Bridget,” she says. “My locavore brunch starts at exactly that time, and we’ve got to have everything ready before then.”

Then she sighs the way people do when they expect the world to rearrange itself for them. It’s a sound I usually have to apologize for. I’m sorry, we don’t have any more in the back. I’m sorry, but the storm caused a power outage, so we can’t ring you up right now. I’m sorry, I don’t know whether the guy who made the soup stirred it clockwise or counterclockwise. But, for the first time, this is something I can fix.

Making sure that my asshole assistant manager isn’t within hearing distance, I lean in and tell her, “I have a coop just down the road. Is that close enough?”

“Are they organic, Bridget?” She keeps her voice low, like we’re making a drug deal.

“Yeah.”

“Free range?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you deliver?”

“Sure.”

Mariah Davenport (that’s the name she gives me—her profession, whatever it is, does not require the wearing of name tags) lives way the hell out on the lake, far, far off the bus line, near the Gamma Institute of Personal Completion. Walking there is going to take hours, but Jesus we need the money right now and maybe she’ll recommend me to all her rich eating-disordered friends.

When I get home, I cook up some burgers I rescued from the supermarket’s “to-be-thrown-out-because-the-package-was-slightly-scratched” pile while Mike fixes up the bike. Through the open kitchen windows I hear the screech of a rusty wheel and the occasional “fuck” or “shit” or “god fuckin’ damn shit fucker” whenever a piece doesn’t fit where it’s supposed to. But he’s busy with something, at least, and that something is men’s work and it’s useful, and I can tell he’s pleased when he watches me take the bike out for a test run, gliding silently around the park. It’s twilight by then, and the mosquitos are out and the bats flutter overhead. Crickets sing in the copse that hides the trailer park from Route 9, and the traffic beyond it is just a whisper. It’s warmer than April should be, so warm that the bugs think it’s summer, and some of the fireflies have left the woods to visit.

The neighbors have come out, too, for barbecues, for beer pong, for spur-of-the-moment parties, and all through the neighborhood people crank up their speakers to play classic rock, country, Nu Metal, hip-hop. Their kids, bored with adult conversation, chase the fireflies through the park. Once it’s dark enough, they play flashlight tag, running and shouting at each other between the trailers.

Mike and I eat on our little porch with the citronella candles burning. The light pollution’s not too bad this far out of town. You can still spot the constellations and the splash of the Milky Way. Hydra’s crawling up out of the trees, Sextans riding it like a horse, and over the snake’s head is an inverted Y that’s supposed to be a crab. Mike tells me all this while I rub his back. He wanted to be an astronaut when he was a kid. We split a six-pack, him taking the lion’s share of it as I can’t risk a hangover tomorrow morning, and when it’s done we head inside and fuck in that careful way we do since he rolled the Camaro.

I’m up before him the next morning, up even before the sun, pawing through the coop for eggs as the chickens cackle and sing their laying songs. Mariah ordered two dozen. Between the refrigerator and this morning’s haul I’ve only got twenty-three, plus one little fart egg.

Shit.

***

s/frontiersmen May 5 11:55 post by @he_is_unbroken

She’s changed.

At first, I was happy. She’d found a way to make a little extra money. Plus, she started losing weight.

But she’s become completely obsessed with herself. She looks in the mirror all the time, trying on new clothes (hand-me-downs, she says; the credit card statements don’t show charges at clothing stores, so I don’t think she’s lying about that). She treats me like a servant: fix this, keep an eye on that, there’s chicken fingers in the fridge go fix yourself some, while she heads out all the time. We used to eat together at least once a day—sometimes just breakfast, sometimes dinner, but she made an effort. Now she doesn’t. What happened?

@masterdebator14: she’s having an affair bro dump that slut.

@intactnovax: Don’t let her outside. Annie Wilkes that bitch’s ankles.

@witchfindergeneral88: Though the cultural Marxists have convinced them otherwise, females crave a natural hierarchy with the man on top. Like children, they act out because they want to be disciplined. I highly recommend the videos of Dr. Lafayette Dunne. Start with The Tyranny of Equality.

@freepaquito: cuuuuuuuuuuuuuck

***

The ride to Mariah’s takes me one and a half times what it should, but I get there on schedule. All the way over, I rehearse in my head what I’m going to say about the little fart egg. I’ll give her a discount. I’ll bring over some free ones next time to make up for it. Maybe I’ll just hand her the cartons and run before she opens them.

But by the time I get there, I’m so sweaty and tired I forget to apologize. It’s not hot at all—in fact, the morning air is very cool—but I’m not used to biking this much, and I’ve been uphill and down and nearly got hit by a car more than once. I’ve swallowed a bug. I look like shit.

But when Mariah answers the door, she sees the bike and smiles. “You rode here? That’s great! Good for you!”

She pours me a glass of cucumber water and offers a saucer of unsalted almonds at her kitchen table. I’m so hungry and thirsty I forget to refuse; now she’ll have another reason to be pissed about the fart egg. The table and chairs are polished wood, hand carved, probably expensive but still uncomfortable.

She asks about the chickens, how they live, what they eat, and then she opens the top carton to inspect the eggs. “They still have feathers on them,” she says.

“Straight out of the chicken,” I tell her.

Then she opens the carton on the bottom, god damn it. “Why’s this one so small?”

“That’s a f—” I catch myself before I finish the word fart. “That’s a fairy egg.”

“A fairy egg?”

I look around the kitchen. There’s a dream catcher on the wall and a four-foot Himalayan salt lamp glowing in the bay window. On the counter, she’s got a bowl of fruit sitting under a copper pyramid. Magnets pin an astrology chart to the fridge.

So I tell her, “That’s right. A fairy egg. They’re pretty rare.” With my red hair and freckles there is no goddamn way I can fake a Cherokee grandmother, so I reach for the most exotic ancestry I have and pull out my best Lucky Charms brogue. “My Irish grandmother from the old country always told me there was a sort of magic in ’em, so long as you treat them with care.”

My grandmother didn’t come straight from Ireland and she didn’t teach me shit besides a rum and Coke’s supposed to be fifty-fifty, but I go on, “You must never speak an unkind word to a fairy egg, or it will create dark magic. But if you fill it with good thoughts, ’twill work wonders.” (Yes, I even throw in a ’twill.)

She buys it.

“A fairy egg!” she says with a dreamy smile. “Oh, I can’t wait to eat it. Can you bring me another one next week?”

“Well,” I tell her, “that’s up to the fairies.”

***

s/frontiersmen May 11 1:46 post by @he_is_unbroken

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

I’ve just watched about 40 hours of Dr. Dunne’s videos. What he says makes sense to me in a way that nothing else ever has before. It’s all so simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy.

How do you show you’re a man when you’ve got a back like a little old lady? I was in a car wreck a while ago and it fucked me up. I’m lucky to be alive and walking. But moving is hard, and lifting weights is just about impossible. I’m in pain most of the time (thank god this didn’t happen a few years ago or the doctors would have gotten me hooked on Oxy). Without a car, I can’t go anywhere or do anything.

@intactnovax: Hire a personal trainer and quit being a bitch.

@divorceddadbod: You don’t need to be in good shape to use a gun. Just sayin.

@cuckslayer4000: The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself when it’s not being poisoned by Big Pharma and GMOs. Check out Dr. Dunne’s video Mens Sana in Corpore Sano.

***

The leghorn doesn’t let up, and by the end of the week I’ve got three more fairy eggs and a text message from a friend of Mariah’s. I absolutely must have one of those fairy eggs, she writes. Mariah says it cleared her eczema right up.

I know this woman. It’s Dinah Emsworth. I used to work at her boutique. But she let me go (they never fire you, they always have to let you go, like they’re being forced at gunpoint) because I wouldn’t buy the shop’s clothes, which didn’t come in my size and were impossible to afford at $11 an hour even with the 10% employee discount.

The cheapest price tag I ever saw on the clearance rack at that place was for a transparent cobweb of shredded cotton pretending to be a shirt. So that’s the number I give her.

$75.

And, after a moment, I send another text:

Plus delivery fees.

And instead of a long essay calling me greedy, instead of an attempt to negotiate, the woman who refused to pay her shop girls more than $11 an hour texts me back:,

Can you bring it over today?

I put together a carton and pedal to her house. Dinah lives closer to the center of town, but the next bus isn’t for another hour and the bike can take me there in twenty minutes. The weather is mild and after the schlep out to the Gamma Institute a twenty-minute ride feels like nothing, so I’m still in good condition when I turn up Dinah’s driveway and knock on her door.

She invites me in and offers me a little plate of olives and a glass of lemon-basil water in her breakfast nook so she can tell me about her diet.

The water isn’t an act of pity like it was for Mariah; Dinah is one of those rich women who like to pretend that they’re not rich and you’re not poor, you’re all friends, and this is a social call, and the money is incidental, embarrassing really, too vulgar to mention. So she chats with me a while about her diet (only she doesn’t call it a diet, she calls it a holistic lifestyle orientation), and how the fairy egg is going to boost her metabolism, and finally she looks me up and down and asks, “What size are you these days?”

Bigger than anything you sell in your shop, you fucking asshole, but out loud I say, “About an eighteen.”

“Is that what you’re wearing right now? An eighteen?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not an eighteen anymore. I’d say a sixteen, maybe a fourteen. Come on. Let me give you something.”

I probably have lost a few pounds walking and riding everywhere to save bus money, but I’m still very far away from what people call thin, and I’m not the photogenic kind of fat like those body-positive Instagram models.

Dinah leads me up to her daughter’s bedroom. There’s an enormous four-post bed and I don’t doubt she can name the number of threads in the sheets on it. The quilt is Amish, handmade. “Rebekah’s at a wellness retreat this summer,” (I guess that’s rich person for fat camp) “and I don’t want her to relapse when she gets home, so we’re letting go of the symbols of her previous self, like a snake shedding its skin.”

“There’s a thrift shop in town.”

“I know. But you’re right here, and I think this jacket would look perfect on you.”

I don’t want her charity, or her daughter’s fat clothes, or that condescending smile they give us when they dump their loose change in our tip jars, and bitch, I can dress myself, I don’t want to stand still like a fucking mannequin, like a Poor Person Doll for you to play dress-up with, and I don’t want to feel your manicured fingernails on my shoulders while you pull on a jacket that is suede? yes it’s suede it is 100% suede and soft and just the right shade of tan and Jesus Christ every stitch of it feels expensive and if there were a sudden fire in this room right now and both of us died the jacket’s family would get a bigger insurance payout than me plus a longer obituary and more guests at the funeral oh my god I am keeping this jacket I will murder her if she does not give me this jacket.

Dinah insists on zipping it up. To my surprise, it fits over my stomach and smooths everything out until I look almost decent.

“Now,” she says as I examine myself in the mirror. “Does this one spark joy?”

***

s/frontiersmen May 20 12:01 post by @he_is_unbroken

Why are women drawn to pointless things like designer clothes?

Men’s clothes are rational. They protect you from the elements and sometimes have useful functions. But women’s clothes are ridiculous. Fragile. Loose. Impossible to work in. Impossible to clean.

And if that’s not enough, they obsess over expensive things—things they’re afraid to wear in case they make a mess on them because they’ll be out a few hundred dollars. Who cares whether a scarf has the words Louis Vuitton on it or not? It’s still a scarf.

I had always hoped my wife would work a little harder on her appearance. She was fat, and she wore baggy shorts and hoodies and ratty old T-shirts. Well, be careful what you wish for. Now all she cares about is clothing. She spends all day hunting for it. She hoards it. We have boxes of it stacked to the ceiling. She even carries a change of clothes whenever she goes out—how ridiculous!

And she’s starting to look at me like she’s sizing me up. She’s going to start telling me what to wear. I just know it. Infections always want to spread.

@divorceddadbod: One of the joys of single living is all my clothes fit into one little dresser and all the closet space in the house is MINE MINE MINE alone.

@fuccassia: Take it all outside and burn it. Problem solved.

@punishedphilosopher: Females are by nature gatherers who seek out fruit and flowers to feed their families. They are also instinctively drawn to aesthetically please their mates. Alas, these wholesome natural instincts have been hijacked by ((globalist)) clothing companies in order to drain money from families to give to homosexual fashion designers and Chinese commie factory owners.

***

Dinah gives me her daughter’s fat clothes, and to haul it all home she gives me an old pet carrier cart that she used to hitch to her bike to escort her rescue dog around (RIP, Principessa the Pomeranian).

Some of the clothes fit me. What doesn’t, I resell online. Even at a fraction of the original price, the pieces go for fifty, sixty, up to a hundred bucks. In a few days, I make more off one closet than I earn in two months at the supermarket.

I can’t coax the leghorn into laying any faster, and I know that she’s bound to quit farting out fairy eggs sooner or later, so I diversify my business.

Spring and summer are yard sale season in Rhinebeck. All the we’re-not-rich-we’re-comfortable families empty out their attics and garages and closets to make room for new shit, and it’s easier to carry old shit to the front lawn than it is to take it to the dump, so just about every week there’s another yard covered in tables piled with silverware, candlesticks, pottery, kitchen appliances, and last season’s clothes. I prowl the little suburban lanes with the bike and the cart, hunting for fresh stock.

Designer goods sell cheap at yard sales; the owners are more interested in getting rid of things than they are in making a profit. I learn quickly how to identify the subtler signs of high-end clothes: the skillful stitching, the feel of organic cotton versus a cotton-poly blend, the difference between handmade and machine-made lace, which dyes will fade and which ones won’t. They’re not worth the three or even four figures they sell for new, but they are finer than what I grew up wearing, and once I’ve gotten used to them, the old shirts and pants in my closet look like cleaning rags.

So I fill up the cart with nice things. I find a set of prewar Japanese ceramic bowls and talk the price down to $15 because one of them is chipped. Another time, I bring home eleven Tiffany & Co. crystal glasses for $18 because the set is incomplete—one of the red wine goblets shattered on the homeowner’s granite countertop at the previous New Year’s Eve party. They’re too fragile to ship; instead, I keep them for the kitchen, and I feel like a queen drinking Arbor Mist out of them.

When I get a truck, I’ll bring home their furniture, too. My cousin has a used pickup for sale. He can let me have it at a discount, he says, because I’m family. I figure Mike can fix it up, even if he’s lost his license. He likes working with his hands.

I’ve tried to get him involved on the resale end of things, but he won’t do it. Not his thing, he says. He doesn’t understand fashion. He can learn, I tell him. He spends most days in front of the computer watching YouTube videos of some scrawny old nerd with a bad haircut talking. I figure he can give it a rest for a couple of minutes to do some research and write up an item description. No, he says. And he won’t get off the computer, either. So I take care of it myself with a smartphone.

Yard sale season won’t last forever, and the really rich families wouldn’t dream of embarrassing themselves by putting their old things out in the open air for the commoners to manhandle, so I find other avenues.

Before I enter a home for a fairy egg delivery, I change into designer business casual hand-me-downs. I sniff around the house for signs of clutter: an overburdened shoe rack, a kitchen counter with too many utensils and appliances. And I’ll say, “Somebody’s been hitting their step goal!” or, “You must really like to cook!” and the woman of the house will make a confession:

“I have a shoe addiction,” or, “I can’t stop buying designer ladles.”

And then:

“I’m trying to reduce, simplify, but . . .”

“I completely understand,” I’ll tell them. “I was raised by a hoarder. You know those reality shows? That was my childhood. It was hard, but it taught me something really valuable: The things you own end up owning you. To this day, my husband and I live very simply. Everything we own fits in our eight-hundred-square-foot home with room to spare. And we don’t even have a car. Less is more, you know? Now, when’s the last time you used that panini press?”

And I leave the house with a sack of old Louboutins to sell to foot fetishists on the Internet.

“Rich people like to pretend they’re not rich,” I tell Mike one night. “Marie Antoinette used to dress up like a milkmaid and run around on a farm.”

“They cut off her head,” is all Mike says.

***

s/frontiersmen May 28 15:22 post by @he_is_unbroken

On feminine deception.

So much of womanhood is dishonesty. Makeup to cover winkles and zits, shapewear to squeeze away fat. Fake smiles. Fake laughs. And all the lies. “I’m not mad.” “No, it’s fine.”

I share a bed with a woman who wears T-shirts and has cellulite and farts in her sleep. In the morning, she turns into a woman who wears designer blouses and drinks soy lattes. Then she goes out. The rest of the world gets the lipstick. I get the farts.

Who is this person I’m married to? Who am I really living with?

***

Clothes aren’t enough. I still look poor, and people pay you better when they think you don’t need money.

I’ve fixed my wardrobe. I’ve been listening to NPR to pick up their speech patterns. I’ve updated my skincare routine with some gently used moisturizers I selflessly helped a client relieve herself of (she didn’t have any contagious skin conditions, thank god). But I haven’t solved the problem of hair. Rich people have haircuts that look simple but somehow cost hundreds of dollars at a salon. Mine’s a fucking disaster: frizz, split ends, dry and oily at the same time, and it sticks out no matter how many ties and pins I shove into it. Affordable beauty parlors can’t tame it, and when I tried to fix it myself at home one time, it ended up looking like a fucking clown wig.

But there’s a Columbian girl named Sofia a few lots down from us who works at one of the high-end salons in town. The place charges $60 for a manicure, $90 for a facial, $100 for eyebrows, and $300 for hair. They pay her $10 an hour, plus tips (all under the table, as she’s only here on a student visa and isn’t legally supposed to work). I tell her I’ll give her fifty bucks to turn my head into something respectable.

“I want a dress,” she says. “Chanel.”

I dig through my supplies and find the perfect one. It’s embroidered crepe in navy blue with a splash of hand-painted gold sequins and a sleek silhouette. It’s missing a sequin or two, and it was tailored to fit the previous owner, but the first thing can be blamed on an intentional distressed look, and the second can be fixed by a sewing machine.

I bring Sofia the dress. She disappears into her bedroom to try it on. I wait awkwardly in the kitchen with her brother, who says only one word to me (“hey”) before turning back to his smartphone game.

When she returns, she’s wearing the dress. It’s a little tight in the hips and bust; the woman I got it from was a WASP with flat ballerina tits and a pancake ass. Sofia takes a selfie at arm’s length and looks at it carefully. She smiles, laughs, and twirls like a girl playing princess. Her brother grunts in approval.

“Okay,” she says. “Wait here. Five minutes.” Then she disappears again.

Once she’s ready, she shoos her brother out of the kitchen and wraps a bedsheet around me. Over the course of an hour, she prunes and sculpts the thicket on my head into something respectable.

“You’re not going to straighten it?” I ask.

“Maintaining straightened hair is a lot of work,” she says. “You’ve got too much shit to do. This is elegant but easy to take care of. It looks natural.”

My new reflection gives me a shock. It’s me, but it’s not, but it’s not the me I wish I was. It’s not until a few hours later that I decide I like it. I look like the quirky friend who gives sassy but truthful advice in a millennial romantic comedy. Perfect.

There’s still the teeth, though. I can’t do anything about them. I have poor-person teeth: crooked and yellow. Whitening strips don’t do shit. And until I get everything straightened out, no one’s going to assume that I live in a tiny house instead of a trailer.

I ask around if any of my customers is married to a dentist who could do me a favor. Nope. There’s a dental college across the river, but I can’t get there and back without a car. I’m stuck. So I grit my crooked teeth and put more money in the car fund and wait.

One day, I notice there’s a hundred and fifty dollars missing from the safe in our bedroom.

So I ride to the credit union and open my own account. From then on, I deposit all my cash there.

***

s/frontiersmen June 2 10:43 post by @he_is_unbroken

How they poison us.

The hardest part of Mens Sana in Corpore Sano isn’t understanding it. It’s simple, like all of Dr. Dunne’s work. The hardest part is accepting the consequences, coping with the horrible truth that the postmodern world covers us in poison: GMOs and soy, opiates, mercury vaccines, microwave radiation, vinyl siding, plastic food containers, chemtrails. But of course that’s the answer. How else did we all get so fat, sick, and sterile?

I have switched to a diet of supplements—powdered HeMilk for now, until I’m fully detoxed. But I can still feel the poison in the walls, in the tap water.

And worse, I can feel it in her. She brings it home with her from town every time she goes out. She’s eating it, drinking it, taking it in pills. And it doesn’t even seem to bother her. Typhoid Mary. But I feel like shit every time I wake up in the morning because I’ve been sleeping next to her, and after she leaves for the day I start to feel a lot better.

@c0cklobster: Throw all that shit out of your house. All the unclean food, all the Big Pharma. Get rid of it. She’ll screech and cry but once it’s out of her system you’ll both be better off.

@brosephfr1tzl: Better yet throw the bitch out too.

***

The night before the garden party, I get home to find the medicine cabinet empty. No Midol. No DayQuil. No birth control. Not even tampons.

The fridge is empty, too.

Mike tells me he’s purifying the house. That doctor he’s been watching on YouTube says we were making ourselves sick. Bad chemicals. Food additives. Wheat. I tell him I don’t have time to go grocery shopping right now. That’s fine, he says. He’s mail-ordered food replacement shake powder, his ’n’ hers, nutritionally balanced for ideal men and females. (That’s how he says it—men and females.)

I tell him that’s crazy, and if he’s worried about radiation he might want to step away from his goddamn computer screen.

We argue about it for hours. He whips out his phone and shoves it in my face so I can watch a video of a thin, sickly-looking man talking about fluoride. I slap it out of Mike’s hand and he slaps me back. Then, at least the shouting’s over, the balloon has popped. I walk away and get into bed, and I fall asleep much too late with him still holding that fucking phone over my head in the dark.

The next morning, I head out. I stop three-quarters of the way there to change in a gas station bathroom, out of my bike clothes and into my brunch clothes: a silk blouse with a pussy bow, a retro floral-patterned skirt that somehow costs $700 new. Then I ride the last half-mile trying not to sweat.

The party is in a gated community called the Sylvan Glen, well off the bus line, at the house of an aspiring wellness guru named Savannah Winterbourne. It’s a catered brunch for emerging women entrepreneurs. “Like you!” Dinah said when she extended me the invitation. 

But these women are nothing like me. These are women who don’t know how much they have in their bank accounts, women who use “summer” as a verb. They were born into money. It seeps out of their invisible pores. Even in my second-hand designer duds, I’m a donkey among thoroughbreds, a fat alley cat mixed in with the pampered Persians. Their businesses are vague non-jobs like consultant, designer, lifestyle coach, hobbies disguised as professions, ways to keep themselves occupied while the trust fund drips into their laps.

They want to work. I have to work.

But I mingle and chat all the same, and when I smile, I try not to show my peasant teeth, and when I sip mimosas and nibble avocado mini-toasts, I take special care not to get crumbs on my second-hand blouse or smear the lipstick I scavenged from the supermarket after it rolled out of a customer’s purse while she was paying.

Three Irish coffees in and I meet someone new. By then we’ve all left the table to cluster into little cliques around the garden, and I’m drifting from one island of women to the next, looking for a home. I don’t find one, though the hostess’s kid has taken interest in me, following me around to ask who I am and why my teeth are so crooked and brown.

I need a break from it, and I’ve visited the bathroom too recently to use that excuse, so I wander down a path into a secluded grove, like I’ve suddenly decided the trees are just fucking fascinating.

And then I see him.

He wasn’t invited, I don’t think. He wasn’t at the table with the rest of us, but then again, he’s so thin I can’t imagine him ever eating buckwheat crepes or gluten-free fried chicken and waffles, no matter how many private Pilates lessons he’s got scheduled.

(I say he, but I’m not completely sure, and I don’t know how to ask without pissing someone off. He’s all straight lines and sharp angles like a man, but his features are as delicate as a woman’s, like cut crystal.)

I can’t identify the designer he’s wearing, but there’s clear influence from Alexander McQueen. I’m guessing it’s custom made, haute couture—a coat as long as the train of a wedding gown, spread out in all directions, made of little stitched-together bits of fabric cut to look like scales or leaves, and it all melts into the grass and flowers like it’s putting down roots, or maybe it’s sprouting up out of the earth and he’s weaving it around himself like a spider. Maybe he’s got that ultimate rich person pretend job: performance artist.

Strange as he is, though, I’m not going to lie: I would.

Standing there, staring at nothing, he turns toward me just a little and asks, “Are you the wife of Michael Cleary?”

“Why?” I ask. “What’s he done now?”

He smiles just barely. I like it better than that unbelievably patronizing grin the other ladies give me, the kind a shitty Ebenezer Scrooge gives Tiny Tim at the end of a made-for-TV A Christmas Carol.

“I hear he got into a bad accident, and now he’s out of work.”

“How do you know that?” I ask him, and of course he doesn’t fucking answer. Instead, he asks, “How do you like the party?”

And I should say, “Very much. It’s a delightful opportunity to network with other empowered, driven femtrepreneurs like myself, and I am learning so very much from these inspiring women that I do so admire.”

But instead, I say, “I don’t think I belong here.”

“Where do you belong?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Not in the trailer park, not in town, not in my mother’s, not in the Sylvan goddamn Glen. Somewhere else.”

“Is there nowhere for an ambitious social chameleon like yourself?”

“If there is, I haven’t found it yet.”

I don’t know why I’m telling him this. He probably thinks it’s terribly amusing, quaint, delicious, all those other adjectives rich people dump on anyone beneath them. Maybe he’ll write a column about this conversation for a highbrow news magazine, or he’ll spin it into a one-man show about how a chance meeting at a garden party showed him that we’re all the same underneath. But I have a strange feeling, like he’s pulling the truth out of me, like a nurse taking a blood sample.

“You’ve been looking,” he says.

“I know. ‘Keep looking,’ right? Chin up, believe in yourself, and you’ll get there, and all that shit.”

“I think you know by now that success is not based purely on self-esteem,” he says. “It’s based on how well you can bargain, and how much you’re willing to pay.”

“My pockets ain’t real deep,” I say. “We don’t even own the trailer we live in, really. We still owe a couple thousand on it.”

“There’s always something to sacrifice,” he says. “Time. Health. Relationships. Dignity. Moral values.”

“They haven’t had to give anything up.” I don’t even have to look behind me; he knows who I’m talking about.

“They have,” he says, “but they don’t know it.”

The leaves above rustle with the first few drops of rain. Shit. The weather report didn’t warn me. And, startlingly fast, the clouds roll in, and it gets dark enough to fool the fireflies into thinking it’s night. Through the trees, the other women yelp in mock alarm, as though the idea of ruining an eight-hundred-dollar pair of sling-backs in the mud is absolutely droll.

“I’d better go inside,” I say.

He nods. But he doesn’t take a step toward the house.

The rain is getting heavy fast, falling in heavy plunks. There’s lightning in the distance, then a thunderbolt, then the sounds of delighted wealthy squeals. I’m already backing away from him, toward shelter. I can’t afford the dry-cleaning bill.

“I hope you enjoyed our conversation. If you need me, call on me, won’t you?”

Without even leaning in my direction, his arm bridges the gap between us, a distance further than what should be possible, and he slips a card into my hand before I run away. It’s not until I get to the house that I take a look at it. There’s no email address, no phone number, only a name. I remember that it was unusual, distinctive, but somehow the name erased itself from my mind the moment I stuck the card in my handbag. When I pulled it out again, the name was gone; the rain had turned the ink into a gray wash.

***

s/frontiersmen June 15 16:43 post by @he_is_unbroken

When does it start getting better?

I’ve started the house on detox, and I’ve eaten nothing but supplements for a few weeks. I feel energetic, but strange; light is brighter, sounds are louder, aches are deeper. This is supposed to make me feel more alive, but there’s a strange dreamlike quality to all of it. Even the constant back pain.

I’ve gotten over the nausea, and I’ve finally reached a point of equilibrium. My wife isn’t doing so well, though. Women are weaker, I guess, and she had more toxins in her than I did. There’s a lot hiding in those fatty tissues. She’s still burning it all off. But it’s been days, and she’s really a mess. How long is it supposed to take? When can you tell they’re turning around?

@punishedphilosopher: Remember what Dr. Dunne says about vomiting. It’s disgusting and painful, but it is an act of purification. Same thing here. When they stop purging—throwing up, crying, shitting, menstruating—you know they’re free and clean.

@edwardmalus: Sounds like she needs a hot injection of fresh manjuice. Not kidding. Females need alpha-male semen; it has vital nutrients and hormones they can’t get any other way, and without it they go insane. Just fuck her till she’s sane.

***

It’s still raining when I take off from the party on my bike. I don’t want to ride home in this weather, but I have to. The party’s over. Time to go.

Dinah offers me a ride. I tell her no. I don’t want her to see where I live. If she knows that the chickens sleep and eat in a shitty patch of grass behind a trailer with an empty old propane tank rusting into the dirt beside it, she’ll stop paying my rates. They all will.

When I get home, Mike asks me what I’ve done and where I’ve been and who I’ve met. I tell him, or at least try to, as I lie in bed, still shivering even after a hot shower and a change of clothes. He tells me the fever I’m running is because of unclean foods—sugars and legumes and pastries. He holds up his phone so Dr. Dunne can lecture me while I fall asleep.

I don’t feel much better the next morning. I figure it’s a hangover. Normally, I nurse myself back up with a little hair of the dog, or some ginger ale and soda crackers. But there’s none in the house, just some horrible powdered shit Mike bought off the Internet called FeMilk. He mixes me a glass of it, but I can’t get through more than a sip. It smells like chalk and tastes like sand. So I sleep, and I drink water, until the hangover turns into a full-blown migraine, which gives me a day of vomiting.

I’ve had migraines since middle school. Birth control helped. But all that’s gone now.

I don’t feel any better the next day. My throat hurts and I can’t stop coughing. I call out sick from the supermarket and cancel my scheduled deliveries. I make myself the only edible thing we have, which is eggs, and since I’m not going out today and probably not tomorrow, I think, fuck it, and I make myself a fairy egg. It doesn’t help.

I figure I have a cold from the rain until I get a text from Mariah. She needs a delivery ASAP. Her kid, who is unvaccinated, caught measles from one of his Montessori classmates, who is also unvaccinated, and Mariah trusts the healing powers of the Fair Folk over the patriarchal oppression of Western medicine.

In the mirror, I see spots starting to form.

Fuck.

I don’t bike for a couple of days. I text my older brother Tanner (the one who’s not in jail) and my mother for medicine, for food. Tanner’s busy today, but maybe he can try and remember to come by later this week. Mom refuses; she has her hands full taking care of the cats, and besides how fucking dare I ask for help after I left her to clean up the shit all by herself. She screams at me through the phone and I lie there and cry until Mike takes it out of my hand and says I don’t need that histrionic bitch in my life.

He doesn’t give me my phone back.

***

s/frontiersmen June 21 15:57 post by @he_is_unbroken

Cradle robbing: pros and cons.

A lot of posters on here talk about how they want a girl who’s real young, so you can get her when she’s still pure and steer her right.

Let me tell you, there’s a disadvantage to that.

When I met my wife, she was barely sixteen, still in high school, living with her mother. We had to get special permission to get married—her mom only agreed to it because I threatened to call animal control on her and have her cats taken away.

And for the first few years, we were happy. She looked up to me. We took care of each other.

But no matter what I did, the world got ahold of her anyway. It always does. And I got to watch the world poison her, and I got to watch her turn into someone else. Maybe it’s better to get a girl who’s your own age, someone who’s already sick.

***

I’ve started seeing things. They’re fever dreams, I’m sure, but sometimes I could swear I’m awake for them, and the chickens are singing their laying songs and Mike’s listening to that Internet doctor talking about geometry and hierarchies and there’s that skinny man from the garden party again, the man whose name I can’t remember. Sometimes he’s outside the window looking in. Sometimes he’s here with me, sitting on the dresser in the bedroom. Sometimes he’s standing at the foot of the bed, just watching. Mike doesn’t see him.

Mike doesn’t leave the house. We haven’t had groceries since I got sick. Just that powdered shit.

Once, during a brief spot of time in which I’m awake and my husband’s not, I head out back to the chicken coop to feed the hens and gather eggs. I don’t think he’s taking care of them.

I make it to the coop, but the trip eats up all the energy I have. I sit down, right in the dirt, and then I can’t get up again.

The hens cluck stupidly. The smell of their shit is overwhelming. The man from the party is there, sitting cross-legged like he’s brooding over a nest. He doesn’t say anything.

Mike finds me soon after leaning against the wire of the chicken run, not completely awake. He puts his hands under my armpits and, groaning with back pain, drags me to my feet and helps me back inside. “Don’t make me do that again,” he says. “I’m gonna be sore tomorrow.”

But he’s not mad. Instead he holds my hand while I lie there, and he speaks soothing words to me. He tells me he’s going to take care of me and we’re going to be together again, and I remember how good he looked and how happy he made me back when he’d pick me up from high school and we’d ride out to nowhere and split a six-pack and smoke weed and fuck under the stars on a blanket in a cornfield.

“I miss my wife,” he says. “I miss the girl I married.”

“I’m right here,” I tell him. He lets me have the bed. He sleeps on the couch, even though it fucks up his back.

Sofia must have heard about my failed trip to the chicken coop, because she comes by with soup and asks if I’m okay. Mike answers the door. He thanks her and tells her everything’s fine, he can take care of his own wife. Once she’s gone, he dumps the soup down the sink. Too many toxins, he says.

***

s/frontiersmen June 28 13:28 post by @he_is_unbroken

Are eggs safe?

Well, are they? I know wheat’s toxic and so’s sugar, and fat’s good and protein’s good, and eggs are protein. But there’s more than that. Dr. Dunne says over and over again that menstruation is a sign of bad health: It’s the body getting rid of toxins, and if a woman’s menstruating every month then her body must be full of bad chemicals. But eggs are just chicken menstruation, aren’t they? The ones you eat are unfertilized. Sterile, in other words. They’re the toxins the chickens are trying to get rid of.

All my wife eats these days is eggs. Eggs for breakfast, eggs for lunch, eggs for dinner. Maybe that’s why she isn’t getting better.

***

I wake up one day and the chickens are screaming. It’s not the usual morning squawks or the laying songs.

When I push myself up into a sitting position, I can just barely see out the window to the coop. Mike is strangling the leghorn, wings flapping like crazy, feathers spraying everywhere, talons scratching at his arms. Mike shifts his hands, grabs its head, and twists it all the way around, and then her legs give one last twitch.

I’m not even strong enough to yell at him not to.

The bedsprings creak and there’s the man from the party sitting beside me, looking out the window, too. He doesn’t say anything.

Mike brings the leghorn in with him. He puts it in my hands and sets up a plastic bucket at the edge of the bed.

“Pluck it,” he says. “It’s dinner. If you’re not going to drink your milk, you need to eat something safe.”

Mike thinks I’m on a hunger strike, but I’m not. I have tried to drink that powdered shit, but I truly, truly can’t. It hurts my stomach and makes me shit and vomit and I gag every time I smell it.

“Come on.” Mike takes my hands and tries to make me do it, but even if I were willing, my hands are weak and wobbly. The feathers slide out of my fingers every time. I’ve got a grip like that shitty claw-crane game at the budget pizza shop—the one that still hasn’t paid out the Shrek doll that’s been sitting there since the movie was in theaters.

“We could have bought food with the money from the fairy eggs,” I tell him.

“It’s not right to spread that kind of poison around,” he says.

I spent years trying to explain to Mom why a two-bedroom house with three kids doesn’t need fifty cats in it and that didn’t get me shit, and right now Mike has that same look in his eye that Mom always did, so I won’t waste my time reasoning with him. Instead, I try to think of how the hell I’m going to get out of here. I don’t have a phone to call anyone with, and Mike’s always on the computer, and he’s always home so I can’t just holler or sneak out the window when he’s away.

The cops aren’t an option. They don’t give a shit about anyone from the trailer park. Besides, a good number of us have taken up extracurriculars to survive, and a lot of them aren’t legal. If the cops come by, they might notice Aiden selling his mother’s pain meds, or Candie taking in one of her many visitors, or, god forbid, they might ask to see Sofia’s papers and find an excuse to throw her in a cage.

And if I scream out the window, no one’s coming for me. I’m not the kind of woman people bother to rescue.

Mike gives up on me and cleans the chicken himself, blood and dander in the bucket and on the floor around it. He takes the not-really-naked bird to the kitchen and tosses it in the oven, and when he pulls it out later I can see he hasn’t prepared it right—it’s still got the guts inside, all full of chicken shit, and the flesh is raw and pink as strawberry pudding. Hungry as I am, I still don’t want to eat it. I just stare at it sitting on my plate after Mike plops me in front of the kitchen table.

The man from the garden party sits at the other side of the table. I look to him for ideas. He doesn’t even shrug.

***

s/frontiersmen July 2 16:37 post by @he_is_unbroken

Anybody know of any frontiersmen-friendly doctors around Rhinebeck, NY?

***

I should be better by now, but I’m not.

Every day, I wake up with a migraine, and when I have a migraine I vomit, and when I vomit I get dehydrated, and when I’m dehydrated my headache gets worse. I sleep and wake and sleep again, and I’m not sure how many days have passed until I hear the neighbors shooting off fireworks and I realize it’s the Fourth of July, or close to it.

Mike drags me to the porch to watch, but the noise and the flashes of light make me sicker. I lean down and put my head between my knees, breathing hard over that uncomfortable lump in my stomach that still hasn’t gone away even after these past few weeks without decent food.

Mike’s not doing laundry. When I can stand, I waddle over to the bathroom sink to wash my clothes as best I can and hang them up to dry. Everything is permanently moist and smells like the worst of me.

After a few days, the sweat and spilled bile and sickness have sunk into my clothes, even the towels, and nothing feels clean enough.

“You know why that stinks?” Mike says. “Chemicals. Toxic chemicals leaving the body. It means you’re full of poison. But you’re getting better, all right, baby? You’re getting better.”

But he finally starts to worry, or he gets sick of the smell, or maybe he’s just tired of waiting to use the bathroom while I vomit, because after a few weeks of this he finally takes me to a doctor.

We bum a ride off Tanner. Mike steadies me in the backseat where I sit with a plastic bucket in my lap in case I need to vomit again. Tanner drives with the window down so he can spit chew out the window. Even with the fresh air, the smell of the tobacco makes me sick, but there’s nothing left to throw up. I’m all empty.

I fall asleep in the waiting room and wake up so they can walk me into the little examining room where I fall asleep again on the butcher’s paper and wake up again when the nurse comes to take my blood pressure, my weight, my blood, my piss.

Then we wait again, maybe minutes, maybe hours—I can’t tell through the migraine fog and the bouts of sleep.

But finally the doctor comes and asks how I’m doing. Mike says I’m improving.

“I’m glad to hear that,” the doctor says.

“I think I’m dying,” I tell the doctor. He’s supposed to report this shit, right? “I can’t stop throwing up. I can’t go outside. I can’t even call anyone. Mike took my phone.”

The man from the garden party is there, sitting on the counter, licking the tongue depressors and putting them back into the jar, playing with the used-sharps bin. No one else sees him, or if they do, they don’t say anything about it.

“That’s just morning sickness,” the doctor says. “Nothing to worry about.”

It takes me a minute to dredge up what morning sickness means, like looking for your keys after you’ve dropped them in a murky pond.

“I’m pregnant.”

“About ten weeks now,” the doctor says.

“I haven’t eaten in a really long time.”

“Well, you’re not underweight,” the doctor says. “Eat some ginger, bananas, broth, rice, the usual. Avoid wheat; the strain used in modern cooking is toxic. I’m going to send you home with a meal replacer designed specifically for pregnant women.”

He reaches for a plastic tub of powdered shit like what Mike’s been trying to feed me, only this one is purple, and it’s called NuuMilk.

“I can’t do this.” I don’t start crying, not exactly—I’m not strong enough to even do that. But my eyes start leaking fat, syrup-thick tears that ooze down my face; even they’re too tired to run.

“Women have been doing this since the beginning of time,” the doctor says. “You’re just going to have to take it easy for a while. No strenuous physical activity.”

“No bike riding,” Mike says.

“Definitely not,” the doctor agrees. “Not for a long time.”

The man from the party stands on the counter, bending just enough so his head doesn’t hit the ceiling. He pisses into the sink with his back to me, stream ringing as it patters the aluminum.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” Mike asks.

“We’ll be able to tell you in about a week,” the doctor says.

“I’ll bet anything it’s a boy,” Mike says. He’s smiling wider than I’ve seen him do in years.

They get some fluids into me through an IV. I’m so dehydrated my blood has gone sludgy in my veins and the nurse has to jam the needle in extra hard, wincing and apologizing as she does it. When that’s finished, they stick me in a wheelchair and Mike pushes me to the car, where he and my brother heave me into the backseat. A few months ago, Mike couldn’t have done that without screaming in pain. But I’ve gotten lighter, and maybe he’s gotten stronger.

“You’re gonna have a nephew,” Mike announces as Tanner coaxes the car into first.

“So much for the truck fund,” my brother says through a cheek full of Skoal. “What’re you gonna name it?”

“Lafayette,” says Mike.

“I can’t have this baby,” I tell them. “It’s gonna kill me.”

The man from the party rides shotgun, unbuckled, bare feet pressed against the dash. His toenails are painted exquisitely in patterned ivy.

“She gonna be okay?” Tanner asks.

“Sure,” Mike says. He rubs my shoulder.

“I don’t want to go home,” I tell them.

“Pregnancy hormones,” Mike says. “You know how it is.”

“Sure do,” Tanner says. “Three times.”

That’s between him and his current girlfriend. He’s had another with an ex, though he wasn’t around for most of it. There’s no room for me in that little apartment of theirs, me and my chickens and my designer cast-offs and the invader in my uterus. We both know it, and as a kindness to each other neither of us says it.

There’s no room for me at Mom’s, either, and I’m not strong enough to clear a clean space for myself amid all the living cats and dead cats and dead mice and sick chickens and sick geese and all their shit. And she hasn’t forgiven me yet for abandoning her.

I wonder if any of the rich ladies from town have called the police to check on me or filed a Missing Person’s Report. Probably not. I can’t remember the cops showing up to talk to us.

Nobody is coming for me.

***

s/frontiersmen July 23 18:37 post by @he_is_unbroken

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

The demon of postmodernist feminism has nearly completely bled out of our house. I feel my wife coming back to me, pure and new again, like an angel riding on a white horse, and with her she is bringing me a son. It has been a long, hard road for both of us, but nothing worthwhile was ever easy, as Dr. Dunne says. Thank you all for your support and your encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without you.

***

I used to catch people giving sad sideways glances through the bedroom window of the trailer. That all stopped a week ago. Sofia used to visit until Mike said that if she kept asking questions about his family, then he might start asking questions about hers. She hasn’t been back since.

I’m not getting out again until I’m carried out in a body bag, Mike in handcuffs.

Only that strange, skinny party guest looks at me anymore. He’s still here—he’s always here—perched in the sink when I kneel down to vomit, sitting on the dresser when I sleep.

I had hoped for a miscarriage. No luck.

Success is what you’re wiling to sacrifice, he said, but my chickens are gone and their fairy eggs, too, and Mike took a pair of kitchen scissors to the designer clothes, and I haven’t seen my debit card in a long time so I’m guessing my husband has blown through the couple hundred in my account by now.

I offer myself once, but the visitor shakes his head. I’m not enough. I never have been, and there’s even less of me left now, beyond a few lucid thoughts every couple of hours, a shrinking woman stuck to a rotten womb.

Mike’s fixing the place up, screwing the kitchen cabinet doors back on, re-staining our little wooden stoop. In the living room, he’s putting together a crib, working one piece into the other without swearing or throwing anything when it won’t fit right away. The party guest watches in silence, curled up in the big recliner like a cat.

On our anniversary (Mike says it’s our anniversary, anyway), he sits me down at the kitchen table and pours us each a glass of that powdered shit and lights a candle. The tablecloth—the drop cloth he always used when he worked on the Camaro—hasn’t been washed enough. It still smells like engine grease.

“I’ve missed you,” he says.

“Mm-hm,” is all I can say.

“Will you come back to me? Can we be a family, for real this time?”

“Sure.”

He reaches across the smelly tablecloth and takes my hand. “I need to know that you love me.”

“I love you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

The party guest pulls up a chair that we don’t have and takes a seat at the side of the table. He looks at me, at Mike, at the tea light flickering between us.

“When people love each other,” Mike says, “they’re honest with each other. Will you be honest with me?”

“Yeah.”

I’m not sure what time it is, but I think it’s sundown, or maybe it’s evening and overcast, because the light around us dims, and that little fire burns even brighter, soaking the kitchen in amber.

“Bridget?” His hand squeezes mine just a little tighter. “Have you been cheating on me?”

“What?” I can’t help but stare. I’ve never been the kind of girl another man covets, not since my mother’s boyfriend in middle school. “Are you kidding?”

“Answer the question.”

“No! I haven’t.”

“Are you sure?”

“I think I’d know if I was fucking someone else.”

Mike squeezes my hand hard enough to hurt. I don’t think it’s on purpose. “You’re hiding behind sarcasm. That’s called deflection.”

“I’m not cheating on you,” I tell him. “Who would I even cheat with? Old Man Jake? Meth Mouth Marvin?”

“You were spending a lot of time at rich people’s houses. Maybe you met someone.”

The party guest’s expression doesn’t change.

“I was working,” I tell him. “And it was always with women or gay men.”

“So? They got sons and brothers and husbands. A lot of them are experimenting with non-monogamy these days, as globalism eats away at the structure of the traditional family.”

“Why are you talking like that?”

“You’re deflecting again. Answer the question. You ever hook up with their husbands or brothers or sons?”

“They’re not into me and I’m not into them.”

“Is that why you were losing weight? So they’d be into you?”

“No.”

“How ’bout the gardener? They’ve all got a Juan or a Julio working for them. They like girls with big asses.”

“No.”

He goes quiet, but he’s still not satisfied. I can read it in the lines of his face. It’s unbearable. I almost wish he’d hit me; then at least we could get it over with, like ripping the Band-Aid off all at once. “Drink your milk,” he says.

I pick up the glass of NuuMilk. It feels like it weighs fifty pounds. My hand shakes. The smell is sickening, like old cheese. (I learned to like avocado toast and tolerate chia seeds, but I never could understand rich people’s love of stinky cheese.)

“Go on,” he says.

The man from the party turns his head to watch. I pinch my nose to keep from gagging and take a sip. The texture and color can be compared to nothing else but cum. Not ranch dressing, not crème fraîche, not aioli, not sugar glaze—all those things are in the same neighborhood, but the way it clings to the side of the glass, the feel of it on my tongue, the horrible taste and pale color are further from those other things than they are from cum.

“All of it,” Mike says.

I take a breath and get a third of it down before I have to come up for air. My stomach gurgles and groans. I’m going to shit or vomit or probably both in a minute.

“I can’t,” I say.

“What’s his name?” Mike asks.

“What?”

“The guy you were fucking.”

“No one.”

“Don’t fucking lie to me.”

“There’s no one.”

I lean over and my stomach erupts onto the kitchen floor. Some of it splashes on my bare feet, wet droplets on my ankles. It’s still that cummy off-white color, and frothy.

“This stuff’s supposed to clear a body of toxins,” Mike says. “And you know what fills up a body with toxins? Fucking lying. Mens sana in corpore sano. An unhealthy mind makes an unhealthy body. Tell me his name, and I’ll forgive you, and we’ll all be okay. I just need to know.”

“There’s no one.”

“You were dressing up, losing weight for somebody. It sure as fuck wasn’t for me; you didn’t do any of that shit for ten fucking years with me.”

I pull my head back up above the table. The oily drop cloth slips under my hands, splashing candle wax. The light wavers. The party guest leans in close, a funny look on his face. His breath smells of incense and herbs and deep, deep earth.

“There’s no one else.”

“Finish your fucking milk.”

Mike pinches my nose, shoves the drink into my mouth. Thick ropes of NuuMilk ooze out the sides of the glass, down the corners of my mouth, down my neck, onto my shirt, sticky and wet. I swallow a little by accident, half of it into my lungs, and choke into the glass, but Mike doesn’t stop pouring and shoving and pinching, even as I cough, and once the glass is empty I hack and gasp until I almost pass out, until I’m on the floor, right there in the puddle of spilled NuuMilk and cummy white vomit, spitting up even more into the stew on the linoleum.

Graceful as a gymnast and silent, the man from the party steps onto the table and sits crisscross applesauce. His long fingers play with the candle flame, coaxing it to wriggle like a charmed snake, but his eyes don’t leave me.

“What’s his name?” Mike asks again.

I drag myself out of the puddle and into a sitting position against the kitchen cabinets. It hits me, finally, that I am going to die here, maybe later, maybe now, on the shitty linoleum kitchen floor, all because I won’t drink a glass of powdered milk, because I didn’t cheat on my husband, because I sold eggs, because I wore a suede jacket, because I went to brunch, because my uterus is a piece of shit, because my husband spent too much time on Internet message boards, because I liked riding in a Camaro, because my mother collected catshit and chickens. And these are all, singularly and collectively, stupid fucking reasons to die.

The first words I say when I can breathe again are, “Ya mamma. I fucked your mom. That’s who,” tossing another drop into the bucket of stupid fucking reasons I am about to die.

“That’s not funny,” Mike says. He looks at me like he’s thinking, then he heads over to the counter to dump more NuuMilk powder into a glass and stir in some water.

“Kidding! Kidding!” I let out one of those crazy cry-laughs like Dinah did when she found out that the gluten-free waffles served at the femtrepreneur brunch were not low-carb. “I’ll tell you.”

The party guest gazes down at me from the table, his chin in his hands.

Mike’s spoon freezes mid-stir. (It’s an antique Oneida I got from a yard sale, part of an incomplete set of beautiful flatware, heavyweight steel black molded into an intricate baroque pattern.)

And in a voice stronger than I should have, like I’m making a proclamation in front of a podium, I say, “The name of the guy I’ve been fucking. The guy I’m leaving you for. The guy who’s going to raise my first-born son.”

The invisible guest whispers something that only I can hear, and at last I know his name again. And I utter that name to Mike, and the moment it passes from my lips it disappears from my memory.

The invisible guest slips from the table, and the drop cloth behind him finally catches fire, shooting up thick and fast. He offers me his hand, and when I take it, I’m no longer out of breath and I can get to my feet with no problem like I haven’t spent the past few months bedridden, like I don’t have the extra weight of an unwanted baby.

Mike doesn’t see any of this. He chucks the burning blanket at the space against the cabinet where I used to be, like I’m still there. He doesn’t look at me or at the invisible guest as we dash out the front door, down the steps, over the rotting asphalt, out of the trailer park, and into the woods. We’re running so fast my feet barely skim the ground, and then they leave the earth completely, and I get the same feeling of weightlessness I did the first time a certain guy with the hanzi word for strength tattooed on his left bicep picked me up to take me away from my mother’s catshit house in his muscle car.

I look back, and there’s a trailer with glowing orange windows, black smoke pouring out of it thick as a mushroom cloud in the twilight. Then the trees converge between us and it.

I look forward, and the trees are thicker and thicker, and soon I hear cicadas sing. Fireflies course around us back and forth like headlights on the highway. We should have hit Route 9 by now; the woods here are only a thin strip of trees between the trailer park and the road. But there are no cars, no pavement, no sign of traffic, only a funny silver light somewhere far away.

“Where are we going?” I ask, and I don’t get an answer.

I twist my neck, and behind me there’s an unmistakable glow of fire, the smell of chemical smoke, the watery sound of a distant siren.

I turn forward. I don’t look back again.

This story originally appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction.


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RS Benedict

RS Benedict writes about monsters.