Eating for Two
Bad things happen when you don’t invite the right people to your parties, my mom said. I explained why I didn’t want Alice at my baby shower: She sucked the life out of everything she touched.
I didn’t mail her invitation. I burned it at the kitchen sink at midnight. The gold lettering flared and hot metallic air blasted up my nose. I dropped the invitation in the sink, where the flames went out in a puddle of stinking spaghetti sauce, and spent the next hour googling whether breathing gold fumes was bad for the baby.
And yet: There she was, gliding down the path, all lipstick and neat white teeth, trailing her signature frilly pink entrails. I was halfway through tying balloons onto the lamp outside the door of my mom’s house. I backed into the doorway and stood there filling it. If there was one thing I could do, it was take up space.
“Jessa, darling, you look gorgeous! You’re as big as a house,” she said.
“What are you doing here?”
“Don’t be silly. It’s your baby shower! I’m here to celebrate you!” She shook out the ropes of shining organs and viscera that dangled from her pale neck. Only Alice could make entrails look like a party dress.
“Would it have killed you to come with a body?”
Her eyes glinted. “Maybe if you’d invited me properly I would have.” She floated closer and all the hairs on my arms pricked up. I crossed my arms over my stomach.
“Oh, relax, Jessa,” she said. “So much negative energy.” She slid past me into the party and left me on the front porch. My nostrils burned with her perfume.
I could have just walked down the steps, down the street, around the corner, and into the 7-Eleven. They had a table outside, a white plastic chair. Sometimes I liked to close my eyes, whatever I was doing, and think about how I could be sitting in that chair drinking a Blue Shock Mountain Dew Slurpee. For just a dollar ninety-nine, I could be doing that instead.
Alice’s voice tinkled through the open door. She was telling the story again to all my mother’s friends. How she went on a wellness retreat in West Palm Springs and came home with the ability to lift her insides right out of her body.
“It was completely life-changing,” Alice said. “Away from everything like that, you can really get in touch with your true self.” She hovered next to my mom’s chair. Her hair was perfectly coiled. Below her neck a cloud of delicate veins and organs drifted, not quite touching the floor.
I had a resolution: Once I had a baby, I would be a better grownup, the kind that didn’t care what Alice did with her life. So I went back to the party.
“If only Jessa could do one of those,” said my mom’s best friend Gladys. “It expands your horizons.”
“Jessa’s always been a homebody,” said my mom. “Oh, Jessa! There you are.” She pinned a ribbon on my chest that said “Mom-to-be” and whispered in my ear: “You’re neglecting your guests.” She steered me around to all of her friends, so that each of them in turn could congratulate me and touch my stomach. Through it all Alice floated nearby, chatting away in her mosquito voice.
Pat pat pat. “Carrying high! Must be a boy.”
(“Of course I wish she could have come! Well, she’s doing something much more important right now, isn’t she?”)
Pat pat pat. “My dear, you look exhausted! Must be a girl. Jealous little things, they steal all your beauty.”
(“Oh, you’re so sweet. I certainly didn’t master it right away. It took weeks of self-reflection.”)
Pat pat pat. “Only seven months along! It can’t be! Are you sure it isn’t twins?”
(“Diet, too. Eliminating toxins. Nothing processed or artificial.”)
Pat pat pat. “Are you getting any sleep, Jessa? Get it while you can! You won’t be sleeping at all once the baby comes!”
(“People feel so entitled to women’s bodies, you know? It’s so liberating to leave all that behind and force people to see you, really see you, right down to the guts!”)
I turned around and came face-to-face with Alice, who was hovering by the cheese plate.
“That looks delicious,” said Alice.
“So dramatic, Jessa. One bite won’t hurt me.”
“Take some, then.”
“With these?” She waved her intestines at me. “It would be awfully rude.”
“You could have come to the party with hands.”
“You don’t know what it’s like. I can hardly bear to walk around inside my body now. I feel so objectified.”
“What’s wrong, dear?” said Gladys from across the dining room.
“Oh, I’m just wishing I could have some of this cheese plate.”
“Don’t be silly! Jessa, pass her some cheese.”
Alice turned to me with a faint smile and opened her mouth.
“I can’t,” I said.
“What are you afraid of, Jessa?” said Alice. Her voice was loud, and other conversations around the room paused. Everyone was watching us.
I speared a piece of cheese on a toothpick and held it to her lips. She opened her mouth and took it between her teeth, chewed, swallowed. The lump worked its way down the thick red cord of her esophagus and landed with a plop in her stomach.
“Won’t you have some?” said Alice. “You’re eating for two.”
I swallowed down vomit. “Heartburn,” I said.
“Let’s open gifts,” said my mom. She arranged me in an armchair with the pile of pink packages and bags. What I really needed was cash, but my mom said it was gauche to ask for it, so instead my plan was to unwrap them, pretend to love them, and keep the receipts.
I was almost through the pile when Alice floated towards me with something wrapped in her intestines.
“You haven’t opened mine yet,” she said. Barely visible in the nest of wriggling entrails was a tiny gold box.
“No,” I said.
“Don’t be rude, Jessa. Take the gift,” said my mom.
Alice began to cry. “Why did you even invite me if you hate me so much?”
“I didn’t invite you. I don’t want you here!”
“Jessa!” said my mother.
Alice cried harder.
“Take the gift, Jessa.” said Gladys. “Look what you’ve done.”
Gladys grabbed my hand and shoved it into Alice’s entrails. I felt acid burn my fingers, then nothing. I was out of my body, looking down on the top of my head from somewhere near the kitchen ceiling. My body took out Alice’s gift and opened it. Inside was a gift certificate. Gold lettering.
“It’s the same place I went!” said Alice. “You’ll have to wait until after the birth, of course. But it will be the perfect way to get your body back.”
I tried to imagine myself somewhere else, in a plastic chair. But I couldn’t get away from the tug of my body, sitting in my mom’s house, covered in bits of pink tissue paper. My mom cleared her throat. My body smiled and said thank you, she loved all the gifts.