I. The first thing I remember is disgust. As a child, breakfasts of my lazy mother’s undercooked bacon while Arthur played on PBS Kids. I could eat happily while the animated characters talked, frolicked, Arthur’d, but could not bear to do so during commercials, where real human actors drove Hondas and digitally penetrated Floam. My bacon was made from the stuff of the people-actors—meatfatgrease—and it was like I was eating them. Jellied bites of the dull woman spooning Dannon yogurt into her clammy mouth. I chewed her tendons, the look in her dumb eyes, pleading. Covered my plate with paper napkin until the safe, textureless cartoon people came back. The ones without an appetite for themselves. My neighbor, very fat, stood shirtless in his front yard, staring directly into the sun. Frying. I studied art history in college and once went to Madrid to see Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych at the Prado. In Spain, there is special meat. Jamón ibérico de bellota. Pigs who only ever ate acorns. In the Triptych, silverywhite bodies squirmed and helixed. Twisted into spooky shapes by their avowal to fleshy consumption. But the figures themselves were clean, lean-limbed, pellucid. The devouring is acceptable if you are beautiful. I bought a ham and egg sandwich from a boy behind a counter and he watched me eat the whole thing, standing there in the store. I threw it up on the curb. In the left 1 panel of the Triptych, Adam touches his toes to God’s toes and God holds Eve’s wrist. Linked organs. Constant digestion. I bought another sandwich and could not taste acorns, only the lame salt of myself.
II. Pete and I make fun of his wife. She’s a chef, and ugly. Pictures of her on his instagram— her greasy little eyes. Her smile like a happy face finger-poked into the meatloaf to make a stupid child laugh. It was never about her being beautiful, Pete says. He’s maybe embarrassed, but I understand: she’s kept him fed. I stand on her kitchen counter with my bare feet. Drink her half and-half. I play with her knives. I’m gonna slice you into pork chops, I say. Lick the blade. Pete laughs, but his body is scared. He says, get down. Years ago, he was mugged and stabbed while stumbling drunk down the street eating a 7/11 bacon egg and cheese. He is writing an essay about it, and I want to take him to Spain. I show him the wikipedia page for Bosch’s Triptych. He looks at me instead of the painting. Puts my thumb in his mouth and bites. His pointed canines dent me. His wife keeps her knives so sharp that you don’t even feel it when they cut you. Pete says he loves me. That he could swallow me whole. His wife is away, filming a cooking competition show called Bringing Home The Bacon. Pete and I get a week alone together. I worry that we’ll pickle but I risk it. He grabs the knife from my hands and holds it against his belly. He’s drunk. I’ve gotten so fat, he says. Plumped up for the slaughter. His eyes are sad and varmint. I just wish I had met you first, he says, and it’s worse for all of us that he means it. The first night we spent together I said I wouldn’t make him breakfast in the morning. I never learned to cook right. Good, he said, I’m sick of all the fucking breakfasts.
III. Pete’s wife comes in last on Bringing Home The Bacon. Dead last, cut the first round. Your handling of this meat, the judge said, lacked a hunger for trancendence. She didn’t have enough time, but this is the game. She thought she’d carmalize edges, maple glaze, cook all the way through. She doesn’t understand how it’s so easy for other people. The chef who beat her, licking his wet lips. She drives away from the studio. It is late at night and early in the morning. Her raw face in the rearview mirror, oil-burned hands. On the side of the empty road, a 24-hour diner. She eats a plate of eggs and bacon while watching commercials on the streaked wall-mounted TV: husband and wife share some Tropicana. Sunny suburban kitchen. On her phone, no calls from Pete. The waiter brings her an extra side of bacon. Why not, he says, it’s just between you and me. Out the window, the sun rises. She feels the tilt of the world. The waiter watches her, the diner fills with their bodies. Dense and rare. It’s a new day, the waiter says, you have to start it off right. Her stomach shifts. She’s not hungry anymore, but she chokes it all down.
Alexandra Kessler’s short stories have appeared in such venues as Joyland, JuxtaProse, Maudlin House, The Boiler, and Pigeon Pages. She was the recipient of the 2014 Lizette Woodworth Reese Award for Fiction, the 2016 Ross Feld Award, and the 2017 Lainoff Prize for Fiction. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology nominee. She lives in New York City and is at work on a novel.