Fiction: Jumbo Shrimp
By Rose Jean Bostwick
BREAKFAST // BODY CHECK
The show manager placed Corinne at the head of a line of five naked fat women. I must be the biggest one here, she mused, trying not to let that bother her. The fat women walked single-file to a dark room. Like a gender reveal party, the room was adorned half in blue, half in pink. Shrimp pink and baby elephant blue lights lined two parallel runways.
As Corinne walked the runway, flashing blue lights lit up the sign for team JUMBO. As the waifs walked out on her left, the shrimp sign lit up pink.
The production team pulled the women’s body measurements on camera with measuring tape for dramatic affect. As the lab-suited interns prodded her, Corinne imagined an audience marveling: wow! This one’s waist is as big as this one’s thigh! This one’s wrist is five times as small as the other’s! When the episode aired, the women would become a tacky anatomical display, a slur of doll parts.And someday you will ache like I ache,Corinne sang in her head as an assistant struggled to reach a roll of measuring tape around her waist. She tried to look cool for the cameras, like it didn’t hurt.
A creatine-pumped gym rat with a mullet took the stand, introducing himself as Mike, one of the hosts. Mike had overcome obesity and was pursuing his noble calling of forcing everyone to do the same. He handed the mic to his co-host, Maggie, a frazzled ginger. Maggie introduced herself in a post British accent as a former bulimic who understood the struggle like no one else. She was still pretty skinny. Almost as skinny as the Shrimps, Corinne thought.
Mullet Mike and British Maggie wrapped their fingers around the Shrimps’ arms— how far down can we get our hands? They made the Shrimps try to touch their thighs together, arch their backs. They told the Jumbos to do burpees. They made them touch their toes with their legs straight. Corinne was proud of the one Jumbo who easily pulled off these feats, an aging hippie wearing an amethyst pendant who admitted that she had been a yoga teacher in her youth. Center stage, Team Jumbo and Team Shrimp stood parallel, facing each other. The fat women were embarrassed in blue undergarments and the underweight women shivered in pink on the other.
At a different point in her life, these humiliation tactics would have worked. Corinne had stacked herself up against skinny women of her own volition since she was eight years old, when Mom had begun feeding her celery and carrot sticks with reduced-calorie ranch cups for lunch. Years of trying to nurture her body hadn’t undone the tendency to find the skinniest woman in the room and wonder: how many of her could I fit inside me?
But now, looking at the hairy, anaemic creatures in pink, she felt thankful for her protective layers. There were five of them in total. The first was a cool young woman with barrettes in her dark curls and noticeable lip injections, the second was a triathlete-mom type, the third was a mixed-race girl who looked extremely young, the forth had visible self harm scars on her legs that Corinne couldn’t stand to look at, and the fifth was a pretty Indian girl with a nose piercing who was constantly touching her arms. Actually, they all were constantly touching their arms.
Team Jumbo, whose names Corinne hadn’t caught, at least had color in their faces, a healthy sheen to their hair. Team Shrimp gaped coldly at their bodies in blue. These women were grey and old beyond their years, deep lines on young faces, dark bruises marring sinewy arms. Stripped naked and forced into the shrimp-pink bralettes (only two needed real bras, Corinne noted), Team Shrimp looked more like a group of early-onset osteoporosis patients than reality TV show contestants.
When the measurements were over, British Maggie gave the Shrimps a speech about proper nourishment and Mullet Mike gave the Jumbos one about weight loss. Lena and Corinne, the highest-profile competitors, would go first.
Corinne figured Lena was the woman directly in front of her, with the fake-looking lip injections and the dissociated gaze. Corinne had lip injections too, actually, but hers were more subtle, tasteful and expensive. The silicone had moved up Lena’s lip just a little bit, forming a small shelf of plastic and stretching the shape of the natural lip.
Standing at the podium in the center of a room, Maggie read her script:
“Let’s meet our first member of Team Shrimp: Lena Lovely! Miss Lovely is a breakout star known for portraying Fergie on The Rush and for her Instagram presence @lovelylithelena, where she posts her sexy Outfits of the Day for hundreds of thousands of fans!
But it’s not all glitz and glam for Miss Lena. Our last season touched on the dangerous online community known as ‘pro-ana,’ or ‘pro-anorexia.’ Well, a brief glance at Lena’s accounts will reveal that Lena has tons of young pro-ana girls getting the wrong idea from her posts. Uh oh, Lena!
Lena has come under fire for participating in the problematic trend known as ‘body checking.’ She also runs a side account, @lena_ate, where she posts her pathetic portions. She has stated publicly that she used to weigh [redacted] and eat only [redacted] calories a day!
When a reporter accused her of glamorizing anorexia, Lena famously responded: ‘It’s not my fault I’m glamorous and anorexic.’
Don’t worry, folks: this glamorous anorexic says that she is fully recovered from her eating disorder, but in recovery, she actually lost weight! Oops! Even though Lena loves herself and stays mentally healthy, her busy lifestyle as an influencer and model means that she simply has a hard time making nutritious, filling meals to help her be physically healthy too. We can see that with a measly BMI of [redacted] and a weight of [redacted], she absolutely needs to put more meat on her bones! We hope her time paired with Corinne from Team Jumbo will help her out.”
Cut! Someone yelled.
An assistant ushered Mullet Mike through to center stage as British Maggie made her exit stage left. The aging hippie next to Corinne whispered, “This is your part, I think.” Corrine dug her pointer nail into the side of her thumb.
Mike took the stage. He cleared his throat and read from his script:
“Now, for our lovely Lena we needed an extra-special match. And representing Team Jumbo is just that: give a warm welcome to Corinne Crawford, an Insta-celeb and plus-sized model!
Like Lena, Corinne loves to show skin on her account @corinnesfatstyle. She also boasts hundreds of thousands of fans—in fact, the two have nearly the same follower count! But beyond these similarities, I’m sure we can all see there are some sizable differences between the two.
Unlike most of our Team Jumbos, Corinne thinks that there is nothing wrong with her. Although she tips the scales at nearly [redacted], Corinne says that she is proud of her body and does not want to lose weight.
In fact, Corinne believes in the controversial ideology known as “Health at Every Size”! On many occasions, she has denied the possibility that overeating may have led to her size. In fact, she says that there is no such thing as overeating: it’s all a ploy by Big Diet! Corinne clearly hasn’t watched Season Three of Jumbo Shrimp, where we educated you on the dangers of Big Corn, Big Beef, Big Dairy, Big Chicken, Big Pork, Big Fish-Farm, Big Fast Food, Big Seed Oil, and more!
On her Instagram, she says you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. But with a BMI of [redacted] and a weight of [redacted], Corinne’s ideology may be leading her into the danger zone.
From the food diaries Corinne and Lena sent us, we can see that both girls are good home cooks, but they need a little portion help. Can their time on Jumbo Shrimp convince them that there might be another way to live?”
Corinne was surprised to see that Lena, who had looked poised and intimidating in a silk lingerie top and low-cut jeans during the pre-production introductions, was blinking back tears.
God, thought Corinne, it’s not half as hard for you. They just read out things you’re already proud of. Mike just named every food at me and told me that it was a ploy by the powers that be to make me fat. As if my body was disgusting, or morally reprehensible. This is not for me. This is a space set up in your honor.
Corinne waved at Lena, one olive branch before they ate off each others’ plates. Too glamorous to give Corinne the time of day, Lena didn’t wave back. She rolled her big eyes at the ceiling. Corinne clenched her stomach. How fucking dare she. They were both on the same show, and Corinne actually had a good excuse. She was going to spread a positive message.
As Maggie began reading the next Shrimp’s bio, the show manager ushered both Lena and Corinne out through the back. It was time for breakfast.
In the room next door, a massive glass lazy susan lay in the center made up with napkins and cutlery. The lazy susan and the table it was on were big enough for a table of eight, but only two chairs were set up at either end.
Lena sat in her chair and fidgeted, fluffing the ends of her hair and twisting the skin on her forearms. Corinne lowered herself down with both hands. The chair was slightly too small for her. The bars on the edges cut into the tops of her hips and crushed her thighs at the side. She couldn’t believe they couldn’t accommodate her, especially in a show that featured large women by design.
“Start rolling,” the lead camera man instructed. Corinne began picking the side of her thumb. Two waiters came out, placing silver platters in front of Lena and Corinne. Mullet Mike and British Maggie walked in from either side.
“Time for breakfast,” Maggie said to the lead camera. “Hope our Insta-girls are ready for their first, and most important, meal of the day.”
“Whenever you’re ready, girls, take the lids off and spin the lazy susan,” said Mike. The hosts sat in stools behind them to supervise the eating process. Corinne wasn’t sure if they would be offscreen or still visible.
Corinne took her lid off her platter. In front of her was her usual breakfast: a bowl of cereal with fresh fruit on top, an orange, and a large iced coffee. She tried to focus on the food instead of the production team around her.
She looked over the table at Lena. Lena had some kind of canned drink and two unpeeled hardboiled eggs. Great, Corinne thought.
“I think we switch meals now,” Corinne said.
Lena nodded slowly, to say, no shit. She spun the lazy susan. Corinne now had in front of her a sugar-free Redbull, two hard boiled eggs, and a small bowl of salt with a spoon.
“What kind of milk is in this?” Lena asked, sounding disgusted, spinning her spoon against the side of the cereal bowl.
“Should be oat,” said Corinne.
Lena raised an eyebrow. “All right.”
It was hard to tell by her tone if that was acceptable or not.
Corinne cracked an egg and began to peel it. She salted one end and bit. The yolk was overcooked and crumbly. She always had been too embarrassed to eat hard boiled eggs in public because of the smell. It wasn’t much more fun on camera, but she was starving.
“Do you really eat this every day?” Lena asked, spinning the spoon around in the bowl.
Corinne tried to stay calm. “Not that exact meal, not every day.”
“But you eat this portion of cereal? No offense, but this is a massive bowl. Like, gigantic. I really don’t think I can finish this.” She pouted at Mike and Maggie.
“I guess the point of the show is to switch meals, no?”
“But it’s easier for you. You’ll be hungry and you’ll want to eat whatever I have. And I…” she trailed off, either out of sympathy of Corinne, or more likely, the realization of how awful she would come off when the episode aired.
“Just try,” Corinne said, finishing the first egg and starting to peel the second. She must be coming off so cool and unbothered.
It occurred to Corrine that she might be vindicated for undergoing the biting comments that she normally endured for free. For the first time, she could see why her agent may have thought this show would be a good fit for her.
After a few minutes, Maggie came over to scold Lena. “Corinne is almost done with her meal, and you’ve barely touched your cereal. It must be getting soggy.”
“It’s just when I eat super sugary stuff like this I feel… like, weighed down.” Lena frowned and gestured to the floor.
Maggie frowned sympathetically, to say, we understand, it’s so so hard, no one likes to feel so heavy, so utterly bogged down by food. “We just want to see you make an effort.”
Lena ate, making it clear how sulky she felt, how every bite was a chore. She would, on occasion, glance across the table at Corinne’s dish or with either disgust or indifference at Corinne. I bet she smokes cigarettes for breakfast, too, said Corinne. She would rather rot her lungs and stop her heart with caffeine than look like me. The caffeine from the energy drink was more than Corinne was used to and she felt a headache coming on.
Lena shoved her mostly-uneaten bowl of cereal away like it was contagious. Corinne rolled her eyes at the display, one she had seen many women do. Lena scoffed through her teeth. Mike and Maggie congratulated Corinne on a job well done eating and told Lena not to worry, that they would straighten her out.
Now that the women were done eating breakfast, it was time for the Tube.
LUNCH // MEAL PLAN
“I know this is the moment you two have been waiting for,” said Maggie, tracing a finger along the side of the Tube.
The two Tubes were giant, made of a thick stained plastic like old Tupperware, reaching from the floor to the ceiling. “Before we start filming, I just need to make sure you’re comfortable.”
“Yeah. Sure,” Lena scoffed. “Super comfy.”
No, Corrine wanted to scream, everything about this experience so far has gone against everything I stand for. “Wait,” she said. “What’s going to happen? I haven’t watched the show before.”
This was true, though she was regretting her decision now. When Dan had pitched her appearance, she had said that the premise of sounded awful. But he had assured Corinne that she could subvert the show’s messaging around food. So far, though, there hadn’t been any time to speak for herself.
Maggie widened her eyes. “Oh, you’ve never watched our show! It will be incredible to record your reaction in real time. It will make our Food Clinic Shock Therapy even more effective. What do you think, Mike?”
“I agree,” Mike said, “and just remember, Corrine, we all want to help you. This is all to fix your toxic relationship with food.”
Corinne nodded and, hating herself, scratched the side of her thumb with her middle finger.
The cameramen took five to set up. Lena stepped closer. She smelled like bergamot, fancy musk, and cigarettes. Knew it, Corinne thought.
“I can tell you what they’re about to do,” Lena whispered. “I used to watch this show all the time.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “Please do.”
“You know how they made you keep a food diary? They’re going to choose three days from that and cook it, then dump it all into the Tube. Then, they’re going to do the same to me, and see how we stack up.”
Corinne made an involuntary face, and Lena laughed. Corinne couldn’t tell if it was one of commiseration or condescension.
When the cameras began rolling, Mike shouted at the ceiling, dump it down! The evidence splattered against the Tube. Corinne watched her past few days of lasagna, fries, Chinese takeout, cereal, strawberries, salad, burgers, fries, bahn mi, oatmeal, and god-only knows hit the floor, forming an unholy pile. The gross melange of food stacked until it reached [redacted]. Corinne noticed that she was bleeding. She had broken the skin on her finger.
British Maggie’s eyes widened. “Wow, Corinne! That’s an absolutely whopping Tube. You know that’s just three days worth of food?”
Corrine rolled her eyes, trying to make her disdain visible on camera. Just like what Mom would say, she thought.
“Now Maggie,” Mullet Mike said. “As a former fatty myself, I think we really have to give Corinne credit where it’s due. Unlike many of the Tubes we see on this show— from Team Jumbo and Team Shrimp alike— this is an extremely colorful Tube.”
“Yes,” Maggie emphatically agreed. “Lots of fruit and veg for Miss Crawford. But an absolute portion overload!”
“Corinne” Mike said, “how does seeing the Tube make you feel?”
Like shit, Corinne thought, squinting into the lights. This is downright inhumane. “Fine,” she said. “I eat well. The Tube proves it. I mean, I’ll admit that looks gross when you stack it all together like that. But even if I didn’t eat healthy, health is not a moral determinant. And I will not apologize for nourishing my body.”
“Woah!” Mike exclaimed. “Now that is not something we hear every day on this show.” “No, Corinne,” Maggie agreed. “This is exactly why we wanted you here. You have an absolutely fascinating perspective. I wonder if swapping diets with Lena will change your mind?”
“Maybe so,” Corrine said, attempting some of Lena’s ironic venom, but sounding a bit too open to possibility.
“And speaking of Lena’s diet— it’s the moment we’ve really all been waiting for! It’s time for Lena’s Tube!”
A squirt of ketchup hit the side of the tube. Then a red, chunky liquid was tossed down, coating the sides. More condiments came down, then some glinting silver fish— anchovies? Some solid food came down the tube, but far less than Corinne’s. It formed a small muddy pile at the bottom, a truly sickening sight. Like a massive IV drip full of vomit. All in all, it barely reached the height of one third of Corinne’s Tube. The Tubes stood side by side for audience comparison, gory testaments to the women’s mutual shame.
“Is that all?” Maggie shouted at the ceiling, pounding the side of Lena’s Tube.
“That can’t be all,” Mike said.
“I think that’s all,” Lena said, sounding unbothered.
Maggie doubled over laughing. “Lena, are you proud of this?”
“No,” Lena said. “I’m deeply, deeply ashamed.”
In spite of herself, Corinne vowed to try to channel Lena’s sarcasm.
Mike spoke softly, presumably trying on the tone of a real shrink. “Really, Lena, this is deeply concerning. This looks like my son’s liquid diet from last summer ,when he had his wisdom teeth removed.”
It reminded Corinne of something, too. Corinne remembered her grandmother’s diet in her final days, when her body could no longer handle hard food. She had lifted spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and Spagetti-O’s to her grandma’s unconsenting mouth, wiped the blank face clean when her grandma dribbled the mush down her chin. Lena ate like this for fun. That enraged her.
The reality of Corinne’s situation set in and her stomach dropped. Lena’s meager Tube of broth, Sriracha, and anchovy brine would be her only source of sustenance for the next three days. She would have to choke down this gruel on camera for a million invisible prying skinny eyes, sitting across from this soulless waif, the worst skinny of all. And she had hardly had anything to eat for two days. She was already really, really hungry.
After the Tube came lunch. In the Feeding Clinic, the only thing to do was stare food down in the face and avoid eating it. Corrine sat again in the small chair. As she had many times before, she imagined her body as a container, wished she could unzip her skinsuit and step out. She had once bought into the idea that inside her there was a thin woman buried alive, scratching the walls and screaming to get out.
As she grew older, she had adorned herself with makeup and beautiful clothing. She had built a cohesive style that InMode Magazine had once defined as: girly, streamlined, classic. Others took noticed. Her platform, along with her discovery that she was attractive, had helped her attain self-respect. So, she thought now, if her body was a tomb with a thin woman inside, it was a gleaming sarcophagus emblazoned with gold leaf.
And Lena was more like the shriveled mummy, Corinne mused, watching her pick apart a bahn mi from the other side of the lazy susan. There’s not enough room for another, smaller, aspirational girl inside of her. She’s not even one full girl now.
Lena was only eating slices of cucumber, pickled carrot, and daikon. It was the same bahn mi Corinne had eaten for lunch seven days ago. She had actually eaten two, several hours apart, but Lena had yet to begin dissecting the second sandwich.
Corinne longed to spin the lazy susan back around and devour the untouched bahn mi. She recalled how good the pate and cold cuts had tasted on the crispy French bread mingling with the mayonnaise and salty sauce, lying against the pickled vegetables, garnished with fresh cilantro.
She broke the silence. “Really? Is that really all you can manage to eat?”
Lena sneered. “I’m actually an ovo-pescetarian,” she said. “I’m making sure the vegetables aren’t contaminated by all this meat and dairy. I feel like the show should make accommodations for our dietary restrictions.” She pushed the plate away. Corinne could have decked her.
Maggie, who was sitting on a stool behind the girl’s table next to Mullet Mike, perked up at the word restriction.
“That’s exactly the point of Jumbo Shrimp. To swap with Corinne and undo all the restrictions that you’ve convinced yourself you need. To realize that you can add so much more to your diet.”
Lena pleaded. “But it’s so unsustainable. For the environment. And I watched this slaughterhouse documentary once, and I just can’t support that treatment of animals.”
Maggie said, “Well, Lena, you didn’t mention this on the intake form. Besides, there are two different days on your food diary where you ate meat. To my knowledge, turkey bacon and sausage rolls arenotincluded in a proper ovo-pescatarian diet.”
Lena picked at the crust. “Those were my cheat days,” she muttered.
“Corinne,” Maggie said brightly, “how did you find your lunch?”
“Delicious.” Corinne swirled around her lunch, a Venti cold brew with almond milk and seven pumps of sugar-free vanilla. “Very aspartame-forward.” She was pleased with her quip. It was something Lena might have said.
Mike laughed heartily and slapped his leg. “Not very filling though, eh?” “No,” said Corinne, blood rushing to her face. The cold brew, two hardboiled eggs, and one white Monster swirled in her stomach.
“In fact, I think this show is twisted,” she said, proud of her bravery as the words came out. “This is a starvation diet. I think this girl,” she pointed with her unused fork at Lena, “is extremely sick, and I think that you’re”— she pointed at Mike— “violently fatphobic.”
Mullet Mike nodded. I understand. It’s so hard for all of us.“Now, don’t forget, I wasn’t always this fit. I’ve been where you are. If anyone has your best interest at heart, it’s me. British Maggie held a hand to her heart in canned sympathy. “And this mindset is exactly what we’re going to work on this afternoon. Weight management comes from the mind. So don’t you worry, Jumbo Shrimp isn’t all about the diets.”
DINNER // NOTHING TASTES AS GOOD AS VENGEANCE FEELS
At dinner, the girls sat across from each other once again. During the past few hours of down-time in their bedrooms in the studio complex, Corinne’s hunger had numbed to fatigue and nausea. Lena’s eyes were glinting over the empty lazy susan. Corinne tried not to meet them. She still couldn’t read her.
Corinne now was too starved for attempts at subversion. She hated to think what Lena’s end of the lazy susan would hold. Maybe, she thought with delirious hope, Lena was doing One Meal a Day, and she would get a righteous portion to justify the day’s deprivation. Maybe tonight, for a grand finale, both women could enjoy what they really wanted.
The production crew seemed smaller today, more subdued. An assistant came over and adjusted Lena’s blouse. Another placed two long candles in the center and lit them with a cake lighter. One of the waiters came out and stemware out in front of the women. He poured a tasting sip of red wine in Lena’s glass first.
“Merci beaucoup,”Lena nodded and the waiter topped off both glasses.
Lena grinned at Corinne. She raised her glass.
“Courtesy of my girl in the kitchen,” she said. Corinne sipped the wine. It coated her tongue, thick and astringent.
A cameraman and Mullet Mike were whispering. They seemed agitated. Corinne shifted in her chair, trying to get comfortable even as it cut into the sides of her legs. She met Lena’s eye and swirled her stemware, inhaling dramatically and closing her eyes as if she was a wine critic. Lena laughed and did the same. In spite of herself, Corinne kind of liked this girl.
More waiters came out, dressed now in tailored coats like they were in a fancy restaurant and not a tacky reality show. The group of waiters surrounded the table as two placed silver platters on the lazy susan in front of each woman. This time, the platters seemed to Corinne nicer than the ones they had been given before. Slightly tarnished, with an ornate design at the bottom. Real silver, she thought.
Mullet Mike rushed over. “Excuse me, what’s going on?” he asked one of the waiters. “Has there been a change?”
“Yes,” Lena replied. “The waitstaff let Corinne and I know in advance. You didn’t hear?” She turned to the camera crew and snapped, “Will one of you lovelies start filming us, please?” Corinne had no idea what Lena was talking about. Had she missed something while she had been in her room?
Mullet Mike was mouthing something at a woman dressed in black with close-cropped hair in the corner. A director, maybe. The woman threw a thumbs-up at the head cameraman and gestured for Mike to move to the side.
“Okay,” the cameraman said. “Rolling.”
“Night three. It’s the big reveal,” announced Lena, who seemed to be the de facto skinny host as British Maggie was off-screen tonight.
Swirling with dread, Corinne pulled the top off her platter. Steak frites. A beautiful array of Parmesan-encrusted fries garnished with parsley. A silver boat of bearnaise. Five jagged cuts of bloody steak.
This definitely wasn’t a meal that Corinne had eaten recently, but it looked delicious. Lena had said that there had been a change in the kitchen. Had the production team listened to her requests?
On closer inspection, Corinne noticed that the steak was odd. She hadn’t seen a cut of steak like this before, especially not for steak frites. Each slice was incredibly thick, thicker even than any filet mignon she had seen. It was sitting in a pool of blood juice and looked raw and unseasoned. An ominous slice of marrow lay on the edge of the plate.
Corinne spied a long orange hair at the edge of one of the steak cuts. When she plucked it off, she was met with resistance. The hair popped off the steak as if it had come straight from the follicle. Disgusted, she held it up to show Lena. Hair in your food, she mouthed, flicking it to the ground.
Lena shrugged. Whatever. She spun the lazy susan.
Corinne now had in front of her a bowl of soup. Soft fleshy chunks floating in a deep red liquid, topped with sour cream and dill. Room temperature. Gazpacho? The steak frites would have been more filling, but Corinne felt relieved to have it away from her.
She dipped her spoon in. The soup didn’t feel like gazpacho she had tried before, which was a thin cold broth with ripe seasonal vegetables. This broth coated her spoon, viscous and evil. A wall of nausea blocked the spoon from her mouth.
“Lena,” she said. “I think something’s wrong with my soup.”
Lena didn’t even look up. She was eating messily with her hands, red steak juice dripping down her acrylics. The sauce dribbled down her shirt. Lena grabbed fistfuls of fries. She ate like a starvation victim. Corinne’s mouth gaped. Was Lena… binging?
“Cut!” Mullet Mike yelled. “What’s going on?”
“I’m eating all of Corinne’s portion,” Lena responded with her mouth full. “Just like you wanted. Aren’t you so proud of me?”
“Sure, but could you try not to eat it with your hands?” Mike pleaded.
Lena stood up and unbuttoned her blouse, exposing her almost-nonexistent breasts. “What are you doing? What’s going on?” Mike’s voice broke. Corinne suddenly realized that he sounded scared. “Lena, did you do something with Maggie?”
Corinne hadn’t realized that British Maggie wasn’t in the room.
Lena ignored the question “Aren’t you happy?” she asked again, as if she really thought he would be. She was stripping naked, taking off her pants too. Between each item she took off, she grabbed another chunk of steak, smearing steak blood over her chest and chin, shoving handfuls of fries into her mouth, dripping grease and hollandaise down her chest. “Aren’t you all happy now? Don’t you love watching me eat?”
She turned to Corinne, breathing through her mouth. “Maybe you need to eat the soup. Maybe they won’t be happy until they see you eat my food.”
Corinne sat frozen.
“Don’t be shy, I had it made special for you,” Lena said. “My baba’s recipe.” Corrine shook her head. Fear had stolen her appetite.
“I figured you were hungry,” Lena said. She shoved another handful of fries into her face, washing it down with a gulp of soda, which missed her mouth and dripped down her flat chest. “Mike told me backstage, when he was hitting on me. He also told me he gave you even smaller portions than I had actually eaten, because he ‘loves to see fat bitches get hangry.’ His words, not mine.”
“What?” Corinne turned to Mike. “Is that true?”
Mike was shaking his head, staring at the floor. He didn’t deny it.
“He also said that you could use it anyway. Didn’t you?” She blinked her big, devastating eyes up at him.
“Lena,” Mike stepped closer, his voice gruff and man-scary. “Trust me when I say that we will sue your bony ass for your failure to complete filming. We will take everything from that Internet whore salary that we possibly can. We will report you to the tax authorities. Yeah, we all know about your side job. And I know your real last name, too.”
Lena picked up the plate of steak frites and threw it at Mike. It missed by several inches and shattered against the wall behind him.
“That’s it!” Mike screamed. “Everyone out of the room!”
“Awe,” Lena pouted. “But Corinne and I were just getting started.”
The camera team filed out in a wave of disapproving mutters. One opportunistic cameraman appeared to still be filming. Corinne shifted her weight in the chair. She was thinking about what Mike had told Lena. She could use it anyway.
She remembered standing at the top of the staircase. Hot dry tears on her face, dehydrated and aching from sobbing. Her dad had screamed at her for a B- in math. No excuse. She had been dismissed from her ballet troupe earlier that week. And we all know why, do I have to say it?She was a failure, an ungrateful cunt. She had been sent upstairs with no dinner. She heard her Mom saying he had been too harsh. Her dad saying she spoiled her. Mom saying, I just don’t like it when you yell. But send her up without dinner all you like. She could use it anyway.
Corinne threw the gazpacho on the ground. The liquid splattered all over the floor, her, and Lena. On the ground, it seemed thinner than it had earlier, more appetizing. I should have tasted it, she thought.
She threw the wine glass at Mike next, which missed and shattered on the ground. Lena laughed and clapped. “Yes, Corinne. Love you, girl!”
She threw hers too. This one fell before it hit Mike, but not before wine splattered all over him.
Lifting from her legs, Corinne picked up the lazy susan. It was heavy in her arms, almost too much to hold.
She turned toward Mike, holding it eye-level with him.“Don’t— “
Corinne let her arms fall, letting the lazy susan fall to the floor. It shattered into a million pieces. Mike screeched. One of the pieces of glass had nicked his leg. He was bleeding. “You crazy fat cunt!” he screamed.
He limped toward the door, the lone remaining cameraman trailing behind. “We’ll get you both, sue you both, for everything you’re worth!”
Mullet Mike slammed the door behind him. Corinne’s ears buzzed with adrenaline. She couldn’t process.
“Don’t worry about him,” a woman’s voice spoke from the corner.
Corinne yelped and whipped around. She hadn’t realized anyone was still there. “My girl in the kitchen,” Lena explained.
The woman was thin, with a pixie cut, a black turtleneck and slacks. At least a decade older than Lena and Corinne. Corinne recognized her from the beginning of the dinner. She had assumed she was some kind of director.
The woman pointed a small handheld camera at Corinne. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t let him sue. Just talk. This will make great TV.”
Corinne was now at a loss. “Um, can you prompt me?”
The stranger thought for a second. “What is your relationship with your body like?” “Good,” Corinne said, looking down as if she had forgotten what it looked like. “Um, good now. I’ve had my struggles.”
“Haven’t we all?” the woman sounded so sympathetic. Corinne looked at the black turtleneck stretched over a probably-taut stomach and thought, maybe, maybe, but not in the same way.
The woman continued, “Corinne, what is one message you want every woman to hear?” “Your body has no moral value,” said Corinne, gazing over the carnage of food, shattered glass, and blood smeared over the walls and floor.
She racked her brain for something new to say, something that would make this all worth it.
“My body is a political statement,” Corinne finally said. She liked how the words tasted. “My body is a political statement!” she repeated.
“Wow. Powerful stuff,” the woman replied. As with Lena, Corinne couldn’t read her tone. “What about you, Lena?” the woman aimed the camera at her. “Is your body a political statement?”
“Sorry,” Lena blinked hard, shook her head. “Sorry. I got a bit dizzy for a second there. I zoned out. What did you say?”
“Oh, you poor thing. Well, it’s not important,” the woman laughed. She walked toward the door. “You need a rest. I’ll let you unwind for a minute. Come outside when you’re ready. I’ll drive you both home.”
The door clicked into place behind her. Lena and Corinne were alone.
Lena collapsed into the chair. She shook her head. She always looks half-dead, Corinne thought. Maybe closer to three-quarters now. Her naked body was smeared with gore and bearnaise.
“Get up, Lena,” she said. She extended a hand and helped her stand. “It’s over.”
Lena Lovely, glamorous forever, ran her fingers through her hair. A clump came out in her hand. She watched the dry curls fall to the floor, dazed. “Thank you,” she murmured. She fixed her big eyes up on Corinne, who was still reeling. Corinne wondered whether to expect Lena to turn on her next, but she doubted Lena would have the strength.
For the first time in what may have been years, Corinne noticed that the waistband of her skirt felt loose around her waist. But this might have been just a feeling, not the truth. Who knew? Her head felt numb. She wanted to go home.
“Lena,” she said again, “Please. I want to leave together.”
Rose Jean Bostwick is a lesbian writer in Montreal, Quebec. She has published one chapbook, And They Were Roommates (2022, Bottlecap Press) and has placed short fiction inWrongdoing, Schuyhill Valley Journal, Catatonic Daughters, Pink Plastic Press, Sinister Wisdom,and others. She graduated with an Honours BA in English Literature and Political Science from McGill University, where she was Executive Editor of theBull & Bear Magazine and now works in social media and communications. Find her on Twitter or Instagram