Emily was the sort of six-year-old who would squash the end of an ant, but not the front, to prolong its suffering. Life had dealt her an unfair hand, and now life was dealing the insects an unfair hand. Her mother worried that she would become a serial killer and sent her to a child psychiatrist. Every Thursday she paid $300 for Emily to build Lego spaceships that symbolized her apparent penis envy. Mrs. Harris, who had never studied psychoanalysis, thought that the doctor meant that Emily had gender confusion, and donated all the child’s pants to the Salvation Army. She dressed her daughter in lacy, flowery dresses and party shoes. When Emily sat cross-legged on the floor, everyone could see her underwear. Her teachers forbade her from participating in sports. What a fat child she became! By the time she was eleven, she weighed one hundred and eighty pounds and Thomas called her Jiggles.
Everyone liked Thomas; he was the most beautiful boy in the world. He was small and thin and had curly brown hair. Emily wanted to envelope him inside herself and absorb his body into her bones. She thought about what it would be like to wake up one morning in his bed, with his curls and his penetrating eyes. How were his parents? What did his room look like? Emily saw the trophies lined up on his desk, the framed awards hanging above his bed. He won prizes in math every year, she knew because they had class together, and she knew he had baseball and basketball trophies because the principal gave them to him in special assemblies that took the students out of English class. He was always surrounded by girls but never dated any of them, and people told all kinds of lies about him, but in fact he was a gentleman and never told his friends what he did when he was with women.
“If he’s so nice, why does he call you Jiggles?” asked Emily’s mother.
“He doesn’t mean it, Mom. It’s just a joke.”
“Well, it’s not very funny.” Thursdays Emily went to therapy while her mother shopped, and at five she and her mother went to Friendly’s. Two cheeseburgers, two milkshakes, two banana splits, but one worked it off jogging and the other let it cushion her butt while she browsed anime sites online. On the way to the car Emily and her mother passed Rite Aid. Emily’s mouth watered.
“Mom, can I get one of those Santa baskets?”
“A whole basket?”
“They’re much smaller than they look. Only three chocolates.”
“If you want a chocolate, here’s a dollar. One chocolate bar. Goodness, Emily, someday your metabolism is going to slow down and you’ll need to stop eating so much.”
So many candies to choose from. The Christmas candies were red and green and silver and had pictures of Santa; next to the reduced-price Christmas candy there was a box filled with chocolate Hanukkah coins. With one dollar Emily couldn’t get any of the nice Christmas candy, so she looked through the everyday candy and found something worthwhile. She tore the wrapper off of her Butterfinger bar standing in the checkout line and licked the chocolate on the top.
“Hey Jiggles, spit or swallow?” Emily had never seen Thomas outside of school before. His posture was different – more slouchy. He seemed rebellious. She quivered a little. “Well? Which one?”
“Swallow,” said Emily, referring to the chocolate bar, and Thomas and his friend nearly fell to the floor laughing.
“Oh man, Jiggles swallows.”
“Course she does. She didn’t get that fat just by eating chocolate.” Emily suddenly understood what Thomas had asked her. “Hey, Jiggles, wanna come home with me?” The boys were nearly sobbing with laughter, watching the tears roll down Emily’s fat face. “Aw, Jiggles, don’t cry.” Through the blur of her tears, Emily caught Thomas’s eye. He penetrated her; he was inside her. She nearly threw up.
“I hate you!” she shrieked. The outburst seemed to jolt him, and he looked at her. She looked at him. She stared at him.
As she stared at him he shrank. He didn’t tremble or cry out in pain, just drew into himself – without even seeming to notice at first – until he was the size of a fingernail and stood at Emily’s feet. Maybe he was speaking (his lips were certainly moving) but in the busy store Emily heard nothing. She crouched down and stared at him, at his pinprick eyes. His friend ran, calling for help. Emily picked up Thomas between her index finger and thumb, gently, and set him down atop her candy bar. The height clearly stunned him – he stopped talking – and all he could do was stare as she brought her thumb down onto his legs, then applied pressure, then rolled it over his lower body. Blood ran down the Butterfinger bar, and the last sight Thomas ever saw was the back of Emily’s throat.
E.L. West’s work in Spanish and English has been published in Tin House, La Voz and Sou’wester, where it won the Robbins Award for Emerging Writers. At Columbia, West served as the Nonfiction Editor for Apogee Magazine, highlighting work from international writers and writers of color.