Dad said if I didn't lose weight he was not going to take me to the
Ball. He'd take someone else. Some pretty girl from the scullery,
maybe, or one of the footmen's slender sisters. He'd say she was his
daughter. He'd give her dancing lessons, buy her a red dress and let
her wear mother's rubies. He might even let her keep the rubies. Of
course, he said, he would rather take me, his real daughter, instead of
spending all that money on a total stranger. But, Dad sighed, look at
you. Princess, stop eating for a second and look at you.
I put down my fork, picked up the mirror, rubbed the grease off it with
my sleeve, and looked. I saw what I usually saw. No big deal.
You're fat, Dad said. You could live off your own fat for a year, he
said, like an Eskimo. He rose to go. At the door to my tower he turned
and pointed his finger. Lose weight, he commanded. I don't care how you
do it. But do it. The lock clicked behind him.
I sat on by the barred window and thought about Eskimos. I knew they
chewed blubber. But that was whale blubber. Did they chew their own
blubber too? How? I unlaced my bodice and examined my belly. It
reminded me of pudding with a few little raisins sprinkled here and
there. It looked delicious. But no way was I cutting into it. There
must be another way. I felt something stuck between my teeth and
tongued out a meaty morsel that looked good as new; a second banquet
was probably stowed in my back molars alone. My arms and shoulders were
red from stretching them out through the bars toward the sunshine and I
saw that my sunburn was starting to peel. The peel looked like thin
sugar crisps. I pulled off a small strip and put it in my mouth. Yum.
Not sugary, not salty, sort of tangy, with a chewy elastic texture I
hadn't expected. I probably had enough peel for one meal, maybe more.
So that's how it started. First I just ate floss finds and peel. I
found if I tugged my sunburn too hard, little drops of rich coppery
tomato-y blood bubbled out. I lapped as much of it as I could out of
the places I could reach and when my period came a few days later,
well, what can I say, it was payday in a bucket. Dandruff turned out to
be bland as ricotta cheese but fingernail shards added texture. Tooth
tartar was another white food but I thought oh well what can it hurt
and scraped it up anyway. Toffee tasting earwax made a decent dessert.
I had long since stopped bribing my guards for treats. I was a treat!
My nose alone was a cornucopia of goodies, a veritable soda fountain,
bakery, and butcher shop all in one. It gave me thick milk shakes first
thing in the morning and then as the day went on and my phlegm crisped
up, little protein-packed nuggets appeared, sometimes with clear
noodles of mucus that slipped down my throat sweet as fresh oysters.
Scabs were chewy, toe jam gooey. Pimples, popped, yielded globs of
thick cream sprinkled with blackheads tiny as poppy seeds. My vagina, I
discovered, packed a rich yellow curd and I could either lick it off my
forefinger warm and unsalted, straight from the source, or take it
salted with one or two drops of fresh tears. I drank plenty of pee for
hydration, of course, and though at first I hesitated to eat my own
excrement I found that formed into patties and grilled in the hearth it
was really no worse than venison, and greased on both sides with
underarm sweat and served with a little blood ketchup and a few skin
peel crisps it was actually pretty good.
Needless to say, I was losing weight like mad and when Dad came back to
check on me the week before the Ball he was blown away. At last, he
said, I have a daughter I can be proud of. He threw open the tower
doors and led me downstairs to the dressmakers and hairdressers and
shoemakers and when I was finally gowned in royal red and covered in
rubies we went off to the Ball. I met the Prince that night and the
rest is happily-ever-after, except I did pay the historians to leave
out the part where the Prince and I put Dad on the ice floe. "It's what
the Eskimos do," we explained as we gave the floe a hearty push out to
sea and waved goodbye.
Molly Giles' most recent collection of stories, ALL THE WRONG PLACES, won Willow Springs' Spokane Prize. She lives
in Woodacre, California.
Detail on main page from woodcut by Frans Masereel (25 Images de la Passion d'un Homme; 1918).
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