By Laura Donney
A woman having a Very Bad Body Day goes to dinner with a new friend.
Jana wanted to rip her body off of her body — pull her face from her face: destroy it. Was there a way, she wondered, to stretch it out enough so that it snapped off, like a long- pulled piece of taffy?
It was inexplicable, sort of, the sudden jolt of disdain for her Self. Why now? Why this reflection, this mirror, this understanding of body and visage? But it was clear as day, today: she was hideous and disgusting and she couldn’t get herself off of herself.
Jana lived in the complicated middle ground of hating herself and wanting to do nothing about it. Even just one step outside her regularly scheduled gluttony, or inaction, and the serotonin could burst in and loyalize her to Health and Self-Care. But there was something far easier and more delicious about her leaky and droopy Auto-Destruction, subtle as it may be. Subtle because it took the form of sitting often, and eating out of the bag instead of putting some in a bowl.
On this particular day, as she stared at herself, a sweater fitting just wrong, pants cupping in a way that made her wonder if her left thigh actually had its own Thigh, Jana thought about the wash tags on her clothes.
She thought about the wash tags that insisted she hand wash and flat dry and she thought about the other week when she ignored these instructions and did a compromised version of a delicate spin cycle and a low heat tumble, and maybe just maybe, she looked like a mini cannoli today because she had ruined her clothes, their sizes now altered. But that wouldn’t explain her expansive reflection from earlier, after she got out of her shower, not even the steam able to lie about her naked body. Nude, standing, and dripping, Jana could not blame a shrunken top — unless of course, the world was getting smaller! Was the air around her shrinking, the particles more fine and tiny?
Unlikely, Jana thought, as she finally gave up and decided to live in the outfit that hated her: Maybe all the mirrors here are wrong, she optioned out to herself, maybe out in the world I will recognize myself as the self I am OK with. To be clear, Jana was average looking. She was not grotesque conventionally, per se, and depending on the day she could occupy either Upper Average or Lower Average: a kind of person who, at the right angle, looked fine.
On a down day, though, of which she had many, she might look up people on the internet, people shaped differently than she, people canonized as Good and Right and Confident in addition to being Larger than Society accepts, and she would selfishly, pleadingly negotiate: I’m not as big as her. But that didn’t really work. Because isn’t the point that she feels bad, objectively, and shouldn’t that be enough to propel her to take action to feel better? Jana would often look at herself in the brain and say “either feel good about how you are now, or change yourself until you do!” And then she’d sock her brain in the gut and say, “No, you Oprah-loving Dumb Dumb, you can also stay as you are and not like it, as another option!”
Things Jana Could do To Feel Better and Become Better
2. Eat More Vegetables
3. Eat More Fruits
4. Eat Less Pasta
5. Eat Less Bread
6. Join a Gym
7. Go to that Gym
8. Spend Money on Quality Clothes
Reasons Jana Won’t do the things to Feel Better and Become Better
1. She’s tired.
2. She’s stressed.
3. World Ending.
4. Why should she conform to Happiness?
5. Isn’t she Beautiful sort of?
6. Isn’t she OK?
7. She’s lazy.
8. Seems Boring.
On this particular day, Jana was feeling like a real Grendel (a folklore Beast, who is basically a hairy, person-eating monster that lives in a cave with an overbearing mother), because it was Christmas Time. It was Christmas time on this day, and the Potential of what she Could Be if she made an effort was in every cozy infinity scarf that walked by her. It was Christmas Time and she wanted to feel beautiful, and nothing pummels you into your Greatest Ugly like the desire to be cute and light.
Jana was going to a Mixed-Media Art Show that a friend’s friend had curated, and while Jana didn’t like art, or most people, her friend had mentioned little appetizers with tooth picks and white wine in plastic cups, and while Jana didn’t like such small suggestions of eating, she did want to tout around the fact that she Had Done Something Fun, and this seemed free and anonymous.
She walked briskly, the bold lip she applied earlier hanging on by a thread, one steady gulp away from vanishing into a light, faded, echo of a color; a shout out to the Jana That Cared Before.
Jana approached the building, a café converted into a gallery space, saw her friend, Dani — a girl who couldn’t help being naturally pretty — hugged her, whispered, “I’m Huge,” as a sort of greeting, and went off to find a drink before Dani could respond.
Everyone loves to love ugly things, she thought, as she looked at all the dumb art around her: chairs with feathers glued to the legs, a mirror covered in red paint, medicine cups stacked like a pyramid. Everyone loved to love ugly shit as long as it wasn’t ugly people. Jana found the open bar and got a white wine and a water, because even if her stomach was gigantic, it was still sensitive to alcohol.
“Are you in line?”
Jana turned with her two drinks, one in each hand — she tilted them toward the person who asked the question, as if to say “nope, got mine, got plenty!”
“Ah, ok, cool. Cheers, then!”
“Yeah, cheers,” she said.
She found her friend again. “No really, Dani, I’m huge.”
“Jana, stop. If you don’t like how you look and feel, you actually can do something about it.”
“Wait, so. You agree.”
“Jana, no. But if you feel that way — I’m always inviting you to spin class, or you could do Clean Eating Sundays with me!”
Jana frowned. What was Dani doing?
“Or what about meditation? Self-care doesn’t just have to be about what we welcome into our bodies, it’s also about the energies we’re putting out. Oh! Yoga- ahhhhhhhzknfaknfzkjnfz!!”
And before she knew what she was doing, Dani’s head was in Jana’s mouth, Jana’s teeth easily ripping whatever biology connected Dani’s head to Dani’s neck.
There were shrieks and shuffling all around, people screaming — cries of “what the FUCK” and “is she ok? Someone call an ambulance!”
Jana agreed, “someone call an ambulance!” as she chewed, but mainly swallowed, the remains of her friend’s head.
Gallery-goers rushed to the headless body of Dani, as well as out the door — one guy, probably the artist, had the wherewithal to grab his Cereal Box Triptych before his exit, a move Jana respected.
Suddenly Jana felt a pain — ugh was this a stomach ache? Why does she ALWAYS HAVE TO EAT SO MUCH?! People stared at her. “I know, I’m HUGE, I know, I’m gross, I know.” Ugh, why did Dani have to meaningfully offer a solution to what Jana had wanted to just be a complaint. Oh well. Jana went to the open bar and grabbed one of those tiny napkins, the kind you crumple immediately before it can be of any actual use. She blotted her chin area, HER HUGE, LIKELY DOUBLE CHINNED, area, and understood the only thing to do now was leave. Maybe she could find a CVS and get some Pepto or Prilosec since Dani wasn’t sitting well.
Just what I need, Jana thought, to feel bloated. I didn’t want to come out in the first place. Leaving the dulling screams behind her, she went out the back door and was deposited into an alley.
“Oh, are you leaving?”
It was the guy from the line. Cheers, if she remembered correctly. He wasn’t smoking or anything, so Jana didn’t totally get why he was perched against an alley wall, one leg up behind him, like a cool guy. Jana’s stomach hurt and her pants were digging in around her mid section, in such a way that made her want to take a pair of scissors to her fat and cut it, but, she did not consider herself a RUDE person, so she engaged.
“Didn’t you just see what happened?”
“Yeah, it’s why I came outside. Chaos makes me sweat,” he laughed, lifting his arms up, the dark circles at his pits encroaching the dry fabric of his sleeves. Gross, Jana thought, as he put his arms down and she imagined the cool wet he must feel.
“And you’re surprised I’m leaving?”
The guy’s face did something. Something like a sheepish smile.
“It’s just, I’d still be hungry.”
His name was Malcolm, but he liked to be called Colm, with the “l” decidedly pronounced. Jana thought that was nice but didn’t have an interest in being chummy, exactly, so she called him Malcolm, when she called him anything at all.
Malcolm, apparently, hated himself too, which bothered Jana because she felt he was, by social standards, fine, and certainly not gigantic and overflowing with rancid flesh the way she was. That’s always been a complicated Reality for Jana: people who were OBVIOUSLY good and attractive who STILL felt terrible about themselves. She understood intellectually that anyone can feel bad, that’s what’s so equalizing about “self-worth.” But some people, she felt certain, had less a right to be insecure. It was their problem if they couldn’t see how good-looking and normal they were. Surely these people understood, by simple math, that they got more attention, dates, compliments, clothes that fit them, etc., and that so objectively they were Better.
At least Dani, who seemed to be metabolizing now, had the wherewithal to feel confident, as opposed to the audacity to feel self-conscious.
Malcolm had been “fat” in Middle School, he explained. “And I don’t mean I just felt fat. Like clinically, doctor-ly, I was overweight. So yeah, anyway, I understand your appetite.”
Jana was skeptical of anyone who presumed to understand her. Did he understand she wanted to take her own skin and stretch it so far off herself that she could, upon its return, mush it up into a little ball of mashed cells and tissue, and stomp on it? Did he understand the immense guilt she felt for eating her friend’s head, when she already had a huge breakfast and was preparing a crockpot dinner that she couldn’t just not eat, and now the calorie count from Dani alone — it was really pushing it!
They approached a CVS, the automated doors sensing Jana’s Mass many seconds before her proper arrival.
“Did you ever eat a friend?” she asked, guiding the two of them towards the Digestives aisle. Malcolm looked at her. “What?” Jana said, “ You want to relate so much it was worth an ask.” She scanned the boxed options, not seeing what she was looking for. Malcolm insisted:
“Just because I didn’t eat a friend doesn’t mean I can’t relate to you.”
“Of course it does,” Jana said, giving up and going to a CVS Staffer for help. “Mam? Sorry, but, do you have extra strength acid reflux stuff anywhere? I just bit off a friend’s head, and I had a big breakfast –” The staffer pointed to a half-aisle, and Jana followed the finger to a row of products called “Emotional Eating.”
She grabbed the 24 Hr Relief (Full Drowsy because who cares), and went to check out. Malcolm was close behind. They stood in line, a pattern already for them, it seemed.
“Just because I didn’t eat a friend doesn’t mean I didn’t eat a body,” he concluded casually.
“Yeah, sure,” Jana affirmed, a bit bored of this banter. The cashier asked if she had a CVS Membership number, which Jana ignored as Malcolm lifted his pant leg up and revealed a prosthetic — his, she imagined. Jana looked down and then up at Malcolm.
“You ate your foot?”
Malcolm made that sheepish smile again and turned to the cashier.
“She can use mine,” and he recited out a phone number — his, she imagined.
Reasons Jana was Impressed Malcolm Ate his Own Foot
1. Sense of Commitment and Conviction
2. Shows a Simultaneous Disdain and Taste for Self
3. Probably Means He was For Real Fat and not Fake Fat
Reasons Jana Resented Malcolm for Eating his Own Foot
2. He’s Hot Now.
3. Does He Think She’s a Monster for Only Eating Others?
Jana took her antacid, hoping to neutralize the trouble Dani was causing her insides. It was probably less Dani and more how fast she had eaten Dani. Jana made a mental note to eat more slowly.
Malcolm and Jana strolled. Aimlessly, Jana assumed. She didn’t mind the walk because her Crockpot Dinner was a Butter Chicken Dish that she wanted to inhale entirely, and she also had a half bag of chips she planned to eat after dinner when the dread over what she’d eaten for dinner started to sit heavy within her. This was her pattern: consume until the possibility of control is so far gone, any negotiations to “have done well” that day become moot.
Malcolm explained himself. “I was so mad.”
“At?” Jana asked, though she figured she already knew.
“It all, I guess. I was so overwhelmed with frustration. And I couldn’t put it anywhere. It’s like, why people scream into pillows, or throw vases, I think. But a pillow or vase wasn’t enough. I wanted to blow up, deconstruct or something. My body, my brain, too, felt so useless, so lame. Lame like the real definition.”
“I get it,” Jana said. And she did. How annoying that Malcolm summarized many of her big and boundless feelings, that not only did she feel, but she felt unentitled to feel, because she was, after all, Basically Ok. They approached what looked like the bottom of a hike. Malcolm stalled:
“So this is where I turn up normally to go home.”
“To go WHERE? I thought we were just walking.”
Malcolm explained that was true but what’s it to her if he manipulated it so he could end up back at his place, along the way. He wasn’t asking her over, or anything.
“Not that you couldn’t come up, I just mean, I’m going home. Anyway, sorry about your friend.” Malcolm turned away, truly seeming indifferent, which of course, confused Jana. This guy had been so interested in her. Not in any kind of way particularly, just clearly, interested. But ugh, a hike. She caught up with him.
“Why were you at that art show?” Jana asked, breathless from even the few hastened steps she had taken, since she was, after all, an undeniable piece of shit.
“I manage the café.”
They walked up slowly — Jana, a narcissist, figured it was Malcolm’s consideration of her full stomach, even though it had far more to do with his prosthetic foot. The air was cool, with a sort of medium breeze that made anyone walking through it feel clean, or even a little beautiful.
What was Jana doing here? This was far more spontaneous than she had planned to be, and the exponential disgust she felt with herself couldn’t afford much more hiding, which, believe it or not, she had been practicing in the company of this stranger. And who even was this stranger? Someone who happened to understand the human desire to simultaneously absorb and combust? So what! Plus now her legs hurt.
“I should probably turn back,” Jana turned to go.
Jana looked. She saw what she could best describe as “wilderness.”
“This is where I live.” Malcolm entered what was very clearly, very actually, a hole in the side of an ascending mountain. What could probably most literally be described as a Cave. Jana, so, so confused, followed in. Candles lined the stony walls, something cozy and cold about the place.
“This is your apartment?”
Malcolm smiled and sat down on what looked like a West Elm couch. What kind of Apartment Cave was this? He unhitched his prosthetic, and threw his legs up onto the coffee table in front of him, knocking over, and quickly re-staging, a salt and pepper shaker. He must eat on the couch, Jana thought — Malcolm unwittingly endearing himself to her.
“The only downside is the hikers. Not like they come in or anything like that — you saw how we had to come around a sort of corner — but I can hear them constantly. Just a lot of chit chat about trail mix and what do you think that tree is.”
Jana toured the space, which was really quite deep in size, and there was something about the roundness, the massiveness, she guessed, that made her feel small. Leave it to a whole mountain, she thought. Towards the back there was a bed and a half-bath, and perpendicular to where Malcolm was, a sort of kitchenette. It was actually quaint — a little Snow White, or Goldie Locks. She sat down next to Malcolm. Her huge leg obviously spilled into space that wasn’t hers, so that their legs were almost touching. In addition to that, though, Jana noticed that Malcolm seemed to be inching, ever slightly, toward her.
And there was something else, too: that gaping, fractional air that hangs between two people, when one of those people is a man about to launch into a speech. Jana could hear him about to start several times before he actually did:
“I think you’re so beautiful. Watching your appetite, it almost, it’s like watching your desire, and to see someone so unabashedly desire is just, like a real turn on, and it’s inspiring and: I just, your appetite — it’s beautiful, you’re beautiful.”
Jana felt rage. Her appetite had NOTHING to do with desire, it had to do with her being a greasy and grotesque vacuum who could not stand her own face, hair, or body. It had nothing to do with hunger. Plus, she ate Dani because Dani was annoying. Sure, yes, did I also have the urge to fill the vast void of my insides? Yes, Jana thought. But that a man was trying to synonymize this with something sexy overwhelmed her, even if it didn’t surprise her. But the bigger, more primary, more primal feeling inside Jana was that she simply did not believe him.
“Let me make something very clear,” Jana said, turning to look him right in his decently acceptable eyes. “If you told me you thought I was a foul sack of blubber and pores, but that you still managed to sort of enjoy talking to me, I would believe you maybe. That is all I would believe.” Jana did not believe someone like Malcolm could find her beautiful — well, at least, not on this day, which was such a Bad Day. As far as she was concerned, it wasn’t up to him whether he thought she was beautiful, it was up to her, whether he did.
Malcolm didn’t flinch. He held her gaze: “I think you are a foul sack of blubber and pores, and I think we want the same thing.” While someone saying something like this could be creepy, this felt different to Jana. What was this? She wanted to go, she felt weird. “I should go. I have my crock-pot dinner waiting.” Malcolm grabbed her wrist, hard, as she got up to go. What the fuck was this guy doing?
“Like I said,” he said, his leg knocking over his perched prosthetic, which he eyed, and let lay. “I think we want the same thing.” He put his hand on the saltshaker. Jana’s breath was short and her blood was hot:
“You want dinner?” Jana asked, not moving.
Malcolm smiled. “I want you to have dinner.” He looked at her, really really looked. There was something desperate about him, suddenly. Something small and childlike, and earnest — something sheepish. Something wanting.
And Jana understood. And Malcolm understood that Jana understood. He lifted the salt, but Jana stopped him. “No,” she said. And Malcolm blushed.
And then he saw the gaping blackness of Jana’s mouth come for him, wholly.
Jana chewed. Slowly. Because she knew that’s what Malcolm wanted and what Malcolm deserved, and that it would be better for digestion. She chewed and chewed, Malcolm’s remaining body slumped to the ground, next to his prosthetic foot, the area under his arms noticeably wet with sweat. Jana smiled, remembering.
LAURA DONNEY is a Los Angeles grown writer who returned to Hollywood after graduating with a BFA in acting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She was most recently a Story Editor on Disney+’s Marvel limited-series WANDAVISION, for which she was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Limited Or Anthology Series for her episode, “Previously On.” Laura’s original film GHOSTING premiered on Freeform in December 2019, and that same year she was invited to join the IAMA Theatre Company’s inaugural Under 30 Playwrights Lab for the 2019–2020 season. In her spare time, Laura over-analyzes every feeling she has ever had or will have.
For all inquiries, email email@example.com