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​Transubstantiation

I wrote this story in October 2023 for the second round of the 2023 NYC Midnight 500-word Fiction Challenge. For the first round, I wrote Adult Skate, which you can read here.  

My mother told me: You are what you eat! So it makes sense that all there is to show for her wretched life is a pile of TV dinner cartons, the film haphazardly peeled and bits of food still stuck to the sides. Some might call it evidence of restraint. I call it embarrassing. 

 

She wasn’t always like this. My childhood was balanced plates — meat, veggie, starch — and a square of dark chocolate in the evening. Red wine sometimes, because it was European. 

But after Dad died, she filled the empty spots in bed and stomach with Marie Callender and her agenda of trans fats. You could see what frozen food had done to my mother long before her death, but a body gave her plausible deniability.

It’s the fluoride in the water, Eric, she said. You know it makes me bloat. 

But when her addled heart finally gave out, her corporeal form was replaced in the bed with stacks of trays. I was there when the transition happened.

“Hey man, don’t feel too bad,” the man from the collection agency said. “This isn’t even our worst one today. One guy left used tampons. He would get them out of the trash and suck them like lollipops.” 

They left me one tray to remember her by. Fiesta Queso Chicken. Side of corn.

Thank God I’m nothing like her. My body is a temple, my fridge, the altar. I start my days with a celery juice and end them with a coffee enema. In between, it’s greens (leafy), chicken breast (skinless), and eggs (organic). My friends compliment my physique. I’ve had sex with several men I met at the gym. My apartment is covered in mirrors. And at night, the bedroom’s temperature optimized for ideal REM sleep, I rest in the peace that even if I don’t live forever, I’ll leave something better than black polypropylene. 

“Oh my God, did you hear what happened to Eric?” Friend #1 and Eric had known each other since the seventh grade, and as such, she felt she held the deed to his death announcement. 

“Jesus, I know,” Friend #2 sighed. He and Eric had met him at the gym, platonically. “Sepsis is gnarly. Probably all those fucking enemas.”

As his emergency contact, Friend #1 was called to collect him. Eric’s downstairs neighbor had alerted the authorities, alarmed by the thump his collapse made on the hardwood floor and the silence that followed. 

In a moment of mental clarity, Friend #1 grabbed some extra rabbit food for Nibbles, the only creature she was sure he loved. When she opened the door, she expected to see a noble drum of protein powder or a sleek bottle of supplements in his stead. Proof of fidelity. Something to hold. But it was just Nibbles, eyes squinting at the intruder. Fat and happy and chewing. She pried open his mouth in horror, but it was too late. He swallowed the last bit. It was a wilted shred of lettuce.

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