All Natural Ingredients

This was a woman who abhorred waste and adored waists.  Her crisp white working smock was cinched in under her ribs as if she were scared a morsel of salad would dare descend to her colon, the snakeskin belt acting as tourniquet on her digestive tract.  As a successful specialist in her field, she could have made a killing in the growth industry of obesity; but no, the wrinkles that furrowed her nose like a pitbull raising its hackles gave away her distaste all too clearly to the fuller figured people pausing at her clinic’s door.

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” was her personal motto [despite her training].  Nobody dared ask her if her bedfellows agreed, and I certainly wouldn’t, but looking at her ugly collar bone and antlers of pelvis I somehow doubted it.

All white – tiles, sinks, walls and wipe-clean chairs – the place had an aura of cleanliness and sterility that was at odds with her professional name.  And her teeth.  Her business card said ‘Janetta Vermilion: beauty therapist / eating disorder clinician’; her driving licence read ‘Ethel Hughes’.  The duality didn’t end there.

Front of clinic was the Treatments Area, for the rich old women who allowed the mirror to be their master, and the bored mistresses who often shared more than the services of Janetta Vermilion with the woman waiting for her moustache to pale or botox to take effect next to her.  ‘All natural ingredients – prepared on site!’ and ‘secret recipe – unique to Janetta’ were the proud boasts of the menu on the wall, as well as price lists to make your eyes water.  Whatever she used, and despite the faintly familiar smell troubling the odd nostril through the peppery odour of pink and white lilies beautifying the place, it worked.

At the back of the premises, in what used to be the kitchen and dining room of the two-up/two-down, was a large room of palest peach and a series of cubicles along the furthest wall.  Sofas and throw cushions made it almost comfortable, but the closest cubicles, with their clear glass doors, were off-putting to say the least.  What looked like fancy toilets sat there, waiting, all too visible to my curious eyes.

As an investigative journalist, I had to tread carefully or face being flung out the door.  Or worse – there’s a lot of folks not been told it’s wrong to hit girls, not told till I ‘educated’ them, anyway.  I might be small, but I’m shit hot at street fighting.  A whole bunch of dickheads have the scars to prove it.

“I advise my clients to change their habits one step at a time.”

Uh huh.

“Instead of binging at home or in the car or wherever you’ve designated your ‘safe place’, you come here.  Eat what you want; I’m not going to judge you.  Say what you want, you’re with people who care.  And if it’s coming back up, if you’re driven to purge…” she spread her arm to indicate the curious cubicles, and I noticed her hands were the smoothest of anyone I’d ever seen.  “…you do so here.”

I think I blinked.

“Most of my clients start with the more discreet ones at the far end.  But as you progress in your journey to recovery, you’ll find it easier to be open and accepting of who you are and what you’re doing to yourself.”

I think I nodded.

“When you feel ready, you’ll move to the cubicles nearer the group.  Then eventually, the closest ones.”

I figured I’d better practise gagging to order since there was clearly going to be no faking it here.  She smiled and her teeth were greyer than I expected, as if ghosts of their former use.

“I find most of my clients accept themselves and others more readily after a few days of treatment.”

Well, we’d see about that.

A few hours later I was biting my nails and wondering what I’d got myself and my poor teeth into.  I waited about outside till a scrawny girl with bad breath and dull hair wandered near.  Like me she was clutching a goody bag of bingeing treats, and I offered her a carefully nervous smile as we walked in.  The white chairs and front room were empty; beauty appointments were mornings only, the rest of the day devoted to ‘my girls’, as she called us.

We got ourselves comfy on the sofas as more clients joined us, and Janetta – or Ethel, as my boss called her in the newsroom – sauntered in.  We all smiled, and stopped rustling through our carrier bags of sweets, crisps, bread and biscuits.

“Hallo, my dears.  Every day, in every way, you grow more beautiful to me.  Every day, in every way, you are getting better.  Love yourselves for who and what you are.  Allow your bodies to serve you.  Be kind to yourselves.  And soon you, too, will be safe, happy, and healthy once again.”

I waited for more, but that seemed to be it.  Speech over, she smiled with those great grey teeth and lowered herself onto an enormous peach cushion on the floor.  And so it began.

All around me were wet sounds of gulping, gnawing, chomping need.  I have a very sweet tooth, twenty six of them, so I’d skipped my usual early breakfast of toast and honey knowing that here and now I’d need to feed.  Six chocolate bars.  A jar of Marshmallow Fluff.  And a packet of pink chewy sweets, to mark the beginning of food, and the end of purging.  I’d read a lot about bulimia to prepare me for this role, and I could see from glancing round the room that I’d chosen well.

A couple of the women were clearly used to this, this place, this ordeal.  They were first to leave us, first to purge in the clear glass cubicles that reminded me of Snow White’s location before her Prince’s kiss.  They barely made a sound, but I gathered bulimics, long term ones, rarely do.  One by one, the women joined them in bending penitently to retch their self-loathing to the porcelain toilets.  The place stank of sweet sick.  Janetta / Ethel had explained to me she only turned on the extractor fans when she was alone at the end; it was important for us to confront the realities of what we were doing to ourselves and those around us.  Or so she said.  When I looked at her now I could have sworn she was sniffing the air as appreciatively as I do when mooching past perfume counters in the department store in town.

I was last to go in.  The others sat about, weary, smelly, and hoarse of voice, murmuring encouragement to each other about ‘going for glass’ next time.  I chose the one at the end.  Closing the door, I breathed in the acidic fumes and thought of dogshit sandwiches, licking snails, sucking off my boss, and other revolting things.  I hate Marshmallow Fluff.  Doubling over at the waist, fingers down my throat, I felt the tide turn deep in my gut.  Up it came, all of it, I didn’t stop till there was a tell-tale layer of pink to show I was empty.

Relieved, I went to press the flush button – then realised there wasn’t one.  No handle, no button, no dangling chain.  Just a toilet which I now realised was actually somewhat different to any I’d seen before.  I could hear the others chatting huskily through the door, and very quickly stuck the tiny camera my boss had given me in a crack where the cubicle met the wall.  With the door open it would get a good view of the treatment room.  I’d just need to remember to use the next one along if I had to come back for ‘treatment’ again tomorrow.  No point sharing that with my colleagues, even with the danger money I was getting for this assignment.

The toilet had what appeared to be a seat, but when I tried to lift it, I realised it was fixed to the pedestal beneath.  Checking it, I found a small hole towards the back which I could only assume was for a key.  The kind of key cleaners use to unlock toilet tissue dispensers and things like that.  But why would a toilet be locked?  And unflushable?  I could only hope that the camera worked and I’d get the answers later in the office.  What it could have to do with the curious arrangements and practices of Janetta Vermilion I had no idea, but I was damn sure I was going to find out.

Curiosity killed the cat.

The dog dug it up and brought it back, whispered a voice in my head.

Lack of food didn’t agree with me.  I left the cubicle door wide open, and sprawled with the rest of the group till people started checking their watches and murmuring about school runs, then made for the office.

“See you tomorrow, dear,” I tried not to stare at her teeth, nodding.  I’d see her a hell of a lot sooner than that.

Back at work, I wandered into a newsroom that smelled like the salon I’d just left.  A couple of the guys were on the phone, but my boss was nowhere to be seen.  I could hear him, though, hunting for Hugh and Ralph in a bin behind some poor sod’s desk.

“What’s up, boss?”

Part of me was pleased about the situation, hoping if he knew what I was going through he’d maybe add a zero to the expenses sheet at the end of the investigation.  All right, it was all of me.  He’d fondled my arse several times too often, and the dickhead could barely even remember my name.

A hand wafted at me from behind the desk.  I took this as a sign to approach.  The monitor was on, and I could see it was receiving the feed from the cubicle at Janetta’s.  The cubicle door was still open, and so was the one between the front and back rooms.  My stomach lurched and I was kind of glad there was nothing in it. 

Now we knew what the secret ingredient was, anyway.

Janetta / Ethel / whatever her name was, was sitting on the floor of the peach room where I’d sat and fed my face not long before.  All the scatter cushions were piled on the sofas, and around her sat white bucket-shaped containers with weirdly flattened rims.  As she picked them up, one at a time, to empty them into a large metal soup pot – the kind my grandma uses for her Christmas soup – I realised they were the toilets we’d vomited into before, now free of their pedestals.  One of them was particularly heavy, apparently, and required both hands to lift, tilt and pour.  What?  What was that?  For some reason, she had a large sieve over the soup pot, I realised this when she lifted it and gave it a small shake, as I do when I’m straining spaghetti.  Someone hadn’t chewed their food a hundred times, that was for sure.  As the flow of fluid slowed to a dribble, she turned at her wasp-like waist and emptied its contents into another large metal pot at her side.  Tap tap, all out.

Then she did something I hope a stroke or Alzheimer’s will help me forget.  I’m not kidding.  Now I knew why my boss was meeting his lunch again so soon.

She dipped her hand into the white porcelain puke potty, the one she’d just emptied, and wiped her hand round like she was oiling a cake tin or something.  Then she drew it out and as I marvelled again at how youthful her hands looked, even glistening with sick, she sucked and licked the vomit off her fingers as if it were the finest champagne then worked her way round the rest of her hand.  I’ve seen cats clean themselves in such a way, I’ve even watched them lick their dirty arses, but the way she took such sensuous pleasure, such delight, in enjoying a stranger’s stomach contents really weirded me out.  Part of me wondered if it would still be warm, and that just made it worse.

I might have been okay, I might not have retched bile on the newsroom carpet and my boss’s expensive shoes, if I hadn’t watched the rest.  If I hadn’t seen her decant the stomach juices into her beauty bottles for acid peels the following day.  If I hadn’t witnessed her plunge her hands into the mush of masticated crisps and Mars bars, squishing and squashing, mashing handfuls of it against her face, preparing it for the still empty tubs of Face Masque ready at her feet.  Licking her lips as a gobbet dripped off her nose, catching it with her tongue, and chewing with those great grey teeth.

One of the guys, now off the phone, came round to see what the fuss was about.  Peering at the screen, glasses smudged as per usual, he said:

“Isn’t that the bird your Sandra goes to for her facials?”

It made me feel a bit bad, barfing on the poor guy’s feet.

By Gill Hoffs

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My Roommate

Her mouth splits and demon teeth excrete,
She was so pretty,
That’s why no one believes me,
No one believes me . . .
But there she is at my door again,
Laughing to be let in,
Laughing because she can.
Will I make it through the night?
Devil in my hallway,
Her smile cracks and she is so Beautiful.
But she is evil.
Trying to swallow my soul.
Rip me to pieces tonight.
That’s what her eyes are saying,
That’s what she’s implying,
With every flick of hair,
And they’re all in love
Falling over themselves to smell her sin,
Her manically perfumed skin.
Did I ever think I’d have a demon in the next room?
A fallen angel working for Satan?
Slamming doors with her mind,
She’s shaking pictures off my wall,
Breaking glasses on the floor.
My mirrors are all shattered,
And the lights are starting to dim.
Upright, fist tight, holding kitchen knife for dear life.
Never thought I’d wish so hard for some holy water,
Or a fucking crucifix.
Her forked tongue fixes over cracked lips.
Time to break the window,
Demon bitch from hell,
You’ll never take me alive.

By Emily Smith-Miller

From Child to Man

“Come on, boy, out with you!” The old man clapped his hands and stomped his feet with growing impatience. “We taint got all night, ya know!”

“But I was just starting to have fun, Grandpa!” complained young Bobby as he withdrew his sopping blonde head from the Desmond family commode.

“Well, I reckon there’s plenty a’ time fer that later,” the old man replied, throwing the boy a towel.  “After we poison that little cutie from your bible studies class!” The old man laughed and winked a mischievous eye at his grandson. “One a’ my better ideas, I reckon, signin’ you up at that dimwitted school.”

The boy rubbed the towel over his face and head, his mind wandering back to the previous night. Blue memories stirred his senses and his loins. Memories of his mother and the family dog engaged in some moist and noisome activity. He had stumbled upon them quite innocently, drawn to his mother’s bedroom by sounds of breathy grunting and slurping which were just audible above the frenzied squeaking of well worn bed springs. 

That unexpected coupling – viewed discreetly through a faintly cracked door – had been quite a sight, the sharp images of which incited a growing desire within the young voyeur.

“Stop daydreamin’!” scolded the old man. “We gotta’ prepare supper now, and I gotta’ make sure we got plenty a’ Rat-Away for the roast!”

“Yes, Grandpa.”

The boy was obedient but distracted as they abandoned the bathroom for the kitchen, his head filled with thoughts of his mother.

***

“. . . So,” said the little girl, sailing ever further down a swirling stream of words which she had begun navigating some minutes earlier, “I was really excited when Bobby invited me to dinner.”

She swallowed a piece of roast, succulent and toxic, and grandpa chuckled behind his hand.

“Yes,” offered Bobby, dipping a disinterested toe into the shallow waters of conversation, “I thought you would be.” He had no interest whatsoever in this girl. It was grandpa who liked them young; Grandpa who was always scheming and plotting, using Bobby’s blonde haired and perky good looks to lure unsuspecting waifs to the dinner table.

In the past, Bobby had sustained a marginal interest in his grandfather’s devious plans and the resulting goings on. But that interest had been completely eradicated by the incestuous lust so recently kindled within him. He would, he decided, have his mother tonight.

“Yahoo!” exclaimed Grandpa.

 Bobby blinked and looked up from his dinner plate (conspicuously free of roast beef) to see their little guest’s pretty face turning a curious shade of blue, her tongue protruding from her mouth as the Rat-Away claimed her. She stared at the two of them for a few frantic moments and then fell forward into her plate, splattering bloody juice and lumps of brown gravy across the table.

“That was a good one, weren’t it boy!?” Grandpa could barely contain his excitement.

“Yes.” Bobby agreed, rising from his seat and making quickly for his room. “I’ll see you later, Grandpa.”

The old man’s only response was an inaudible mumble as he leaned over the table and sank his dentures into the tender throat of their late guest.

***

Bobby peered up at the clock from the darkness beneath his bed – the luminous digital display indicated that it was now 8:30. He realized with some surprise that he had been lying there amid the dusty shadows beneath his box spring for nearly two hours! My goodness, he thought, how time flies when you’re having fun! But enough was enough. Mother was probably getting herself ready for a night on the town at this very moment, no doubt sharpening her knives while he dawdled.

Spurred to action by the thought of his mother’s imminent departure, Bobby rolled out from beneath his bed. He stretched young muscles and whistled a happy tune, anticipating the conquest to come. Things might go easier, he thought, if he disrobed in advance. So, with anxious hands he dropped shirt, pants and underwear to the floor until he was naught but naked flesh and goose bumps in the cool air of his room. He touched himself lightly and hoped that mother would not offer too much resistance.

Another look at the clock told him that he’d better hurry, for it was nearly 9:00 and his mother would be getting dressed soon. He strolled across the brisk space of his room and opened the door. Alice, the family’s husky German Shepherd, stood drooling in the hall. Bobby patted the dog’s head and whispered conspiratorially.

 “You had your turn,” he said. “Now it’s time for mine.”

The big dog flopped over and rolled about on the floor, craving attention. Bobby, however, was far too excited to indulge in any of their usual games. Mother’s room was just down the corridor. . .

***

Bobby entered his mother’s room with a certain swaggering bravado, yanking the door open and strutting in with all the melodramatic flare of a gunfighter blowing into some notorious saloon. His mother, standing partially clothed before a full length mirror, jumped at his unexpected arrival and smeared the lipstick she had been applying across her cheek. In her black panties and bra, pink garters on her thighs, she had the appearance of a sleazy but not unattractive whore; and Bobby, who had experienced a nervous loss of determination after his impressive entrance, felt his courage and excitement grow at the sight of her.

“M. . . M. . . Mother. . .” he stammered, “I saw what you were doing with Alice last night. . .” His eyes crawled over her as he spoke, her length of shining blonde hair and the garters on her thighs inflaming him. “I’ve been thinking about you all day and I’ve come to get what I deserve.”

She gazed at him wistfully and dropped her lipstick to the floor.

“After all,” continued Bobby, “I am your only son.”

“My only living son,” she corrected. She rolled a glistening tongue over moist and partially painted lips. Bobby thought that the lipstick smeared crimson across her face looked like war paint. “But since you are so cute, I won’t hold that against you. In fact, since you are so cute. . .” Her voice faded into a breathy sigh as she slid the lacy black of her panties down to her ankles. “I think I can give you something better than the dog got.” She stepped out of her panties, now a black shadow on the floor. “Would you like that, Bobby?”

Bobby nodded his head in vigorous confirmation, his swollen adolescent flesh a testament to his desire. “Yes mother,” he said.

She un-strapped her bra and tossed it toward him, naked now except for the pink garters around her thighs. “Please, Bobby,” she whispered, “call me Rita. No need to be so formal.”  She sauntered over to the unmade bed, all long legs and swaying hips. “Now come over here and make me forget all about that drooling canine.”

Feeling as if he might explode at any moment, Bobby hurried across the room. He clambered on to the bed, smiling at the familiar sound of bed springs squeaking beneath his weight; and there between the gartered thighs of the woman who bore him, he became a man.

By Richard Cody

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