"Vegans on UTube"
I really liked Felicia until she tried to kill me.
When we started as freshmen at Arizona University, an algorithm assigned us as each other's roommates, which seemed, of course, like a blessing. That first night we moved in, she took me to a party at a frat house.
"They want, like, as many girls there as possible," she said. "Put on a skirt and some lipstick and there will be no problem."
By midnight, I had the feeling that college was going to be amazing. I'd grown up in Montana, and since I hadn't gotten into Columbia—my pipe dream school—I'd felt unsure about the whole thing: moving so far away, sharing a room with a stranger, attending classes and labs. None of it excited me; none of it made me think I might have fun.
But at this party, the music shivered my body from the bones out. Someone handed me a cup—free beer! A man asked if he could kiss me and I said yes and then we put our tongues in each other's mouths. I floated around with Felicia, dancing, as a bubble machine popped out fat, floral-scented balloons that burst as they touched my shoulders.
"I loved that!" I said to Felicia as we were leaving the party at two in the morning. I wanted to hold her hand. She hadn't left me alone; she'd stuck by me the whole time, like a true friend.
"I'm starving." She grabbed at her middle.
"I have granola bars back in our room."
"Pizza," she said. "There's one late-night spot open on campus. Let's get pizza!"
"Please, yes." My stomach sloshed with the beer and liquor I'd poured into it, and pizza would act like a paper towel, soaking it all up.
We ordered a sausage pie to share and then we sat on hard, red, plastic chairs and devoured the whole thing.
"I wanted to come here because it was a party school," Felicia said. "What about you?"
"Um." I shrugged. "Same."
"Let's put up some fuzzy curtains in our room. They sound weird, but I saw them at the mall and they look so cute."
We left a few crusts and several crumpled paper napkins on the countertop. Back in our dorm, before I fell asleep, I saw Felicia smiling; she was happy.
But in the morning, she started crying before she'd even rolled out of bed. "What happened last night?" she said. "I ruined my diet. I'm such an idiot."
"It was fun," I said. "Remember?"
She threw off the bedclothes and started doing sit ups. She was still doing them when I left the room in search of breakfast.
Felicia gained the "freshman fifteen" fast: the campus cafeteria choices seemed to overwhelm her, even though she was always on some diet or other.
One day, when I came back from the low-grade horror of English 101, she said, "I'm going vegan."
I dropped my backpack to the floor and nudged it underneath my bed. "Isn't that where you can only eat fruits and vegetables?"
"No, you can eat all kinds of things, just not any meat or animal byproducts."
"Stuff that comes out of them. Like milk or cheese or honey or gummi bears."
"What's in gummi bears?"
"Gelatin." She shivered. "I've been watching these videos about it, these UTube videos, and they're really inspiring."
"That's cool," I said, figuring this was like any of her other diets, where she could only have green juice or slabs of beef or peanut butter mixed with chili powder, and she'd forget all about it by the weekend.
"The best thing is, you can eat however much you want. There's no limit! I could eat fifty bananas in one day if I wanted."
"You would turn into a banana," I said; she didn't laugh. I had no idea then, but Felicia was going to hold onto this like a pitbull and shake, shake, shake.
"The truth is," Felicia said a few weeks later, "fat people caused about twenty-five percent of the deaths in 9/11."
We were sitting together in the cafeteria, a huge mound of orange peels between us. She'd eaten fifteen oranges, and now she was working on a plateful of celery sticks. I'd finished my quesadilla a half-hour ago.
"We were only three years old when 9/11 happened," I said.
"They were too fat to take the stairs. They took the elevators every day of their lives. And then, you know, like, you can't take the elevators in an emergency. And so they went down the stairs slow, slow, slow, and they blocked all the fit people and there was a huge backup and actually twenty-five percent more people didn't get out of the tower because of this. There are articles on it."
"Huh." I stared at Felicia's powerful jaw muscles. Maybe she'd shed the weight too quickly—she was down about twenty pounds—and her brain had shrunk a little bit, too.
"I feel so substantial," she said. "If I had been in that tower, even at the tippy-top, I would have sprinted all the way down and pushed those fatties out of the way and made it. I know I would have."
Maybe she was right: she'd bought a fifteen-speed elliptical and squeezed it into her side of the dorm room. To fit it in, she'd dismantled her desk, but that didn't seem like a big issue, since she'd set up a little homework station right there between the elliptical’s handles. Every day, she spent a couple of hours, maybe more, pumping her legs, like she was preparing for this big sprint down a hundred flights of stairs and into the brilliant street.
"I can't sleep," I said to Felicia that night. She was ellipticaling, and every third rotation, the machine made a thin, high squeak. "You want to go to a party tomorrow? It's Saturday."
"All they do is drink," Felicia gasped. "That's toxic."
I knew that she really meant, that's empty calories.
College made me hungry, too; it left me feeling hollow even after I did what the professors and the guidance counselors and the suck-up honors students called "fulfilling" or "enriching." When my English class took a field trip to a poetry reading downtown, the blank verse and the metaphors for beauty made me want to gag, because all that college had taught me so far was that everything was fake. When I opened my books to study, I found words, but the pages might as well have been blank. Even the outdoors felt curated with those symmetrical lines of bulbous, yellow-spined cacti and the chunks of gravel instead of a lawn.
Two weeks after I'd left home for college, the family dog had died. Barkey. I'd named him when I was three years old, and now he was buried in the backyard beneath where my playground set used to stand. My mom couldn't tell me all this—she was too sad—so she'd texted me a picture of the burial mound and the little white cross my stepfather had made with Barkey's name. Now that I wasn't there anymore, it was like my home had become just another fiction, a place I would only ever see in pictures.
"Felicia," I said, "can I borrow a dress for the party tomorrow?"
"Whatever." She pedaled harder, working furiously to stay in place. "None of that crap fits me anymore. I need to find some vegan clothes for my new skinny self. The real me."
At the Saturday night party, I got drunk and observed all the college students acting like they were in a low-budget commercial for Budweiser. I eyeballed a tall guy in a striped shirt, but he never glanced in my direction. Was I really a person? A real person? If I was, then no one else noticed. I stared into my red plastic cup and remembered the last party Felicia and I had gone to together, over a month ago, when a group of Tri Delta girls had raised their plucked eyebrows while Felicia told them that if they had to eat meat, then road kill was the only humane way to do it. I know she overheard the girls saying later that they would like to make her roadkill so that she'd shut up for one second. I'd tried to get Felicia to dance with me, to do that shimmy-shake move she'd taught me at our first party together. Instead, she told me she had to go to the bathroom and walked out the front door. The school was huge, fifty thousand students, but I didn't have any other friends.
I left the Budweiser commercial and stumbled back to the dorm. When I opened the door, Felicia shrieked, "Get down! You're in my shot!"
I thought she meant that she had a gun, and so I dropped my belly to the floor.
"Dammit," she said. "Come in. I'm going to have to start that segment over. It's okay; I can splice it together. Now if you're getting in your bed, I need you to hide under the covers."
"Okay," I said, drunk-me certain there had to be a logic in this, "sure, no problem."
Felicia was on her elliptical, her laptop balanced on the makeshift desk between the handlebars. "I'm making a video," she said, "and you can't be in the shot."
"Right." I hopped into bed and yanked the comforter up over my head. My vodka-and-vomit breath—I'd thrown up in the bushes beside the chemistry building—filled the enclosed space. Vodka and vomit, alliteration, that was called—yet another arbitrary word for some artificial idea. Barkey used to throw up all the time; he was a nasty dog, always eating the inedible and throwing it up and then trying to eat it again. My stepfather used to say, "I'm going to kill that dog," not just when Barkey vomited, but whenever anything went wrong, even something Barkey could never have done, like a lost promotion or a dead battery in the car.
My tipsy, meandering thoughts finally broke long enough for me to hear a little bit of what Felicia was saying.
"So yeah, you want to be all raw and no poo." Speaking into her computer, her voice sounded smoothed-over. "Shampoo is bad on so many levels. Think about this: they test it on poor, little, defenseless animals. That right there should keep you away. And then, it makes you ugly. It spreads chemicals all across your hair and dries it out and makes it brittle so it snaps off when you brush it. So stay away from the poo, okay? Any self-respecting Guava Girl would.
"Now, back to my morning routine. After spreading the natural oil produced by my scalp down to the tips of my hair, I stare into the mirror. This is called self-love. I check out how good I look, how my leg muscles are doing, how much I can see my hip bones, all that stuff. I tell myself I'm beautiful. So you just want to self-love yourself every morning, to remind you that being you is good. And make sure you do the things that make you good, like eat vegan. Okay, that's it for now; I'll vlog all you Guava Girls again tomorrow!"
"make sure you do the things that make you good, like eat vegan."
After a minute of silence, I whispered, "Can I come out?" I pulled the covers beneath my chin. "What were you doing?"
"I have a UTube channel now," Felicia said, "so that people can find out more about my lifestyle and how to emulate it and all that."
"But why would they want to do that? You love shampoo!"
Felicia ran her fingers through her hair which, now that I looked at it, did seem a bit greasy and stringy. "Our room needs to stop being a toxic environment."
"It's fine." Twelve by nine, or maybe twelve by ten feet, our dorm room was the only place on campus that I felt mostly safe. If Felicia and I both reached out our arms while lying in bed, we could clasp hands. It was cozy, the way it might have felt if I'd had a sibling.
"I need to inform people. Like my channel is a news site. Do you know how many toxins are in our environment? And do you know how many of them try to enter through our scalp? Stuff like that."
As Felicia put her computer away, I looked around our room without moving my head. I felt a little bit spinney, actually, so it took me a moment to register the giant pile of fruit on the windowsill; it kept slipping to the right and then jumping back into place until Felicia turned out the lights and my eyelids grew heavy and I slept.
In the morning I woke to a monstrous screech, and I worried that it was coming from inside my own head until I saw the blender.
"What are you doing?" I said, holding my ears closed.
"Breakfast." Felicia poured a swallow straight from the blender into her mouth. "Five bananas, two guavas, a half-pound of blueberries and a drop of stevia mint extract."
"What happened to a granola bar?"
"I'm going raw, which is so much better for you. When I had a granola bar, then later I would want to eat a piece of nut bread, too, or something like that. But I down a three-pound smoothie, it's okay, and nothing else will fit in there." She swallowed more out of the blender and patted her stomach.
"Oh." I turned over, preparing to return to sleep.
"That video I posted last night? Someone noticed you in the background, under the covers, and they made a response video about it."
"How long have you been awake?"
"It's this video of a girl talking about how great it is to eat raw, and then from the bed behind her, this giant guava jumps out from under the covers and they make out. If I'm getting response videos, people really like my stuff. It's getting popular."
"Sounds kind of scary. A giant guava?" My head pounded.
"It was a costume. You want to go on a bike ride with me?"
I didn't move as she shuffled around, getting ready.
"Look at that butt," she said. "Those are some great arms; lots of wrist. Shiny hair with the natural oil."
I peeked: she was in front of the mirror, admiring herself. The words floated up from my dreamy memory of the night before: self-love.
"Healthy eyes from all the carrots. Maybe, pretty soon, I won't need these contacts. The body will fix itself.
"I am beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, and it's good to have this body."
Then she headed out the door. In the silence she left behind, I wondered why all her self-love had filled me with hatred. It was so annoying that I had to listen to how spindly her neck was—as if this were a compliment.
I rolled out of bed and stood in the same spot Felicia had just vacated. Messed-up hair, dark circles under my eyes, a whitish dried drool streak at one corner of my mouth.
I turned away. I had to pee.
After cleaning myself up a little, I looked in our mini fridge to find that half the lunchmeat I'd been saving had vanished, and the remaining slices had been carefully rearranged to cover up the loss. Felicia, sneaking meat. I felt tingly all over, excited, maybe because it seemed like Felicia was entrusting me with a huge secret. I went alone to the cafeteria for breakfast, and sitting over my plate, staring at the strips of bacon, I finally gave in to this creepy feeling, this strange idea that had been burrowing around in the back of my mind for weeks now, the thought that maybe, somehow, my stepfather had murdered Barkey.
Everyone else in the cafeteria sat with a friend. There was a sinkhole in the upper part of my chest, but no matter how many waffles I pushed down my throat, it didn't close up any. Maybe I should never have come to college. My family was the three-person type that thought trick-or-treating was inappropriate, that filled its single bookshelf with more old VHS tapes than books, that sat down each night at five-thirty sharp to a silent meal.
The thing was, Barkey hadn't been sick, and my stepfather had always hated him.
A group of girls in the booth next to me burst into laughter. I pressed my thumbs into my ear canals so that instead I heard the noises from inside my head, a huge ocean, a vacuous lapping of my brain fluid against the gritty shore of my skull. I hadn't been there to save Barkey, to admit, for example, that it was me who'd eaten the expensive chocolate my stepfather had been saving. Sometimes Barkey had been punished—chained to a tree so that he had to live in a two-foot circle for days, kicked in the side so that his yelp was lost to breathlessness—for my crimes. But that had been my punishment, too, to watch him suffer.
Maybe I was going sort of crazy. Felicia with her arrowed elbows and her constant whirring away on that exercise machine was making me feel displaced, and if my place wasn't in my own dorm room, then where was it? Definitely not in this cafeteria. I scraped my chair back against the linoleum and stalked out, not bothering to buss my dishes.
Barkey had been a good dog. Growing up, he was my best friend. A protector. The kind of dog all kids should have. He peed on me once, accidentally (I was hiding inside his favorite bush), and instead of feeling grossed out, I pretended that I was being baptized, a Barkey disciple.
He used to have nightmares, these scary doggie nightmares where he'd make little choked yips and his paws would tremble. The funny thing was, he only had nightmares when I was feeling sad. The rest of the time, you could just tell that his dreams were about running through fields, chasing rabbits. And so for his sake, I tried to keep my sadness to a minimum.
In the university library, I curled up in an armchair and nursed the pounding in my head. It was almost a comfort, the careful throb of my brain, because it made the fact of my life so obvious.
When the library desks started to fill with students writing papers, students paging through books and flash cards, students staring at me, the only one of them flopped over and unoccupied, I dragged myself back to the dorm, where I found a stranger sitting on my bed.
"Hiya," he said to me. "I'm Wally. Or you should call me CucCycle."
When my face scrunched up, Felicia, who sat on her own bed, said, "His UTube name, like cucumber bicycle; the things he loves in life." She bounced a little on her mattress. "Where you been?" she asked me. "It's the weekend."
He looked too old to be a student—a traditional student—with his brown hair going pepper at the sides, his thin skin caved in beneath his cheek bones, his ropy arms. "Are you two… in classes together?" I asked. "Or how do you know each other?"
"I mean, I really can't believe I'm meeting Guava Girl," the man, Wally, said. "You got a following so fast; everyone loves you! You're magnetic on the screen. Those artful shots of your smoothie blending. When you demonstrated how to do a fishtail braid. Here's the real Guava Girl, right in front of me."
"That's me." Felicia smiled.
Wally's tight t-shirt showed the sunken C of his belly. I tried to look into his eyes to see if they were scrambled, wild, but he refused to look away from Felicia.
"Is she a vegan, too?" he said to Felicia.
"Oh, man. Oh, my god. That must be so hard for you."
I growled at him under my breath as I went to sit at my desk.
"The thing is," Felicia said, picking up on a conversation they must have been having before I entered, "you can't do just cucumber. You need some fat in there, so that you survive. And that's why you eat a couple dates with them."
"Genius," Wally said, beaming.
It was like I'd vanished from the room, like I was a vegetable.
"You don't need to consume animal protein for muscle," Felicia said. "That's a myth."
No; they noticed me less than they would a vegetable.
Felicia flexed. "Look at that—it came from plant power."
"Damn straight," Wally said and squeezed at his scrawny bicep. "Plant power has given me all my muscle, too." He settled deeper into my bed, my territory.
"Grr," I said, the same way Barkey would when someone he didn't like was in the house.
"Let's talk hydration," Felicia said.
Wally nodded vigorously. "Hydration is crazy important."
I scratched at my belly. It felt so good, I scratched harder.
"I mean, look at this world we live in today. The pollution sucks water out of your body. The radio waves and internet waves break up your internal water molecules. Even your clothes. All these synthetic fabrics we stretch all over our skin suck the water out."
"Wow," Wally said to her. "And you got to wear the synthetic, because otherwise, you're killing animals."
"Or making them slaves," Felicia agreed. "Wool slaves."
I imagined the sheep, the hordes of them, and my feet twitched.
"When you think of the animals," Wally said, "there's basically no way you could not be vegan. Think of the animals suffering."
Felicia slid off her bed. "There's this great vegan restaurant downtown," she said. "Come on; let's go. You'll love it."
The dorm room echoed with their absence, like maybe they'd left forever. That emptiness: I hated it more than anything else.
"I am a stronger woman today than I ever was because of my vegan diet."
"Listen, Guava Girls," Felicia said from her dorm bed a couple of weeks later. "I know that some of you heard this rumor that me and CucCycle might be in an abusive relationship"—Wally waved at the laptop screen from his post beside Felicia—"but I am here to tell you no way, no how. I am a stronger woman today than I ever was because of my vegan diet, and I know my mind, and I would never—never!—stay with that kind of a man. So that is that. Please stop the gossip."
After Felicia finished recording, she closed her laptop.
"What the fuck?" Wally said. "You didn't sound genuine enough. You really didn't."
"I was genuine."
"Oh, the bitch claims she's genuine," Wally said to the sky. He'd been talking that way a lot, lately, ever since he'd moved into our dorm room. Talking as if there were some important judge up in the corner behind the cobwebs who would decide everyone's fate.
"I am genuine."
"I watched you eat a smoothie yesterday," Wally said, his voice at the controlled, deadly tone we all by now understood indicated rage, "with honey in it."
"That is a lie!" Felicia said. "A goddamn lie!"
Wally wrapped her ponytail lovingly through his fingers. "Is it?" I pictured him winding her hair around her throat and pulling it tight, as if she were a terrible stepdaughter, the worst. I raised my textbook up over the level of my eyes.
It was like one day, Felicia was filming her vlog, eating the occasional Cheeto, and the next, Wally sat beside her in every one of her videos, his floppy hair cocked charmingly over one eye, his arm crooked around her neck. His only obligation seemed to be following Felicia around. He bought her this weird camera that clipped atop her bike helmet so that she could ride behind him and film his awesome biking. Then, he would upload videos to UTube of himself crashing on two wheels down a mountain and then eating fifteen cucumbers rather than drinking water (each cuc, he said, was like half a Gatorade, with the electrolytes and everything).
Wally and Felicia slept in the same twin bed, which I guess wasn't that cramped since they were both sort of two-dimensional, and I slept across from them and had nightmares about Barkey eating poisoned liverwurst. Sometimes I'd awake to grunts and endearments—they treated me like a dog, like having me there was as private as if I were absent—and I thought about how much easier this would be if I were a dog, no GPA requirements or cliques or an overwhelming sense of disgust at listening to these people have sex a few feet away from me.
A couple of weeks after Wally had installed himself in our dorm room, I scared myself awake to find him staring at me from Felicia's mattress (he often slept with his eyes open). As I tried to slow my crazed heart, it struck me that Wally's slackened, sleeping features sort of resembled my stepfather's. And he had the same, upsetting habit of walking around while brushing his teeth, letting little flecks of toothpaste and spit speckle everything. And, of course, he had the same shrunken black heart.
"Veganism is basically a higher form of living," Felicia said into her camera as I ate pork rinds at my desk. I turned the page of a textbook and left a grease smear on the corner, but I wasn't reading: I was watching Wally and Felicia's reflection in the window. "I'm not saying that I want to eliminate all of the non-vegans—I'm not into violence—but non-vegans deserve to go extinct, the way they're treating our planet."
Wally nodded strenuously. "Check out these clips of slaughterhouses." He poked Felicia. "And then we'll cut here, and we'll splice in those bloody movies I was showing you."
"But that might scare some people away, don't you think?"
I rolled my eyes; Felicia had continued to sneak bits of my meat from our mini fridge. She'd gotten to the point where she wasn't even trying to hide it all that well.
"Why do you always question everything that I say? You can't get it through your thick skull what's best for the community!" Wally slammed his fist into the screen of the laptop, and I heard a crack as the picture, which must have been their two faces reflected back at them, splintered.
Felicia screamed. "Now we'll have to buy another one!"
I bit down hard on the pork rinds and didn't realize that I was chewing on my tongue, too, for several seconds, until I tasted the metal of my own blood.
I couldn't ignore it any longer: Wally, those angry veins forging roads along his arms, was too much like my stepfather.
The next time that Wally and Felicia left to go on some heart-stopping bike ride, I set up the livestreaming feed and tagged Felicia's gaggle of Guava Girls. Her following had grown to tens of thousands; they loved her; they loved to send her photographs of their flat stomachs and pyramids of fruit. I knew they wouldn't be able to resist my "huge reveal." They seemed to live online, inside their favorite sites, as tiny, round pictures and misspelled comments. U LUK HOT. GIMME GUVA. I LOST 11 PONDS!!! THX GG.
When they came in from their bike ride, Wally left to shower in the shared men's room down the hall, like always. I stood in front of my unobtrusive, livestreaming computer.
"Felicia," I said, "try this, okay?" I handed her a piece of sausage. A few minutes before, I'd unwrapped and sliced it in front of the livestream. That first night I'd met her, she'd scarfed the sausage pizza with such relish.
"What is it?"
I knew she was hungry. She'd been surviving off of fruit and too much exercise.
"A new kind of vegetable." I winked. "A sausage." She stood right in line of my laptop's camera. "Don't worry; I know already. I won't tell."
She sniffed it. Instead of stuff it into her mouth and chew ravenously, with appreciation, she basically swallowed it whole, without pleasure, and reached wearily for another slice. Even the basic joys had left her.
"Ta-da!" I said, trying to infuse my voice with enthusiasm. "Now the Guava Girls know: you don't really believe in this whole philosophy. You're a fraud, just like everything else." I jabbed a button that made the blank computer screen alight.
Felicia looked at the video of her face; her eyes grew huge with rage. She covered the camera with a thumb, bent down, and clicked through a few comments from the livestream. WTF??!1 EW NO THAT WAS A PIGLIT. GG IS A GROSS LUMPY FRAD. MAYBE WAS SPECIAL AFFECTS? IM GONNA BURN HER HAIR IN GREASE FIRE.
"What did you do?" she said. "What the fuck did you do?" She slammed my laptop shut. She picked up the slices of sausage and flung them at me. She pummeled my stomach, but she quickly grew weak, and her body became a sad string of spaghetti coiled on the floor.
"I'm getting rid of Wally," I said. "That's all. It's really nothing against you." With a pang, I realized that this was a lie: I couldn't stand Felicia's ellipticaling, her fifteen rotting banana peels in the trash, her stupid nails, which had been manicured as slices of watermelon.
"It's okay that you're jealous of me," Felicia said into the carpet. "All the Guava Girls are jealous of me; that's why they follow me. But to do this… unforgivable."
"All the Guava Girls are jealous of me; that's why they follow me."
When she looked up, her face scared me: smeared mascara, bared teeth, angry wrinkles. I took a step back and bumped into my bed. "I'm not jealous," I said.
I fled to the library, ready to wait for the Guava Girls to disseminate the news, for Wally to move out and Felicia to go back to the person she'd been. When watching movies on my laptop began to make my brain feel like Velcro, its two halves ripped apart and then patched up together again, I logged into my email. Felicia had sent me something: a link to her latest UTube upload.
"All right now, Guava Girls," she said. It was strange to watch her from this angle, like I was sitting in her lap. The background was the dorm room wall, and Wally sat beside her, chewing on a cucumber. Their shoulders were touching. My stomach flipped.
"I know a lot of you are freaking out right now. But the truth is—what you saw earlier—that was tofu sausage. You can pick up stuff just like it at Whole Foods."
Wally held up a package: Plant Based Sausage Product.
"Some people are trying to destroy me," Felicia said. "Because they're scared of the power of veganism. They're scared that their way of life, that eating meat, is outmoded. And they're right. They should be scared."
"We're coming for you," Wally said and pointed right at the camera—right at me.
"But just remember." Felicia moved her face closer so that only her lips showed. "I would never lie to you. And all you Guava Girls are the best for sticking by me." The screen went blank.
"I should thank you," Felicia said to me when I returned to our dorm room that night, after the library had closed. "I really should. The whole Sausagegate got picked up by this feminist news site and it went kind of viral and now I have ten times as many followers! Think of how many I'll have tomorrow."
I stared at the floor. Wally's flip flops were gone, which meant he was in the bathroom. The thought that he could return at any second made my insides feel shrink-wrapped.
"They love talking about me," Felicia said. "Debating if it was meat, or if it was really tofu. They are eating that shit up. And they're still wondering whether or not Wally hits me or whatever. Which you and I both know perfectly well that he does not. Funny thing: I traced that rumor back to some user named BARKEY4BANANAS. You ever heard of her? The user picture is some stupid white cross; she's really playing it up for sympathy."
My eyes squeezed shut; dogs couldn't cry because they didn't have tear ducts.
"I would kill that liar," Felicia said, "if I could get my hands on her."
"Stay away from me," I said to Felicia, but no one could get more than a couple feet from anyone else in that place. "Wally is making you do this. Isn't he? Wally wants to ruin it." If Wally wasn't so old, I might think he was the illegitimate offspring of my stepfather: both of them were bent on destroying me.
"You aren't a real friend," Felicia said. "Wally is better for me than you are. He forgave me; he helped me turn this thing around. He can elevate me to a higher level. But you, filming me eating, without my consent—that was the worst thing anyone has ever done to me. You never support me. Never defend me to all these sorority bitches. You think everything I do is ridiculous; I see it in your face."
This was the most she'd talked to me since Wally had moved in, and her words burned their way swiftly through my gut.
The door flung open and Wally stepped into the room. "You talk to her yet?"
They were ganging up on me: this was a plan that I knew well. My mother would always tell me what I did wrong, and then my stepfather would dole out the real punishment. But maybe this was what I needed to keep things together.
"I think we need to make a video of her apologizing," he said. He wore shorts and a tank top stained with a V of sweat. "Or maybe film a catfight. Think about all the hits that would get."
His bicep trembled, and one fat, blue vein that ran over its top seemed to pulse with his emotion. For some reason, I could taste his flesh, sort of stale and sweaty, salty, the dense chew of it, and then I realized that the reason I could taste it was because I was biting him.
"The fuck!" he said and wrenched his arm away. "Oh my god! She's an animal!"
I hadn't meant to bite Wally. I hadn't even commanded my muscles, bite him.
I pulled a hair off of my tongue. I felt sort of strange, heady, like I'd been taken over. I hadn't meant to bite Wally. I hadn't even commanded my muscles, bite him. But they had.
The following afternoon, I started feeling really ill. My breakfast, half a leftover bacon-egg-cheese burrito, had tasted a little funny, but I'd wolfed it anyway.
I opened my eyes to find Felicia standing over me, filming. "You feel sicky?" she said. "Oh, poor you. But we aren't supposed to digest the very things our own bodies are made of."
Staring into that hard, blank, shiny-small camera eye, I knew that she'd poisoned my breakfast burrito, that she really wanted me dead. "This will get you so many UTube hits," I said. My throat was on fire. The meat was killing me, ruining my life, just like Felicia had promised.
"Oh, sure," she said. "I'll have a whole new following."
Wally swam into my vision. "She looks terrible," he said. "I've got to go pick up the keys soon."
"Wally's getting his own place," Felicia said. "He got sponsors to sign on because we have so many UTube followers, and now he's starting his own business. Protein powders for cyclists. And I'm going with him. We can't live with a beast like you."
I wanted to ask her to stay; I needed her; but instead I coughed and a little bit of blood flew out onto my pillow.
"You go around chewing on people," he said, "and you'll always be alone."
I whimpered. I fell into sleep. My limbs twitched. The world was made up of food, the tidbits, the smells of food leaving me nauseous and hungry at the same time. My whole body shivered and burned. I was a wolf; a fucking dog; the spirit of Barkey lived on inside me. My stepfather hadn't been able to make him vanish, after all. Maybe this was the point of college: four years of the world's small poisons building up in my body, assembling my immunity to the next four years, and the next, and maybe the next, until finally I would feel basically all right.
M. S. Coe has stories published in Antioch Review and Electric Literature. Coe earned an MFA from Cornell University and has held residencies from Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Petrified Forest National Park, and Ora Lerman Trust. Coe has been a reader for Kore Press and is currently the editor of Eggtooth Editions, a small chapbook press.