Me and the Flies
by Elle Nash
Most nights I slept in the bathroom of our studio apartment inside of the bathtub, wombhaven porcelain hugging me. The only other place to sleep was the bed, and on those nights Rob slept uncomfortably in the middle, snoring too loud for me to bear, or we’d been fighting and it felt strange to sleep next to someone I was so angry with. Some nights he stayed up until six AM playing video games or watching videos on his phone, and I’d strain my neck and ears listening to see if he was doing something I was not supposed to hear. I knew when I was sleeping in the tub, he spent his time looking up clips of women with large breasts and feathery hair. It looked like porn from the eighties. After I found out, I wanted to pretty like that, pretty enough for porn, so I began to feather my hair, also. I did not, however, have large breasts.
Somehow the sex kept us together until we got engaged. The first month we lived together we bought a giant alpaca fur pelt, big enough for a queen bed. We laid it on the floor. That day he bought me Victoria’s Secret matching sets, the first time a man had ever bought me underwear, and the first time I wore anything so fancy. We split the cost of the alpaca fur. I felt like viking royalty as he laid me down on it, my hair tangled in the white fluff. My back against his body, he wrapped his hands around my neck, breathing hot. His time and patience and care to make sure I felt good, to push himself beyond my own limits, to scratch the itch. Rob proclaimed how good it felt to invest in something together. Then he proposed.
Things I couldn’t get over: his ex; talking about the people we’d fucked when we’d broken up for six months; the space between us being together and being apart. The guilt of the ring on my finger and not having the energy anymore to have sex as often as we used to. The way I needed to serve, how I couldn’t do it. What they say about marriage is true, it kills sex. And we were only engaged. The way I felt during the engagement about sex was, I’m tired of having to give it all the time even when I don’t do all of the work. When I used to work for it so much. When I used to crave it. I didn’t crave it the way I used to— like dick was on tap, when his giant man hands pawed at my unremarkable breasts.
I should’ve pretended he was married. To someone else, I mean. Did it have to be wrong just for it to feel good? I faked it once or twice but I didn’t anymore. Honestly I didn’t ever have to, he was that good. But I didn’t hunger for it anymore. Was it the medication I was taking? The ring? Me?
Rob knew my history with being the other woman in relationships before him. We were discussing wedding bands and he said, “When I get mine, are you going to take yours off so we can play pretend?”
Wedding stress caught up with me. To fit in my dress, I started throwing up my food. I became too tired to initiate sex, and, rejected, Rob stopped sleeping with me. Without him constantly pawing, I’d forgotten how it felt to be wanted or pursued, and so I did not pursue him either. I convinced myself that cooking and cleaning were adequate substitutes for love and intimacy.
I cooked dinner for us each night. After dinner, he sat in the recliner in front of the TV. I drank a giant glass of warm water and headed to the bathroom, my makeshift bedroom, to vomit up the contents of my stomach. Eventually, the warm water wasn’t enough. I began mixing the water with baking soda. I knew at the time there had been at least one documented death from this mixture, but I wasn’t sure I cared.
I didn’t want to talk about it because it would become an issue. But then not talking about it also created an issue. It was a reflection of my whole character and who I was becoming. Afraid, empty and dumb.
Sometimes Rob would ask me if I loved him, and I would have to stop and think if I truly did. When I did think about it, I felt empty.
At dinner I chewed up the crunchy things at least twenty times. Sometimes I’d wait until we had dessert. Ice cream with chocolate syrup. I’d forward fold my face into the toilet with the seat up. My face in piss stains, tiny hairs, the dust from all our shared skin and space stuck to the toilet. I’d think about how much I was failing as a fiancee and a lover by being too lazy to clean. If I left it long enough, pink and black mold would bloom on the rim. I began to resent Rob for not also cleaning when he could see how dirty the toilet was, even though there was an unspoken, mutual agreement that cleaning the bathroom was my job. I slept in it, after all.
The puking went on for several months. Rob found out about it, and became upset. It became similar to sex in the sense that I put something in my body to fill a hole and analyzed the ways in which it left me.
Rob told me I had to decide between him and the puking. I had started puking to fit in the dress, but now puking had taken on another meaning in my life. It had done something for me Rob could not and that was fill a void, even if it was temporary and damaging to my health.
I considered what it would be like for Rob to be with me forever. With a person who could not immediately respond to him about whether or not she loved him.
I did not think I could live without eating food and wanting to throw it up. I did think I could live without Rob. Mostly because we had forgotten to have sex for at least the last six months, even though we were engaged.
I thought being engaged would increase the feelings of love and intimacy between us, but it only seemed to make it worse.
I decided to separate from Rob. I gave the ring back when I did so, and in its place took the alpaca fur.
I tried to replace Rob with other men, but it was difficult. I was too nostalgic and couldn’t afford to hang on to anymore pain. Meeting new people took energy, and I felt too tired to even touch myself. Rob had been easy to talk to at first, but when I opened up he turned away from me like the earth turning away from the sun.
I couldn’t afford to live on my own anymore so I moved in with a few roommates in the city. It was nice, a prosthetic friendship, but I was lonely and spent a lot of time in my room, staring at my silent phone, considering whether or not I had any friends. Nobody is texting me, I thought. As a result I felt less important.
The worst version of me slowly unearthed itself. I no longer cleaned because no one ever came around. I blatantly surfed social media at my job, even though I was the receptionist and it was quite clear I was surfing social media in front of the boss and in front of clients. I stopped washing my hair, and often came to work without make up.
I wanted to see how far I could take this new version of me. I began wearing the same outfits twice in a row. Nobody seemed to notice.
In an attempt to replace and increase my income, I began to explore camming. I watched myself in the tiny box on my computer screen, letting my eyes focus on the ways in which my body was undulating. At first, it was difficult. I held my body in uncomfortable positions to show the viewers what they wanted to see. I touched myself or used toys and attempted to point my toes, which I could not do. I had never been flexible.
I was never able to come either. In order to come I would have to think about Rob. Since our last phone call, I tried not to think about him, but as a result I obsessively wondered what he was doing, even as I actively tried not to think of him. The phone call consisted of him asking me whether or not we would end up together again. When I said I did not know, he pushed me to answer. I was not the type of fiancee or wife he wanted, someone who did know the answers. Someone who knew what they wanted without having to think about it.
“I’m just mad at myself,” I said.
“You should be mad,” he said. “You didn’t even try.”
He kept pushing for a direct answer about being together. I finally said, “No!” out of frustration and he said, “OK, I guess that’s it then,” and hung up.
My interests began to get more acute as I searched for more opportunities to make money. I found websites where I could take videos and pictures of my feet, big toes peeling off socks, and learned you could get paid for them. You could mail the socks and they would send you money for it, too. I learned people would pay you money to eat food and also puke it back up. I felt I was pretty good at that. I had been doing it so much eventually I could do it without my hands. I went to the hardware store and bought a giant clear tub.
Eventually I quit my job and supported myself only via camming. I left without saying goodbye to any one. No one from the office called or emailed. I simply slipped out of their lives like a piece of receipt paper. I then stopped leaving the house at all. My roommates didn’t question it. I showered less and less, and stopped brushing my hair before my cam sessions. I stopped shaving completely. It was freeing.
I didn’t wear any foundation, but I put on bright red lipstick before vomiting. After a good vomit session I looked at my face in the mirror, my cheeks puffy, the red lipstick smeared onto the sides of my mouth. The image in the mirror reflected the cusp of a decaying body right before the swarm of insects comes to devour it. I watched myself on my computer screen and in mirrors. I took selfies as a breakfast ritual with coffee, analyzing each different angle of my face, phone facing mirror facing self, the image repeating forever and ever until there is nothing left.
The pictures of myself and the videos of myself and the mirror of myself never looked the same, and I could not quite get them to match up. The suspension of self between all these other selves.
For inspiration, I watched YouTube videos of women from the eighties jumping around in string bikinis, their breasts moving right and left. I thought about Rob. I moved my eyes back to the camera, the homunculus of me next to the eighties women, and jumped up and down in my seat to see what my own breasts did. The slot of glass between myself and my reflection. I couldn’t remember the feeling of being in love or having a boyfriend or a fiancé. There was only me and the camera and the eighties women. There was the forty dollars of binge food on my desk and the flies in the room and my clear bucket of puke. I looked at photos of Rob and couldn’t imagine the strong feelings I once had for him— was once in love with him.
My sense of fear grew as I spent more time inside. I ordered groceries and had them delivered to my house. A steady stream of viewers were willing to pay or purchase anything I wanted to eat. I took requests of what to eat, and threw it up. Sometimes I wouldn’t. The viewers requested certain outfits or no outfits at all. Regular viewers requested the red lipstick. I puked in the nude often.
The income allowed me to have a replacement life I lived online. I spent an inordinate amount of time promoting my own cam on social media, and built fake profiles of very edited photos of myself. I wore heavy make up in the photos to cover up my acne, and brushed my hair. The photo self did not align with what I saw in the mirror. I used these profiles to find viewers whom I called Friends. Online I could talk with Friends all day and they would pay me. But I could also live in silence. While it looked like words and it looked like I was speaking, I was communicating without using my mouth at all. On cam it looked like I was fucking but I was not fucking at all. It gave me the illusion of having and living life while I was sitting at home wishing I could be somewhere else, experiencing new and exciting things, even though I was afraid or tired.
Sometimes I recorded my sessions so I could watch myself later and improve on my technique. The sessions all had the same structure, and I’d fast forward to watch myself puke. I’d put my dominant hand out in front of me and make a gun, the first two fingers out like I was going to finger fuck myself. I put the gun hand in my mouth, and kept my tongue out for the viewers to see, stroking the back of it. I’d do this until I felt the peristalsis reverse. My diaphragm would kick a little. My abs tightened up. I’d be on my knees. I called it praying but there are many other names for it. In one session, the first pull is ice cream. It is soft like a warm milkshake. I’d make the gun with my hand again.
I’d pull my hand out and the strings of spit hung like a sail between my fingers and mouth. The crayon feel of the lipstick waxed onto my cheeks. I’d suck down another glass of warm water and do it again. When a new food comes up, there are a lot of responses from the viewers. They’d then send requests to me for things I should eat. Next, pasta, followed by salad in wilted chunks, bullion cabbage soup. The viewers typed “yeah, baby.” I sucked down more water, puked until all the water came up and nothing else was left inside. I puked until the pressure pushed its way from my diaphragm up into my head, until the pressure at my throat pushed so hard the blood vessels in my eyes expand. The viewers typed “do it again,” and I did it again. I felt powerful because I knew I was making money but that’s not why I kept going. I puked until the bile came up and my face retracted into its sour taste. I gargled water, looked at the camera and spit. This image repeats, forever and ever until death.
Elle Nash is the author of the forthcoming novel Animals Eat Each Other (Dzanc Books, 2018), and the chapbooks AVOKA (Ghost City Press, 2017) and i can remember the meaning of every tarot card but i can’t remember what i texted you last night (Nostrovia Press, 2016). She is a founding editor at Witch Craft Magazine, a fiction editor at Hobart Pulp, and lives in the Ozarks with her husband, her daughter, and their dog.