By Cecilia Kennedy
Ruby running shoes flash across my screen. “Run for it,” the advertisement says, and I follow the square copy as it settles on the left-hand side of the computer. Then, I use this trick I’ve developed over the years and swallow it whole. I open my mouth, suck in the air around me until I feel the points and edges of the advertisement tickle the back of my throat, like cotton candy, and let it dissolve in a thick syrup. I lick my fingers and search for more. It’s not long before a set of knives I’ve always wanted drifts across the screen. “Cutting edge,” they say. How clever. “Down the hatch,” I tell them, and in they go, all fluffy and sweet, dripping with sugar.
At the doctor’s office, I complain of back pain. I can barely walk.
“You can’t sit for so long at a computer,” the nurse says. “Sitting is the new smoking.”
When the nurse leaves to get the doctor, I sneak a peek at the computer by the wall—at all the glorious advertisements dancing like sugar plums. When the doctor comes in, I’m mid swallow. An advertisement for a hospital bed, with adjustable features, looks too good to pass up, and I’m hungry—always hungry. It goes down in ribbons of raspberry taffy. The doctor prescribes pills and writes down how many advertisements a day I feel compelled to stuff down my throat.
“You realize you’re not getting what you want?” she says. I think I’m supposed to nod my head in agreement, but I’m getting everything I could ever need. It’s fun. What’s wrong with that? Some people are bored.
When I get home, I throw the pills in the trash. They can’t possibly taste as good as a super-charged micro mixer that pulverizes fruit and vegetables into heavy shakes—except when I get it, in advertisement form, it tastes way too good to be healthy.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I see the things I’ve eaten. They dance in a glittery, wavy form, and I watch them in my head until I grow dizzy and somewhat nauseas. It’s happening more often now, but I just punch my fist into my stomach and tell myself I won’t throw up.
At my desk again, I spend hours gulping down advertisements for bras, swimsuits, pantyhose, and guitars. I’ve got a new penchant for plastic plants and pillows that look like succulents. Plush toys are the best. They taste like marshmallows. At night, they all still dance and sparkle in my dreams, but this evening, punching my stomach down and telling myself to not throw up doesn’t work. I stand up to make the sickening sweet feeling go away, but standing only intensifies the nausea, and I won’t make it to the bathroom in time. In the middle of my bedroom, I’m reduced to vomiting all the images of the things I’ve consumed. When I turn on the light to clean up the mess, there’s a puddle on the floor that glitters and sparkles in pink. It swirls in a pattern and starts to take the shapes of all of the things I’ve wanted, from shoes to glass starfish, to a Coca-Cola bear. They gather around me and dance, but instead of feeling happy, I want them to leave. So I pick them up to put them in the trash, but they grow arms and legs and vine-like tendrils that climb back out and plant themselves in my kitchen, my living room—and they won’t leave.
Night after night, I’ve vomited in unicorn colors of pink and purple glitter, and the whole mess takes shape. I’d go see the doctor, if I could get to the door, but it’s blocked by stuffed animals hardened into stems, roots, and rock. When I go to sleep at night, my bed covered in things, my stomach hardens. The knots, tightening inside, force me to do something I’d never imagined myself doing.
I go to the kitchen, break apart the collection before me, one piece at a time—and force myself to eat it, even when I feel it coming back up—even when it tastes like nothing and leaves me hungry and empty. I eat it all until I can find the door and get in my car and head for the woods, where cables and wires that send electrical signals to devices don’t weave their way through the crevices and walls—and the skies are nothing but empty blue screens.
Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) is a writer who taught English and Spanish in Ohio for 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in international literary magazines and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Hearth & Coffin Literary Magazine, Maudlin House, Tiny Molecules, Rejection Letters, Meadowlark Review, Vast Chasm Literary Magazine, Kandisha Press, Ghost Orchid Press, and others. She currently works full time as a copywriter and does freelance work as a proofreader for Flash Fiction Magazine and as a concept editor for Running Wild Press, LLC. You can follow her on Twitter.