Friday, August 19, 2011

Dinner For Alice

The hunger was undeniable. Alice would awaken in the dead of the night, stomach growling, feeling stretched as though it might break into pieces. At first, always at first, she would try to be quiet, she would try not to wake up Ben, then she would remember that Ben was gone. She was alone.
It was the cold hard fact of this singularity that drove Alice into the yard, into the victory garden that had fallen into fecund disrepair since his departure. After a day spent in tears and rotating cycles of hair tearing and screaming, she would fall, utterly spent upon the bed and almost forget his absence in the dark desperation of sleep. Until her stomach called her awake, gurgling, forgotten and denied during the regularly scheduled emotional storms of the daylight hours.
In the endless torrent of wishes for her own death, for the death of Ben’s new flaxen haired lover, for Ben’s death, there was no time or motive to take sustenance. But in the darkness, after the exhausted blackouts, her appetite would take control and lead her barefoot into the yard. Under the pale white face of the moon Alice would kneel in the dark soil between the bug eaten chard and rhubarb. With one trembling hand she would scoop up a hand full of dirt and greedily thrust it into her mouth, wriggling worms and all. Turning over rocks she would lick at the scurrying surface, swallowing things that were still moving.
She fed with urgency and abandon, alternating between unturned bricks or stone and fistfuls of cool moist dirt. And when she was satiated she would return to the house, crawl with dirty fingernails back into bed and sleep until dawn, whence the appetites of the night would give way to the convulsive grieving of the day.
The nighttime excursions came to be extended. Rather than returning to bed Alice spent the rest of the night walking through the neighbors' yards, skirting around the edges of houses and tool sheds and compost bins, sometimes stopping to feed in a freshly tilled flower bed. In the early hours of morning before sunrise she would creep home, entering through the side gate, back into the yard, through the back door.
Pleasantly tired, she could sleep away the hours of the day. She tacked cardboard over the windows to keep the light out. As long as the sun was barred from the house, grieving could be suspended. Alice rested peacefully in her dirty bed, a layer of soil accumulating between the sheets. Waking after dark, her stomach crying with pain, she came to rise instantly with the knowledge that she was alone, that there was no one who could see her, no one who could stop her from doing what she wanted to do, no one to stop her from eating what she most craved. And what she craved for a time was the earth itself and the things that hid within it.
The change was gradual. Her skin first developed a certain sheen. It darkened. Then it began to harden. Her legs and arms had grown just a little longer. Her movements during her nightly excursions were quicker. There was a sound that her altered feet made over the concrete and asphalt, a soft skittering as she moved fleetly into the shadows along the walls.
Alice herself, resigned weeks ago to dying, accepted the changes unquestioningly. With a goal as simple as death, anything that happened in between was superfluous. As the changes came, however, as Alice pursued her appetites without regret, the death wish diminished, even vanished. Alice no longer thought of herself at all. She simply followed her instincts.
Her new form demanded greater sustenance. Neighborhood cats began to disappear. Soon the power lines bore pitiful photocopied announcements of reward for the safe return of a handful of different family dogs. One night Alice went out into the garden and spread her new pair of shiny black wings. In the city she kept to the alleys, terrifying the homeless drunks hidden beneath papers and soiled sleeping bags.
They had nothing to fear however, Alice had a hankering for something particular. She found it around the corner from a popular new nightclub; a young man laughing and wobbly with intoxication tugging a pretty young woman into the alley with him.
“What was that?” the young woman asked sharply peering into the darkness ahead of them.
“Nothing, nothing baby.” he cooed. Alice shuffled closer.
“Uh uh, no way, I’m out of here.” The woman broke free and hurried out of the alley, back to the street and its lights.
“Mary hold on.”
He called after her, but only managed to lean against the wall catching his breath. He laughed a little as he started towards the street and lost his footing. Alice scurried forward and took hold of him, mandibles sinking into his soft pink flesh as he screamed. The sound was drowned out by the beat from the club next door. Soon it ceased entirely, transformed into the gurgling of his own crimson internal fluids as they spilled from his lips.
Alice thought that he reminded her of something called Ben, although she could no longer quite recall what Ben was. Nonetheless, she felt sure that Ben was what she wanted, and this was almost it. She found it deeply satisfying.