The thing I notice about Richard is that he has stolen my appetite. When we meet for the first time at that Ethiopian restaurant downtown, I am staring first at his thin mustache and brown eyes. And then I am staring at my noodles and brimming with doubt.
When he talks, I am disgraced by the realization that I do not know where my bathroom scale is. Did my ex-husband take it? When Richard asks me a question about my work, I am looking down at the waist of my jeans shorts, furious with them for cutting into my flesh.
We walk to a bar. The date is going well for sure. His tongue lingers before it pushes out my name. He seems perplexed by my smile. The date is going well.
It is two nights later and I still have not eaten. My stomach rumbles under the cool softness of his palms. When he suggests breakfast I am fuming. I wonder at his audacity. How much more do you want from me, I strain to ask.
Two weeks later, I am two sizes down. My mouth is dry and his mustache is taunting me with its thinness. He is still caught off guard by my smile. His tongue still licks at my name. I find comfort only in the stillness of his absence and the aching of my emerging knee bones knocking into each other when I sleep.
A month later, I discover that he always smells like food. His breath is garlic and oregano. The shoulders of his shirt smell vaguely of vegetable broth. I am inconsolable. When he leaves my house that evening, I light up a bundle of sage and wave it around my kitchen. In the middle of the night an impulse strikes me: I must drench the floor in bleach and scrub and scrub and scrub...
When spring comes he says, “This is my mother.” And I am confused by the bread basket in the middle of the table. Who will eat this? I long to accuse the waiter.
That night his head is between my legs, his tongue lapping up every drop of me. His fingers are digging into my hipbones and for a moment I am not brimming with doubt.
That summer I am freezing and a thin layer of hair sprouts from the tops of my feet. I wear socks to the lake. His fingers graze my neck and I can’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses. He offers me a popsicle and I feel suddenly exhausted. When he kisses me, my mouth disappears into his.
That fall, he puts his fingers around my disappearing wrist and asks me if I’ll marry him. I whisper, “yes,” instead of, “what more do you want from me?”
At the wedding, I cannot stand for long. The weight of the veil makes my neck throb. His eyes are wide and greedy, taking in every inch of me. His smile is shining in my eyes like the light from my fridge. I think I am smiling back. In the bathroom, I lose a tooth.
One day he comes home and I am lying on the kitchen floor. He asks me if we should start trying for a baby. That night I rise up in bed because my spine hurts and my hipbones ache. His hot hand snakes beneath the blanket and lifts my sleep shirt to squeeze what’s left of me.
After we make love, he whispers, “I need you” and falls asleep. I crawl onto the wooden floor of the bedroom, to the moist linoleum of the kitchen, to the scratchy carpet of the living room, to the freezing driveway outside. There I stand in the winter night and stare out into the street.
I notice first that my nose is not filled with garlic and oregano, that though I crawled all the way here my knees do not ache, that though I am sock-less, my feet are not cold, that though I am up at this godless hour, I do not crave that appetite-suppressing mix of sage and bleach.
Then I get into the car and drive until the sun rises. In a new town, there is a billboard for an Indian restaurant. I find a seat in a booth there and eat like I’ve never eaten before.
Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a writer and satirist from Botswana. She is a recent graduate of the Iowa writers workshop and a program coordinator at the International Writing Program. She lives in Iowa City.