Oyster Boy Review 09  
  May 1998
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» Levee 67


What I Eat

Charlotte Morgan

I been standing here beside her car trying to figure out whether to go ahead with the food test.

If "you are what you eat," as the dumb-ass commercial goes, then I'm a bag of salted peanuts, a foot long chili dog from 7-Eleven, a six-pack of Rolling Rock, a strip of red-hot jerky. Ain't that a typical bit of sucker foolishness, though: "You are what you eat. What does that make the president? A lobster tail? Or how bout the pope? Fish on Fridays, something else every other day of the week? Hey, maybe I'm a special-recipe kick-butt brownie. That's a hoot.

See, if that saying was true, I'd be one thing today, right this minute, but you can sure as hell bet if I won the lottery I'd be something else faster than you could say Jack Rabbit: surf and turf, barbecued ribs, imported brewskie. See how that's so stupid? You'd have to be a feeb to buy it.

And what about this squirming skinny girl in the trunk? This CeCe? What would she be? I ain't give her nothing to eat in almost two days. Heck, she ain't eat a thing. So, looking at it that way, she'd be nothing. Zip. Zero-ski. Or what I eat on the road, which is a baloney sandwich, the last thing I give her two days ago when I picked her up. That'd make us the same. See, I said it don't make sense. But people sell that stuff to the television and make a fortune and go out to fancy restaurants and order whatever the hell they please. Thinking they're better than the rest of us dumb shits.

I been in reform school, where everybody eats the same thing. It ain't like high school, where they give you a choice: the tuna cold plate or the hot plate, the pizza or the meat loaf. Or even the hot-shit salad bar. No way. Inside everybody gets the same plate with the exact same slop. Canned peas running into mashed potatoes from a box (with that stuff mixed in to keep guys from wanting sex all the time; don't work), mystery meat, a cold roll, a pat of fake butter on a piece of cardboard. The exact same plate. So does that make every asshole in there the same? Answer that one.

I'd like to try that out on a judge, see his face. "As you know, sir, I am what I eat, sir. And my Mama, she never give me breakfast ten times in seventeen years, less you count times I was at the tit, which I gather from her won't long. Claims I bit, which I know is one a her bald-faced lies. And lunch won't much better: as a matter of fact, judge sir, that's why I started my life of crime—for something to eat. Started out taking bag lunches from the prissy-ass Mama's boys in my class in third grade. Some of the best food I ever eat. In all due respect, did that make me them, sir, when I wolfed down them lunches? Roast beef sandwiches with lettuce and mayonnaise, oranges cut in wedges and wrapped in aluminum foil, homemade brownies with chocolate chips AND nuts. When I ate all that did that make me them? Then I took to taking lunch money. You know pretty much how things went downhill after that. I don't hardly grasp it, given the fact I was eating better than ever at the time, judge sir. But that's the long and short of it."

Wonder if I could find a lawyer willing to try the food defense. That's a hoot.

Now this CeCe in the trunk, if she is what she eats she was in a lot of trouble before she run into me in the mall parking lot. I don't get girls: skinny as a rail, you can tell she probably don't eat enough to keep a snake alive, but she ain't got zit one, and her hair looks like one of them commercials, shiny as a creek at night. Or it was when I first seen her. Last time I looked, yesterday evening, it was scraggly as mine, clumpy-like. Vomit in it. But you can be sure that ain't how it looks on a regular day. How you figure it? Clear as day she don't eat right, but her skin and hair look like some health food nut's.

See, if she'd a eat right she'd a put up more of a fight, I bet. She's near bout as tall as I am, though that ain't saying much; but she ain't got a bit a muscle. Just went all limp when I put the gun up to her chest, like a flat tire. I thought she'd fall out there in the parking lot and somebody'd see us and I'd be caught for damn sure. But she gimme them keys like she was handing over a piece a pizza, slid over in that front seat smooth as syrup, didn't make a peep. Eyes staring at me like two pissholes in the snow. Hot damn.

That second or two when she caved in, that was the only sweat of the whole damn deal. The rest has been a snap, if I do say so myself. Easy to drive to this ol shut down barbecue before anybody even recognized this CeCe girl was missing. Them fast foods drove everybody out of business, half the damn places out here on 60 shut down. You could yell your fool head off out back here, behind this old rusty Dempstey Dumpster, wouldn't nobody know. Only she didn't yell once. Whimpered, sorta, like my cat that time she was having them kittens but one got stuck. I give CeCe that baloney sandwich, she took a bite and gagged like it won't fit to eat. That won't right. That's why I took her by the hair and made her get down on the ground. To eat up that piece of sandwich she spit out. Ain't right to waste food. Damn if I ain't heard that about a half million times. Don't I know it ain't right. Damned straight.

"What in God's name are you up to?" she finally asked me, after she threw up all over the gravel. I seen that look on her face, I seen it a half-million times, the one gets guys punched in the face, slapped into the hole. The one the ass-kissers call defiant.

"You think you're too good to eat baloney, girl? You oughta eat what's put in front of you, be grateful."

You can look at her and see she don't eat right. I wadn't trying to slap her around, just aiming to teach her some proper respect for food. Shit, girl like her, she ain't never had to hustle for food. Who's gonna let her know about that, I ask you? Bet she don't even reward herself with a cream donut when she's done something right. Bet she wouldn't even eat one if I give it to her this minute, hungry as she's bound to be. Skinny Minnie. Hot damn, I'm a poet and don't know it.

Truth is, once I got her out here I didn't have no plan. Won't like that. Can't nobody say it was. That's why I had to put her in the trunk. That and to wipe that smartass look off her face. I says, "You sit tight, you hear, I'm gonna go get us something else to eat." Had to get a little shuteye, catch a few Zs, so I could think clear; needed to go somewhere, get a bite, try to figure my next step. Bout the best place for that is 7-Eleven; I can get two chili dogs and all the mustard and onion I want for 99 cents, on special. You can count on 7-Eleven, even if they don't have the special. They always got the foot long for that price. And no matter what town I'm in, see, the 7-Eleven is always the same. Plus they got papers I can look at, cause the clerks 19 times out of 20 don't give a shit whether you read the paper or not, no matter what the friggin sign says. That's how I come to find out her name was CeCe. From the paper. I didn't need to read no paper to know she's a rich bitch. I got eyes.

So I slept in the front seat a while, seat smelled like the stuff my Mama used to spray to get rid of cat piss. Then I walked to 7-Eleven, bought her a chili dog. And one a them Long Johns. They cost the most, got the most cream filling of any at the 7-Eleven. I oughta know. I only get em for myself on a rare occasion. Here's what I'm thinking: if you are what you eat, like the assholes say, and she eats what I eat, then she's me. Or at least like me. No better'n me. Don't make no difference. The food test. If she passes, then I'll take her along, say she's my sister. Or my squeeze. She'd be like my road woman. She'd sit up by me in the car, lean over my way to point out signs and shit, say "Let's stop at the next McDonald's, get us a apple pie." If she don't pass the food test, BINGO, she ain't the right one. That simple. She ain't a bit of good to me. Call it a scientific experiment, like when they cut open them frogs in school to see what they's like inside.

She's all curled up like one of them grub worms when I open the trunk. I got the gun in my hand, case she gets some notion of jumping out, but she don't so much as turn her head at first.

"CeCe. You want something to eat?" I flash the gun—it ain't loaded, see, but she don't know that—but the bag a food's on the front seat.

Her head moves, then, turns facing the sky stead of me, like a blind person might do. I think, damn, she think she's too good to even look at me, but in a second I can tell she's more confused than snobby, like she's trying to figure where the sound come from, even though it's broad daylight. Maybe all that dark, then the light, she can't see good till her eyes adjust. Maybe.

"I brought you some food, CeCe. You better eat something."

Now her eyes light on me, register, and she curls up even tighter, only that face staring up at me. She starts shaking her head, blubbering.

"You don't want nothing to eat? You gotta eat." Maybe it's a trick—people been tricking me all my life. Maybe she thinks I'll feel sorry for her, go get the bag a food, and she'll make a run for it.

"Come on out. I had to go get ya something to eat, that's all. I didn't mean to stay gone so long. I had to eat myself, think this thing through. And the walk took longer than I thought, see. You can come on out now. I ain't planning to use this." I hold the gun up so she can see it, then drop my hand down to my side so it ain't pointing at her.

She don't make a move, though, still stares and cries, tears running all down her face, which is now dirty like she got some oil or black grease on it. I don't know how. This is one clean car.

"Come on CeCe. I planned a little test for you. I'd bet my boots you're good at tests, ain't you? Come on eat something, I'll explain." She don't know, see, that the food IS the test. That wouldn't be right, giving her a hint. I ain't gonna take no chances. This experiment's gotta be one hundred per cent fool proof. I laugh at that idea, "fool proof." Hot damn.

She still don't get up outa the trunk, so I gotta grab her arm. It's bony like I expected, and the skin's all damp, I don't know why. When I give a little tug—nothing rough, mind you, just enough to let her know I mean business—she kinda pulls in the opposite direction, like she don't want to come with me. This gets me mad for a minute—I ain't got much of a temper, but something like that gets me mad.

"That the way you want it? Okay, have it your way." And I slam the trunk again. "Your food's gonna get cold. Ain't right, wasting good food." Miss Priss.

Another thing that makes me mad, besides her acting so high and mighty, is that maybe this means she's already failed the food test, before she even got started good. I mean, ain't that what I planned: if she don't eat my food, she ain't the one? BINGO. But she ain't even seen it yet, ain't had a chance to turn up her nose at my two favorites, a chili dog and a cream dream. Hot damn. So does it count, her refusing to get out of the trunk, not even looking at the food? I decide it don't. Fair's fair.

I can't remember ever turning down food, not once in my whole entire life. All's I remember is gobbling down whatever come my way. Some I liked better than others, but I ain't never turned up my nose at none of it.

Glenn used to come over at night, this guy my Mama hung out with for a while. A good while. Longer than any of the others. I won't but five or six then. He'd bring these skin flicks, they'd sit in the dark and watch. I'd lay on the floor there with them, they'd be drinking beer and smoking joints, and I'd lay there on the floor and watch too, all that touching on the TV. Mama and Glenn wouldn't eat anything, wouldn't talk, wouldn't hardly move themselves, except to lift the can to their mouths or pass the joint or drag into the kitchen for another beer. I'd say, "I'm hungry, Mama," and Glenn would say, "Get the kid some chow, Gwenn." I liked that, Glenn/Gwenn. Him calling food chow. She'd go into the kitchen, come back with a bag of pretzel pieces or a can of vienna sausages. I'd lay there and eat those vienna sausages, lick the tomato sauce off my fingers, watching them movies of naked people while my Mama and Glenn hardly moved. My Mama won't much of a cook. I always eat what we had.

Reform school, that's the first time I eat where everybody set down at the same table at the same time and eat the same thing, like them pretend families on TV. I always figured nobody really did that, see, not in real life. Them guys inside, they'd just as soon knife you as look at you if you messed with their grub, too. One time this new kid took a Hershey bar from one of the long-timers. That kid had a bad accident, fell down some steps, broke a bunch of ribs and banged up his face pretty bad. He got smart fast, said them steps was wet. We all knew what went down. You don't mess with nobody's food stash.

So I'm gonna see if this CeCe's got enough sense, enough plain long manners, to eat what's put in front of her. That baloney sandwich was old, won't hers. Fair's fair. I got her her own chili dog, her own cream donut. Each one wrapped separate, in its own paper. Ain't nobody else touched it. Even got a packet of mustard so she can fix it the way she wants. Same for her as for me. See, if she sits there and eats with me, means she knows she ain't a bit better than me. Means she's got respect. "You are what you eat." What a hoot. The food test.

It ain't like some people probably think, that dirty stuff written all over the bathroom walls at school, "Eat me." Hell no. I ain't never been like that. I ain't never forced a girl to do nothing like that. I seen it plenty of times in them skin flicks, more times than I could count, and I heard the guys talking about it enough when I was on the inside. Hell, sometimes seems like that's all they talked about, eatin pussy, she eat me till I like to died, all that. I wanted to yell at them to shut their nasty mouths, to quit talkin like that day and night. My Mama would've smacked me from here to Kingdom Come if she ever heard me talkin like that. Sometimes they'd even talk like that while we was eatin our meals. Some people ain't got a grain of sense, sure as hell ain't got no manners. That place won't a good place, even if they give me three squares.

At first I don't know what that "clonk, clonk, clonk" is, then I realize it's coming from inside the trunk. CeCe must've come to her senses, decided she wanted to get out after all. Have some fresh air. Cooperate. That's a good sign for the food test, I figure. I ain't never been one to hold grudges, so I go over and open the trunk and sure enough she uncurls soon as I do, raises a hand up like she's reaching around for something to hold onto. She finds the edge of the car, pulls up slow, looks around with these zombie eyes like those creatures coming out of the pods in that movie, what was it, "The Body Snatchers"?

"Want a hand, CeCe?" This time I don't go over and pull on her, but I do keep the gun down by my side. I don't want to spook her again.

She don't answer right away, sits up more. She looks down at her arms, her clothes, feels her hair, like she don't believe they're for real.

"How'd you know my name?" That voice don't match the weak way she looks; that voice sounds right bossy, if you ask me. Makes me nervous, jumpy. Her purse was in the trunk with her all along. I reckon she knew that. I didn't look through it or nothing before I put her back there. I ain't no robber. That must be why she can't figure how I know her name. Takes me for some kinda dummy.

"Papers. It's all over the front page of this morning's paper." I ram the gun into my back pocket, quick. She ain't lookin directly at me no way, so she don't notice.

"My Daddy would give you a lot of money. If that's what you want. I've got a little in my pocketbook. But he'd give you a lot."

"That's what the paper said."

"You could call, tell him where to leave the money. He's got a beeper. I know the beeper number, if you're worried about the police and the phone and all."

She climbs over to the edge, slow, like she strained a muscle. I go over and sit on one side of the trunk, she sits on the other. Not touching. We sit there on the bumper, like kids who've maybe been camping or hiking or looking for something with a them metal detector things. Except she's kinda messy looking, with that dirty face and that scraggly hair and her clothes looking like she slept in them. She don't look so pretty-perfect no more. "You gonna hurt me?" Now that voice ain't so high and mighty.

I don't answer.

"You want me to do something kinky, is that what you want?" She loops a piece of her hair behind one ear. When she takes her hand down she looks at it, like she expects to see something on it.

"It's like I told you before, I got some food for you. In the front seat. Let's eat, okay?"

"What's your name?"

"I ain't gonna tell you my name."

"Please don't put me back in that trunk."

"I told you. I had to think. I had to get us some chow." I use Glenn's word.

"Please. I'll do what you want. Just don't put me back in that trunk."

"Come on and get in the front seat. Let's eat."

She stands, slow, like she don't trust her legs; they are right skinny, I can tell in them fancy tight jeans, and I follow her around to the passenger side of the car. She ain't wiggling that butt like she was when I come up on her in the parking lot, no siree. The door's locked. I forgot about that.

"This here's a sharp car. Your Daddy buy it for you?" When I saw that special-order red Honda on the parking lot, I figured it had to belong to some ritzy girl. Wouldn't no guy be driving this thing.

"It belongs to the dealership. He owns a dealership."

"That why it's so clean?" By now I've unlocked her door, opened it like she was my date for friggin dinner, and she sits. The bag of food's on the driver's seat. Them chili dogs're cold by now, but that don't matter to me. I ate beanies and weenies cold from the can my whole growing up. She probably ain't never eat no beanies and weenies at all, one way or another, but it ain't my fault the food's cold.

I beat it around to my side—I know she ain't gonna make a run for it now, but I still don't like to leave her alone in the front. When I stick my head in I can see she's crying for the first time, but she ain't makin no noise. Just wet tracks running down her dirty cheeks; she don't even reach up to wipe her face, just lets them tears run off her chin. That strikes me as weird. I ain't never seen nobody do that. I open my door.

"You like chili dogs?" I pick up the bag, slide into my seat, put it on my lap.

She stares down at her own lap. "What are you planning to do to me?"

"Here." I hand the hotdog, all wrapped, across the seat. "Take it. You want mustard?"

She don't look up, don't make a move to take the chili dog.

"You're not going to call my Daddy are you? You would've done that already if that's what you wanted, right?" Them tears are pouring.

"Eat this. Please." I haven't moved. She hasn't moved. I'm starting to sweat. I don't want to get the wrapper all sweaty.

"If you're going to do something with that gun I wish you'd go ahead and do it." She raises her head and looks at me now. Them brown eyes look like Mama's dog Porter, after Glenn kicked him for taking a crap on the kitchen floor.

"I ain't kicked you, have I?" I put the hotdog on the dash. She ain't doing too hot on the food test, I gotta admit. I'm getting kinda worried.

"What do you want with me?"

"How bout a Long John? Would you rather have that first?" I open the bag, pull out the wax paper with the donut. "I call it eatin backwards."

She goes wild on me. That's the only way I know how to describe it. I'm sitting here, trying to get her to take the Long John, offering it to her calm as you please, and she goes wild on me, knocks it outa my hands, starts screaming and flailing around and clawing at me like some kinda animal. I never laid a hand on her up to this point except to get her outa that trunk. Then I won't rough, just firm you might say. She don't have a mark on her.

I try to grab her hands, but she's everywhere, pulling my hair, scratching my face, kicking my chin. I didn't notice she's wearing these half-cowboy boots some of the rich girls wear until I get one smack up under my chin. Hurts like holy hell. Plus this nasty smell like some old dirty gymsuit or diaper gets real strong. I'd sorta noticed it when I got in the car, something smelling kinda off, but it won't that bad, what with the hotdog in my lap and the spray stuff. Now, with her all over me, it's like that nasty smell's all over me, too. It makes me gag; it ain't like she shoulda smelled, girl like that. She's yelling, too, foul stuff not a bit better than them dirty-mouthed guys in reform school. "Filthy fuckin creep, asshole," stuff like that.

Caught off guard, I get shoved up against the car door for a second. That gun in my pocket, it grinds into my butt, like to kills me. I ain't got a bit of meat on my bones, not even my bony butt. Hurts like hell, gets me mad, her calling me names, going after me when I been tryin to give her something to eat. Give her a fair chance. Wild as she is, she ain't all that strong, it don't take much for me to get her off me, once I get over being so surprised. Still, her kickin and scratchin, that gun rammed into my backside, I lose my cool. Ain't no two ways about it.

"Where's your manners, bitch? Ain't you got no manners?" I have to duck my head, grab out with my arms, get her shoved back against the seat. She's slobbering now, spit running out of her mouth, her hair wild around her head. She don't look a thing like the fancy-pants girl walking all cocky to her shiny red car. No siree bob-tail cat she don't. She's breathing hard, too, like she can't hardly get the next breath. I have to hold her down with both my arms, straddle on top of her, and still she's pushing and shoving with that skinny body of hers like she could get somewhere if she just wiggles hard enough. That's a joke. She ain't going nowhere. She ain't even come close to passing the food test.

"You shoulda eat my chili dog like I said, CeCe."

She looks at me frantic-like, shaking her head back and forth, but at least she don't say nothing, I'll give her that. Glenn used to climb on top of me like this, tickle me till I cried, but still I wouldn't say Uncle for him.

"See, you shoulda eat what I brought you. It ain't right, you turnin down my food, like it won't good enough. Didn't your Mama ever tell you about all them hungry children in China?" She goes limp on me when I say this, but she don't look me in the face, don't apologize or say nothin. "Well, didn't she?" I pull her hair to make her look at me, but she don't answer still.

She's not struggling no more. She's sniffling, but she's give up fightin me. I look around and see the white wax paper on the floor, by her feet. The donut's bound to be squished. I pick it up, unwrap the paper, and the cream's all over the outside, it's a broken mess.

"Eat this. Eat every bit of this and then we'll talk."

She don't look up at me, don't say a word.

"I said eat this and we'll talk."

Still she don't move, so I grab her hair again and force her face up. That is one stubborn face. I take the donut and jam it to her mouth, but she holds her lips closed. I push it right into her teeth, but still she won't take a bite, so I end up smearing it onto her face. What with the grease from the trunk and her snot and spit her looks was pretty messed up anyway. She don't look a bit like Miss Priss no more, that's for damn sure. My mama wouldn't be caught dead looking like that. She always did keep herself fixed up, even if she won't much for cooking. That sticky glaze stuff and the white cream filling get all over my hands, but there ain't much I can do about it. I wish she'd taken one bite, just one tee-ninesy bite. But she didn't, and that's a fact. Fair's fair.

I sit back on her thighs. I ain't heavy, but I'm bound to be hurting her some. Still she don't say a word, don't make a move to wipe the cream and crumbs and pieces of donut off her face.

"I told you, you shoulda eat what I bought you when you had the chance." But she don't speak to me.

"Well, I guess that's that, then." I wipe my hands on her jeans, but they're still all sticky. I gotta wash up, get this crap offa me.

She stares at me, finally speaks. "What do you mean, 'that's that'?'" Her voice sounds more like a kid's now. That CeCe sure has lost the wind in her sails, that's for damn sure. She shoulda eat something. She could at least wipe her face. It's damn amazing to me how somebody raised like she's bound to have been raised ain't got a bit better manners.

"Come on, stand up, let's go outside a minute." I shove the door, let myself out on her side, pull her along behind me, but she don't resist. That fresh air is a relief, even if it is muggy as hell.

The trunk's still open, see; I ain't never closed it from when I got her out for the food test.

"Please. Please. I'll do whatever you say. Call my Daddy. Please."

"CeCe, this don't have a damn thing to do with your Daddy. Had to do with me and you. Ain't you figured that yet? I thought all you rich bitches was supposed to be brains. You shoulda eat with me."

"Please. I'll do whatever you say." She reaches up, rubs some of that goo off her cheek into her mouth. That little pink tongue comes licking out. It's downright disgusting. I wouldn't kiss that mouth if it was the only one in town.

"You shoulda thought of that, CeCe, you shoulda thought of that when you had the chance."

I'm sick of this girl, sick of looking at her nasty face with food smeared all over it, sick of looking at her matty hair. For the first time I shove her hard. I'm skinny, but I'm strong. Wiry little shit, Glenn used to call me. I shove her into that trunk and slam the lid so fast she don't know what's happened to her. This time I don't hear no slow "clonk, clonk, clonk" coming from inside; this banging's more like the racket at a shooting range.

But I ain't interested. I want to go to 7-Eleven, wash my hands, get a cup of fresh-brewed. They got a clean bathroom, make coffee about every five minutes. It's always hot and fresh. You can count on it, real civilized. Hell, thinking about a girl like that CeCe, it could ruin my appetite.

I walk past that rusted-out dumpster, past that old Bar-b-q sign with Peggy's Pit-Cooked and that pink pig hanging out front, past the entrance to the parking lot, on to Rt. 60 headed back towards town. I walk fast, till I can't even hear that banging noise from the trunk no more, till cars are whizzing past me so quick I got to concentrate on where I'm going. They all going someplace besides here, that's for damn sure.

I put my hand up to my mouth, lick as much of the sticky sweet off as I can. Maybe I'll get a Slim Jim, too, get that sugar taste outa my mouth. I shoulda known a girl like that CeCe wouldn't pass the food test. Next time, I won't pick somebody so snooty toot. Hot damn. Next time, I'll look for somebody who ain't so fulla herself, somebody with some manners. Maybe a girl driving a pick-up. High ridin. That's the ticket.

I can't hardly wait to wash my hands. I'm hustling down this old highway. Yessiree, I can't hardly wait to get back to 7-Eleven.