All Jen wanted was to enjoy some soup while reading her new book; she didn’t prepare anything else, just plain tomato soup. She went to “drink” her soup when she felt something solid and moving in her mouth. She felt little, hairy legs brushing up against her gums and dancing all over her tongue; the tiny moving legs were connected to something bulbous and juicy, ready to burst with one mistaken chew and spew its guts between the crevices of her teeth. An image of an insect popped into her mind and she immediately spit all the contents in her mouth out onto the table. It was one of those big, black crickets with plump bodies and it was still wriggling in the creamy tomato soup as though it were drowning. The shimmering black sheen of its body was covered by a thick film of the soup, and its small twigs for legs were wriggling in the orange-red muck that was supposed to be lunch; Jen could still feel the memory of those tiny appendages reaching out towards her gums, tickling her tongue.
“Ok,” she mumbled to herself as she dumped the remainder of her soup down the drain, “no more soup for me.” It was probably fine, it came from a can and that was a live cricket, but she was just turned off to the idea of opening another can of soup and trying again at that point.
Well, I wasn’t all that hungry to begin with, which was why I chose soup.
She washed her soup dish and spoon, set the dishes to dry, and returned to the living room to enjoy her book. She must have taken the turn too soon, as she managed to stub her baby toe right in the sweet spot; the pain radiated up her legs, feeling like her skin was crawling. The stub hit right on the corner of the nail and the bed, where the pink flesh is the most sensitive.
“Fuck!” Sitting down, she rocked back and forth, holding onto her stubbed toe as though that would be enough to take the pain away. “This just hasn’t been my day.”
The doorbell rings. She lets out a sigh so the universe knows she is not amused. Someone is frantically banging on the door.
“Jen, open up!” Shirly is peeking through the frosted glass that accents Jen’s front door; she is dressed in a sundress and a light jacket, ready for a summer night of fun.
“Shirly,” Jen forces a smile as she opens the door to greet Shirly standing there with a giant bouquet of flowers.
“Happy birthday!” Shirly lets herself in to give her friend a hug and flowers. As she starts to take off her shoes, Jen interjects.
“Shirly, that’s really sweet of you, but I really just wanted to have some time to myself today.” Shirly looks up at her friend with a fading smile but shakes her head up and down in understanding.
“I totally get it! I should have asked anyway but I was on my way to Joanie’s and I just wanted to give you these and a big hug to let you know I miss you and I hope you’re doing ok!”
Jen had been isolating herself more and more throughout the years, and it was becoming apparent to her friends and family that this was more than just having a busy schedule; most were beginning to suspect depression in its darkest form.
“Well, actually, work has really done a number on me lately, to the point that I’m considering switching careers, I just don’t know what yet.” It was the same excuse she always used, but the sad part was that it was the truth. There was nothing new, nothing had changed; Jen was still depressed and work was still the heaviest weight bringing her down. No matter how many times she changed locations or careers, life just didn’t seem to line up for Jen.
“Oh, wow, it’s that bad?” Shirly shifts her weight and gets comfortable for a long conversation, which Jen picked up on and did not want to pursue.
The chirping sounds of crickets in the yard distracted Jen from Shirly’s gift, keeping her focused instead on the confused cricket drowning in tomato soup.
“Yeah, it’s a long story, I just think that this job just isn’t for me, and so I’m struggling to find what will make me happy and how I can get there.”
“Hey, let me know when you find that out!” Shirly chuckled. “Let the whole world know!” Jen laughs politely, trying not to show obvious straining.
“Well, happy birthday girlie! I hope you enjoy the time to yourself, and hey, don’t be a stranger, ok? We all miss seeing you around.”
The girls hugged, Shirly a little longer than Jen.
“Well!” Shirly rubs her hands back and forth together quickly in a motion meaning “I’m moving on now. I’ll see you around, Jen!”
Jen waves Shirly off as she hops into her Jeep and drives off into the sunset with her sundress and hat. Turning back into the house, Jen trips on the doormat and smacks her head on the edge of the doorframe.
“Mother fucker.” She runs her hand over her most recent wound. “This has just not been my day.”
That night for dinner, Jen decided to go for something fresh, something healthy. A nice salad, with plenty of toppings. Chopping away at tomatoes, she listens to her book-on-tape version; it’s a horror story about giant bugs raised to use humans as hosts to commit violent acts.
Her tomatoes squish in her hands, like the guts of the bugs from her book as they are crushed. The flesh of the tomato gives enough resistance to mimic that of animal flesh, and it turns her off to adding tomatoes to her salad. The distracting images of bug body parts in her salad turn her attention away long enough for her to miss the tomato and hit her fingertip instead.
“NO!” Jen screams.
“No, no, no, no, no! OUCH.” She frantically ran around the kitchen, alternating back and forth between the sink and finding the kitchen towels in a drawer to stop the bleeding. Instead, she finally rushed to the bathroom to clean her finger, add antibacterial ointment, and bandage it.
Sitting down to dinner after cleaning up the blood, her finger cleaned and wrapped, she stared down at the salad, not ready to be defeated, just wanting to enjoy any portion of this day. To her right was her book, and to her left was a full glass of wine from a new bottle of cabernet, the deepest and dryest of red wines, and her personal favorite.
“Well,” she lifted the glass in the air, “Happy birthday to me.” As the wine washed down her throat, she could feel substance in the liquid, like pulp in juices.
As she automatically swallowed a small portion, she could feel movement in the liquid pulp…something was wrong. She inspected the glass, looking for any signs of broken glass or maybe something in the wine, but to no avail. She hadn’t inadvertently swallowed glass pieces, and the wine didn’t appear to have anything in it.
Taking a deep breath, she took another sip of wine, except this time the wine was teeming with movement as dozens of little legs were flailing about in her mouth, trying to get some solid ground to stand on but only able to find the pink flesh of Jen’s mouth. She spit the wine out of her mouth, spewing it half across the table in the process. To her horror, the wine had substance, and it was in fact, moving. Well, rather, a colony of ants on the table were moving like drowning victims finally on land: grateful to be on solid ground but still in a frenzied panic. They crawled over one another, wine sticking to their tiny forms like glue, becoming a moving amalgamation of bodies in the wine puddles that formed on the table and floor.
She grabbed her napkin and broadly wiped her tongue as there were still a few stragglers wriggling around in her mouth, trying to make heads or tails of what was happening to them. In her panic, she had clenched down on a few crunchy ants, and pieces of insect were logged between her teeth and scattered throughout the hard-to-reach places of Jen’s mouth. The cloth of the napkin didn’t taste good against her tongue’s buds, but all she could picture were squirming ants inside her mouth, so the napkin was her savior at that moment.
Jen had enough of the bad vibes from the universe for the day and proceeded to dump the rest of her best wine down the drain. She expected to see a flowing river of ants to accompany this bloody murder but not one ant or cricket or insect or bug of any kind was seen.
She rinsed her mouth out with a glass of fresh water and took a big swig. No ants. No crickets. Just plain, reliable H2O. Sitting back down to her salad felt like the beginning of a bad Pavlov experiment; she was afraid to take a bite of her food, lest it comes out wriggling. Jen snorted a laugh of reassurance to herself of how ridiculous that sounded. She picked up her fork, prepared a large portion with plenty of toppings included, and took a bite. She was slow to chew at first, noticing her excellent choice for a salad topping. The flavor of the avocado was her favorite, the selection of arugula and romaine came in second, and she couldn’t quite place the item that caused the flavor to change nutty. It was refreshing, but something was off. That’s when she felt the kick of something against the fatty side of her tongue.
Once again, she released the contents of her mouth out onto the table to find something moving within the mess that shouldn’t be there at all, this time, a grasshopper. A big, green grasshopper managed to upright itself among the mashed-up salad contents, but it was missing the lower half of its body. It had only one appendage left to move with, and it stubbornly tried to creep itself away from Jen and her cavernous mouth with the sharp stalagmites and stalactites that claimed its lower half. There was very little blood and the grasshopper made no sound as it tried to pull itself across the table. It didn’t seem to notice its insides were being left behind during this sad drag, and the image was enough for Jen to gag.
Something was wrong with the food. Something was wrong with everything in Jen’s kitchen cabinet and she wasn’t having it. She opened box after box of prepared foods that only require one to add water to be complete, but not one critter could be found, living or otherwise. She started after the cans of tomato soup, but no crickets came out of any of the cans. No ants were in the orange juice and no grasshoppers were in the vegetable drawer or tucked neatly away inside a lettuce head; she tore everything apart, and being hungry certainly helped to feed her anger and irritation during this rampage.
One of the last instant packages she found in the back of the cabinet was a pack of green jello, intended once for Halloween shots of “green goo”, otherwise known as green jello with a strong Polish vodka.
Something came over her to make this jello and hope to high heavens that ants or crickets wouldn’t somehow appear in it afterward. She cognitively knew it was a foolish idea, so she decided to go with the notion that she actually wanted to eat jello; she wasn’t about to “test” such thoughts of lunacy just yet.
So she made the jello and drank lots of water to ease the hunger pangs that were noticeably loud since not having had lunch or dinner was starting to pile up. She started to read her book while she waited for the jello to firm, but decided against her insect horror book and moved on to a book about people’s souls getting stuck in walls.
When the jello was firm, she dumped it onto a plate, turned the flashlight on from her phone, and thoroughly inspected it for unwanted guests. When she was satisfied there was nothing in the jello, she took a second glance at her spoon just to be sure, and took a bite of jello. Jello has a certain firmness to it that distinguishes it from a lot of other substances. For example, it’s easy to tell when there is something present in jello that should not be, and that was what Jen felt between her teeth. She could feel the firmness of the jello fall apart with the slightest pressure of her tongue, but a round, wriggling guest had found its way into her mouth that was not about to fall apart so easily.
Before she had a chance to chew, she spit out the jello contents into her napkin, only to find a fat, green, hairless caterpillar flopping around on its back within the lime-green jello that had been thoroughly inspected for just such an intrusion.
“Ok, what in the actual fuck is going on here?” Jen could feel her heartbeat picking up, and it wasn’t because of the caterpillar itself but rather, she was afraid she was losing her mind.
Her eyes caught sight of the glass of water she had already drunk from successfully. Deciding to find some ground amongst her crazy thoughts, she helped herself to another glass of water, pleased to find it was free of anything but the water she poured into her cup.
“Am I losing my mind?”
With no other options, Jen decided to call Shirly over for a few food tests, without fully going into the crazy details of her own fears about her current situation.
When Shirly finally arrived, Jen told her everything that had happened from the moment she tried to have soup for lunch that day.
“Oh boy, so now you’re afraid that you’re losing your mind or something, right?” said Shirly, a worried look coming across her mouth.
“Obviously there has to be a reasonable explanation.” Jen went over to the pantry. Grabbed a bag of almonds, and slammed them between Shirly and herself.
“Before I take one almond, go ahead and inspect this bag and choose which almond I should eat,” Jen said, staring at Shirly with deep intent.
Shirly said nothing but looked down at the bag, reached over for it, picked the first almond she spotted, and placed it in front of Jen. Taking a deep breath through her nose, Jen heaved the almond into her mouth and chewed heavily, unafraid. She chewed, and chewed, and chewed, and finally, she swallowed… and promptly threw up what little almond she had eaten.
“Jesus, Jen. Are you sure you don’t have a nut allergy or something?” Shirly pat Jen on the back, rubbing below her shoulder blades between pats.
“No,” Jen coughed. “It’s not an allergy.” She coughed some more. “I’m telling you-” cough, cough, “my food has had bugs in it.” She continued to dry-heave until the air wouldn’t come out of her lungs anymore.
Shirly goes to the fridge and pulls out the milk carton.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea; I can only keep water down,” Jen said as she eyed the milk carton with worry and skepticism.
“It’s just milk though. You’re not allergic to milk right?” Shirly grabbed two clean glasses from the cabinet and helped herself to a glass while she poured one for Jen.
“Bottoms up,” Shirly said as she lifted her glass and chugged her portion. She ended with a satisfied “aaaaaaaah” that often accompanies a large gulp of any beverage.
Jen stared at the glass of milk with discontent and frustration; she was both hungry and afraid. The fear didn’t quite outweigh the hunger, but rather it was her insatiable need for knowledge that drove her to try drinking the milk. Which ended just as she feared it would end: with Jen throwing it back up.
Shirly played the good friend and cared for Jen through the literal muck and mire that spewed from Jen’s gullet. She was amazed she was throwing anything up at all; she had nothing left to vomit. The puking had turned into dry-heaving which burned her throat with every cough. The overall pain was intensified through her sore abdomen and pounding tension headache. The tears came despite Jen trying to fight them back, and they felt more like burning rivers running down her cheeks.
Shirly tried to push some anti-inflammatories into Jen’s hand but Jen was afraid of anything but water. In the end, she just wanted to go to bed.
Jen was left to stare at the remaining milk left in her glass. Now that Shirly was gone, would she be able to drink or eat anything?