SENSES • by Desiree Wilkins

She’d rather it was a tumor.

Rachel drove her hands deep into the cool meat. When she squeezed her hands tight, she felt the soft thickness work through and surround her fingers. She set one hand free and cracked an egg on the side of the stove. The texture of the shell made her cringe but she worked the egg out until it slid like snot into the bowl of hamburger. She broke the yolk with her hand and laced it into the meat and bread crumbs. The smell of garlic and red meat wafted up to her nose and she wondered how she might break the news to Roger. For a moment she felt faint.

The increasing aroma of chocolate told her that the brownies only needed another five minutes. It was a smell that recalled her mother’s kitchen in Ohio. Her mom would hand her a spoon dripping with the smooth batter. It was cool and sweet on her tongue and her mom said you knew the brownies would be delicious if the batter tasted good.

She was starving. She couldn’t stomach anything for weeks and now everything tempted her. But she knew it wasn’t her. Maybe the chocolate craving, but red meat, no. She gave up meat ten years ago and never looked back.

The red meat must be what it wanted.

After another minute of kneading the hamburger, her hands felt raw. She nudged the sink nozzle up with her elbow and put her hands under the water, feeling its warmth on the edge of her senses.

It was supposed to be menopause. That was the idea she was starting to accept. She sipped wine with her sister and talked about how surprised she was to be depressed at this stage in her life. Because she felt like less than a woman. Well, she’d gone and proved herself wrong.

Could she feel it? Somewhere in her, swimming around, growing and changing? Did it have a texture at this point, like the meat? Did it have any of its own senses? Or did it silently and smoothly roam around, using hers, taking over her body a little at a time?

She returned to the stove and pinched the hamburger. She rolled a small amount in her palm, barely touching it, and soon it became a perfect ball.

They always talked about it in terms of food. It’s the size of a grape; it’s the size of a tomato; it’s the size of an avocado. It was probably the size of this meatball.

So little and about to ruin everything.

By her calculations, fifteen weeks, the whole length of summer break. The date was circled like a scarlet letter on her wall calendar. Michael’s going away dinner! Dinner, ha! If only it had just been dinner.

The nurse practitioner set an aggressive plan. Because of her age they would do an anatomy screening immediately. If it cooperated they could tell her the gender. And she needed to schedule appointments for every two weeks. Rachel could only sit there and stare, her mind both numb and spinning wildly at the same time. All she could say was, “But I have to teach. I have my own schedule.” And the reply, “Well, you’ll have to fit this into your schedule now.”

If it were twenty years ago, yes, she would be thrilled. She would stockpile books and buy tiny socks and picture frames. She would start a scrapbook. Lord knows they tried, just after they knew she was getting tenure.

But now? Long after they knew there was no chance and went on with their lives and were comfortable, beyond comfortable, in their careers and their hobbies and their social life?

And worse, long after she and Roger stopped being intimate in that way with any kind of consistency. So, depending on his reaction, there would be the scandal.

Roger was a good man, yes, but she couldn’t ask him to do this. And if he did, well he would be a saint to her and noble, but he would also have to be soft; nobody else would know but he would and she wasn’t sure he could live with that.

And the other option – a fifty-one year old woman, professor in a small college town, raising her new bundle of joy, alone. Hires a live-in nanny. Never speaks about it but everybody knows. Or would she leave town? Let Roger keep all their friends and all their connections and all their possessions.

He could have anything he wanted. She would give him anything lest her guilt swallow her up.

She coated the pan with oil and sparked the stove. Each meatball hit the pan with a pop and a sizzle. A droplet of grease hit her cheek, a moment of burning on her skin. She moved back to the sink, eager to be clean.

It was ONE time. And the memory, a blur. In those fuzzy moments there was too much wine and the giving into temptation, and Jesus, saying, actually saying not to worry because she already went through menopause. Who lies like that? Who but lustful teenagers who say anything to get into bed? But at the time it was all the assurance they needed. And she would never see him again anyway. He was happily heading to the west coast; happy to finally be made a dean. Michael’s going away dinner! Then, bye-bye forever.

The door clicked open and startled her from her thoughts. The smoke alarm wailed, the brownies burnt. Roger rushed in, waving his hands around and turning on the stove vent.

He smiled as she turned to him. “Whatever’s in there didn’t turn out so well.”

She felt her eyes moisten. “Roger,” she said, “you have no idea.”


Desiree Wilkins lives near Philadelphia with her husband and their son. Her fiction has appeared in the print literary magazine Happy and online at First Stop Fiction and Cleaver.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I was fully engaged until the ‘bun in the oven’ joke at the end. Some excellent imagery in this story.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I was fully engaged until the ‘bun in the oven’ double entendre at the end. Some excellent imagery in this story.

  • Zeborah

    When on earth is this set? She has tenure but the nurse callously tells her she has to subsume herself to the baby’s schedule without once mentioning that there is in fact another option, it’s called abortion, and Rachel may or may not want to do that but at least she does have the choice?

    One day I hope to read a story where the woman does choose that and it does in fact solve her problems, the way it does for many many women worldwide now. Of course I don’t mind *some* stories where women decide not to have an abortion, but it seems like *all* the stories are about that and it makes me feel like they’re all living in a dystopia where they’re not allowed to even know.

    • MPmcgurty

      I had the same thought. Even if the character would never have considered abortion, I would still expect the choice/decision to at least be mentioned in a story filled with such angst. The year shouldn’t matter, either; women were considering and/or getting abortions long before it was legalized. It’s a big omission in my view.

    • Chris Antenen

      Yes, Z and MP, she only skirts the issue, and if the father was the ‘Dean??’ The story builds in an old fashioned way, and then ends with a cliché. Wording an ending is hard, even when you know what you want it to be.
      Using the meatball as a metaphor was a little bit funny, and then it burned along with the brownies and became a little bit heavy.
      This is an old story and you almost made it different. Lots of edits will help to find your way to that.
      Would a college professor use the kid word ‘snot?’
      The writing itself was excellent.

    • I totally agree. Especially with regard to TV and movies, these days it’s as if the “choice” doesn’t even exist!

  • Zeborah

    When on earth is this set? She has tenure but the nurse callously tells her she has to subsume herself to the baby’s schedule without once mentioning that there is in fact another option, it’s called abortion, and Rachel may or may not want to do that but at least she does have the choice?

    One day I hope to read a story where the woman does choose that and it does in fact solve her problems, the way it does for many many women worldwide now. Of course I don’t mind *some* stories where women decide not to have an abortion, but it seems like *all* the stories are about that and it makes me feel like they’re all living in a dystopia where they’re not allowed to even know.

    • MPmcgurty

      I had the same thought. Even if the character would never have considered abortion, I would still expect the choice/decision to at least be mentioned in a story filled with such angst. The year shouldn’t matter, either; women were considering and/or getting abortions long before it was legalized. It’s a big omission in my view.

    • Chris Antenen

      Yes, Z and MP, she only skirts the issue, and if the father was the ‘Dean??’ The story builds in an old fashioned way, and then ends with a cliché. Wording an ending is hard, even when you know what you want it to be.
      Using the meatball as a metaphor was a little bit funny, and then it burned along with the brownies and became a little bit heavy.
      This is an old story and you almost made it different. Lots of edits will help to find your way to that.
      Would a college professor use the kid word ‘snot?’
      The writing itself was excellent.

    • I totally agree. Especially with regard to TV and movies, these days it’s as if the “choice” doesn’t even exist!

  • MPmcgurty

    Some fine imagery here, especially with food, specifically with the meat. Capably written. But my thought is similar to ones I’ve had with other recent stories: We have a lot of words and phrases that show talent but bury the story under their weight. I know this site isn’t solely for flash, that it’s for “short fiction”, but so many of the stories (or it feels that way) I’m reading here could be brilliant if the coating of excess description and thought process were buffed away.

    By the way, I stalked the author at First Stop and Cleaver. She has some nice work there.

  • MPmcgurty

    Some fine imagery here, especially with food, specifically with the meat. Capably written. But my thought is similar to ones I’ve had with other recent stories: We have a lot of words and phrases that show talent but bury the story under their weight. I know this site isn’t solely for flash, that it’s for “short fiction”, but so many of the stories (or it feels that way) I’m reading here could be brilliant if the coating of excess description and thought process were buffed away.

    By the way, I stalked the author at First Stop and Cleaver. She has some nice work there.

  • Great story, really well done. A couple of nits, the abortion/choice issue mentioned in other comments is one. The other is who is Michael? Is he a relative, friend, co-worker? The ambiguity about that caused me to think of possibilities, lending a dimension to the story that probably shouldn’t be there, i.e., my imagination. Maybe a line or two about him would be useful.

  • Great story, really well done. A couple of nits, the abortion/choice issue mentioned in other comments is one. The other is who is Michael? Is he a relative, friend, co-worker? The ambiguity about that caused me to think of possibilities, lending a dimension to the story that probably shouldn’t be there, i.e., my imagination. Maybe a line or two about him would be useful.

  • monksunkadan

    I very much enjoyed this story and the way in which it was presented.
    An interesting look at a sensitive situation. With regard to the theme
    of most of the criticisms not directly aimed the literary effort. I fear I
    must tell those people that while I understand their views, They should
    understand that there is a segment of the population for which that
    option simply is not part of the equation. That is their “choice” and it
    should be respected. Let the verbal brickbats be launched!

    • MPmcgurty

      “criticisms not directly aimed (at) the literary effort”

      Of course they are. I find it unbelievable that a woman (especially in academia where most faculty are liberal) would not even have the thought, however repugnant to them, dart through her mind, especially if she’s in the MC’s situation. That’s why I began my comment with “Even if the character would never have considered abortion…” because that is a choice also. We have no idea what the author’s feelings on abortion are, nor does anyone here know mine. It’s about the MC. It’s fair game for the reader to ask, “Why isn’t she considering it?” She reveals every other thought in her head, why not that one?

      • S Conroy

        Agree. I find it hard to believe a modern-day woman whose main problem with the drunken one-night stand is that it could be found out does not even once entertain the idea of an abhortion (even if it’s just to dismiss it immediately if it’s against her beliefs).

  • monksunkadan

    I very much enjoyed this story and the way in which it was presented. An interesting look at a sensitive situation. With regard to the theme of most of the criticisms not directly aimed the literary effort. I fear I must tell those people that while I understand their views, They should understand that there is a segment of the population for which that option simply is not part of the equation. That is their “choice” and it should be respected. Let the verbal brickbats be launched!

    • MPmcgurty

      “criticisms not directly aimed (at) the literary effort”

      Of course they are. I find it unbelievable that a woman (especially in academia where most faculty are liberal) would not even have the thought, however repugnant to them, dart through her mind, especially if she’s in the MC’s situation. That’s why I began my comment with “Even if the character would never have considered abortion…” because that is a choice also. We have no idea what the author’s feelings on abortion are, nor does anyone here know mine. It’s about the MC. It’s fair game for the reader to ask, “Why isn’t she considering it?” She reveals every other thought in her head, why not that one?

      I’m sorry that you feel that a reply to your comment is a “brickbat”.

      • S Conroy

        Agree. I find it hard to believe a modern-day woman whose main problem with the drunken one-night stand is that it could be found out does not even once entertain the idea of an abortion (even if were just to dismiss it immediately if it’s against her beliefs).

  • Trollopian

    Yolk, not yoke.

    Like others, I immediately thought, “what about abortion?” It’s a choice. Not to be chosen lightly, but a choice.

  • Trollopian

    Like others, I immediately thought, “what about abortion?” It’s a choice. Not to be chosen lightly, but a choice.

  • S Conroy

    Apart from the nit that a lot of others also seem to have, I felt this was pretty realistic and well written.

  • S Conroy

    Apart from the nit that a lot of others also seem to have, I felt this was pretty realistic and well written.

  • Tamera Norwood

    The missing abortion option is an issue, but I was more troubled with the menopause treatmemt. She’s only 51, so unless her husband is 81, why wouldn’t sex be a regular part of her married life? Menopause would not normally cause a lack of intimacy at that age. It’s impossible to reveal much backstory in 1,000 words, but there’s a lack of authenticity in the behavior of the POV character that overshadows good writing.

  • Tamera Norwood

    The missing abortion option is an issue, but I was more troubled with the menopause treatmemt. She’s only 51, so unless her husband is 81, why wouldn’t sex be a regular part of her married life? Menopause would not normally cause a lack of intimacy at that age. It’s impossible to reveal much backstory in 1,000 words, but there’s a lack of authenticity in the behavior of the POV character that overshadows good writing.

  • Netty net

    Great story I like how Rachael is expecting a gift from the Lord Jesus, craving chocolate.

  • Netty net

    Great story I like how Rachael is expecting a gift from the Lord Jesus, craving chocolate.

  • Interesting and rather descriptive writing. Use of metaphor was done well too.

    Being the pro-choice libertarian that I am, however, the thought never even crossed my mind. I’m not sure why because, judging from the comments, pretty much everyone thought of it. And I think the reason for me is because I’d initially thought she was terminally ill with cancer, not pregnant.

    Thought story to write, but I think the author gave it a great shot, and I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Interesting and rather descriptive writing. Use of metaphor was done well too.

    Being the pro-choice libertarian that I am, however, the thought never even crossed my mind. I’m not sure why because, judging from the comments, pretty much everyone thought of it. And I think the reason for me is because I’d initially thought she was terminally ill with cancer, not pregnant.

    Thought story to write, but I think the author gave it a great shot, and I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.