NAVEL GAZING • by Ao-Hui Lin

I know you think I’m crazy, but you have to believe me, I’ve got a good reason for not eating. I’m not anorexic. I like food. I just don’t want to end up like Joe, that’s all.

Okay, yes, this eating thing started after Joe got sick, but I tell ya, it’s not stress or grief or depression. I did love Joe, and it hurts that he’s gone, but that ain’t the reason I don’t eat. Don’t you see? If Joe had done what I’m doing, he’d still be alive today.

Whaddya mean, tell you about Joe? What’s there to tell? He was good to me, and I loved him. Isn’t that all that’s important? I don’t want to talk about the rest of it. And that thing you asked, about the first word that pops into my head when I think of him? It’s not what you think. I know you think the first word is “fat”, but it’s not. I loved Joe’s body.

Yeah, he could’ve stood to lose a few pounds, but I didn’t care. In fact, I loved touching him, running my hands over his belly, feeling how round it was under my palms. And his navel, god, you never saw such a navel. So deep and wide, you coulda lost a marble in that thing. All I wanted to do was play with it, explore it, dip my fingers into it. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

You’re blushing. Sorry, I don’t want to talk about his navel anyway. Are all the doors locked in here? You’re sure nothing can get out, right?

Yeah, so anyway, back to Joe. The word that comes to mind when I think of Joe is “control”. Don’t look at me like that. I told you, I’m not anorexic. I’m not talking about my control. You asked about Joe, and all I can say is that Joe had the most amazing control I’d ever seen. When he decided to go on that diet, he never cheated, not even once.

And when he kept getting bigger and bigger, he ate less and less until he wasn’t eating anything at all. I never saw a guy just stop eating like that. Even when I cooked for him and begged him to have a bite, he’d always say no. You don’t have any food on you, do you? Okay, good. Like I said, no food if you want me to keep talking to you.

But you see, what Joe did wasn’t enough. It’s not the eating that’s the problem. It’s the food. Neither of us understood it at the time. Hell, I’d have made the same mistake that Joe did if I hadn’t realized what was really happening with his navel.

What was I talking about again? His navel? No, I don’t want to say anything else about it. Only, it was so wide and deep, y’know? I used to tell him it was freakish, but he knew I loved it.

Speaking of freakish, you ever see the movie with that special effects creature in it? The one with the big head and the skinny body that’s all bony elbows and knees? Where did you think they got the idea for that? And why is it so big? Creatures like that would be small, dontcha think? They’d be way scarier if they were small, small enough to crawl out of places they didn’t belong. Places you’d never expect. They’d poke their heads out to look around, squeeze those knobby elbows past their ears and climb out like rats. Then when they were done raiding the kitchen, they’d shove their bloated little bodies back into those places, burrowing under the skin with their knees and feet like ticks. That would really make you scream.

Never mind, it was just a random thought. My mind’s been wandering a little since I stopped eating. So, back to Joe. Like I said, he just kept getting bigger and bigger and he couldn’t figure it out. His doctor thought he was lying, told Joe that he had to stop sneaking food at night, so Joe told him to shove it and never saw him again.

But after that, I started to notice that food was going missing even though Joe wasn’t eating. I thought maybe he was sleep-eating. You know, like sleepwalking except with the munchies. So one night I stayed up to watch over him. I wish I’d done it sooner, cos by that time it was too late. He died the next morning before I could tell him what I saw.

No, I ain’t gonna say what I saw. You won’t believe me anyway, even if I tell ya. Only, just let me show you something. You gotta untie my sleeves first, and let me pull up my shirt. Please? Okay, take a look. Does my belly button look really big to you?

Ao-Hui Lin spends a lot of her time pondering the nature of motherhood and hopes that when her children are grown they won’t wonder why so many of her stories about mothers end in tragedy. Her work has appeared in Jersey Devil Press Magazine and an upcoming edition of Drabblecast.

This story is sponsored by
Hydra House — Publisher of Pacific Northwest science fiction and fantasy, including K.C. Ball’s collection of scifi shorts “Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities” and Danika Dinsmore’s middle-grade fantasy “The Ruins of Noe,” sequel to “Brigitta of the White Forest.”

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