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  1. Chapter 2 “So, you have your CLP come through?” It was late May and it was warm. Clouds were blocking the sun out but keeping the heat in. Clouds of varying shades of beige. Some were off-white and some were ivory, some were egg-shell and some were desert sand, some were ecru and some were cosmic latte, some were tuscan and some were unbleached silk. And all of them looked like they were carrying water, but had no intention of releasing it onto the small town of Le Mars. Which left things as they were: warm with a thick humidity. His name was Chesney and he was junior manager at the Western Haulage’s depot. Chesney. His name was Chesney. Like Kenny Chesney. Supposedly. His hair was long and greasy, with wirey gray woven between his natural brown hues. He looked as though he’d enjoyed his life over the years. A healthy gut, ruddy cheeks, and a smile that he was rarely without. “Yeah, here it is” Nora handed him the paperwork. “And regular driver’s license?” Nora handed that over too. “No smile?” Chesney said, looking at the photo. “It’s a driving license. You’re not supposed to smile” “I always smile. You point a camera at Chesney, and Chesney’s gonna smile” Chesney smiled. Despite the absence of any nearby cameras. He then returned to his spiel. “So, I’m CDL qualified, so I have to sit with you on journeys until you pass your test. You can only take your test after 14 days of possessing your CLP. The skills test will consist of three parts: the road test, the vehicle inspection test and… I always forget the other one. I don’t remember what it is, but...it's important. All three are vital. Once you pass your tests, you can start trucking for real. So, uh, welcome to Western Haulage”. Nora smiled back, but her heart wasn’t in it. It wouldn’t have been in it on a day of radiant sunshine. But this was Iowa. It was somehow gray and warm. The kind that makes you sweat but not get a tan. Le Mars, Iowa in a nutshell. Nora was hugging herself despite being warm. She hadn’t helped herself with how she’d dressed. She was no fashionista, but she did have a mom who used to run a fabrics store, so she figured she knew a thing or two about clothing. However, she’d not exactly known what to wear for work. It was work, but there was no uniform. It was a job, but the company was quite casual and informal. She’d ended with a jacket that looked good without looking like she’d put in effort. Though she was regretting the extra layer in the warm conditions. “And what will I be driving?” Chesney’s face would have lit up at that question, had the 40 year old man not stopped smiling the entire time he had been talking to her. “You’ll be driving Sweet Iowa herself” Great, Nora thought. The trucks have names. And worse still. Hers was called Sweet Iowa. When getting away from Iowa was supposed to be one of the few perks of the job. “Hey, don’t look like that. She’s great for starters. Smaller? Yes. And forgiving for the driver, but great in tough conditions. It could be worse. Mine? Old Chesney here has to do battle with big old Champs Elias and it’s been a tough old time. Had to have its gearbox replaced three times the past 5 years” He showed Nora a photo of a large, articulated truck that, as far as she could tell, looked just like every other one she had ever seen. Underneath the picture were the words Champs Elysees, though Nora thought better of correcting his pronunciation. He seemed so smiley after all. +-+-+-+-+-+-+- “So, what was driving it like?”. They were under the bed covers together watching Heathers for about the 8th time. It was Paisley’s favourite and Nora didn’t mind. There were worse films. Like Duel, for example, which is how her nightmares had been recently. “I dunno. Complicated, I guess. I dunno, it feels less like driving a car and more like flying a plane. On the ground. I dunno, just complicated” Nora said as she put her spoon into her mouth as she watched Heather Duke make herself puke and being mocked for it by Heather Chandler. Bulimia always looked unpleasant. Nora had known a few girls from school who’d had dalliances with eating disorders, but no one who had committed to them. Well, not that they knew of. Her high school was far too boring for that. Maybe Paisley had tried it? How do you ask a question like that though? Best not to, Nora reasoned. “Do you have to drive stick?” “Yeah, split shift 13 speed transmission. Like I say, complicated” Nora said, twisting her head to see Paisley putting a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth. “How’s yours?” “Ice cream? Same as always: really good. Like, all ice cream is good ice cream. Apart from vanilla cuz that literally has no flavor. Hey, you wanna try some? And I’ll take some of your Peanut Butter Fudge?” They swapped spoons to enjoy each other’s Well’s ice cream and Paisley leaned into her best friend a little closer. This had been the third time that Nora had found herself in Paisley’s bed this week, eating ice cream and watching the earlier parts of Winona’s filmography. No paycheck yet, that Well’s discount was coming in useful for the ice cream, and Netflix was sorting out the movies. Though the absence of Beetlejuice in Netflix’s back catalog was noted. “Nor…” “Yeah?” “Thanks” Nora straightened up and looked at her friend at her with confusion. Both Nora and Paisley were in nighties. It had been a custom since they first became friends. They would huddle together and giggle mischievously. Nora realised that, as the older friend, she probably needed to comfort Paisley. After the incident at the school with Mr Durant, who wouldn’t need it? So it became a thing. A decade of nighties and Heathers and under the covers giggling. And, recently, Wells ice cream. And somehow it felt no different, a decade later. Paisley’s parents didn’t seem to mind because, well, you know how Paisley’s parents are. And Paisley didn’t mind, there was a security and comfort to the routine of it, two things that Paisley had a huge amount of time for. And Nora didn’t mind. Nora didn’t mind one bit. “What for?” “Just… hanging. I dunno, I just… I had this idea that we wouldn’t hang out as much. Now we aren’t working together any more” Paisley looked up sympathetically at Nora, whose eyebrows flinched at the honesty. “Yeah, well I was planning on hanging out with all my old trucker buddies but they cancelled on me so…” Nora flashed a smile while her heart beat a little faster. “You won’t ditch me, will you though? Like, when you get your proper licence and go explore the wild, blue yonder and everything?” “Paisley… you are the most important person in my life and I will never - NEVER - ditch you like that. I promise” Nora said, looking into her friend’s eyes. Not accidentally. But deliberately meeting them and refusing to let go. Hang onto them, Nora. And don’t let go. “Oh my god, I wish we really were lesbians. You’d make such a great girlfriend. Just think of the movies we could watch together then” Paisley said sweetly. Nora didn’t answer. She just let her eyes return to the screen. Christian Slater was there looking smug. Nora never really understood his appeal in this movie. She never understood the appeal of Christian Slater at all, really. +-+-+-+-+-+-+ Denise was sitting in her chair, looking at paperwork. Another meeting in Sioux City with the handsome man from the bank, and hopefully that would be the end of it. Unless, of course, the handsome man would invite her for coffee. No, that would be inappropriate for a married woman. Even if it was just coffee. Even if he was very handsome. And had really great hair. His name was Chase. He looked like a Chase. Chases had hefty jaw lines and a lot of hair product in their really great hair. She figured it was just customer service, being handsome and flirtatious. Trying to reel her in or take out a loan or something. Maybe, if you do a job like that for long enough, you forget to switch it off. Maybe he just doesn’t know how not to flirt. But Chase flirting with her made her wonder if she should dust off the cobwebs and flirt back. After all, he was very handsome. And had really great hair. It also helped, because it took her mind off things. Financial things. How-are-we-going-to-afford-to-pay-the-bills things. Things that she would find herself thinking about in the times when she shouldn’t be thinking about anything. Her mind wandered like that. The store closure had hit them hard, and Darren’s medical bills made things difficult financially. They’d sold the store building to pay off a chunk of it, but it wasn’t worth much any more, making the store closure all the more difficult. It was all difficult, honestly. And she knew he wasn’t okay. He never said he wasn’t, but after 29 years of marriage, you don’t really need to. He was quieter these days. Always reading the newspaper or listening to the radio. But the socializing had slowly evaporated over time. Should she push him? Or was that controlling? It was hard not to be controlling with someone who would sit down in the kitchen in the morning and not get up until the evening. It’s not like he could go bowling anymore. She knew it was difficult for him since the amputation but life was always difficult. And it was tiring, walking for two all the time. For three, if she was being honest. Because there was also her eldest: Nora. The girl was just driftwood, no drive. Honestly, for her, the store closing down was probably the best thing for her. Get her out of her comfort zone. She could have been a doctor, Nora. Always smart enough. She had Denise’s head for numbers and Darren’s ability to make things look easy. But she didn’t want to be a doctor, she didn’t want to even go to college, because she was afraid of not being the smartest in the room. The same way that when she and her friend had that chance to go down to Cedar Rapids, she turned it down. She always acts like she’s too good for Le Mars, Iowa, but that’s how she likes it. She’s afraid of being somewhere she isn’t too good. Needs to be a big fish in a small pond. So, hopefully the job at Western Haulage will help her find her confidence. And maybe find a man. Because the clock’s ticking and young kids these days don’t appreciate such things, not like Denise’s generation did. Nora was always pretty enough. Effortlessly pretty. Not like some of them these days, always at the gym, spending a week’s wages on a shopping spree in Sioux City. No, Nora liked to pretend she paid her appearance no mind. She was vain, she’d struggle to walk past a mirror without smiling at it, but she never worked out for fear of admitting she was vain. Curvy, cute and self-consciously casual. Most men in town would be punching above their weight with Nora. But nothing ever. Never even brought a boy home. That’s the thing about kids, they think they’re so much cooler than their parents but their generation spend a lot less time chasing and being chased by boys than Denise’s. Maybe it was that Paisley. Lovely girl. Kinda fat; but nice as pie. Problem was, as far as Denise saw it, she held Nora back. The two girls had known each other since that teacher committed suicide. Mr… no, Denise couldn’t remember the name. But days like that can have an effect on someone. Leaves scars that nobody can see but you only know are there when you rub your hand against it. And they can push people to finding comfort and solace, a safe place. Nora found that in Paisley, and Paisley found that in pie. Now, she wasn’t ever a thin child, but Denise was fairly sure that her eating must have been a defense mechanism. And from the size of her these days, she was still very defensive. She could lose 80lbs and still be less attractive than Nora. And never wearing clothes that fit. The cuts she chose were always wrong for her body shape. But the two of them don’t seem to care about any of this and maybe that’s enough. The younger daughter, Leanne, was better. She didn’t have a crutch as a sidekick or a sidekick as a crutch. She invited boys over growing up and now she was happily married to one. It’s not perfect. No kids - yet - though Denise suspected that there may be a medical reason. She had overheard them talking about IVF but she’d never say anything like that to her mom. Sounded expensive. But, by and large, things were good for those two. They had their own place, the fiance had a good job, accounting or something boring but well-paid, out in Sioux City. Which reminded Denise, maybe she could stop by and meet up with Leanne after Chase. Unless Chase would invite her for coffee afterwards. He really did have such great hair. Maybe a bit of make-up. Wear a nice top, something with a more formal fabric but with a flattering cut. Though fewer cuts were flattering these days. The stress of the past six months had seen Denise up to a size 16. She’d never been a size 16 on bottom. The genetic donor to Nora’s good looks and natural shape, Denise had been an attractive woman all her life. She didn’t get approached the way she used to, but she could still turn heads on boys young enough to be her son. Well, until the past year or so, where time and a bit of stress-eating had made their presence known. It wasn’t just Paisley that had found comfort in food, it seems. +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+- “So, I can drive?” Nora asked, trying to hide a smug smirk. They were in his makeshift office by the side of the yard. He was sitting in a chair that squeaked every time he leant over to pull his mug of steaming instant coffee-infused water to lips. There was good coffee near reception but the walk would make him sweaty. So he squeaked the chair and grabbed the mug again and smiled. “You passed the tests, you got the license. Yeah, you can drive. You know, you actually drive well for a…” “Girl?” “...for someone who sits so low in the seat. We’ll get you started tomorrow. Come in at 6 and you’ll be making your first solo truck journey” Chesney had been smiling all day about this. Truthfully, Chesney smiled all day about most things. It seemed just a sensible place to rest his lips, upturned at either end. But he’d been smiling through this day more than most. The new girl getting her license. Not in a creepy way. Chesney would never over-step. He just enjoyed seeing people succeed. And yes, she was attractive. If you were into shapely hips, a narrow waist, a substantial ass and notable breasts. And if you were a little less demure than Chesney, maybe the joy wasn’t in seeing her succeed, but seeing that smile, lop-sided as if afraid to commit to a full beam, across her pretty face. But Chesney wasn’t that kinda guy. Did he steal a glace when she jumped up and down in delight, before remembering her affected disinterest, stopping and then sliding her top down? Yeah, he was only human after all. And was he glad that this young girl, one of the best looking women he’d seen in this town, had decided to work under him? Of course he was. And did he spend his days, trying to engrave all the above images in his mind for later, after his wife was asleep and he was alone with his right hand? He couldn’t deny it. But Chesney was mainly just glad that she was succeeding. “What will I be taking?” “We’ll start you off easy…” “I don’t need easy, I can do…” “Trust me, I know you can. But this is your first, and we can build from there. You remember the site in Milwaukee? It’s just taking some empty pallets over to them. Simple 7 hours each way, but if you have any trouble, just ask for Chesney on the old radio and I’ll sort you out. And well done Nora! Now you start trucking” Chesney’s smile grew wider as the conversation continued. She feigned disinterest, but he knew otherwise. She was a natural driver. It’s not a tricky job once you get the hang of it, but for some, it can take a while. Nora, on the other hand, picked things up quickly. Maybe she was a trucker in a past life. Chesney didn’t believe in such things, but his mom believed in it adamantly. Of course, she was crazy and would have been locked up if Le Mars had a place for her, but he did sometimes wonder. Either way, he gave it six months before the new girl was talking like one of the guys. And the fact that she was picking it up so quickly, and that a pretty girl was readily complimented on doing just that, meant that she was secretly loving it. Even if she would steadfastly refuse to admit it to a soul. And Chesney’s smile reached full wattage as she finally turned to leave. Wearing tight jeans, he could watch the rhythmic bounce of her ass. Had it always been that rounded, that filling of the material, Chesney couldn’t remember. And he would have thought that he would remember. But he didn’t complain as he smiled and took photos in his mind for later. +-+-+-+-+-+- “Admit it, you enjoy it!” Paisley giggled as Winona Ryder dances in the snow caused from the shavings of Edward Scissorhands’ ice carvings. The curtains were closed and the quilt was up to their chins. Nora’s one chin and Paisley’s two. “I don’t. It’s just a job” Nora replied defensively. “What about you? Do you enjoy yours?” “Not really, it’s kinda boring. But there are perks, I guess…” Paisley smiled as she put the spoon of ice cream into her mouth. The second creased itself into clarity as the smile appeared. “Yeah, but I’m getting those perks too and I get to drive a truck” Nora replied, smiling back as the mocha almond fudge ice cream hit the ridges on the roof of her mouth while she slid the spoon back out. “So you admit that you do enjoy it!” “Yeah, whatever” Nora slid her head to the side, resting it on her smaller friend’s. It felt comfortable there. The whole evening did. This had been the fourth night in a row. Nobody at home seemed to mind. Her mom was preoccupied with financial stuff, as she always was. Her dad was happy and content just sitting at the table and… being dad. So Nora saw no problem with spending more time with Paisley. “Anyway, I should probably eat less of this stuff?” Nora said, still looking at her friend. They both knew Edward Scissorhands off by heart at this point, and could recite it verbatim should the unlikely circumstance call for it. One of the joys of spending so much time with Paisley. “Dental work?” “No, ummm… just should probably lay off the ice cream a bit” “Why?” It was mainly for Paisley that Nora was spending more time. Sure, it was especially nice and calming, especially with the test this week and with the house having that uneasy quiet when things aren’t okay but nobody wants to directly address the fact. And she did enjoy spending time with her best friend of ten years. But it was mainly about providing support for Paisley. To be there for her. When Nora had been asked if they would continue hanging out, Nora saw that as a cry for help and insisted on proving to Paisley that she wouldn’t stop being in each others’ company. Also, tomorrow was Nora’s first job and it was an overnight one, so spending the day under Paisley’s quilt for the four days preceding that was the smart thing to do. “Why do you think?” “Dental work, I just said…” “Considering you’re so smart, you’re pretty dumb Nora. I’m… nevermind. But, I should probably save some for tomorrow” Paisley said, putting the spoon in the container and putting it to one side. “But I might not be getting ice cream next time”. “But it’s the only reason I hang out with you. For cheap ice cream” Nora said, watching Vincent Price on the screen now. “Don’t worry Nor, I’ll still get you discounted ice cream. One one condition. I’ll do it, but only if you take photos on your journey” “Of Milwaukee? It’s really nothing special Paiz…” “Please. For me” Nora didn’t understand why. Maybe she was a bit jealous. Both girls had applied for both jobs after all. And as much as Nora was initially annoyed about not getting the Wells’ job, maybe Paisley wanted the haulage one. To get the chance to travel. Or maybe Paisley was just trying to keep the pair of them close still, even as they stopped working together, which was a cute thought. Another option, though it was one that Nora hadn’t thought of, was that Paisley was worried about Nora. Nora feeling left out. Nora being cut out. It didn’t dawn on Nora that this was an option because that wasn’t the dynamic that Nora had in her head. Nora was the older sister, and she looked after Paisley. The idea that Paisley was worrying about Nora didn’t cross her mind. “Fine, I’ll take photos. For you” “Thank you! And in return, I’ll let you have the rest of my ice cream” Paisley said, grabbing the container and passing it over to Nora. This was a change to the normal dynamic. Paisley had never not finished the food in front of her before. All this change happening in both of their lives, but this was unexpected. It couldn’t be that Paisley was, for the first time in her life, watching what she ate? Could it? Could she be thinking about the ‘d’ word? Diet, that is, not the other d’ word. Nora put her spoon into Paisley’s ice cream and eyed her best friend suspiciously. She didn’t know how she felt about all this. But she found the cold sweetness of the Peanut Butter Chocolate certainly soothed her subconscious about the morning’s trip.
  2. This one's a classic, would thoroughly recommend
  3. Chapter 1 “You got that, Nora?” “Busy” “You actually busy, or just on your phone?” “Fine… I’ll get it” Nora’s shoulders slumped lower than their already deflated default as she pulled herself off the stool in the corner of the store to greet the customer. A stool that was originally for Betty Reynolds when she worked in the store. Before her stroke. She was never very good on her legs was Betty. Nora had since claimed the three-legged thing as her own on quiet days. Which were most days. Thank god for Betty’s stroke. “Hi, welcome to Mattie’s Fabrics, how can I help you today?” she sing-sang to the customer while not really making much in the way of eye-contact with the customer. The worst thing about working in retail, ask anybody, is the customers. And the pay. And all of it really. “You got any sheets of linen? I’m sewing a dress together and…” “Color?” “Oh… ummm… do you have egg-shell or ivory?” the customer asked. Some old woman, Nora had seen her about from time to time. She’d seen most people around from time to time. After all, the town of Le Mars, Iowa, was only so big and not a million miles away from the middle of nowhere. A few thousand faces stuck on repeat, endlessly recycled on a loop like the stock faces in a computer game. Le Mars. Where dreams go to whither and people go to die. Which sucked for someone like Nora, who was born and raised there. “Yeah, sure. We call it beige but…” “Oh no, not beige. What about off-white or…” “No, you want beige. Beige is off-white. Beige is ivory and beige is egg-shell. And it’s also desert sand and ecru and cosmic latte and tuscan and unbleached silk… it’s all the same color, ma’am. Just with fancier names. A million ways to say beige. So… you good with beige? Ma’am?” “I’ll… I’ll maybe try elsewhere” the old lady said, scuttling off out the shop. Nora rolled her eyes. There was nowhere else. This was Le Mars. There was only one fabric shop, ailing and bare, and she was working in it. You could try Sioux City but that was half an hour away by car and longer by bus. And all because this customer was too arrogant to deal with a word like beige. Nora didn’t get it. Had she not seen the color of this entire town? “Did you scare away another customer?” “Come on! You heard her, Paisley, she was being an ass” “That’s Mrs. Dover. The pastor’s wife. Leads the choir. If someone was being ass, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Mrs. Dover. If I tell your mom that you’re the reason that this place is closing down...” “Whatever… narc” Nora spat her tongue out as she smiled, before climbing back onto her stool and staring at her phone again. Nora wasn’t the reason that Mattie’s Fabrics was going under. The 21st Century was the reason that Mattie’s Fabrics was going under. The 21st Century with its rise of online shopping and with its steady decline of main streets and anything outside the big coastal cities. The 21st Century with its disdain for those content just to eke out a living. The 21st Century that had no time for self-made items using russet fabrics and cotton fabrics. Nora’s cynicism barely left an imprint, drowned out by the looming shadow of modernity and time. “Anyway, how is your mom? Still down about it or…?” “Yeah. Still down about it. Got a house full of people saying nothing. Dad quiet cuz mom’s quiet. Leanne’s quiet cuz dad’s quiet. And I’m quiet cuz... I hate it there” Nora grumbled, while typing some comment to a Facebook post that she didn’t care about. Her sister posting about sports that she didn’t watch but her fiance did so she felt she’d best keep up experiences. Her boss from her first job complaining about Hilary Clinton’s involvement in a prostitution ring. Jasmine from across the road showing pictures of her youngest’s first steps. Though, given that she’d had five kids already, surely the novelty should have worn off by now? Nora scrolled through it all, the blue and white just giving her eyes something to do rather than explicitly entertain her. “Hey… you okay? It must be tough for you, Nor” She walked up to her and put an arm around Nora’s shoulder in sympathy, leaning their heads against one another like they were shaped specially for that purpose. Both of them just stayed in silence for a bit. It’s not like the place was busy. “I’m fine. I’m fine. But Paisley… thanks” Nora smiled at Paisley kindly, and their eyes lingered against one another for another few moments. “Hey, you’re my best friend, and also my only friend but that’s not important, and I’ll do anything for you. Including the sex” Paisley smirked, and Nora pulled away with a giggle. “You are gross” “I just wanna do the sex with you” “Stop it!” “You know I wanna have the sex with you” “Stop calling it ‘the sex’. And also stop talking about us having sex. Both of those things” “How about a 69?” “That… that’s still sex” “A 96?” “That’s the same thing! Just a made up name for the same thing!” “Like calling egg-white beige?” “Exactly like calling egg-white beige!” +-+-+-+-+-+- Nora and Paisley had been friends since the days of Le Mars Community Middle School, and through to Le Mars Community High School. Ever since Mr Durant had that emotional breakdown that everyone still talks about and the police had to be called, and Nora had to console a crying Paisley in the corner of Miss Derby’s classroom. Or was it Mr Coffrey’s classroom back then? Either way, Paisley was a year younger and half a foot shorter, but they bonded that day, possibly over the shared trauma, and just never got around to un-bonding. Who else was there to bond with around these parts? Jasmine and her never-ending procession of children? No thank you. So Nora was like an older sister to Paisley, and Paisley was the younger sister to Nora. The Samwys to her Frodo, the Samwell to her Job Snow. Nora even got the girl that job at her mom’s store. It was just the way of things, and nobody paid it much thought. And Paisley was useful to have around. Her parents could never complain about their daughter for anything, because everything that Nora was bad at, Paisley was worse. Like a wingwoman, but for nagging parents. It wasn’t the reason that Nora liked Paisley, but it wasn’t a bad side-effect. They were now in their mid-20s and their friendship was the best thing about every day for Nora. In fact, the only good thing. Work was a soul-sapping exercise - she hated the busy days because they were busy and she hated the quiet days because they weren’t. Worse still, work was only a soul-sapping exercise in the short term. Her mom was having to close the store at the end of the month. It was either that or lose the house. So the store went, and so did 30 years of hard work and pride and being integral to the community. Nobody bought raw materials any more, every piece of clothing always came ready-made. Why put in the effort, when somebody else would do it for you? The residents of Le Mars weren’t fans of SE Asian sweatshops exactly, but they didn’t mind the convenience, if they were being honest. The only generation that believed in self-repair and sewing and such things had hands too arthritic to carry it out. The fad of young people taking up such hobbies as sewing and knitting only applied to the cities, where the hipsters and all their various beard oils were, a million miles away. Neither Paisley nor Nora knew what to do after the place closed. They’d worked there since high school, sitting around and occasionally ushering someone towards the satin section. Without the place, there weren’t a whole heap of options without a hefty commute. The two biggest employers in town were Wells’ Ice Cream Manufacturing Plant, and Western Haulage. Both were mainstays of the town. Molly’s mom worked at Wells’, and both Terri and Terry had dads’ work for Western Haulage. Years ago, the town’s mayor had dubbed Le Mars “The Ice Cream Capital of the World”. It’s true, look it up. Sure, this is despite Napoli existing. And sure, there was only a single ice cream plant. But the mayor’s self-anointing was more wishful thinking than reality, and it looked good on the signs. There had been talk for years about a second factory. It was the sort of thing politicians would promise on the campaign trail near election time and then not deliver so that they could promise it again at the next election. Iowa got a lot of those. But that only really left Wells’, dairy farm work or the trucking company. Both girls applied for jobs at both places, sending a resume listing a thin smattering of achievements - Mattie’s Fabrics, a high school diploma, JV softball and the 4-H Club - but both girls secretly hoped for neither job. They probably would recognise half the people there - didn’t Tina go back to working at the factory after her family farm went under? - but they would be the people who didn’t make it. Who got left behind in place and time, in Le Mars, Iowa. A factory drone sounded more soul-sapping than Mattie’s Fabrics, and life as a trucker was not how they’d hoped to spend their days either. But it was what it was. A third option was Melville. Or so the two girls liked to joke. He was in the same year at High School as Nora and had liked her ever since. Nora wasn’t the school’s queen bee or anything, but she had always been easy to fall for. Even 10 years later. She’d always attracted attention, never really seeking it but never really minding it either. Her 5’7” made her tall, but not in a particularly noticeable way. Her hair, a side-parted brown bob that was once longer, was again trendy without setting the world alight. Her figure, 150lbs spread evenly and without any underlying agenda, had curves to keep the eyes of passers-by occupied without ever being enough to seem dramatic. And her smile was friendly and warm, without flaw but without sheen. It all left her exactly as she wanted to be. Attractive, but without being the talk of the town. Melville, on the other hand, was talk of the town. Not for his looks, mind you. Unfortunately for him, he was cursed with a face that looked hand-drawn by a toddler and a level of asymmetry that challenged the most seasoned geometrist. Nor was it for his character, an unassuming but likeable sort as most with Picasso-esque faces so often tend to be. No, the most notable fact about Melville was that time he won the state lottery, making him technically a millionaire, though $1.2 million (after taxes) was realistically enough to live no more lavishly than a schoolteacher when collected over a lifetime. But his millionaire status made him a interesting “plan B” for Nora, even if he did look like he was designed in the dark. The bitter irony was that it was Melville and Paisley that had been friends back at school. They hung out in the emo corner, listening to Fall Out Boy and Paisley even tried dying her black once but it made her scalp itch so badly that it was never attempted nor spoked of again. Paisley wasn’t emo in personality, and she had long behind left the dark eye make-up, but Nora had known even then why Paisley wore only the blackest blacks. Because Paisley, even back then, was a chunky kid, and emo was just a place that ugly kids and chubby kids hung out. Nowadays, they just lived in Le Mars for that. +-+-+-+-+-+-+-+- “Someone’s got the holler tail” Nora’s dad said, not even looking up from the business section of the local paper. He only really cared for the sports pages, truth be known, but he read the whole thing so as to get his money’s worth. “No, I don’t” Nora grumbled, grabbing a slice of toast as she walked towards the door. “Sure sounds that way” Nora sighed. She hated it when she was accused of being in a bad mood. How do you respond? You say ‘no’, and it sounds argumentative, proving their point. But if you say ‘yes’, then you are agreeing with their point. There was no answer to the question that wouldn’t vindicate her dad’s accusation. And, to make matters worse, he was right. She was in a foul mood. “I have a job interview…” Nora admitted. “Well, that’s the best bad news I’ve ever heard!” he said, finally looking up. “...to drive trucks. Long-haul trucking. Can you imagine? Me, doing that? Smelling of diesel? Even the job at Well’s Ice Cream plant sounded better than that. Plus, Paisley got a job at Wells’, they offered it to her today. I don’t know why they would hire her and not me. No offense to Paisley…” Her dad had been the one who had suggested applying to Western. He knew a guy, he said, which came as a shock to nobody since what middle-aged man from Le Mars, Iowa -did not know a guy at Western Haulage. Back when he was at Le Mars Community High School, several from his class ended up there. And then there was John, one of his Friday night bowling buddies, though they’d stopped hanging out of late. John hasn’t been the same since his wife had that stroke. He really should check in on him, make sure he’s doing okay. Maybe invite him round to watch football. Or go over there, and watch the game with John’s surround-sound system. Good karma, good football and surround-sound? There were worse ways of spending an evening. “I don’t know. One look at your resume and I’d have done the same. Only one job, and at the place owned by your mom? Yeah, I’d have taken one look and thought ‘nepotism’” Her dad told her, before pushing his eyes back down. The horoscope section. The section where getting your moneys-worth out of a paper was hardest. He never believed such things. But then again, he never believed in driverless cars and apparently they were testing them now so maybe he should keep an open mind. And, as an Aquarius, he was the most open-minded star sign after all. “Thanks dad” Nora rolled her eyes. “Not a criticism. Just an observation. I know how these people work. How they think. And they’d look at you and see a no-hoper with a CV” he said, sipping his morning coffee. His wife glared at him. “But, of course, it’s not true and they don’t know what a wonderful woman they’re missing out on”. “Yeah, that was too little too late dad. Anyway, I should probably be leaving. Gonna ask Paisley on interviewing tips, since I clearly suck and she’s clearly better than me” Nora grumbled. “You don’t need any tips honey, I’m sure you’re wonderful. But make sure you’re back by 7… your uncle’s coming over for dinner” her mom added, as she applied make-up. Another meeting with the bank manager down in Sioux City. Not only did they have to take her business from her, they also needed thousands of mind-numbing meetings to do it. “The creepy uncle? Or the really creepy uncle?” “Don’t call them that. Your Uncle Johnny’s not too bad, as long as we’re in the room. But it’s Alan this time, so maybe get back a bit earlier than 7 so you can change into something more conservative. Anyway, I have to scoot off but I’ll catch you two later. And when’s your interview Nora?” “Wednesday… if I go” “Oh don’t be silly honey. It’ll be fine. If it’s not meant to be, you won’t get it. And if it is, you will. And doesn’t that girl from your year drive trucks? The one with the braces?” her mom said as she headed to the door. “Marie-anne hasn’t worn braces in ten years. And she delivers things to people who shop online. It’s a bit different from long-distance trucking. And she was in Leanne’s year, not mine. But apart from that, you got it in one, mom!” Nora said, but her mom was already out the door. “And you will turn up at that interview Nora. Otherwise everyone in town will think of you as the kind of woman who doesn’t turn up to interviews and you don’t want that, do you? And then nobody will hire you. Trust me, I know how these people think” her dad continued, eyes focused as he finally reached the sports section. At last, where the actual good stuff was. And it was just as well, because Nora too had left for whatever it was she had said she was planning on doing. Leaving him in peace with the best section of the paper. Sometimes, you gotta enjoy the good stuff when it hits. +-+-+-+-+-+-+- “I’m so sorry Nora, I honestly thought they’d give you the job” Paisley said as Nora sat herself back down on her usual stool in Mattie’s Fabrics for the last time. It was the last day of trading, the closing down sale had proven to be enough of a hit that they were actually closing three days earlier than planned. Which was good? Or bad? It was hard to tell really. “Oh no, they offered me the job. It’s mine if I want it. I’m just pissed cuz it’s… like, me, driving a truck? Why couldn’t I work with you? I’d be so good at… doing whatever it is you’re gonna do. Making ice cream?” Nora scrunched her face up, not really remembering. “You landed a decent job in this town and you’re still being a little bitch about it? Nor, you are ridiculous at times!” Paisley threw one of the biros from behind the desk at her friend, who flinched to such an extent that she nearly toppled. “Trucking, though?” “Sounds bad-ass if you ask me. No cars on the road getting in your way in a truck. Plus, you’d get to travel. Sorta. Get outta this town. Isn’t that what you always wanted?” “Yeah. I guess” Nora’s shoulders slumped, eyes on her phone again. Jasmine was on her Facebook feed, talking about maybe trying for another kid. Wasn’t six enough? Everyone in the comments was really supportive but they all must have been thinking that. And was it what she wanted? Driving a truck and getting outta Le Mars? It wasn’t how she’d always seen things going. She didn’t think it was beneath her, but… well, she did think it was beneath her, but didn’t want to be a bitch about it so she stuffed that thought to the back of her head. And maybe Paisley was right? Travelling sounded good. Showing the guys that she could do it just as well as they could, despite being a proud 27 year old woman and not a, old dad-bodded 45 year old man who racks up a DUI every Christmas, making him late to pick up the kids. 27 years old, meant she was young still, she was pretty sure. But was she just the lower end of middle-aged? Her parents kept hassling her over settling down with somebody - “didn’t that Melville like you? He’s not the best looking but he’d keep you right” - and if it wasn’t 27, then when was it? 28? 30? So many questions in Nora’s head, and not really the desire to answer them. “Plus, I bet you get paid well. Ronnie from my year…” “One of the emo ones?” “Yeah, he had that cheap leather coat that he thought made him look cool but everyone totally made fun of him because of it… well, he drives. Not for Western Haulage, he moved outta town a few years back. But he’s got a nice house from the looks of the pictures on Facebook…” “I know, Paiz. I know. It’s just… remember when we were growing up and we were gonna leave this place and go meet up with your cousin out in Cedar Falls and… I dunno… it was different working for my mom cuz it always felt temporary. Just a way to hang out and make money while I decide what to do. But this job, driving a truck, it’ll… I worry that it’s like I’ll be deciding ‘this is who I am now’. And that person will be someone who drives trucks and this just isn’t how I pictured things going when we talked about leaving for Cedar Rapids…” “You are weirdly philosophical at times Nor. You think about things way too much” Unbeknownst to Paisley, this was something that Nora was aware of. In fact, this was something that Nora thought about way too much, before starting to think about how she was thinking too much about how she was thinking too much. It wasn’t deliberate or premeditated. Her mind just took the scenic route to any conclusion, often stopping to enjoy the scenery before getting there. Or maybe she was just overthinking things when she reached that conclusion. Paisley, Nora had long concluded, was never partial to such ruminatory detours. She never really spent much time thinking about how much time she spent thinking about things, but it is safe to say that, were she to do so, then the conclusion would be that she spent very little time thinking about such things. It wasn’t that she was dumb, it’s just that her eyes focused on the things in front of her, and her mind did the same. Nora never thought this as a sign that Paisley was lesser or not as smart. In some ways, it seemed a virtue, to go along in the direction that life pulled her without stopping to ponder why and whether there. On the other hand, Nora was also self-aware enough to know that she was lying to herself when she thought this, and that her superior self-awareness was a reason why she did think she was better than Paisley. But everyone did that, didn’t they? Everyone thought that they were smarter than everyone. What’s the alternative? Thinking other people are right, and you are wrong? If you thought that, if you thought you were wrong, then why were you thinking it? Surely just think the thing that you think is right, instead? “I mean… is working in QC at Wells’ what you always thought you’d be doing?” Nora retorted, now looking at pictures of an old flame with a new partner who had the same haircut that she did. They must have a type. “So you do know what I do at Well’s?” “Yeah, I guess. Just don’t tell anyone. I wanna come across as cool and disinterested” Nora smirked as she said it, desperately looking at her screen so she didn’t fully crack into a smile. “Anyway, at least you get to eat ice cream for a living”. “Well… actually… QC don’t get to eat the ice cream” Nora looked up at this. “What the fuck? Why not?” “It’s just testing it. I just do the visual checks on deliveries from other suppliers. No samples though. Oh my god! I just thought, you might be one of the people who makes deliveries to us? I might have to check your stock!” Paisley beamed. “Does everything you say have to sound like an innuendo? People are gonna think you’re into me” Nora’s attention was back on her phone. “Me checking your stock is not an innuendo. Says more about you than it does about me that your brain went there” “No it doesn’t!” “You’re seriously defensive every time I mention we should be gay lovers?” “I’m not! Oh fuck… you just did what my dad does!” “Your dad thinks we should be gay lovers?” “No, he… always sets me up by saying I’m argumentative or defensive and if I say ‘no’ it just proves his…” Nora looked up, to see Paisley smirking at her. Nora’s cheeks were red and she realised that she actually was getting worked up this time. Maybe Nora wasn’t as self-aware as she thought. Maybe Paisley was more self-aware than she thought. But here Nora was again, arguing that she wasn’t arguing. But this was Paisley all over. The little sister she never had. Or she would have been, if Leanne wasn’t the little sister that she did have. Paisley was not as smart or reflective, not as tall nor as pretty, not as old, not as wise. But she was loyal and funny and breezy and cute. 5ft1 and still the same amount of soft chunkiness that she’d possessed since the days of ditching math to avoid Mrs Tyler and her missing front tooth. Paisley had chipmunk cheeks and a muffintop regardless of what she chose to wear. And she had long hair that was brown like Nora. But not brown like Nora because Nora’s was chestnut and mahogany, while Paisley’s was more dead moss. But cute though, although Nora didn’t possess enough self-awareness over the extent that she felt that way. “One good thing about working at Wells’... I get employee discount” Paisley smiled, and those chipmunk cheeks reemerged. “So you know what that means?” “That purchases made by employees are at a price reduced by a certain fraction?” “It means that, after this shift, we should totally get ice cream”
  4. You're my favourite writer, Swordfish, and this story has all the reasons why. Joyful, lived in, human, real. So much warmth and sincerity and a very human goofiness. This really was brilliant!
  5. This is a really nice comment. Genuinely flattering and kind. Thank you
  6. Gosh darn, what a lovely thing to say. Thank you!
  7. Yeah, it turns out the real Abyss is the friends we make along the way
  8. Thank you to all those who read, commented or pressed that little heart button that means like. It's been really nice to write a story that people seemed to enjoy, so thanks. You guys reading it made it all worthwhile
  9. FINALE Part 14 - Raptors "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that she does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an Abyss, the Abyss will gaze back into you" - Ol’ Freddy Nietszche. Close your eyes. Really, do it. Close your eyes. You’re reading this on your PC or laptop or tablet or phone, aren’t you? And you’re in the sanctity of your own bedroom maybe, or somewhere private. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere that you can guarantee nobody else will be. The Emirates during an Arsenal home game, perhaps. But do it. Close your eyes. Sit back, tilt your head back and close your eyes. Doing it? Good. Wait… how did you read this sentence if your eyes are closed? For real though, close your eyes and picture this scene. Switch off your music and focus on the sights and sounds of what we’re about to describe. Picture Naomee. Young woman, bright future ahead of her. She’s a charming young woman. Her hair is as blonde as hay. There is a small constellation of freckles dotted on her cheeks and nose that she despised when she was a kid but has grown to accept and even admire as she got older. She has an uncomfortable habit of fidgeting with her hair when self-conscious. A blushed smile and she’d run her hand through her bangs as if her fringe only ever covered her eyes when her cheeks got red. Her name is Naomee, her friends call her Nay-Nay, and she’s the second hottest woman you’ve ever seen. She works in your office, maybe. Or you see her in the gym. She lives across the road from you or her old best friend at school was your sister. She waited your table when she was at college or bumped her trolley into yours in the supermarket one time. And she looks like every angel you’ve ever imagined. Except, of course, I have read a Bible and know that angels are actually ugly motherfuckers. And also non-binary, which is pretty rad, if you think about it. Enbies represent! You look at her and this what you see. Beyond her weathergirl smile, with the dimpled cheeks and eyes light blue, like an ocean that had frozen over. You see her and you’re a hot-blooded pervert, you check her out. Your eyes fidget uncomfortably, sneaking glances at her airy build. Light and lithe and skinny with sunshine. Her skin is made of nectar and ambrosia. It dances with elfin tightness, delicate and sweet. She carries herself like her bones are made of bubbles. This is Naomee. This is Naomee one year ago. And now look at her. Just look at her. Look at her, on all fours. Tongue hanging out like a dog trapped in a hot car. All mush and flesh and shapeless sloth. Wearing nothing but a bra and underwear that were purchased 12 weeks and 50lbs ago. Everything else hanging out like discarded curtains. A stomach made of butter left out in the sun. Furrows in the stomach where it folded in like origami. Her shoulders permanently Stay Puft. What the fuck happened to her? Well, I happened to her. It’s me, by the way. Maria. And, this final chapter, we’re telling it together. Maria and Naomee. As one. She’s slobbering over a cake. That’s what she’s doing. The cake is some German thing. Not sure of the name. Probably ends in -torte or -kuchen. She’s eating it like it’s bluetooth. Hands-free… it’s a… hands-free joke. Anyway, she’s eating it hands free. Like a pig from a trough. Pushing her head in it, letting the icing splatter over her face, so caked in cake that you’d be forgiven that this is Noel’s House Party. It isn’t Noel’s House Party. This show is not suitable for kids. And, as she gorges on cake, ripping into it like she’s the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, we better tell you what’s been happening since you were last here. And where better to start than telling you about when the COVID restrictions were over and we could go back to work… + Big Rab didn’t say anything. Not with his mouth, anyway. That little face of his - the face you imagine Esio Trot pulls when he’s on the point of orgasm - said plenty, but the lips moved not a jot. He stared with his unkempt eyebrows jungling downward, frown lines riven across his face like dehydrated soil. His weird moustache looking bushy and confused. Of course, Big Rab hadn’t seen Naomee in over a year. I’d not got a camera that worked on my laptop, or so I had told him. I’m sure you remember me telling you all this. It was quite the hoot at the time. I would be sent laptop upon laptop as he tried to ensure that the camera worked. Of course, they all did. But I pretended they didn’t so I could balloon in peace (B.I.P.). And, because of that time delay, he remembered me looking like the dawn chorus. Like Springtime. Like life and birth and rebirth itself. Like that girl we described at the start of this chapter. It had been a long year but I wasn’t that girl any more. Was I? No, you weren’t, Naomee. No you weren’t. Honestly, you wouldn’t even pass a distant relative of the girl you once were. It would scarcely be believable that your old self would be willing to socialise with your new self. A fat wastrel blob of gelatinous shame, mushed into straining skin like an overfilled binbag. Because I can do ornate metaphors too. But breaking the chair was a bit much. I was in the cubicle across from you when it happened. I liked to stare at you and then stare at all the people staring at you. I would watch as they flicked between the image of you in their memory bank and your current incarnation, and working out what happened. Fucking hell, scribbled on all their faces. Double-checking, to make sure they weren’t just seeing double. And Big Rab and all the others were looking at you as you leaned back. And the chair broke. To be fair, you were filling it. Rammed in. Fixed in. Even if it hadn’t broken, you were in trouble with it. It was not designed for you. For this you. Squished inside it. Fat bulging over the armrests. Like a hot mess. Only less hot. And then it broke. The plastic where the nuts were bolted in ructured. The new fat girl was on her arse in the office and it was so humiliating. And it was so hot. Big Rab looked up in shock. I remember the expression. Like Mitch McConnell taking a shit. Like a blobfish pressed up against a window pane. Wondering the cause of the ruckus. Wasn’t he? Yeah. He was. And he was looking at you, Naomee, wasn’t he? Yeah, he was. Looking somebody carved Voldermort’s face out of a snot bubble. And seeing my fat arse on the carpet while the chair split across the room like they were horcruxes. “Naomee… a word” What did he say in that meeting, Nay-Nay? He… he was worried. About my behaviour. Though I could sense quotation marks around the word ‘behaviour’. Like behaviour was a euphemism for figure. “What have you done to your behaviour, Naomee?” and “You used to have a fantastic behaviour but you’ve really let your personality go”. He didn’t scold. He did the disappointed dad routine. He said I could grab my stuff and I’d be escorted off the premises. If you hadn’t barged in and done your Maria magic, my job was done for. You’re welcome. Not really. Because now, every time I walk in there, I see them looking at me as if I’m contagious. I mean, it’s not me that’s contagious of the two of us, but they’d look at me and keep their distance like I was riddled with coronavirus. A cross on my door. Covid’s Metamorphoses? I feel like that reference is wasted on me. They giggle and snicker, and they talk to each other under their breath between glances at me. Like their betting on what I’ll break next. My new chair. The desk. The floor. The world. All because you persuaded little Big Rab to keep me on. The only way you know how. Isn’t that right, Maria. Yes. I pulled every trick in the book. Because I keep all my tricks in a book. I made that man pull faces of joy that are not suitable pre-watershed. I touched nerve endings that had rusted over back when Starburst were called Opal Fruits and Presidents were allowed to take blowjobs from secretaries as long as he didn’t stick it in her woo-woo. The worrying thing though was that I had to work hard. That worried me. That worries me. I never used to have to. + Back to the here and now, and we’re nearly halfway through the cake. Maria sitting and watching, paddles and whips in her hand to remind me that pain is pleasure and pleasure is pain. It’s easy to remember, but she reminds me anyway. Painfully. Pleasurefully. I muffle the sound of joyous exhalation by diving headfirst back into the gunky sickly cake, going at it like I’m licking the cake out. And, in many ways, I am. Afterwards, and I can see it in the corner of my eye, will be the shakes. Weight gain shakes, blitzed together with ice cream and regular cream and double cream and anything else ending in cream. Anything else that would make your GP look at you over the rim of their glasses as if to say “should you really be having that?”. And then mushed all together into a drink so thick it’s practically food. And I’ve got all that to come. After this cake. And Maria’s sitting on a stool and watching. Like an eagle. A falcon. Hovering over her prey. Or like a praying mantis. Ready to bite my head off. I’d be okay with that, if she bit my head off. It’d be kinda hot. She looks gorgeous, as she peers down at me, probably contemplating ways of disposing of my body should the situation call for it. She looks soft, curvy and deadly. Looking like a cross between a dream and a nightmare. Looking like a cross between Heaven and Hell. Ecstasy and horror. A climax and the petit mort. Satan and God. Good and evil. Well… yummy evil and bad evil, anyway. And not slim, either. I guess you’re gonna want us to tell you about what happened there too, aren’t you? Fine. But I’m telling this story. Me. Naomee. I like this story. The story of why Maria hadn’t lost any weight yet. + Close your eyes. Yes, again! For fuck’s sake, why do you always nag so much? Just close your fucking eyes and appreciate the structural parallel of this installment. Close your eyes and picture Maria. Oh, you don’t mind that, do you? Double-standards, really. Call yourselves fat fetishists and here you are just gagging to picture Maria. Maria Echeverria. Not her real name. But she says it is her real name and she’s boss, so maybe it is. Maria Echeverria has always been tall and skinny. Not effortlessly so, as we recently discovered. No, creating your own mythology takes work. Takes 5:30am starts on the treadmill or the elliptical machine. It takes living off bird seed and allotment-grown detritus. The stuff that makes me feel ill inside. The stuff I used to eat too. She’s imposing with her height. She’s ekes out every millimetre of it with a straightened spine and model’s neck. Her thin, serpentine legs are a curiosity, they wrap around you and tighten with ferocity but, when standing, they look light and gentle. Her waist drew in slipperily, wiggling in like the bloody veins of a river. Her chest always upright and pronounced, like gravity couldn’t lay a finger on them. She was the stuff dreams are made of. Appearance-wise. Personality-wise, she was the stuff nightmares are made of. The kind of shit that gives Cthulhu nightmares. That was what she looked like when I first stared at The Abyss. The funny thing about abysses, however, is their propensity to stare back. And when I witnessed her in all her monstrosity, I saw myself become similarly monstrous. And that’s why Maria hasn’t lost weight. If anything, she’s gained. No I haven’t. Yes, you have. And shut up. I’m telling this. She’s still mesmeric. Entrancing. Bewitching. She haunts your eyes, and the burning smell you can smell is that image being scorched onto your brain, to scar deeply and forever. She’s still tall. Like scaffolding or a church. But she’s got considerably more substance, more softness, more decadence. It’s a pear-shaped tendency, as if that somehow justifies it. Maybe that’s how she justifies it to herself. Maybe she’s just curious what I can do. The darkness in my eyes turn her on, because she knows she created it. She’s ruined me, in a way. But she’s ruined me by making me like her. And now I get to do the reverse. Her legs have swollen, like puffed out cheeks, softening at the touch and starting to mottle at the back. Her hips are wide and generous, for sashaying and swagger more than narrow stools. And a stomach that isn’t flat any more. It curves, nothing as prole as sagging or jutting, but it’s an outward of skin that hands can melt in. Soft, full, malleable and delicious. You’re welcome. We came to an agreement. Like we were divorcing parents sorting out who has the kids and when. She gets to wreak Maria havoc on me from Monday to Friday. And I get weekends. And this worked well for her during furlough. And this works well for me now furlough has ended. She doesn’t mind. Or maybe she does. Maybe she enjoys the fact that she minds. Maybe the frustration turns her on. Her frustration turns me on. Her exercise habits have capitulated into the sea, and this house has a moratorium on healthy food. And she becomes mine. I get to tear into her with my fat fingers and feast on her formerly fallow flesh. All part of the quid pro quo. Maybe one day she’ll break an office chair too. I have learnt from the best, when it comes to feeding people to the edge of cliffs. I learnt from her. I know exactly which buttons to press. All of them, all at once. Like a fat woman sitting on the TV controls. Which I’ve been known to do from time to time. Sometimes, I don’t even notice. Anyway, I know how hard to press, I know how terrifying, how safe, how electric, how restrained to be. How hot to be. How cold to be. I know how long to let my touch linger, and when to pull back. I know when to give her what she wants, and when to pull it away from her. I lean into her, and push food into her, any strength she’d built over the years just squashed by my excess. Every Saturday, every Sunday, she’s my ragdoll play thing and I get to rip her to shreds like a rabid dog. Now that’s living for the weekend. + And this leads us back to the here and now. WIth the two of us. Maria with the paddle, and Naomee with the weight gain jug dribbling down her mouth and onto her swollen stomach, stickier than semen. Maria with her hand between meaty thighs, gasping for air in the way that pleasure elicits. And Naomee, stifling hiccoughs with more of the shake that caused them. But it’s Friday night, and it’s drawing towards 12, that weekend draws near; so soon the roles can reverse and The Abyss can stare back at Maria. + And maybe we will stare at you. Yes, you. We’re Fleabagging again. Which sounds rude, I apologise. But you. You’ve been staring at The Abyss an awful long time, I’ve noticed. How many chapters has it been.You gazing deep and dark into the abyss. Don’t you worry it will gaze back? Because we mentioned Jurassic Park earlier. But the T-Rex isn’t the real star of the show in that movie. It’s the raptors. Funny thing about the raptors, according to the 90’s classic film. His visual acuity isn’t based on movement like the T-Rex. Oh no. Not the Velociraptor. No, you stare at the velociraptor and the velociraptor just stares right back. Remind you of anything? And that’s when the attack comes in. Not from the front, but from the side. From the raptor you didn’t even know was there. Not from Maria, but from me. It’s Naomee, by the way. And by the end of this story, I’m going to eat you alive. Whoops, it seems to be the end of the story. Yum.
  10. Sounds a little bit like this one... Don't know if this is the one to which you are referring? https://www.deviantart.com/y2qwert/art/Not-A-Loser-Too-842865655
  11. Not sure either, but it's a hell of a compliment! Maybe cos of the deadpan cynicism? Either way, I'll take it And thanks for the comment, always nice when it's from a writer you admire
  12. Brilliant, with sharp wit and that King-ian sense of off-ness that you managed so well in that Ice Cream story
  13. Love the blatant - sorry *coincidental* - similarities between real life counterparts. And I love the whole vibe of this story. The sinister underpinning of a story that otherwise seems so believable and true. You could have given this story the Fargo-esque intro of it being based on real events and I'd have bought it. Looking forward to this!
  14. Awwww, thanks pal. And yeah, the whole story is outrageously bonkers isn't it?
  15. Part 13 - Chinese finger trap It was all going so well. Until they called the police. But we’ll get to that later. First… stuffing time. + You ever hear of the Chinese finger trap? I didn’t know that was the name of it until I googled it, but I would recognise one of those fuckers from fifteen parsecs away. We had them when I was just a ragtag scoundrel back in Primary school, and maybe I’m showing my Millennial age but they were all the fucking rage. Like fidget spinners… only nothing like fidget spinners. The way a Chinese finger trap works is that you put it over somebody’s fingers - such japes - and then you pull until it tightens over the finger. Now, because we were all pre-teens and thus had the collective IQ of a bag of wet cement, the trick would work. Because, to remove the finger trap from your finger, your instinct is to pull it. How else to take something off, right? Nuh-huh, not the Chinese finger trap. Cos the Chinese finger trap is a trap. For your finger. It’s kinda where it gets its name from, I imagine. So, you pull. You pull the Chinese finger trap and all that does is make the trap constrict tighter around your finger. It’s totally counter-intuitive, but you’re so young that you still watch cartoons (my yogi ex-boyfriend still watched cartoons when he was in his late 20’s. I’m counting that weird Japanese shit as cartoons), so the counter-intuition flummoxes you. You’re bam to the boozled. The more you pull, the tighter it gets. The tighter it gets, the more you panic and want it off. The more you panic and want it off? Yup, the more you pull. Until you end up crying and someone has to intervene to pacify you of your fraught emotional duress. Well, imagine all of that… but with sex. Good, right? Okay, I use the Chinese finger trap method for our fucking and feeding sessions. I don’t try to enjoy it. I don’t lean into it. I resist. I writhe. Every mouthful is an aberration, every touch is an abomination. I can’t possibly fit any more inside of me (this works for feeding or fucking). Please… please… let me go. I can’t cope. Please…. The more you resist, the more our resident Chinese finger trap - Maria Echeverria, mother of dragons - constricts. The more the noose tightens. She feeds you more fiercely, she fucks you more vindictively. And vindictive is the word. She gets pleasure from your pain. Not necessarily with whips and such like - though not necessarily without whips and such like either - but it’s the muchness of it all. The excess. The overabundance. So much eating, so much fucking. And the more you pull, the tighter it gets. So you can’t cope, you’re straining, well passed maximum capacity. So you pull away more. And she tightens more. Punishes you more. Until each breath hurts. So you resist more. So she tightens more. Until you end up crying and Maria has to intervene to pacify me of my emotional duress. I really am that pre-teen child in the playground still. Well, we’d been doing this a bit and it was getting results. Results that include orgasms so intense that it makes food taste weird for at least 48 hours later. And massive weight gain. Both of which, I have become somewhat partial to, no word of a lie. My eye hadn’t been on my own size ever since the epiphany about Maria’s gain. Maybe it should have been. I’d been ballooning like billy-o. The biggest indicators were how devil red my stretch marks were looking. Like Satan’s talons clawing at my thighs, the underside of my stomach and near every other part of me. I didn’t mind. Fuck, I loved it. It was intoxicating to be pushed so relentlessly, suffocated by the sheer waterfall deluge of it all. To be in the eye of Maria’s storm. And yet I was distracted by hers. It was so marginal by contrast. Just hinted at always, elliptic and impossible to confirm. Were her thighs more substantial? Was her chest always so swollen? Did her sides form slight rolls every time she sat down, before? They were whispers of weight gain, lost in the heavy metal roar of my own thrashing expansion. This was the routine, really. It was almost balanced. Almost healthy. Okay, it was clearly neither of things by normal people’s standards. But through our own deranged perspective, things were reaching a degree of equilibrium. Of calm. Wild, hedonistic, head-throwing-back and back-spasming calm. The best kind of calm, if I may say so. We’d also been dabbled in the ol’ Maria destruction dance. Like with the monk, you remember the monk right? Yeah, we were still doing that. Oussami bought him and Maria a house to live in with money he didn’t have. Gladstone dissolved his company so he could elope with Maria in Ibiza. Unfortunately for him, his wife had done the same with her company and they were disappointed to find only each other and that the other was cheating too. Selina sold a kidney so she could afford a wedding with Maria that The Abyss had no intention of attending. Charles had sex with his own mother on camera because it would please Maria. He didn’t know that the email address he sent it to was not so much Maria’s as a journalist at The S*n. I felt a bit left out of all these things. There was rarely much need for me. I could man the camera (woman the camera, surely?). I could watch. I could keep the other half occupied with a social call while Maria plundered their soul. But my beauty was no longer the conventional type these days. I was getting a bit heavy in the same way a neutron star was getting a bit heavy. Reality was beginning to distort around my edges and Hawking radiation poured from me. I was 270lbs and my chin was sinking in the quicksand of my other chin. And it was all going so well. Until something gave. And that something was called Mark. We don’t know his last name. He wasn’t really important. Sure, he tried to call the police on her. Sure he threw everything into disarray. But it wasn’t really Mark’s fault. It was mine. And that was kinda the problem. One of the games Maria plays is Snog the Stranger. The rules are simple: You see a stranger and snog them. It’s to kill time while I eat Kentucky fried chicken by the literal bucket load. To make it fun, she didn’t pick easy targets. Married men, police officers, that kind of thing. Her favourite thing were couples. She’d walk up to them and snog one in front of the other, let them really get into it while the other half watched in confused shock, and then walk away strutting while they bickered over who she was and why they enjoyed it so much. Until she tried it on Mark. Mark was hot. Like, we’re talking Chris levels of hot. Pine, Evans, Hemsworth, and, to a certain but lesser extent, Pratt. All Chrises are hot and Mark was in the same league. His girlfriend was also in the same league, if you’re into that sort of thing. She had that Ariana Grande/Barbie doll thing going on, where she was so skinny that her knees would buckle if she wore a hat, and she wore so much fake tan that Willy Wonka would consider her slave labour. They were hot. And they were about to be Maria’d. I was busying minding my own business with some deep-fried chicken and heartburn while Maria revved her engines up. I would watch over the rim of one of the buckets as hot greasy slobber dripped down my top. And Maria would do her schtick. She got up off the chair and lasered in on her target. With that walk she has. She had this walk, you see? A walk that involved an impossible amount of sway. Hips swinging like a Newton’s cradle from side to side so she could get one foot in front of the other. Head at a slight angle, bizarrely accentuating the impossibly perfect symmetry of her face. That was her walk. Like she owned the place. Like it didn’t matter whether she owned the place or not, she was in charge. She drew towards him and plunged her icy fingers around him and pushed in. She pushed in, pressing herself against him while Ariana Tiny watched with her mouth so wide she could give an Ent a blowjob. And then it started to go wrong. “What the fuck?” He pulled away from her as soon as she leaned in. She looked at him with the same look of confusion that a dog has when you pretend to throw a ball but really it’s still in your hand. Nobody had ever “what the fuck?”-ed her before. Which, given how she spent her days, was impressive. But this left her reeling. “Oh, pretending you don’t want it, how cute” she said, before going back in. “No. Fuck off. I don’t even know you, you weird bitch” he said, pulling away from her again and contorting his face into a broken omelette of disgust. “Come on Mark, let’s call the police” the little dumb blonde thing said. “Why? The police?” Maria’s eyebrows crumpled in worry, not sure if they meant the band The Police or The Metropolitan Police Force. Neither would be good “Cos that’s sexual assault, you crazy bitch!” And Maria walked away, shell-shocked. + I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. I remember sitting in the living room while she paced like it was yesterday. It was actually three hours ago, but it felt like only yesterday. That strutted walk of hers was wearing down the carpet as I sat and ate another bucket of chicken wings but, this time, to go. Her cheeks reddening with rage. My cheeks reddening with the exertion of finding more room in me for more chicken. “How fucking dare that shitty little shite!” she raged as grease slobbered down my chin. “Yeah, shitty shite” I backed her, with my mouth loaded with a poultry farm of cooked bird. “Probably gay” she rationalised. “Queer as fuck” I supported. “But if he was gay, why wouldn’t he kiss me? I turn loads of gay people straight” she continued, grappling with the issue. Then she looked at me and I swallowed. A gentle summer breeze of insecurity drifted over her face. “What happened, Nay-nay?” She said it with a bathful of acid. But she said it as a cry for help. She looked like she wanted to murder a puppy. But she really wanted an ego boost. For the first time in Maria’s life, she needed an ego boost. “Maybe resistance is his thing. Like with me and the Chinese finger trap. Maybe batting you off was his fetish and he’s gonna jerk over the dumb blonde thinking about you forcing yourself onto him?” I suggested, drawing from experience. “So, it’s not because he didn’t like me. It’s because he did?” she said, chewing it over like her mouth was mine and the thought was yet more chicken. “Why else?” “Because I’ve gained weight” she said, her eyes on me as I chewed. And that’s when I knew I was fucked. + “Have you?” I said, in a pitch so high it would make dogs bark, glass shatter and Matt Bellamy think it was a bit much. I wouldn’t have convinced a child. Might have burst their eardrum though. “You. Fucking you did this, didn’t you?” Her eyes were on me again. Red with smoldering ember. I could feel the warmth of them. I could feel warmth all over. Even my crotch was warm. Especially my crotch, come to think of it. “No! I do the eating in this household thank you very much” I protested, between bites of evidence. “Yeah, but you discourage me from going to the gym. You offer me chicken goujons and order in pizza. I haven’t had a steamed vegetable since we did that monk that one time” I gulped and twisted in my seat a little. And I felt a tingle deep inside. Look, if I was telling this story again, I’d have told you what she looked like before now. What she looked like when she did that sashaying charge at Mark. What she looked like while she paced with newfound anxiety. What she looked like as she looked at me like she was scanning for which soft tissue organ she was going to rip out and set on fire. And what I would have told you was that she looked hot. I’m no poet, but I realise I should have done that and if I could go back in time and correct it, I would. But I can’t, so I won’t. So, let me tell you what she looked like. Besides, y’know, hot. She looked hot. Fuck, let me try again… She looked hot… Oh, come on Nay-Nay, stop getting distracted and focus on the wench at large. Issue at large, sorry. You can do this! She was wearing jeans. She wasn’t really a jeans type of girl, so I had noticed it from the off. She didn’t wear jeans, as a rule. They made her look… mortal. Humans wore jeans, with their debit cards and their mortgages and their subscription to Gardener’s Weekly. Maria wasn’t like that. Maria was superior to that. Except, today she wasn’t. They were tight as well. I mean, of course, that’s the point of jeans. Nobody likes baggy jeans, apart from Uncle Robert for when he attends those neo-fascism rallies that the family don’t like to talk about and don’t pretend your family doesn’t have an Uncle Robert because all families do. And they all wear baggy jeans. But, for everyone else, jeans are supposed to be suffocating to the point of auto-erotic asphyxiation. They’re supposed to clamp down on you so tight that they leave denim print on your legs. And they were on her, suffocating the lifeblood out of her legs. You could almost see the veins in her legs through them. It was intoxicating. Less fashionably, but they were also tight around the waist. Tight where the button is supposed to loop through the hole and tight where the zip is supposed to grind its way up those teeth. They hadn’t been closed together, they were clasped. It was vacuum sealed. The kind of tight fit that involves lying on your bed, arching your back into the air like some sort of semi-naked crab, and sucking in like you’re Kirby trying to vanquish your enemies. And this left her with her first ever muffin top. You could see it through her artfully ruffled black blouse top, a baby’s handful of malleable skin leaning over the vicious hem of denim. And up my eye would travel as I scanned for incriminating signposts of my fattening designs. Breasts so pushed up by an under-sized bra that they pushed horizontally off her chest like Trolltunga before mashing into the underprepared top half of her black blouse. Her arms were smooth now, no inward sculpting between vines of muscle. Even her face was softer. Less vampiric, but no less sexy and no less dangerous. Anyway, where were we… Oh yeah, Maria was onto me. “You did this” she snarled, sitting herself on my knee pressing her nails into my neck. “Did what?” I gasped, feeling every emotion known to humankind, rupturing through me in an electric thunderclap. Her face broke for a second into a smile, before sharpening off into her more familiar glare. “You ruined everything” she seethed. I don’t remember what I said in response to this, if I’m honest. I just remember forgetting to breathe. I just remember shaking with pleasure. “You did this” she bristled, undoing - and with some discomfort - that poor button on her jeans and letting soft play-do skin push out into my beanbag or enormity. I repeat, our tummies touched. My tummy, the size of Santa’s sack, brushed against the vixen skin of Maria’s virginal protrusion. Fuck, I’m getting horny just thinking about it. I was terrified. As usual. Her hands were round my neck now and her teeth were gnashed so tightly that I’m not sure how air got in and out. I was terrified. But in a good way. And she terrified me in the good way for the past three hours. The last words I remember saying were: “No wonder he was disgusted in you…” + And now it is now. And I’m sitting next to her, feeling my blubbery stomach rise up and down as I take deep breaths. Catching breaths that I seemed to have previously misplaced. And, next to me, is her. Maria Echeverria. Breaker of Chains. And her baby tummy is doing the same. Like a small pup trying to imitate its mummy. What the fuck was happening? “What the fuck is happening?” She smiled, and ran her talons down my cheek. “You passed” she said, more enigmatically than Alan Turing cosplaying as The Riddler. “Cool” I smile. “But what did I pass exactly?” “My initiation test. To see if you could really be my protegee” Wait… hang about… “What?” I turn to look at her, my face now the broken omelette of confusion. “I wanted to know if you could do it. Destroy someone. Pull off the wings of a butterfly. I wanted to know if you were worth my time. Not just some mimic, but actually, deeply cut from the same cloth. A junior to my senior. I wanted to know if you could Maria me” she said, reaching over and picking up a chicken leg and biting into it. I still don’t understand. “I still don’t understand” “Of course you don’t” she grinned. “I was letting you role-play on me. I… was struggling to get you do a solo mission. You are… well, let’s face it, you’ve completely let yourself go and no sane person would touch you” “You touch me?” “Am I sane?” she replied and… touche, Maria. Touche. “So, I let you do it to me. I wanted to see if you would dare. I wanted to see if you could. But, most of all, I wanted to see if you enjoyed it. And you did, Naomee. Because you’re like me. A destroyer of worlds. And it’s so fucking hot. That’s why I love you. Because it’s like looking into a mirror”. And that sentence is a lot to comprehend in real time. “You sacrificed your body though?” “Pffft… I can get it back in weeks. I’m Maria Echeverria, Queen of the Andals. I can lose the 33lbs I’ve gained easy…” 33?!?!?!?!?!?!? “But why? Why do all that for me?” I said, whimpering with arousal and confusion and fear and happiness. “So... how to explain? Right, so, there are these toys. They’re called Chinese finger traps. The way they work is they tighten around you the more you try to pull it off. So you pull tighter, so they restrict more, so you pull tighter. Well, that's what I wanted you to do. I wanted you to fight me. I wanted you to rail against me. I wanted you to have to tighten, the more I pulled away. I throw a fucking dumbbell at your head. It was all part of your conditioning. Because that’s where the satisfaction lies. In that tension. In that resistance. And if you were to have any hope of doing the things that I do, you needed to learn how to be a Chinese finger trap” I sat there, dumbstruck. Struck dumb with dumbness. My mind had never ‘what the fuck?’-ed so hard before. The grey tissue of my brain melted into marshmallow and words vanished from my vocabulary every time I reached for one. And the only words I could actually stop from worming out of my fingers were: “You love me?”
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