Dec '03 [Home]

Hunter MFA Fiction

Protein Diet
Jess Bacal

. ... They were driving to the Hamptons to visit her friends for the weekend. They had been dating for six weeks and he thought that she was perfect. Maybe he even loved her. He sat and waited for her in a coffee shop on 72nd, ordering coffee and six strips of bacon. He was on the protein diet; he ate bacon each morning and a hamburger or steak each night. For lunch he had chicken or tuna fish—a different animal at every meal. There she was! Look at her, she was beautiful.
          Oh my god, she said. More meat?
          What did she mean more meat? he said. He was on that diet, the one—
          She knew, she knew. She covered her eyes with one hand. She was either smiling or grimacing, he couldn't tell. No, she didn't want a strip of bacon, god, he was probably made of pig by now with all of the bacon he ate. It was a wonder he didn't turn into a pig. She was just kidding.
          He said, ha ha.
          She said really, she was just kidding. And so he'd rented the car?
          Yes, and he'd found a space right there, right outside.
          No, she said. That's not the car you rented.
          He said, what do you mean? Yes, that's it, the red one. He'd used points from his credit card for an upgrade because he'd thought it would be fantastic driving a BMW convertible—
          On the Long Island Expressway, she said.
          Well, he said.
          She was going to be embarrassed driving around in that car in front of her friends. They were graduate students, for god's sakes. This wasn't even their house—it was their grandparents' house. He knew that, right? Her hand reached out to grip his knee.
          He picked it up. On the back she'd written deodorant, toothbrush, razor in thick red marker.
          He told her that she matched the car. She rolled her eyes.
          He said just kidding. He kissed the flesh of her palm three times.
          He was determined to have a girlfriend. He had imagined them walking on the beach together hand in hand. For some reason, in his imagination he saw them from the back—her tanned legs, her behind in a bathing suit; his almost narrow waist and broad shoulders. He saw her tilt her head to lay it against his arm. He told her all of this, leaving out the part about watching them from behind. Then he leaned forward and whispered in her ear about how they would lie together on the sand at night. In his imagination the tide kept coming in and he had to grab her, pull her, run with her up the beach. He kept having to save her from the undertow. But he whispered only that it would be dark, and that he would kiss her.
          She said that his breath smelled like bacon. She said that he was more sentimental than she'd realized. Her mouth made that funny shape again.
          What did she mean?
          She meant it in a good way. She just thought that he had a picture in his head of the way he wanted things to be, and he tried to fit everything into that picture. He thought Hamptons, he wanted a red BMW. He thought girlfriend, he wanted to make out on the beach at night. But the beach would be cold and windy; this was November. She had thought they'd get stoned, drink tequila, play Scrabble and talk about sex—those were the kinds of things that she did with her friends. But he was—funny, she said. He was sweet. She reached out and cupped his cheek with her cold fingertips.
          He said, thanks, I think.
          She had forgotten to tell him, also, that her friends were vegetarians. If he wanted meat, he would have to bring it in himself, although she thought they might be offended by the smell of it cooking. Perhaps he could just bring a few dozen Slim Jims to get through.
          Right, he said, ha ha. Why hadn't she told him before?
          Or perhaps he'd like to bring a long salami.
          Seriously, he said.
          Seriously—she was laughing now—he could show up at their door carrying a very long salami. If they asked what it was for, he could say it was personal.
          But seriously, he said. He would go to Fairway right now, get what he needed and come back. Then they could get on the road. He kissed her cheek, got up—he felt shaky, maybe too much coffee—and walked towards the door. He imagined her seeing him from behind. What did he really look like? He couldn't be sure.
          The roof of the BMW was already rolled back. He stood staring at it. He had a vision of filling the car with meat, piling it with pork chops and sausages and ribs and steak and fish. He imagined returning to pick her up at the coffee shop, whole fish lying in his back seat, stinking, their dead eyes staring up at nothing. And he'd bring a pig, skinned red, showing muscle and sinew like the ones strung up in Chinatown, and a cow's rib cage, its meat still attached, its heart lying there bloody on waxed butcher paper.
          He knew that something wasn't the way it was supposed to be. How was it supposed to be? He didn't know. And maybe he did have pictures in his head; maybe he did try to fit things into those pictures. All he knew was that right now he wanted to fill his car with meat and drive around all day, all night, until everything began to rot. He wanted to make everything stink. He wanted to be a part of the stink.
          He looked up at the sky—it was blue-blue, a beautiful fall day. He opened the car door and got in. He put the key into the ignition, pulled out of his parking space, and started driving.

(Jess Bacal grew up in New York City. She is in her final year of Hunter's MFA in Fiction program, and is working on a collection of short stories.)