His blood pools on the tiles, red and thick. I know I should feel something, to see him lying there, but where one would expect denial and sadness and fear, there is nothing. You probably think this is horrible of me, that I am monstrous, but I am balancing between two worlds right now and it is hard not to tumble all the way down into one of them. Will you judge me if I say he is already starting to look like meat? Like flesh wrapped in clothes?
My hands are nubs but I manage to push myself up out of the bath anyway and I slide against the porcelain because my skin has started to go translucent and onion-y. I lean in close and I am reminded that he is in fact human. It is the smell – soil and sweat and last night’s shampoo. A hint of metal. So unlike me, all pickled and peppery.
I didn’t mean for this to happen. You probably won’t believe me by the time we’re done here but it’s true. I hadn’t spoken to him for a few days and he would have gotten worried when I wasn’t answering my phone. I’m pretty sure I missed a dinner – which is funny when you think about it. He knew where I kept the spare and would have let himself in (he saw me use it once after he dropped me off at home. We had gone to a bookstore and I realized I had forgotten my keys; made a big production right there in the horror section. But then I realized it was okay, that I had planned for this, and our day continued as normal). He would have called my name and followed the smell of malt vinegar into the bathroom. It would have been overpowering; snaking out under the door like cartoon steam from a cartoon pie.
And that’s where we are now. He found me naked and marinating, completely bald, coming to terms with the inevitable. It all happened so fast. His face, when he saw me, was pure terror.
You probably think I should have handled this differently, but this situation I am in is very difficult to deal with and there is no decision that will satisfy everyone. All I can tell you is that by the time I moved into the bath, it was already too late. There was nothing I could do. Imagine a butterfly, but in reverse. Does that make sense?
I was also a bit embarrassed to be perfectly honest with you. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me but my New Year’s resolution was that I wouldn’t let it happen anymore. That I would have some self control. But I don’t even know why I bothered because everyone knows New Year’s resolutions are bullshit.
Let me take a step back and try to explain because I’m getting ahead of myself, moving too fast, skimming over details. I have a tendency to do that.
There’s a story my mother tells at parties. I was five and we were in France and I fell in love with steak. I ate so much in fact, I almost turned into a cow. It didn’t matter where we went, I ordered steak and I ate the whole thing. Tiny little five year old me. The waiters got a kick out of it, my mother says, this child who ate slabs of meat the size of her head. She always laughs and the strangers at her parties laugh along with her.
I laugh too. I laugh instead of correcting her even though there is so much more to say. So much more to the story.
I reach down and search for a pulse. I am both surprised and not surprised that it has taken me so long to remember that this is what people are meant to do in these situations. One is also meant to shake the person and ask if they’re okay but the blood pooling around his head lets me know we passed that point long ago. He is not okay. Also I’m not sure if you’re meant to do that if there is a potential brain injury. Or is it spine? You’d think I’d have more knowledge about the human body.
There is no heartbeat and I am now faced with two choices. I could just leave him there and continue with my metamorphosis; the floor eventually cracking under all his weight, his body sinking down into the basement like a waterfall. He comes apart in my mind like that one scene in Breaking Bad. I won’t go into details, but you know the one. It also involves a bathtub.
And then of course there’s the other option.
That night in France, I woke up in a cold sweat, clutching my stomach that felt like it was being ripped into four pieces. My skin developed black and white splotches and I was rushed to the hospital. There were whispers and phone calls and I spent the next two days hidden away in the hotel room being fed something else that wasn’t steak but was just as bloody. My mother avoided eye contact with me and sobbed in the corner.
I think she’s blocked most of that holiday out. I don’t blame her. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her to come to terms with what I had to do. With what I am. I don’t even think there’s a word for it and I’ve never met anyone who has the same condition, not that I can ask. I’ve googled late into the night but I always end up on strange websites and if the police were to look at my search history they’d certainly throw me in jail. I suppose the word, if we’re going to narrow it down, if you’re going to make me say it, is cannibal, but I don’t like referring to myself that way. It feels so accusatory – like I enjoy doing this! Like I lure people into my dungeon and cut off bits of them and make them watch. But that’s not what I do.
Let me ask you this. When you get headaches, do you take Asprin?
So far though, turning into a pickled onion is a lot better than turning into a cow. There have been a few other close calls throughout my pained life but I have never gone all the way. It is still unclear to me what exactly would happen but I think turning into an animal would be the worst possible outcome. I wouldn’t want to be a human trapped in an animal’s body, which I imagine I would be. Or I would at least have some level of understanding. A beating heart, a thinking brain. A desire to go back.
This is different. I’m happy to report that so far it’s actually been quite pleasant. There is something to be said for giving in, surrendering. All my worries had started to slip away. Lying there in the bath, watching my skin turn a translucent yellow as sprigs of dill and rocks of peppercorn brushed against my bare limbs, I realized that this will probably never happen to me again. It is almost over.
But then he showed up ruined everything. It’s no wonder he fell and cracked his head open on the sink (did I already tell you that’s what happened?). What a sight I must have been! Floating in a crude mix of DIY pickling spices, my edges slowly softening. I had eaten all the pickled onions of course but I’d thrown a few regular onions in for company, sprinkled in like bath salts. How I craved for my skin to bump up against theirs! To nestle in a warm womb of vinegar with my friends!
I nudge his body with a fork. It is left over, I swear. Don’t you sometimes eat in the bath? The teeth leave little marks on his arm and they get deeper and deeper the harder I press, almost there, almost piercing. It would be so easy to turn back into a human now. I won’t go into the things I’ve had to do but the end result is always the same. And now I am sitting here in the bathtub, turning into a pickled onion because I have eaten too many pickled onions and there is only one way out and it is bleeding all over my floor.
What would you do if you were me? I can’t help but wonder what the story be if he were discovered here in my home all by himself, lying on the floor beside a bathtub filled with pickled onions. That would be strange, right? I don’t know if I can do that to him.
There are only two choices.
Tam Eastley (she/her) is a writer and web developer based in Berlin. She is currently editing her way through her first novel and has recently been published in Fusion Fragment, CP Quarterly, Drunk Monkeys, Visual Verse, and The Wild Word. Together with her sister, she runs ongoing, a prompt journal for music and prose. When she’s not writing, you can find her cross stitching, reading on the balcony, or going for various hikes around Berlin. She can be found online here: tamwrites.space.