by Norma Gacy
I guess this all started with the flu … or at least that’s what I thought it was. I’m not so sure anymore. I’m hesitant to share this experience because you’re going to think I’m nuts.
I woke up a little over a week ago with a fever. Every part of me hurt and the sun was blinding. It set the motes of dust that fell between my bed and the window on fire with light. The bed seemed to rock, the room to swirl around me. I felt wrong from the moment I opened my eyes, felt the lurch inside of my gut. I ran to the bathroom and heaved everything inside me out into the porcelain bowl of the toilet with a sickening slush.
I called in. I don’t remember the last time I ran a fever like this. I don’t remember the last time I called in to from work. I lay in bed the entire day, quivering with cold sweats. All I wanted to do was rest it off, but no matter how I tried, sleep eluded me and would not be found.
At some point my stomach lurched again, this time from the hunger, but I ignored it the rest of that day and for half the day after. I heard and felt the groans at regular intervals, but I knew I wouldn’t manage to keep anything down if I’d tried, so I just didn’t eat until I couldn’t bear it any longer. I stumbled weakly to the kitchen and microwaved a can of tomato soup … which I promptly threw up upon completion and began to sob. I was so hungry. I felt pretty confident I was going to die. If it wasn’t from this fever, I was probably going to starve.
This went on for another day or two, and my boss, though understanding, made sure to remind me of my balance of sick days each time I called out.
It was near impossible to get an appointment at my primary doctor. How was I supposed to know I’d be sick a month and a half ahead of time? The lady on the phone there was pretty rude about it too, as though I should have prepared better, so I promised the office a shitty review on Google and called my cousin Dana to drive me to the walk-in clinic.
“You look like shit,” she said in the car.
It was true. I was gaunt, my hair was a nest and I probably smelled awful, but at this point I’d grown immune to it. When we arrived at the clinic, Dana dropped me at the door. She promised to hang out while I was inside, but she wanted to pull her car to the back of the lot to smoke a joint instead of coming in. I had no objections because I was too preoccupied with my impending death.
I stumbled weakly inside and checked in. The nurse at the desk guessed the wait would be about 20 minutes before I would be seen. It was much longer. For that entire time, I began to get inside of my own head. This was stupid. It was just a stomach ache and for the moment, I wasn’t feeling so terrible. Should I really be wasting everyone’s time like this? As I sat, I felt a feeling of unease hanging in the air around me: that thought someone was watching my every move. The thought that they hoped to pry me open and see inside. I thought for sure the feeling of nervousness had to be another symptom of the illness or maybe it was brought on by my endless and unpredictable waves of nausea that seemed to come and go at a whim, but when the nurse called my name I saw them staring at me.
Across the room a man, dressed like a preacher sat with his son. The boy must have been 9 or 10, and dressed as a miniature doppel of his father. Both had piercing blue eyes and white hair, but that was not the most unnerving thing about them. When I caught them looking, they didn’t look away. Instead, the man’s eyes widened and the slit of his mouth toyed an amused smirk. I could see that he was saying something to his son, though he was barely moving his lips; secretive whispers that I couldn’t hear or read.
“Ms. Gacy,” the nurse called again.
Just before I turned, he tipped the rim of his wide black hat to me, and I shuddered, nearly fumbling over my chair as I made my way to the waiting nurse. I wanted to get away from that man and the crystal eyed boy who sat next to him as fast as I could.
The doctor at the walk-in, after several tests, couldn’t seem to find anything wrong. She said I wasn’t even running a fever and recommended that I go to the emergency room. I thanked her, collected my note for work and headed back outside. Biggest waste of $100 in my life.
Dana sat waiting in the car. As I sat down in the passenger seat, amidst the haze of pot smoke, she shoveled a handful of peanuts into her mouth. With her mouth full, she talked around them. “What did they say?” She asked.
“They said I should go to the emergency room,” I told her.
She looked a bit worried, “is it that bad?” She asked.
“No not really,” I said, “I think that’s dumb. What are they gonna do there? Stick a thermometer in my butt and charge me $15,000 to pee in a cup? Can you just take me home?”
On the ride home, Dana continued to absently munch on handfuls of peanuts, and completely forgetting my aches and pains, I accepted a handful when she offered me it.
I was breathless. Absolutely enchanted. These were the best peanuts I had ever tasted in my entire life. The moment I swallowed the first handful, it was as though heaven opened and Jesus stuck his finger out of the clouds and Pilsbury-Doughboy’d my stomach and a week’s worth of pains went away. Hoo-hoo.
“What are these?” I asked.
Dana looked confused and told me they were just peanuts.
“No,” I declared, “these are the most decadent nuts that ever existed,” I said. I meant it too. “where are they from?”
Dana snorted and told me they were the generic brand from Walmart and I begged her to stop there on the way back to my house.
I don’t know why I did it. I can’t explain anything about it, but something inside of me just knew what to do. It was like how dogs know they’re supposed to eat grass when their stomachs hurt, or how some people with vitamin deficiencies know to eat dirt … it was instinct. I made a beeline to the baking aisle. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d bought 17 pounds of various nuts and met Dana back at the car. I don’t know if she found this whole thing very amusing or she was so high she began questioning reality, but she didn’t ask me any questions about the purchase. Several times, I caught her laughing only to stop abruptly and begin to look worried. At every light, I could feel her eyes pressing her pot-laden confusion into me, but still she never said a word or asked me any questions. Once I was home, I thanked her for driving me and she shook her head, laughing again for a moment, before growing serious and quickly leaving.
I ate a good portion of those nuts in one sitting. With unexplained glee, I mixed them all into a massive bowl. Cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanuts and macadamias. I ate them by the spoonful until 4 pounds were gone. 4 pounds. It seemed impossible. I’m not sure how I managed to fit that amount down, but I did. I ate four bags worth at a pound apiece … and it was decadent bliss. It was better than sex.
Afterwards, I slept, belly full, on a cloud of contentment.
The next morning, I tried eating a bowl of cereal and found myself hovering over the toilet once more. That day, I discovered the only thing I could manage to keep down were the nuts, so I ate another 3 pounds.
The dreams began that same day.
Each night for the past week, I’ve dreamt I was dancing in the darkness of the trees as they lulled rhythmically in the pale autumn air just beyond my house. The moon greeted me like a familiar friend as I waltzed beneath the dark sways of the canopy above. The music was the beat of crunching leaves and the hooting of owls. On the back of the night air, words flew into my mind. They were a foreign tongue that I strangely understood: “Pick them up and swallow one of every three.” I heard, “one for you and two for me.” I put one acorn into my mouth and gulped it down like a massive pill. Like medicine. There’s an exquisite sense of invigoration met with taking a piece of the forest inside of me whole. The other two acorns I’d place into my pocket until I made my way home. I did this over and over throughout the night. Before I awoke each morning, as the sun began to rise I’d dream that I emptied them from my jeans, one-by-one, into a pile on my back patio.
I dreamt this same dream for two or three days and ate the nuts in my pantry by the pound until they were gone. I found this more depressing than I probably should have. A thought occurred to me then: the acorns I’d dreamt of were just as alluring as each real bite of pecan, pistachio or hazelnut. Could I do it? Could I forage my own nuts in the yard? Could I give in to the temptation?
I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, except to say that I thought it was just a dream. I found myself brimming with a sharp sense of awe when I stepped out into my back patio and saw the pile that awaited my return, and I ate my fill.
The dream last night was much the same, but this time I was pregnant as I danced my way on bare feet through the brambles and trees. I found myself incorporating a loving caress, a new motion to my well rehearsed moonlit ballet; hands gently stroking my growing spawn. I felt it quiver as it quickened in my womb.
I tangoed my way into a clearing populated by new saplings and the remains of old stumps. Stumps that were scarred by the memory and char of a long forgotten blaze. In the center of an empty patch, bathed in moonlight, a shovel rose, half buried in the soft earth.
The winds whispered “dig” urgently. So I dug. I dug until the hole was deep and the light of the distant sun began to wash the darkness in violet.
When I awoke in my bed, I knew this too was not a dream. The sheets were smeared with clods of dirt and my bare feet were hidden beneath a coat of dried paste. A coat of crumbling mud.
The pregnancy remained and I felt something move within. With Thanksgiving a mere day away, I realized I had a lot to be thankful for.
As I ate a handful of acorns for breakfast in the backyard, I hoped to find myself dreaming of that clearing when darkness fell once again…
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