by Jo Withers, 31st October 2022

We’d been married five years when I woke up to my wife eating into my arm in the night. We’d had a bad day, the first make-or-break argument of our relationship. She’d threatened to leave and take the kids. We’d gone to bed in separate rooms, not speaking.


When I woke up, she’d broken the skin at the top of my shoulder and blood was beginning to pool between her teeth. She had her eyes closed and looked like she was savouring the taste, she didn’t stop even when I tried to pull my arm away. She just sunk her teeth in harder, detached a sliver of flesh. She sat up in bed, relishing the flavour of my skin.


“You taste amazing,” she said as she finished chewing, “I could smell you from the spare room, a smoky aroma like my Nanna’s buffalo stew. It made me ravenous, I had to have it.” She wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her pyjamas.


It triggered a memory, something my father had said to me after dishing out one of his beatings. I was twelve, teetering on the precipice of manhood. He decided it was time I remembered who was boss. After the first punch, I curled up in the corner, wrapped my arms around my head like a bandage. He pressed against me, dog breath inches from my face.


“It’s your fault. There’s something about you that suits pain.” He dipped his finger into the wound he’d created on my forehead like a chip into ketchup and licked the blood, “Delicious.”


My wife urged me to see a therapist. I found a woman called Nancy in the white pages. Nancy had a green room with cream leather chairs and a line drawing of a pear above her desk.


Nancy said I had an unusual condition - my sweat became highly aromatic when I was highly stressed. Sollicitatio Odoratus she smiled, as though saying it in Latin went half-way to curing it. She said my sweat was like cheese oozing down a burger, garlic butter slipping off a steak, it was the very best part of the very best meal.


She wanted to regress me, work out when it started happening. She settled me back into one of the reclining leather chairs and started talking to me like I was six, telling me to remember a time when I was at school, imagine the shell-shaped pock-marks on the kid beside me, the plastic stench of the classroom, the sound of pencils scratching against paper.


I started to think about school but not the classroom. I could smell grass, see fields stretching before me. I was walking the short cut home, the one I used to take every day. My heart started beating faster as my childish feet trod the familiar track again. The clouds are blue-black bruises above, about to burst. I remember this day, I want to run, but my feet will only follow the tracks of memory. Halfway across the field, the boys step out from behind the trees just as they did thirty years ago. The same boys who spat at me every day, who tripped me as I walked past, whose faces I see in my dreams. They circle round me, closer and closer, a tornado of hatred. They tenderise my fear, teasing out the trauma until even I can smell it, the intoxicating sweetness of my panic dripping down my body like fat running from roast lamb. Then, one by one, they pounce.


When I come round, I’m shaking in the chair. Nancy is sitting uncomfortably close, drooling like a ravenous wolf. She licks her lips, looking like she’s about to devour me. I run from the room and out into the street.


It’s five blocks to the nearest subway. I begin to run in that direction but I realise all around people are staring at me, street vendors stop what they’re doing and stare, pedestrians change direction, a homeless man jumps up from his doorway. One by one, they start to follow me. I increase my pace.


They break into a run behind me, salivating more as my despair increases, wild with desire. A hot dog vendor tries to grab me, screaming that he wants my meat for his stall, to mince me and redeposit me in sausage skin. A fishmonger hurls his hatchet at me, says he wants to gut me from groin to throat, pack me with lemon and breadcrumbs. I leap away from him into the road, just as a truck comes screeching round the corner.


Worse thing is, I’m not dead yet. I feel paramedics scrape me off the road like a half-done patty, feel little pieces peel away, like gristle at the bottom of the frying pan.


They get me to the hospital. I’m so doped up I don’t know where my body ends and the bed begins, I feel like a cold runny yoke dripping out of existence. I can’t open my eyes but I can hear. I hear machines around me, sounding alarms, bleating out the broken rhythms of my failing organs. But I hear something else too - my family, my children, wife, brother, niece. I can imagine their faces twisted with grief, wide-eyed, open-mouthed expressions like scarecrows who’ve been over-stuffed. To think, I’ll never hold them again, never sit on the sofa with my son, never eat dinner with my wife. My heart starts writhing in my ribcage, thumping with the knowledge I’m about to tap out, that the gnarled black goat is going to buck me into the ether for all eternity. I try to picture their faces, try to feel loved in my last moments. My heart constricts and sweat drips down my clammy body. I force my eyes open. I look down at my family, hoping to feel cherished in my last seconds of life but their faces have changed, they’re closer, lips peeled back to expose carnivorous front teeth, as though a banquet is about to be served. As I heave my last breath, they lower their heads. My wife snaps off my finger like a chicken wing as my son bites a chunk from my stomach.