The Pantry

Joaquin Lowe

She kept a simple box at the bottom of a large chest, at the foot of her bed, where she stored her linens and spare blankets. In the evenings she opened the chest and pushed aside the unused bedspreads, the heavy cloth exhaling stale lavender. She took out the box and opened it with care. This was where she stored her stomach. Since she was small it had been too much a burden for her tiny body to carry. She had always, as long as she could remember, kept her stomach in a box, though the box itself had changed. At first, a pencil case a friend lent her that she never returned, then a jewellery box covered in plastic gems, and this one: simple, brush painted wood that she found one warm afternoon at a sidewalk sale, remarkable only in that it was so much larger than the others.

With practiced movements, she unhinged her jaw to swallow her stomach, like a snake not eating, but inviting another animal to live inside it. Her midsection’s empty cavity slowly swelled into a tiny bump that made the rest of her, the narrow inches between her shoulder blades, the small circumferences of her arms and wrists, legs and ankles, seem spare and unloved. She sat at the table and ate all the spaghetti that had been in her cupboard, prepared in thick Bolognese. She washed it down with icebergs of vanilla ice cream floating in Coca-Cola and when she was done she leaned back and patted the swell of her stomach, measuring her new roundness. She closed her eyes and felt all the good things in the food seeping into her veins, enlivening her blood.

Before too long, before the salt and fat insinuated into her body, she returned to the box where she stored her stomach. She opened her mouth and removed and ravelled and stored it again, until breakfast. Lying in bed, staring at the TV casting blue shadows across the room, she caressed the sunken skin of her midsection, the emptiness so large it made her lonely. She closed her eyes, the TV humming at low volume, and wondered why she had been born with so small and narrow a body that she must keep herself in two places at once, that she couldn’t keep all of herself inside her.

When she slept, she dreamed of the spaghetti Bolognese and coke float digesting to nothing in her stomach, at the end of the bed. In her dreams she ate them again and looked forward to the next morning, the waffles drowned in syrup and butter and strawberries.

Joaquin Lowe was born in Mill Valley, California. He received his MFA in Writing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has always wanted to be a writer, except when he wanted to be the starting second baseman for the Giants, and before that when he wanted to be the fifth Ninja Turtle…the Ravi Shankar of sewer dwelling mutant reptiles.