“Is it possible to crave something you’ve never tasted before?”
My pregnancy support group seemed baffled by my question, as if I had asked the proper temperature to bake a souffle in Denver or the spark plug gap for a 1982 Toyota.
After a pregnant pause, our group host picked up the gauntlet. “Well, yes. I would think so. Do you mean like caviar? Foie gras? Fancy stuff?”
They discussed it at length. The women in the room went down a path where they ended up naming the weirdest food they had eaten, or—in the case of a vocal few—the most disgusting thing they had ever put in their mouth.
I sat back and listened, swallowing my vague craving, my hand resting atop my baby bump. It was more than bump now. It was like I was smuggling the first place winner from a pumpkin patch. Eight months in, my shirt stretched tight over the thing that had once been my flat belly. His or her tiny feet drummed on the inside of my womb. Whatever child was growing inside was growing increasingly impatient with the chirpy ladies around me. He wanted results.
Whatever I craved, he craved. And there was no questioning the ache in my belly and the dry tackiness of my mouth. It been growing louder and louder for days now. Demanding.
But the craving I felt was for something I couldn’t identify.
I glanced at the table overburdened with donuts and pastries. I didn’t think I craved them, but it wouldn’t hurt to check. I pushed myself out of my folding chair—surely those were invented for the sole purpose of making pregnant women uncomfortable—and ambled over to the table, forcing my lurching walk to look less like a zombie.
I picked up a donut. My belly stopped vibrating. Could this be it? So simple. I put it in my mouth.
It tasted like salt and vinegar.
I spat it out, coughing, just as my baby kicked at my bellybutton like the Kool-Aid Man attacking a brick wall. Oh yeah. Definitely not that simple. Damn it.
“Jess? You ok?” The host called to me from their little coven, and a dozen pairs of eyes turned to me as if I had just interrupted a sacred ritual.
“All good.” I coughed a little. “Donut in the wrong hole, I think.”
The ladies giggled as if I had said something clever and probably dirty. I didn’t get it.
I shrugged. I had to leave. My craving would not be satisfied here.
My husband came home to find me rifling through the kitchen cabinets, spilling the contents as I went from one to the next. The refrigerator already had its moldy secrets plundered and laid bare, and the lukewarm detritus scattered across the floor gave testament to my thorough exploration.
“Jess! What are you doing?” Alex rushed to me while I flailed inside a cabinet.
I peered over my shoulder. “Oh, hi. Just looking for a snack.”
“From the spice rack?” He glanced at the jumbo container of onion powder in my hand. It had long ago turned into a solid block. Old, dry onion powder? It definitely was not what I was craving, and I tossed it to the floor.
“Well.” I looked around the disheveled kitchen. “I need something. I crave something.” My little one punched my kidney to confirm.
Alex grinned. “Ok. This is where I come in. Pickles? Potato chips? Chocolate?” He ran down the list of stereotypes, ticking them off on his fingers. “Cheese?”
My baby stopped kicking. Perhaps we craved cheese. My heart beat faster. “Cheese.”
Alex glanced into the empty fridge, then at its innards scattered across the floor. “I’ll hit the store.”
“So, what kind of cheese?”
“What?” I held the cellphone in one hand, the other trying to adjust my selection of pillows behind my back so I could sit without dying from discomfort.
“There’s a lot of cheese here. I’m not French, Jess. I know cheddar and mozzarella. That’s it.”
“What do they have?” Maybe something would call to me over the phone. Other than my husband.
“Um. Gouda. Ricotta. Goat. Goat? What the hell? They make goat cheese? Goats have teats?”
“Alex! Focus!” My baby was getting unsettled, and so was I.
“Sorry. Um. Limburger. Ooh, the stinky stuff, I know about this. Sorry. Um…feta—”
“Feta!” I liked the word. My baby liked the word. This had to be it. “And olives. And caviar.” Might as well go for a home run to be sure.
“Caviar? Ok, hon. Anything else?”
“Toilet paper?” My body didn’t crave it, but our bathroom did.
“Right. I’ll be home soon.”
Soon turned out to be far too long. My unsatiated craving crawled up my throat as if it had given up on my attempts to quell it and would take care of business on its own. My chest was tight and constricted, my mouth chewed empty air, my baby thrashed. I sprawled in an over-sized armchair in front of the television, sweating, wriggling. It was like I would never be comfortable again.
The door to our small apartment opened, and Alex stepped in with a smile and a couple of small bags.
“Sorry for the delay. Saw one of my buds in the checkout lane, and he—”
“Shut up!” I ungracefully hoisted myself from my chair and waddled to him. He froze like a rabbit about to be trampled by a hippo. I ripped the bags from his grasp and pawed through the contents, finding my prizes. Breathing through my mouth, I settled to the the floor with an ungainly thump, feta and caviar in opposite hands.
“Jess? Sorry, I didn’t realize you were so hungry.”
I tore into the feta, the shrink wrap over the limp plastic container giving in easily to my teeth. The caviar tin proved more durable, and I resorted to smashing it against the tile floor. It finally dented, and fish oil or whatever the hell they packed that stuff in flew everywhere. I flipped the lid off, digging my fingers in.
The caviar slipped through my fingers like moist black earth. The feta was flaky and white in my other hand.
Alex watched with raised brows. “Um…if you’re going to eat like that, let me get you a towel.” He stared at me as he gave me a wide berth, grabbing a towel from the oven door.
I ignored him. The drive to shove something into my mouth was overwhelming, and my mind teetered on the edge. My craving scoured my brain while my baby pounded my insides.
I mashed both handfuls of food into my mouth, chewing with eyes closed. I waited for the cravings to subside.
They did not.
I ate until I was full, full to bursting, frustrated, but my baby only rattled his cage like a prisoner on his first day.
“Damn it. God damn it.” I cursed, flinging the tin of caviar aside, dropping the feta. It was so close, I could feel it. Something I had never had before, but I still craved it.
“Jess. Sweetie. Let me help you.” Alex’s crouched in front of me, eyes worried, brow furrowed. Caviar was splattered across his face. He was about to wipe my own sloppy face with the towel, but I caught his hand, pulling him close.
I licked his face. Salty with my caviar, and salty with his sweat. My baby paused for a moment as if considering the offering. Then his flailing renewed. Not good enough.
I pushed Alex away, and he fell backwards against the door. His stayed where he fell. He wiped the caviar oil and my saliva from his cheeks as he stared at me. “Jess? Are you ok?”
It had to be here, the thing I needed. I could smell it. So close. I licked the oil from one hand, and the salt of the feta cheese from the other.
My fingers stopped, probing my mouth. There it was. I liked this. My baby liked this. I shoved them in farther. My tongue wrapped around my fingers, tasting the cheese and the fish eggs. I licked my fingers clean. It was not what I craved. But it was close. Very close.
“Jess, what are you doing?” Alex shouted at me and started pulling at my wrists, but he couldn’t get a grip on my oily skin. His knees slipped on the caviar oil and he tipped over, his head and the tile floor meeting with a hideous sound. But I couldn’t spare a moment to look at him.
My fingers were deep inside my mouth now, my lips stretched wide, jaw creaking. I gagged, pushing harder, my throat convulsing as it tried to swallow.
My baby’s feet thrummed against my body, tiny fists pummeling my flesh. I was so close.
I bit down hard on my fingers. Blood burst into my mouth like the juice from a summer tomato, and I swallowed the first warm mouthful. I bit again, sawing at my fingers, crying at the pain, but I couldn’t stop. One finger tore free, then another, then more.
I swallowed them all.
My tongue played across the stumps where my fingers used to be, and I finally pulled them from my mouth. My hands throbbed, but I breathed deeply, like they taught me to do in the pregnancy support group. I would get through this. I could make it.
My denuded hand rested atop my baby bump. The vibration I felt now was a cat’s purr. For the first time in months my baby was content. I leaned back against the hallway wall and smiled, taking huge breaths, wiping the sweat from my face.
Alex laid on the floor in front of me. His eyes were closed and a small pool of blood under his head was spreading on the tile floor.
Outstretched amidst the blood and oil, his hand laid limp. I stared at it. My child shifted in my womb as if he had followed my eyes. Still hungry. My chest tightened, and my heart beat faster. I slowly bent over his hand, licking his fingers.
Oh, Alex, I’m sorry. Being a new mother is going to be hard on both of us, but baby comes first.
Peter A. Philleo is a longtime web site developer and cryptography and blockchain software developer to pay the bills, and a longtime writer of short and long fiction across all genres, which doesn’t help pay the bills at all. He’s an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy/adventure, homebrewer of fine ales and lagers, and professional cat herder at his home in South Florida. He shares this sunny oasis with his wife Erin and two cats, all of whom join him on occasional motorhome-based explorations of the United States. His work has appeared in Kyanite, Aurora Wolf, Theme of Absence, and other publications.