by John LaPine
Tabitha married young; at fifteen, her husband promised her a house, a farm, a lawn. Two years later, he would deliver; at their wedding, her parents promised them a goat, a handful of chickens, and Lydia, the pregnant sheep who’d die in childbirth the following spring, her body now persevered in the couple’s ice chest, which they refilled with each week’s ice delivery, slabs of ice cooling her pink, paper-wrapped flesh.
They planned to run out of Lydia by fall, when the oldest chickens would be ready for harvest and the twins would be born. Tabitha had lost her first last winter; her husband, fearing a lack of nutrition, encouraged her to eat and eat. Each week, he’d make a meal of slaughtered sheep; roast Lydia, side of corn on the cob, and potatoes, baked and slathered with white, hand-churned butter.
In August, they traveled into Lansing to visit her aunt, where Tabitha tried her first sorbet, an orange mound into which she’d chisel her spoon, carving the frozen treat like a marble monument, sticking the metal to her tongue, then lapping up sugar until she could no longer bear the cold. She’d let her mouth warm up, then repeat until she’d scraped the ceramic bowl clean. She’d never tasted anything so sweet. Her husband bought her seconds, then thirds.
But that night, she awoke, covered with itching hives. She suspected the sorbet, the Lydia, the twins, even the ice. She scratched herself in the dark; her squirming woke the babies, who kicked her from inside in protest, as well as her husband, who produced a match, struck it, and touched it to their bedside candle to discover her rashy, reddening flesh.
Palming her skin, he found a brown lone star tick had plunged its teeth into her calf, a brown body biting a brown body. His pale fingers felt, at once, clinical and strange. She pictured her softening flesh becoming chocolate sherbet, frozen cream laced with sugar. She imagined herself falling apart, melting under his hands.
On Wednesday morning, the doctor diagnosed a red meat allergy. Indeed, every time she’d feast on lamb, pork, or beef, she’d break out. Even milk made her itch. Her husband promised to throw out Lydia.
But something about the itching fascinated her. Soothed her, even. When her husband would excuse himself at dinners, she’d steal bites of pork or steak off his plate, and always wake up itching, cursing the kitchen who must have contaminated her poultry meal. She’d stay up all night, relishing her hives.
After the twin’s birth, while rummaging through the freezer for leftovers, Tabitha found a forgotten bit of sheep toward the back. She unwrapped the paper and felt her tongue move toward the frozen brick of flesh. She slid her teeth over the marbled rump, cold ribbons of meat peeling into her mouth. That night, the rash emerged; she scratched until her skin came loose under her nails, the first time, perhaps, she’d felt control in her life.
John LaPine has an MA in Creative Writing & Pedagogy from Northern Michigan University (NMU), and volunteered as Associate Editor of creative nonfiction & poetry at Passages North, NMU's literary journal, for three years. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Foliate Oak Literary Journal, The Rising Phoenix Review, yell/shout/scream, Hot Metal Bridge, Glint Literary Journal, Apofenie, The /Temz/ Review, Petrichor: A Journal of Text & Image, Glass: A Journal of Poetry's "Poets Resist" series, & Midwestern Gothic. He teaches English at Butte College.