Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hunger Pangs

Prompt: Buy or Sell

Word count: 750 Words exactly

Due 4/18

Hunger Pangs

Clarissa was starving. Hunger gnawed at her belly; long convulsive cramps that hurt as bad as labor and left her just as empty.

The last meal she’d eaten had been in the hospital, two nights ago, before checking herself out and disappearing into the cold March night. All she’d eaten since then were some saltine crackers at the local diner she’d dared enter yesterday afternoon, spending the few coins she possessed on a pot of boiling water and tea, which she’d used to transform ketchup into tomato soup.

The few bucks she’d stolen off a table on the way out had gone towards a six pack of beer, which she drank alone last night in her hidey hole, a few blocks from the hospital. She’d found a group of densely growing trees with space to burrow under for shelter, where she’d tried to ignore the cold and the pain and the frantic texts of those she sought to hide from.

Now it was late morning. She had a pounding headache and she was starving. She'd discovered the farmers market outside the hospital a little while ago; people in scrubs and business attire and clean clothes going about the business of buying or selling fruit and vegetables, honey and nuts, fresh baked muffins, and such.

It was a veritable feast, and none of it for her.

Clarissa sat on a bench on the periphery of the market, trying to pretend to be invisible, though she saw plenty of looks of disgust and disdain directed her way. She combed dirty fingers through long, scraggly hair, wiping the grease and grit on oversized pants, feeling gross and unworthy amongst this clean, well fed crowd.

She had no money. The only thing of any value she had was the baby stroller she used to haul her meager belongings around. Clarissa couldn’t bear to part with that, though, even if she’d never have a baby to stroll in it, now.

She’d been seven months along. After four miscarriages, and the tubal pregnancy two years before, she’d finally allowed herself to hope. But then had come the premature labor, and the stillbirth. Placental abruption, they’d termed it, though she’d been in such a state of physical and mental agony that she’d not paid attention to the details. All she knew was that they’d left her in the maternity ward, where the wailing of newborn babies had shattered her heart, and perhaps a bit of her sanity as well.

The phone vibrated in her pocket, a beacon in the dark.

“Rissie, Please, Please Come Home!”

The use of his pet name for her and the plea of the text wrenched at Clarissa's bruised heart.

She pulled the thin jacket closed, crossing her arms and pulling them tight across her empty belly, where her baby should have been. How could she go home? With the scent of fresh paint a constant reminder, the new crib just set up and all the gifts from the baby shower lovingly placed in the spare room.

Clarissa squeezed her eyes shut against a new wave of fresh tears.

Just then an elderly Indian woman, dressed in brightly colored silks, sat beside her on the bench. She had kindly, compassionate eyes, and a paper plate with strawberries and a muffin outstretched in offer.

“Oh," Clarissa choked on the word, her throat constricted, palms raised up in denial. “No, I couldn’t.”

“Of course you can.” The woman set the plate on the bench beside her, then stood, sunlight glinting off a gold cross that hung at her neck. “Be welcome." She didn’t even look back to see if Clarissa would accept the gift.

She didn’t want to. She didn’t deserve this kindness. Not after deserting her husband, whom she realized now must be grieving as much as she. Clarissa had not been thinking of his pain, though, just her own. Suddenly, the thought of what he must have been going through when he discovered her absence filled her with shame and regret and remorse. She thought of the money she’d stolen, motivated by the need to drive away the demons of loss that had kept her out in the cold and the dark, filling her belly with cheap beer in an attempt to dull the pangs that consumed her even now.

Clarissa found herself starved for more than mere food, although that would be a good start. Choking down a bite of muffin, she picked up the phone. It was time to go home.