Bones and All
It was my first week so I sat at the newcomers’ table with Jules and Brigid even though I wouldn’t technically call them new since this was Jules’ third stay and Brigid had been at a place like this, but elsewhere.
All sorts of women sat at other tables and they all looked unhappy. One snarled, breath expelling from her nostrils. Another stared at her plate, confused. Someone else just put her head down and cried.
I put my napkin in my lap but then moved it to the table. I picked up my breadstick and put it down. I waited for something to happen.
"Last time I was here one girl hid peanut butter in her hair.” Jules made her fork dance around her plate as she talked. She wore a messy bun and I thought I saw something move in it.
"In her hair?" I asked. Jules scratched her head.
"In her fucking hair."
Jules had a surefire way of talking so I had no doubts about what she saw. She felt like a leader, someone to trust, and I needed someone to trust.
"That's nothing," Brigid said. She pushed her plate away and fiddled with her eyelashes. Brigid wore thick, fake eyelashes and I wondered how her eyelids held them up. "Where I was at before here had way less supervision.”
“Pshh.” Jules rocked back in her seat, the front legs lifting off the floor. Her bony knees pushed against the Formica table leaving red indents on her skin. “Less than here?”
We looked around at the staff who were chatting with each other in the corner.
“Believe it,” said Brigid, forking her buttered noodles. “We had chicken one day there. Like real chicken. A drumstick or some shit."
We held our breath.
"Anyway, one of the staff came over to check on this one girl. Her name was Cindy, I think. Cindy Jannings? Jennings?”
“Caitlyn Jenner?” I said and Jules laughed.
“Doesn’t matter.” Brigid waved her hand midair, as if swatting a fly, each of her fingernails painted a different color.
“What kind of chicken was it?” Jules didn’t blink.
“I think a drumstick. Maybe a wing.”
“Which is it?” Jules raised her voice and I saw a staff member glance over and put her index finger to her lips. Jules never broke eye contact. “Big difference between a wing and a breast.”
“It wasn’t a breast.” Brigid furrowed her brows. She seemed annoyed with Jules’ interruptions. “It was a chicken, okay?”
“What happened next?” I wanted to get back on track.
Brigid continued, “Cindy said she had cleaned her plate. 'Wow, great job!' the staff said. And Cindy just nodded and smiled.”
We knew what she was talking about.
“A real chicken?” Jules sucked in her teeth.
Brigid ignored Jules. ”Hey Cindy!' they said, 'You ate all your chicken? And Cindy said, 'Sure did!’"
I put my fork down at this point.
"And the staff was like 'Huh, bones and all?' And Cindy got real quiet.”
We got real quiet.
“Then everyone in the room stopped eating and stared at her. 'Yeah I ate it. I ate all the chicken,’ said Cindy.”
"No shit," I said.
"Bones and all?" said Jules. "I don't believe it."
Brigid raised her eyebrows. She was tearing her napkin into tiny pieces and dropping them on the floor.
"She must have hid it in her sweatshirt or something.” Jules lifted her arms to her side like she was stretching.
"You know we can't wear sweatshirts in the dining room," Brigid snapped.
We nodded. We knew.
"This was August in Virginia, anyhow. Too hot."
"I don't believe it,” said Jules. “Must have had a hat on.”
“Then what happened?" I asked.
Brigid moved in close to us and lowered her voice. "The staff obviously didn't trust her. Why would they? So they took her to the nurses’ station and made her talk."
"How'd they make her talk?" My eyes widened.
"They have their ways.” Brigid shrugged her shoulders, her bra strap peeking through her t-shirt.
We nodded again.
"Turns out, Cindy hid the chicken drumstick inside of her. Like up her cooch!"
"No fucking way," Jules said.
"Shit," I said.
“There’s no way,” Jules said.
"I'm serious. They told her if she didn't shape up they were sending her back to the hospital."
“Did she?” I needed to know.
Brigid shrugged again. “I left.”
I leaned back in my chair, my food untouched. “That was a good story,” I said and meant it.
"Up her cooch? For real? You're not lying?" Jules was in disbelief.
"It's the truth," said Brigid, and she stuck up her two fingers like a girl scout.
We got quiet again. What else was there to say?
Jules shook her head back and forth, back and forth. "That's fucking brilliant.”
content warning: eating disorders, ED treatment
AMY SCHEINER holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Stony Brook University. She was recently a contributor at the Sewanee Writers Conference and has work published in Longreads and The Southampton Review, the latter which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently seeking representation for her memoir. You can find her at her website, https://www.amyscheiner.com/.