|From Hand to Mouth
By Corinna Underwood
Gilbert sometimes had a difficult time distinguishing himself from his food. He loved to eat. His mouth was
not meant to be empty; his stomach was not meant to groan and yawl like an old ship tossed by an angry
ocean. Sometimes while he was waiting for his mother to bring him food, he would push his bunched fingers
in to his mouth and suck on them. Sometimes he forgot to suck and began to chew. Each time a fiery
needle shot into his flesh, reducing him to a whimpering wreck. He didn't like it, but for a moment it made
him forget about his all consuming need.
As usual he was watching the door, waiting for his mother. He had just woken from a deep darkness from a
place in which he had a vague sense of freedom that was never quite remembered. Still he watched the
door. He sniffed the air, but could smell only the stale odors of a distant breakfast. He grunted and tensed,
holding his breath, as rigid as his quivering body would allow. When his chest began to hurt he exhaled,
shooting out missies of bile. Still the door did not open.
Gilbert's slab of a forehead rippled into a frown then smoothed again like melted butter. He chewed
distractedly on one of his bed sheets and tried to make sense of his emptiness. He felt a vague sense of
wrongness about having to wait. His gut churned and complained. He hoisted his gelatinous body as close
as he could to sitting. The bed wailed on its reinforced frame and Gilbert's bile bubbled and swirled like an
active volcano. He began to pound his enormous fists against his chest, sending his body into a quivering
spasm of gummy flesh. His vacuous mouth opened wide and let out a primordial cry of helpless desire.
In the kitchen, every surface was laden with empty bowls and plates, some gleaming fresh from the
dishwasher; others wore a coat of ermine fur. Today Angela was running late. She hadn't taken the meat
out of the freezer this morning, she hadn't rushed home from the restaurant as usual and she didn't feel
the usual bands of dread tightening her chest. She began to move around the kitchen with an unusual
lightness in her step. Today she could take her time because there was only one dish to prepare.
She placed the largest mixing bowl in front of her then began to chop vegetables. As she tossed the chunks
into the bowl she remembered watching her mother mix birthday cakes for Gilbert in the same bowl. She
didn't remember ever having a birthday cake, but Gilbert had always been special. She sighed and her hands
trembled for a moment as she added some chopped steak to the bowl. She didn’t bother to cook it; she
wasn't as painstaking as her mother. She glanced over her shoulder to where he mother sat. It was okay
she wasn't watching; the rocking chair was silent, still.
Angela could no longer recall when Gilbert had been a small boy. He had dwarfed their world for such a long
time; she could no sooner divest him of his enshrouding layers of flesh in her mind than she could in reality.
But she wondered sometimes if somewhere within, was a little boy, lost and lonely and waiting to be free.
Over the years she watched her mother work her fingers to the bone to keep bread on the table, as well as
all the other staples Gilbert endlessly craved. Every day she would prepare a gargantuan feast for her
favorite son while Angel and her mother ate dry bread and sucked on cracked meat bones. Both she and her
mother worked at a restaurant, which helped. The manager, old Bart, had taken a liking to Angela and
allowed her mother to take home as much food as she liked in return for a nightly rendezvous in the wine
cellar with her daughter.
Things changed when Walter took over the restaurant. Angela's mother had been demoted to serving while
Angela was given a crisp new uniform and new reasonability in the kitchen. Under Walter's calculated
instruction, she began to grow. She restyled her hair, started wearing lipstick and began to smile. Soon her
face was permanently flushed from Walter's compliments and their rendezvous took place in his apartment
upstairs, not the wine cellar.
Though Walter had never met Gilbert—and never would—Angela confided in him on nights when she was
exhausted and the thought of going home to help her mother cook more food was an anathema. He was
very sympathetic and since then promised her that he would find a solution to her predicament. Her mother
continued as normal though the gourmet delights she brought home each night were lost on Gilbert and
never passed her own lips.
Angela had been drawn to Walter like a butterfly is drawn to an exotic flower. First, he introduced her to the
subtle sweetness of Turkish candies and lavender pastilles. Then, he seduced her with exotic fruits dipped in
chocolate and decadent sorbets flavored with alcohol. Before she had time even to find which she liked best,
he plied her with spiced meats and strange sea foods from distant lands. She soon became transfixed by
the connoisseur of exquisite culinary visions and could not resist his bombardment of tastes, textures and
aromas. As her relationship with food and Walter grew, her brittle figure had gradually become softly
rounded. She smiled at patted her plumping hips, proud of her new-found voluptuousness.
Angela could no longer be bound to Gilbert as he was bound to his bed by the lead weight of his morbid
obesity. She took a sidelong glance at her mother as she tossed raw chicken into the bowl then let her eyes
rest on the jar. At first glance it was as mundane as any smoke-glass jar, perhaps containing homemade
jam, or relish. She left its wax seal intact as Walter instructed in order to keep the contents fresh until she
was ready to use it. For a moment she thought something stirred in its darkness then smiled at her own
naïveté. The special ingredient—Walter explained—was imported from Africa along with the latest batch of
herbs and spices that he was using for his new Ethiopian menu. Angela smiled again, more broadly this time,
looking almost beautiful. Her milky skin and chocolate eyes, glowed for a moment as she pictured Walter in
his restaurant, wearing the crisp chef's whites, his dark hands a blur over his simmering creations as he
stirred, grated and spiced. Her mouth began to water as she recalled how he would suddenly still from
ministering the pots and would slowly raise a spoon to her expectant lips. Her eyes would close and she
would be adrift on a sea of sensations inspired by mysterious destinations she would never know other than
through their exotic flavors.
Her face clouded as she began to mix in the gravy. Gilbert could never really enjoy food. It was too late.
Absent-mindedly she added salt and pepper. Gilbert never noticed the taste of anything that slid down his
gullet. He wanted only to sate his lust, to become engorged; only then was he happy and fulfilled. Angela
was different, for years she had lived on the edge of starvation, but now she had found someone who could
Of course, Gilbert couldn't be entirely blamed for his condition. Their father treated him harshly since the
beginning. Perhaps he didn’t mean to be a bad parent, perhaps he was being the only one he knew how to
be, but he made Gilbert suffer. While she got to sit on the father's lap, Gilbert had to lie on the floor at his
feet. Angela hadn’t felt to badly for Gilbert, he almost seemed to like getting the occasional kick and was
always pleased to be let out of his cage. And their mother remained silent and cooked and cooked. Things
had gone on for a long time that way before the accident.
Their father brought home a puppy for Angela. He won it in a card game. It was the cutest little ball of fur
she had ever seen. When the puppy came, Gilbert was relegated to the basement and the puppy took his
place. Gilbert had been unhappy with the arrangement, though no one really noticed at the time. If it hadn't
been for her mother, Gilbert probably would have been completely forgotten and ended his days in the
basement. But she kept him fed; nurtured his growing hatred for their father.
The only reason their father had to go down to the basement that night was because of the storm. The
power cut our in the middle of his boxing match so he had to go and check the fuses. Angela was playing
with Puff-ball and her mother was cooking by candle light as the thunder was rumbling into the distance and
suddenly the curdling screams shook the house. He mother told her to stay put, but she crept behind her
down the basement stairs and peeked around the corner. She could still see the father lying on the floor,
dwarfed by Gilbert who sat on his chest, with a string of jugular still hanging from the stumps of his teeth.
After that Gilbert moved back upstairs and she had been a little afraid of him, but her mother said all he
needed was good hot meals. Gilbert never left his bedroom after that and Angela never entered in there.
Though she would help her mother prepare his meals she never asked Angela to take them to him and she
was relieved. Only once as she was passing his room, his mother came out, laden with trays and Angela
caught a glimpse through the open door; a glimpse of the monster that Gilbert had become.
She glanced over at her mother again. She needed the rest, after all these years of constant cooking and
running up and down stairs and having to feed Gilbert, change his diapers. The thought sickened Angela
and she was pleased that at least she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Walter was very understanding. Of course, she didn’t tell him everything, there was no need to explain
exactly how it was with Gilbert; Walter seemed to understand anyway. She had known all along that he
would help her do the right thing. She stopped stirring the food sludge and held out her left hand. The
diamond winked at her; a subtle, sparkling dream amid a garish nightmare. She slipped it off and put it into
her apron pocket then reached for the jar.
Gilbert didn't seem to notice a different person was bringing his food. He did notice that there was only one
bowl and he began to get agitated. But when Angela shoved the bowl in his fumbling hands he buried his
face in it and got on with business. He came up for air when the bowl was almost half empty. A chunk of raw
chicken stuck to his cheek and gravy dripped from his chins. He stared at Angela silently for a long moment
and she began to fear that somehow he could recognize her. Then suddenly he grinned, showing discolored
tooth stumps and bubbling, brackish saliva. She held her breath, pulled the chair a little further from the bed
and sat down. To make the wait bearable she focused on Walter and the warm, aromatic embrace of his
Suddenly Gilbert let out an almighty belch, so strong and fetid that Angela doubled over with a wave of
nausea. She thought about her mother sitting down below and was glad, so glad that she was setting them
all free. She forced herself back to sitting and now she could see that something was wrong. Gilbert was
staring at the slops remaining in his bowl, but he made no attempt to eat them. His mouth moved in a silent
monologue and he had a strange look of puzzlement on his face as though he didn’t know what was in his
hands or what he should do with it. He grunted suddenly, snorting food down his nose and for a moment
he seemed to find this hilarious and began to cackle raucously, sending a fountain of gravy from his mouth,
narrowly missing her face and shirt…then…he stopped.
Suddenly Gilbert sucked in a deep breath and his misshapen teeth snapped down on his lolling tongue. A
thick trickle of saliva slithered down into the folds of his chin. Then his eyes began to dart rapidly from side
to side, like shiny fish trying to escape the confines of their bowls. His stomach suddenly lurched beneath
the food stained sheet. He flung the bowl aside, tore off the bed clothes and looked down at his hairless
mound of a gut as though it could tell him what was wrong. He clutched at it feebly as though he could
contain it all in his useless hands then began to knead and stroke it like a faithful pet. His mouth opened
wide, his thick tongue floundered on his lips. He giggled childishly, again expelling a shower of saliva. But
this time it wasn't the meaty brown color of the stew, instead it had a crimson gloss. He didn’t notice it until
he wiped a hand across his slick lips, smearing it with his own juices. He stared at his palm for a long
moment, as though trying to recall where he had seen it before. Then he held it out to Angela with a look of
confusion. She lowered her gaze, refusing to recognize any humanity in his pleading stare.
Suddenly his body jolted into an earthquake tremor. He clutched frantically at his gut. His head thrashed
from side to side, shooting bloody spittle in an arc around the room. Angela pushed her chair away form the
bed but found her legs were shaking as much as his and she could not stand. His milk-white belly protruded
from the bed like a quivering mountain of lard.
In a split second, both their gazes were pinned to the writhing mass of gut which was no longer smooth and
white, but was developing protrusions and as each once began more pronounced it took on an ugly purple
hue. The fingers continued to stretch at Gilbert's stomach until suddenly it erupted and he let out the long,
blood-curdling scream of a tortured animal. Five bloody sores now gaped in his flesh. Within them there was
a writhing movement as though his intestines where trying to break free of his body. Each hole glistened
darkly as blood welled in its center then was sucked back inside. Gilbert continued to writhe and scream
while Angela clutched at the arms of the chair, unable to take her eyes from the unknowns that tunneled
beneath her brother's flesh and drank greedily at his juices. She did not have to wait long to see what
horror incubated within his body. From each wound slowly squirmed a fat, eyeless grub, the rich color of
organ meat. They each raised their smooth, pulsating heads and wavered for a moment as though sniffing
the air then simultaneously they opened disproportionately large maws, encircled with needle-sharp teeth
and began to tear through his layers of flesh and fat.
Angela could only watch, transfixed by the visceral smoothness of his organs, how similar they looked to the
ones she had watched her mother cull so many times from chickens, venison and lamb. Then suddenly his
intestines a stench of fetid decay swamped the room as the voracious sacs of jelly bit down deeper. She
held her breath and tried to think of Walter's kitchen, warm and waiting as each finely-toothed mouth
feasted hungrily on Gilbert and he shuddered in agony. His scream was an almost silent gurgle now. Blood
bubbled from his mouth to his chest, saturating the shreds of his pajama shirt. His eyes—which had been
squeezed closed as though he could make this horror disappear—now opened wide. They swam in her
direction and paused. For a moment she thought she saw something like a mixture of resignation and relief.
Then they rolled back into their sockets and Gilbert was still, except for where the parasitic worms still
feasted on his flesh. His eyelids fluttered shut and Angela breathed again. Then she gasped suddenly as one
eyelid popped open. In place of its glassy orb was a viciously fine-toothed mouth which tore and sucked at
the surrounding puffy flesh. Then Gilbert really began to come undone.
The maggot-monsters quickly grew fat on their meal, churning through the remains of his gut. Steadily
Gilbert's body began to collapse in on itself until clean, white bone shone through; the meager frame that
supported the weight of years of over-indulgence. Angela was able to stand now, but shakily. She stepped
back behind the chair and gripped it with claw-like hands. The six creatures, which had once fit in a jar the
size of a tea cup, shared Gilbert's former bulk between them. They had sucked the fatty tissue from
Gilbert's body, chewed the gristle of his eyeballs from his skull, devoured the soft meat of his organs and
now came the cracking and grinding of bone, the slurping of marrow, until all that was left of Gilbert was a
fine layer of grey dust and a few stains on his shredded sheets. Angela glanced at the clock. It flashed at
her in a crimson mockery. Only twenty minutes had passed and yet a lifetime had gone by before her very
Now the creatures tore at the bed linens as if to draw out the memory of the taste of Gilbert. Their blind
faces came up for air, weaving and sniffing for more flesh. Angela released the chair, but her hands remained
clawed at her sides. Slowly, silently she stepped backwards towards the door, hoping they were unaware
that another meal was only a few feet away. The glistening, engorged bodies pulsated; the razor-edged
maws chewed air and sought something more substantial, until suddenly they clamped down upon each
other and the frenzy of slurping and gulping recommenced. Having no control over their blood-lust, they
gorged on their bedmates until only two remained. Angela reached behind her and felt the cold brass of the
door knob in her hand as the remaining two insatiable monsters locked onto each other head to tail and it
was impossible to tell where one began and the ended. Finally they had neither strength nor means to
continue. They twitched reluctantly then lay still, locked in an infinite embrace.
Angela pulled the door open and stepped back into the hall, closing it behind her. She followed the smell of
stale food back to the kitchen and reached into her apron pocket. With the glistening diamond in place on
her finger she slipped on her coat. A last glance was at her mother who sat in the rocking chair, silent and
still, guardian of the kitchen her glazed eyes could no longer see. Angela licked her dry lips and tasted
freedom. She had to get back to the kitchen, Walter was waiting.