Gut Feeling [TW: ED, mental illness, depression]

Gut Feeling

By Byron Lin

At least he wasn’t craving the foot-long corned beef sub with nothing else on it again, or the fish sticks dipped in chocolate pudding.

Reynolds couldn’t help it if he was hungry all the time. That twisty, growling compulsion followed him everywhere he went, no matter what he did to try and get rid of it. He often wondered if his own stomach was gnawing itself into oblivion if he neglected to feed it every three hours. He tried to eat healthy, really he did: fruits, salads, fruit salad even, but sometimes, all that overcame him was the craving, and he would eat almost anything he could lay his hands on; he hated that this was how things were. He also hated his metabolism, which he thought could be the culprit behind everything.

Gazing into the driver’s side mirror of his car, he felt another kind of tightness in his gut, an inescapable sense of frustration and disgust oozed over him like someone had started to pour maple syrup on him. Any time day or night, it didn’t matter.  He was always eating.

Reynolds had unkempt, greasy dirty-blonde hair that fell into his eyes. His wide, egg-yolk-runny eyes featured beady blueberry irises that jiggled whenever he blinked. His squashed, bulbous nose resembled an overripe tomato. His colorless, cracked lips were thin and feeble, worn out by supporting such a cavernous mouth that could somehow engulf triple-decker turkey sandwiches dripping with ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise whole.

Pork-rind ears curled away from the side of his head as though afraid his mouth might find some way to capture them in his uneven yellow teeth. No amount of whitening formula, teeth brushing, or dental wizardry could help him out there. Mouthwash wasn’t likely to improve his breath, either. His ample gut hung out over his belt, and the white button-down shirt and blue jeans he wore didn’t fit him as well now as they had even two weeks ago. His sneakers were falling apart, giving up on having to take him everywhere. 

“What would you like to order, sir?” the drive-through was always the same: a disembodied voice interrogating him about his latest victims. 

“Could I get a large milkshake, two large fries, a chicken sandwich and a bacon cheeseburger, please?” Reynolds’s voice sounded like meat sizzling on the grill. Fast food wasn’t his favorite, but for right now it would have to do. It was a damn shame he couldn’t get any steak and eggs. The way the caramelized onions on the steak melted in his mouth like tangy, barbecue sauce-drenched ice cream, and the way that the over-easy eggs oozed over both onion and meat, made him drool. Such a meal had to be a gift from some nameless, carnivorous god. All Reynolds needed was some salt and pepper and it was better than perfect.

“Anything else, sir?”

“No, that’s all.” 

“That’ll be $9.40, sir.” 

“Okay, thank you.” 

Reynolds scooted his car towards the pickup window and waited while the food was hastily prepared and thrown into a large paper bag bearing the name of the drive-through place: Big Belly Burger. Before he got the food though, he paid with a ten dollar bill and asked for some ketchup packets. The pick-up window minder didn’t have any on hand, so he stepped away to go for some, further causing Reynolds to wait another five minutes before he could tear into his magnificent feast.

It was around then Reynolds began to realize he had forgotten something, something important, but he couldn’t recall what. Even when he got home fifteen minutes later he still couldn’t remember what it was, although a vague feeling it had to do with his son Rory crept up on him. Reynolds tried to shove his head inside the bag. He could smell the glory of his big order – it smelled better than the strawberry-scented shampoo his wife used to wear.

Reynolds’s house looked like a giant marshmallow puff with whipped cream on top.  The fresh paint was clean and cheerful. Even the window shutters were painted white. The white roof tiling spiraled upwards, with the lightning rod at the top stuck in it like a metallic toothpick. It might have been a nice house in a quiet neighborhood complete with a cul-de-sac, but that was enough to satisfy Reynolds. 

He parked his car in the garage and went inside to find his pet dog Lemon, a yellow lab, barking at his return. Reynolds looked around as he entered. A small table with several framed family pictures crouched by the door. Most prominent of these outdated photographs was a large silver-framed picture of Reynolds’s wife Diana and their son Rory smiling together over his birthday cake, which featuring two candles representing the number 12. Rory was thirteen now; that picture was from more than a year ago. 

Rory scrambled over to Reynolds. Rory’s red t-shirt and tan cargo shorts hung off his lanky, bean-pole frame, so he looked much different than his dad. Rory’s black hair was shiny, since he washed it every day and combed it too, when necessary. If Reynolds had blueberries for eyes, Rory had chocolate chips. Rory’s nose was sharp and beak-like, and his mouth was large but his jaws weren’t as unhinge-able. 

Reynolds could see Rory eyeing the Big Belly Burger bag. Reynolds clutched it to his chest as thought it was his firstborn son, and not Rory. 

“Did you get anything for me, Dad?” 

Reynolds froze. He knew he forgot something at the drive through after all.

“Uh, did you want me to get you anything?” 

“Yeah…I wanted the double cheeseburger with no pickles or mayo.” 

“Oh,” Reynolds couldn’t find the words, and even if he could, his excuse would likely come out half-cooked. “Uh, I’ve got a bacon cheeseburger.”

“That’s not the same, Dad,” Rory said. Reynolds punched his arm amiably. 

“Cheer up, sport - how about I make you some lunch, real food, instead of this same old crap?” 

Rory shrugged. “What else do you have?”

Reynolds smiled. “I’ll show you, come on.”

They moved over to the kitchen table, Lemon following them, wagging her tail.  Reynolds opened up the big bag of fast food, finding the ketchup packets first. He had forgotten to ask for more napkins, and Casa de Reynolds was currently running low. Oh well, they would have to make do with paper towels, if it came to that. Lemon barked again.

“Quiet, Lem, be a good girl and I’ll give you some bacon,” Reynolds said Lemon barked again, giving her assent. Reynolds sat down first, almost incapable of stopping himself from tearing into the food. Rory sat down across the table from him. 

“Um, weren’t you going to make something, Dad?” 

“Yeah, after I eat first.” Reynolds snapped. He crammed half the chicken sandwich into his mouth. Rory’s face fell. Reynolds swallowed, but he found that the sandwich was seasoned with rue. Reynolds finished eating before speaking again.

“Sorry Rory, that didn’t sound so mean in my head,” Reynolds wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He didn’t feel like getting up to go to the kitchen for a paper towel, even though it wasn’t more than five feet away from him. As a peace offering, Reynolds gave one container of the large fries and the milkshake to Rory, although by now the milkshake was half-melted chocolate-and-vanilla swirled goo.

“Dip the fries in the shake, it’s still good,” Reynolds suggested. 

He watched as Rory tried it and laughed. 

“It is good!” 

“Well yeah, I made it so,” Reynolds said. He let out one loud belch, then another one. He gobbled down the fries, leaving the little ketchup pile a sticky red smear next to where the chicken sandwich had been before he devoured it. Reynolds licked his lips, clearing the excess salt before he could turn his full attention to the bacon cheeseburger.

True to his word, he plucked off the bacon and gave it to Lemon, who barked happily as she received her treat. After rewarding the dog, Reynolds proceeded to remove the lettuce and tomatoes from the burger.

Even though he always felt like he wouldn’t be able to finish a burger without the veggies on there, by the end they tended to get in his way. Not this time, though. Reynolds gulped it down without even needing full use of his powerful jaws. 

“Ah, that’s much better,” Reynolds said. He patted his belly. A tear formed at his blueberry eye. He hadn’t felt this full in awhile. 

“So what should we make?” Rory asked him. Reynolds spared him a questioning look with the other, un-teary eye. 

“What are you in the mood for, my boy?”

“Pepper jack mac and cheese, with bits of chicken in it!”

 Reynolds grinned. 

“Oh you just wait, son, you’ll get a lot more than that.”

Reynolds heaved himself to his feet. The chair groaned under him, as if from relief. Reynolds frowned at it. 

“None of that, you hear?” Reynolds said to the chair. Rory gave him a strange look, which Reynolds ignored. Reynolds waddled over to the fridge and looked inside: milk, pepper jack cheese, and butter. How convenient, just everything he needed for some awesome macaroni and cheese. Reynolds gathered all the necessary supplies. Although Rory was currently playing with Lemon, Reynolds could feel his son watching him. Reynolds laid everything out on the counter and went over to the pantry and found within the boxed set of mac and cheese. 

Reynolds grabbed a package and ripped it open. The macaroni elbows shook and rattled as he walked back over to the stove. Washing his hands first, Reynolds stuck his hand in and dug around for the cheese mix. Once he found it, he pulled it out and set it aside. He wouldn’t need it, not with the pepper jack around. Before continuing, Reynolds shuffled back to the counter to grab the rest of the supplies he had collected and bring them back to the stovetop area. 

“Is it ready yet?” Rory called over to him.

“Not even close,” Reynolds replied, not turning around, “just getting started.”

Reynolds pulled out a pot from inside the oven, where he normally kept them when both the pots and the oven weren’t in use, and filled it up with cold water. He hummed to himself as the stove warmed up. Once the water was boiling, he dumped the macaroni into it.

“Dad, can we talk?” Rory asked from across the room. 

“Sure, champ, what about?”

“Well, about you, and you eating all the time.” 

Reynolds glanced away from the stove, then back to his cooking. 

“Look, Rory, I haven’t been the same since your mother left, you know that,” he replied, though he knew it was as flimsy an excuse as his attempt to make up for not getting his son the cheeseburger he had wanted. 

“Yeah Dad, I get it, but she left six months ago. You ever stop and ask yourself why?”

“Because she’s a heartless bitch that doesn’t care about us,” Reynolds’s answer came without hesitation. Out the corner of his eye, he could see Rory shake his head. Apparently Rory wasn’t even shocked Reynolds had just said what he did. 

“No Dad, it’s because you started eating so much you didn’t want to leave the house to go to work, let alone get up to help with any chores. She had to do all the yard work. I cleaned up all your dirty dishes, swept the floor, vacuumed, cleaned out the gutter, mowed the lawn, fixed Mom’s car. Everything you’re supposed to do.”

Reynolds turned away from the stove this time. “Okay, I’ll own up. All that was my fault, what did you want me to do about it?” Reynolds’s frown deepened when Rory just shrugged. 

“I don’t know. Maybe try being a better husband and father?” 

“I am, Rory! Are you trying to say I don’t take good care of you?”

  Rory shook his head again. 

“I didn’t mean it like that, Dad. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.” 

“Damn right you shouldn’t have, boy. Don’t blame your mother leaving on me. That was her decision.”

“But you don’t have to hate her for it.”

Reynolds considered his next words, now too agitated to pay attention to the stove. 

“Look, can we not talk about this right now?”

Reynolds turned back around to face the stove. The macaroni was boiling over. 

“Shit!” Reynolds shouted, loud enough to make Rory flinch. Reynolds quickly snatched a cup from the dish-holder next to the sink, filled it with cold water, and poured it into the pot before it over it could overflow. The boiling pot calmed down. Reynolds finished adding the other ingredients.

Grabbing a big spoon to put it into a bowl, Reynolds paused for a moment to look inside the spice cabinet again. Crushed red pepper, that’s what he needed. Reaching for it, Reynolds stopped and pulled his hand back. Diana used to love putting crushed red pepper on everything.  

Grumbling, Reynolds brought the bowl of macaroni and cheese back to the table and pushed it across to Rory. 

“Dad, I need a fork or a spoon or something.” 

“Right, right,” Reynolds muttered as he went back to the kitchen to find a fork. 

Reynolds came back to the table and sat down across from Rory, handing his son the fork. 

“Son, I’m doing the best I can, but your mom not being around just makes me feel empty inside, so I try to fill that emptiness with food. I can’t stop, even thought I wish I could. Whenever you come around to visit it gets worse.”

“I know it sucks, Dad,” Rory said. “But you’ve you got to pick yourself off the floor.” Reynolds knew he had a choice to make. By now, it was past time for him to decide which was more important to him: food or family. 

Reynolds laid his face flat on the table. 

“Eat, Rory. Your mom is coming to pick you up soon. And I’ll want to talk to her while she’s here, about all of us, and how we can make this work out.” 

Rory smiled. He picked up the fork and started to eat. 





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Kathleen's profile picture

"fruits, salad, fruit salad" I feel this struggle. This is me, portions, it's all a big part of self care, and I am so defiant with it. I guess I should just be happy I have gotten myself off fast food at least.

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💕 that is a step in the right direction, getting away from fast food though!

by Byronic Hero; ; Report

Ze the Bard Space-Witch of Hey (Noiram Zero)

Ze the Bard Space-Witch o...'s profile picture

I love the vivid and food-themed descriptions here. Heavy content, but a delicate touch. Is there more, or is this the ending?
I think it would actually be more effective if you held back some of the conversations, doing more showing than telling. The relation between the eating, and the wife leaving feels obvious to me without the extra talk
As always, thanks for sharing

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Nope, that's all there is for now. And thanks for the feedback! As always, this is pretty raw content so some revision work wouldn't hurt. I went back just now and edited to clean up errors and such.

by Byronic Hero; ; Report


Eliott's profile picture

I had a definite sense of dread reading this but it's beautiful and very sad

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Indeed. It inspired me to write a longer tale about Rory with him going to college, but that impulse withered away with time. Maybe someday!

by Byronic Hero; ; Report

I felt the sense of dread too!

by Ze the Bard Space-Witch of Hey (Noiram Zero); ; Report

Do you think divorce (not explicitly stated, but implied) should also be tagged as a TW?

by Byronic Hero; ; Report

I personally wouldn't but I guess whatever you feel might be best

by Eliott; ; Report

Makes sense!

by Byronic Hero; ; Report