5.05 Feasting on Grander Houses

Lindsey Skillen

It starts with the bruises. My nails go soft—they bend and then all tear off. I want animals—red meat—freshly speared to death in sunny open fields. Blood still hot with life. I want to run to the carcases.

This is how I know I’m pregnant—that I’m eating houses again.

Adrian works as a part-time security guard for a mansion-in-progress. The construction team comes in the morning and after they leave Adrian sits around the rest of the afternoon to protect the house from pillagers.

Henry takes the night shifts and he never makes a big deal about it if he gets there right as Adrian finishes me on the slab that will someday become a kitchen island. He just watches and waits until Adrian and I shake it off and head out through the unfinished entryway back over to the east side of Western.

It’s unlucky that I’m pregnant because Adrian specifically said that if I moved in this couldn’t happen. I still work at the bowling alley.

But it is convenient that now that the babies suck up my iron I have somewhere to go to fill my needs—to get my fix.  

I sense that they are twins. I haven’t asked anyone to check, but everything is twice as bad as people online say it’s supposed to be in these early days. It feels like if I ingested the whole mansion it wouldn’t fill me up—it wouldn’t put my thirst to rest. 

It is both harder and easier now to sate my desires. Or, I mean that what I desire is more available to me, and that it takes more of it to sate me. It takes all of it that there is.

I used to eat in secret. I only stopped after my cycle  did—after my ex had me insert the T.

Or maybe I didn’t really ever stop—there is always the possibility of starting something up again.

As a kid I could take my supply mostly from my own home—chipping off pieces of cement in between bricks with brittle, anemic nails. At school alone on the playground I’d lick my fingers and dip them in the sandbox—coating them in grit and then sucking it off, crunching it between my teeth. On cold weekend days I’d settle for uncooked pasta—grinding down the bows and spirals while watching Fresh Prince.

After I finish wiping down all the balls at Shatto 39 Lanes, I walk to the Jollibee still in the borrowed bowling sneakers to pick up fried chicken and spaghetti to bring to Adrian at the construction site.

The smell of  the food makes me sick so I lie down in the still-to-be-filled swimming pool with my Shatto polo pulled up over my face, exposing my bare stomach to the sun. I’m baking the babies in my belly—drying everything out.

I stretch my arms out snow-angel style on the concrete. When I lived in New York I’d get too drunk to go home alone, but I’d do it anyway—trailing my fingertips along the sides of buildings, knowing if I kept in contact with concrete I’d make it back home eventually.

I lift my legs up and scissor them against each other like a grasshopper—sending sound vibrations to Adrian. It works—he comes out to check on me.

“What’s up, Van?”

“Can you toss me some of that chalk the workers use for measurements?”

“Uh, uh. You’re not doing that in here.”

“Come on. It will come off when they put in the water. And if it doesn’t I’ll rinse it off myself. I promise.”

I hear the chalk pieces hit the bottom of the pool pit and I pull my polo back down over the babies Adrian still doesn’t know about.  

He sits down on the edge and swings his legs over the deep end while I set up a game of M.A.S.H. I make categories for dependents, transportation, jobs, places, spouses, and pets. I fill them in for him with things he doesn’t like.

“Okay. I’m going to start the magic spiral. Say ‘stop’ only when your inner voice tells you to.”

He closes his eyes and really concentrates on listening to his intuition. He whispers, “Stop.” Then louder, “Stop.”

“Eleven rings.”

I count to eleven over and over aloud, hitting each option with the chalk and crossing out and circling as I go. Adrian lies back so all I see are his black security pants and shoes.

“You live in a shack in the panhandle, and you rollerblade to your job as a fig newton taste-tester. I am your wife.”

I get up to pace around the pool—scraping my fingernails against the cement sides and putting the bits in my mouth as I go.

“We have one parrot and two embryos we keep in jam jars,” I say as I kick away at a loose part on the steps with my bowling shoes.

“Are the embryos alive?”

“Yes we keep them alive. But they never grow. They always stay like they are. They always fit in the jars. They never want anything.” I pop a piece of cement the size of a chocolate kiss on my tongue.

“Why do you do that?”

“What?” I turn to him with it lodged in my cheek.

He’s sitting up—still on the other side of the pool pit.

“What’s it taste like?”

“Want to try it?” I climb up the steps, skip over to him, get down on all fours and spit the chunk out next to him. He bends down over it and picks it up with his teeth.

The new sliding-glass doors slam open right then and Henry says, “Y’all are fucked up. That shit is nasty. Nasty.”

On the way home Adrian says I shouldn’t come back to the house anymore after my shifts. “They’re putting in the security cameras tomorrow morning. I’m not sure when they’ll be hooked up, but still.”

After Adrian falls asleep I walk back over to the mansion with a Tupperware container and a screwdriver. Henry is sitting on the front porch—his screen illuminating his face in the dark. I go around back to the pool and stab at it over and over. I collect the debris I make until I can’t close the lid on the Tupperware. I’m not careful—you can see all the punctures. Someone will need to redo all of this.

The bowling sneakers are always silent and I am thankful for this because I want to say goodbye to the inside of the mansion, too. There’s a fine layer of dust on everything and I think, I’m inside a snow globe and the babies are inside me. I try to imagine what it sounds like to them—I don’t hear a heartbeat—all I hear is whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh. I shake the cement bits in the Tupperware back and forth in front of my belly—letting the babies know they’re coming for them.


Some thoughts on translating do grasshoppers know their metamorphosis is always incomplete?? are they in a perpetual state of longing???

— The word “establishing” in relation to “cementing” made me think of building a home—both in the literal sense of construction and in the figurative formation of relationships.

— “Metamorphosis” paired with video footage of pouring cement naturally reminded me of production and construction—both of buildings and pavements but also of bodies. As in, both the still wet and malleable cement and the subject’s body were equally in a state of evolution and change—especially in the process of absorbing food.

— I was intrigued by the question that beings constantly in states of change would feel incomplete, and would long for their ultimate (death?) state. This led me to consider ways in which one might keep things stagnant—freezing them in order to protect them from longing, dreaming, planning for the future…

— I read that grasshoppers are seen as lucky because of their sensitivity to sound waves that they pick up on in their organs. People think this represents listening to your inner voice, being in touch with your intuition.

— The layering of the subject eating a fig over the pouring, scraping, and smoothing out of cement paired the two actions in my mind and I was left with pica. Because the subject is eating a fig—a symbol of fertility—and pica is a common symptom of pregnancy, the choice to make my speaker pregnant felt as though it fell into my lap from the previous piece.

— I wanted to find a way to carry the fig over and decided on the fig newtons, which perhaps isn’t a large enough gesture to the previous work.

— I was so interested in the audio component of do grasshoppers… I listened to it all the way through with the video off. To me (because I was stuck on the pregnancy thing) it sounded like a heartbeat, like being in a womb. But I’m not sure if I’m forcing that connection at this point.

— The idea of twinning/doubling arose from the shots in which the subject is doubled/mirrored on the screen—at times disproportionately.

— I was also paying attention to tactile components. This soft body against the hard backdrop of construction/laying concrete. There’s a vulnerability in that, but the unwavering gaze of the subject, and the way they're able to manipulate the screen and how much of their body they expose by pulling the greenscreen blankets over or off them displays so much control.

— I was hoping to end up with 3 pages (750 words) to mirror the length of the video (which would take approximately 5 min to read / read aloud). Unfortunately in the end I came out over. I also considered mimicking the pacing of the video—speeding up and slowing down—in the rhythm of the piece, but am not sure that was pulled off exactly.
—Lindsey Skillen


Lindsey Skillen is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing & Literature at the University of Southern California. Another recent publication of hers can be found in Cosmonauts Avenue.

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