Conspicuous Consumption By Jacob Steven Mohr

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Conspicuous Consumption By Jacob Steven Mohr
Illustration by Sue Babcock

Corpumond reached for his fork. The purple sun hung low in the angry, blistered sky, its single bloodshot eye scrutinizing the scorched earth below. The last Big Bomb dropped over two months before, but that stink lingered, that last vague trace of radiation and decay that seared the nostrils like mustard gas. Corpumond and his wife sat on the roof of what used to be the Caffur-Morris building, the tallest freestanding structure not destroyed by the Big Bombs. The streets below them were barren except for a hot breeze whisking grey ash around the sidewalk in little circles. Small fires flashed like television sets in the windows of the empty skeletons of buildings.

Reaching the fork was no small task. Corpumond’s tremendous belly ballooned his waistband like wind pushing out a sail, pressing taut against the edge of the table. Reaching anything on the table required Corpumond to rise up in his chair, struggling both against the table digging into his flesh and against his own substantial gravity. But Corpumond was proud of his stomach. Nearing the end, after the last Bombs fell, he’d seen people on the street withering down to kindling from hunger: emaciated, hollow-eyed husks stalking the alleyways. Not Corpumond. He and his wife could eat anything, and stayed fat. Corpumond used to pity the husks—pity them, and resent them. There was no meat on their bones, so they were useless to him and Ellisanae.

Across the big table, Ellisanae cleared her throat. “Wotta swell spread,” she said for the third time in ten minutes.

The table between them was eleven by six feet and heaped with platter after platter of foodstuffs, the finest post-Big Bomb cuisine available. Mostly sea life—the Bombs left the oceans largely untouched—along with hardier critters and flora lining the edges of the banquet like parsley. Dolphin. Crabgrass. Pumpkin. Penguin. Brain coral. Boll weevil. Kudzu. Kelp. Catnip. Crocodile. Leather boot. Tortoise. Tire tread. Tuna. Humboldt squid. Sea snake. Blowfish. Beets. This is the last supper, Corpumond thought. The last feast in the world.

“Wotta swell spread,” Ellisanae repeated.

Corpumond looked across the table at his wife. Her black eyes squinted out of her puttied face, glinting like marbles pressed into clay. Her skin, like her stomach, was stretched tight around her ruddy face and neck, and her plump breasts sagged to the table, mounds of mashed-potato dough resting on the wood. Ellisanae weighed thirty-two stone, just twenty pounds less than Corpumond himself.

“Tuck in,” Corpumond said.

They began eating, descending on their meal like carrion birds thrusting their heads into the open flank of a carcass. They spoke little, and when they did, it was always to ask the other to pass something, some condiment or side dish. The piles of food dwindled rapidly—Corpumond and Ellisanae chewed thoroughly, but took very big bites.

“Coral’s a bit tough,” mumbled Corpumond through a mouthful.

“Mayonnaise’ll soften it right up,” said Ellisanae.

“Is there any left?”
“Nope,” said Ellisanae, spooning the last of the mayonnaise onto her rump roast. The lump of flesh on her plate was pale pink and bore a Heart Mom tattoo. This was quickly covered by the mayonnaise. “Trade you for some of that dolphin, though.”

Corpumond shook his head. “I got the blowhole,” he replied. “Best part on a dolphin. Tender.”

“You always get the blowhole,” Ellisanae joked.

Corpumond stuck his tongue out at her and shoveled in another bite of blubber. The texture was rubbery, but oddly porous, like dense sea sponge. Across the table, Ellisanae ripped off a big bite of the last known sea sponge and shoved it into her mouth.

“That about does it for the seafood,” she said through a mouthful of sponge.

Corpumond shook his head, sending flecks of salty dolphinflesh flying from his swinging jowls. “I’ve been saving something real special,” he said.

“Oh, treat, you didn’t,” Ellisanae squealed as Corpumond reached beneath his seat. He produced a covered tray, and when he lifted the lid, seven perfect tubeworms lay stacked neatly beneath, crusty and puckered and glistening red.

“Filched ‘em outta the abandoned aquarium a week ago,” Corpumond said. “Happy anniversary, pumpkin.” Ellisanae clapped her hands.

They divided the worms between them, Ellisanae taking the larger share. Corpumond devoured his with knife and fork, eating them two at a time, while Ellisanae ate slowly—contemplatively, almost—using her fingers. She paused, one flaccid tubeworm held between her thumb and forefinger, and smiled. The smile spread her cheeks like dough on a cookie sheet. There was tubeworm juice dribbling from one corner of her lips.

“You know,” she said brightly, “I think this is the best anniversary we’ve had.”

“Sorry?” said Corpumond, chewing.

“No, really,” said Ellisanae. “I like this. When have we ever eaten so well?” She shoved the tubeworm into her mouth and chewed the crispy carapace slowly, savoring the briny flavor. “I wish they’d drop Bombs every year, just for us.”

Corpumond swallowed his last bite of worm and threw down his fork and knife. “Well, that’s the end of that,” he said, pushing back his chair.

Ellisanae slipped a knife into her sleeve and pushed her chair back as well. She heaved to her feet and dragged her chair across the roof until it was next to Corpumond’s and sat down beside him. Corpumond took her hand, and the two looked out at the horizon where the sun was just starting to sink. Ellisanae belched and yawned, and while her eyes were closed Corpumond lifted the big serving fork off the platter with his other hand and held it at his side, out of sight. The metal was cool and oddly comforting against his bare thigh.

“When have we ever eaten so well?” Ellisanae repeated.

Corpumond’s heart clamped like a fist, and he gave his wife’s hand a squeeze. Ellisanae sighed happily and returned the squeeze. The knife in her sleeve slid to her elbow and stuck there, nestled against the pale, folded skin. The purple, dying sun continued to struggle across the sky, and somebody’s stomach growled.


BIO: Don’t believe the hype: Jacob Steven Mohr was not raised by wolves. Feral children are capable of many things, but bone-chilling prose is not one of them. Because if it was, we’d all be speaking Wolf. Mohr’s work has appeared in Outrageous Fortune Magazine, Aurora Wolf Magazine, and on the boards of the Browncoat Theater in downtown Wilmington.