There are a surprising number of lonely old men who are true emetophiles and willing to pay Abigail Bustamante one hundred bucks just to watch her throw up. For an extra twenty she’ll throw up on you. Another ten and she’ll barf in your mouth.
Abigail always wanted to go into show business and now look, here she is.
Abigail Bustamante is twenty-two going on twenty-three, a full time student and part time waitress at Hott Diggidees. She studies economics at Boston University. She has a heavy workload and her days are exhausting, but her vomit-work is fun and easy and doesn’t seem like work at all. She honestly enjoys puking for men. And frankly, if she’s going to practice bulimia, why waste it? She may as well get paid for her gastric upheavals.
It is late afternoon and Abigail is riding the subway to her next appointment. The client lives in Back Bay. She spoke to him on the phone and he sounded nervous, shy and embarrassed about his fetish. She knows the type. He is going to need gentle assurance that this is all perfectly normal.
To get ready, Abigail eats several blue raspberry Popsicles (she carries them in a small insulated cooler bag just for the occasion). It is by request—he wants her to puke blue. Abigail doesn’t mind. Popsicles, like ice cream, taste good going down and coming up. Sometimes her clients insist on foods that burn when they come up. She charges extra to eat anything from the genus Capsicum.
She gets off the train and finishes another Popsicle. Five should do the trick. She will heave liquid sky for the man. She flicks the empty stick onto the tracks and then heads west. The Popsicles are calm and cool in her stomach. At peace. Ordinarily, she can puke on cue, but this situation may call for Syrup of Ipecac. She carries a small bottle with her just in case but feels that using it is cheating somehow, like a porn actor popping Viagra. She usually gives spontaneous regurgitation a try first, then the old finger-gag method before she’s forced to take a reluctant swig of the vile liquid.
She looks at the man’s address on a folded Post-it Note. He lives in a fancy, upper-crust neighborhood. Victorian brownstones, actual trees. Sometimes she treks through bleak, bombed-out danger zones. Sometimes she is concerned for her safety and nervous. She is not nervous today.
Well, not too nervous. Every time is a performance.
She finally finds the location of the appointment. The client’s name is Roger McCullough. She presses the bell. A buzzer is heard and the door releases. She enters the building and finds the apartment but before she knocks she does her little method-acting ritual. She closes her eyes and opens her hands and listens down into herself. She has to portray a character now. Her character’s name is Faun Willoughby. She summons Faun and feels her rising inside her.
Faun Willoughby is thirty years old. She was born somewhere in the Midwest. She works as a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and just pukes part time. She cares about her clients and is glad to provide them with a service that makes them happy.Faun knocks on the door.
It takes two full minutes for the door to open. An aged face greets her through the narrow slice of open door. He is bald, his scalp pale and peeling and dotted with liver spots. His face is craggy. He smiles—a toothless but friendly red crescent. “Hello? Miss Faun?” he says. He has milk or something in the corners of his mouth. He hasn’t shaved in a while.
“Yes, sir. How are you? May I come in?”
“Oh, yes! I beg your pardon. Please come in...” The door halts against something inside. He struggles to get it open. Then he pushes it against the hidden blockage until it is wide enough for her to enter. Something topples and falls behind him.
She steps inside and what she sees shocks Ms. Faun right out of her head.
Roger McCullough is a hoarder. With a vengeance.
A maze of packrat clutter confronts her: cardboard boxes, bundles of newspapers, towers of books, bulging trash bags, dishes and toys and clothes and unidentifiable junk and debris. The sagging wooden floor creaks beneath them.
“Sorry about the mess,” he says. “We don’t have guests very often...”
“We? Is there someone else here?” The question comes from Abigail, not Faun. Faun is gone.
“My brother Wallace. He’s the gentleman you’ll be vomiting on.”
She follows him through the labyrinth; turning corners, stepping over junk, sidestepping through narrow, suffocating corridors. She can’t even tell what kind of rooms they’re passing through. There may be a kitchen hidden somewhere. Abigail isn’t usually claustrophobic but she begins to feel smothered, the walls of clutter closing in. She feels like she’s walking into a trap. The old man seems harmless, but she begins to feel burgeoning trepidation. The musty, mildew smells of the house are sweetened with a tincture of vanilla. She can feel the thick, flavored air invading her lungs like a disease. The stagnant atmosphere has volume and weight. She can almost see it.
All thoughts of Faun are forgotten. Abigail says, “Excuse me, sir? Where are we going?”
“Just to my brother’s room. It’s right here.”
They have arrived at a door adorned with a torn poster of the St. Paulie Girl.
“But first, if you’ll do me the favor of eating these...” He presents her with an unwrapped box of blueberries. He has pulled them out of the air like a magician.
She looks at the blueberries then at him. “What?”
“They’re quite fresh, I assure you. I bought them this morning and, as you can see, the seal is unbroken. Nothing to worry about. Feel them. I’m sure they’re still cool to the touch...”
He tries to hand her the berries but she folds her arms and says, “If you want me to eat those, it’ll cost you another fifty dollars.”
Faun is back for the moment.
“Of course my dear. Anything you say.” He reaches into his jacket pocket and removes a thick roll of bills. He says, “Will another four hundred do?”
“Give me the blueberries.”
He hands her the plastic box of berries, grinning with pleasure.
“That’s the spirit!” he says. “How long before you’ll be able to vomit?”
“Just as soon as I finish these,” she tells him, popping a handful of blueberries into her mouth.
“Outstanding!” He turns back to the door. “Excuse me while I get Wallace ready. Just knock when you’re all set.”
He disappears behind the door. She continues to eat the blueberries. While she eats, she looks around the vast garbage dump around her. There is a stack of automobile tires filled with crumpled candy wrappers so old she doesn’t recognize the names: Blow Pops, Laffy Taffy, Licorice Babies, Zotz, etc... She notices three old television sets with broken screens, a rotted piano with missing keys and piles of mildewed clothes. She hears something scuttle behind a wall of bundled LIFE Magazines and steps back. If she sees a rat she’ll fucking scream.
She finishes the blueberries, feeling full. Spontaneous vomiting won’t be a problem. She wants to get rid of them already. No need for the Ipecac. She catches herself looking for a wastepaper basket. Dope. She places the empty blueberry box on a stack of warped, faded art books and then knocks on the door. She tries to summon Faun again.
Okay, she thinks. Here goes.
Roger opens the door, smiling, eyes alight. “All set?” he says.
“All set.” She steps into the room, quietly amazed by what she finds inside.
The room is clean, almost Spartan. No clutter, nothing on the floor. The walls are unadorned. The windows are open and she suddenly feels dizzy in the cool, fresh air. The only furniture in the room is a small mahogany table and a single bed. In the bed lays a naked, emaciated old man. He is motionless, cataract eyes open. He looks dead and she says, “Is that your brother?”
Stupid, stupid question, she thinks and says, “What’s the matter with him?”
The man’s crumpled legs are as thin as broomsticks. She can see his ribs, his collarbone. He looks newly-released from a concentration camp. Again, the idea that he might be dead occurs to her.
“It’s a mix of things, I’m afraid. Polio, dupuytren’s contracture, rheumatoid arthritis. He suffered a paralyzing stroke a few years back...”
“Ah, but his mind. His mind is as sharp and lucid as it’s ever been!”
She looks with uncertainty at the tortured figure in the bed.
The old man claps his hands and rubs them together. “Don’t look so glum! This is a joyous occasion!” he says. “Wallace has been looking forward to this all day!”
“How can you tell?”
“Come over here next to him so you can vomit in his face.”
She takes a deep breath and tries to climb back into character. She approaches the bed. Wallace’s chest suddenly rises and falls with excitement. He rotates his wide, milky eyes toward her.
So. At least he isn’t dead.
“Should I just go ahead and do it?” It’s not a question Faun would ask.
“Yes, yes!” he says. He sounds impatient.
She leans over, flexing her glottis, rolling her stomach. It only takes a few seconds for the blueberries (and the Popsicles) to gush from her mouth. She notices a smile just before the blue puke hits him. She heaves twice more, emptying her stomach.
Roger cheers and claps his hands. “Beautiful!” he says, beaming at his brother.
Abigail—and she is Abigail now—wipes her lips with the back of her hand and looks at the blueberry-covered man below her. He is ecstatic. The chunky blue goo drips down his face, collecting in a stained halo around his head.
She thinks, This is good. This is worthwhile.