A Warm Body

originally published in the December 2023 Issue of The End Magazine

Note: this piece contains intense eating disorder imagery

My boyfriend came home late that night and was sore from working so hard all day. I ordered us pizza for dinner, but it took too long to arrive and he had to wake up early, so he went to sleep without eating. We used to make fun of American Horror Story together on the couch in the living room until I fell asleep with my head on his shoulder, or his head on my lap.

The food came at ten-thirty and by eleven I’d already eaten most of it. The dog was too lazy to beg. I dumped kosher salt on the rest of the pizza. I’d tell my boyfriend they forgot to deliver and I’d gotten a refund.

I tried to close the door quietly when I came back in from putting the pizza box in the basement trash. I stopped in the bathroom to remove my mascara with Vaseline and wash my face with my hands. In college, my freshman roommate had said that if you exfoliated with a washcloth until it stung it would boost blood circulation and prevent wrinkles; a dermatologist later told me it was destroying my skin barrier and causing the cystic acne outbreaks that would keep me alone for days. I ran the sink and threw up into my hand and gently placed it into the toilet so my boyfriend couldn’t hear me, repeating myself until I felt like I'd purged everything. I washed my hands a few times until I felt sure they didn’t smell. I brushed my teeth and swished my mouthwash and I looked in the mirror.

My boyfriend was snoring. The bed creaked when I sat down. I was wearing an old T-shirt, one with an ice cream store from my hometown. I pulled myself up into a ball and tucked myself next to his warm body.


I woke up from a dream in which boil-covered college students or villagers tied me to a tree and set me on fire. I watched as the flames crept towards me. I anticipated pain, the hot searing on my skin, but I started laughing. It was an unpleasant, nervous, laughter, as if I were being held down and getting my feet tickled. I woke up. It was seven A.M. sharp and the dog, Willie, had peed in the hall. He was a fat old beagle with oversized ears. I’d liked him immediately, even just from the pictures I saw, even though my boyfriend said he’d be high-maintenance. I crept into the kitchen and grabbed a roll of paper towels from under the sink and used them to dab up the urine. Then I sprayed it down and wiped it again.

“You’re up early,” said my boyfriend when he finally woke up. I’d already made the coffee, but it was from the last grounds in the bag and I’d have to remember to go out and get more later. I didn’t want him to say I was inconsiderate. He’d been saying that a lot lately.

“I couldn’t get back to sleep,” I told him. “Had a weird dream.”

Willie was lying underneath the table, his head on the floor.

My boyfriend fixed himself a cup of coffee and sat beside me.

“How are applications going?”

“Applications close in February,” I said. “I’m still working on my statement of purpose.”

He smiled and got up and started frying himself an egg. He’d always leave his dishes in the sink after breakfast, and since I stayed home all day, I’d clean them.

“I got my schedule last night, guess I’m in packing and shipping again,” he said.

“I’m sorry.”

He shrugged.

“Yeah. It sucks.”

Two slices of blackened Wonderbread popped out of the toaster.

“Aw, shit,” he said. “Dammit.”

He scraped the bread with a knife.

“Already late.”

I tried to avoid eye contact with him and started to work on the dishes. He shoveled egg and hard, dry toast into his mouth.

“Maybe I can get something at a museum or a gallery or something,” I said. “It’s just so competitive.”

He threw his dishes in the sink. I sprayed them with the green apple-scented Dawn.

“You have the credentials,” he said, pulling on cargo pants. “What makes you think you can’t do it?”

“I don’t have the credentials,” I said. “That’s why I’m trying to get a degree. I’m trying to get the credentials.”

I paused and took a deep breath in. In the silence, I noticed that I’d raised my voice. My boyfriend was tying his shoes near the front door.

“An undergraduate degree in art history means nothing,” I told him.

He stood up and kissed me on the cheek and told me to have a nice day.

“Bye,” I said.


I took a walk with Willie to Starbucks because my aunt had given me a gift card for my last birthday. I pictured her choosing that at Walgreens at the last minute and got sad. I ordered a skinny vanilla latté and tipped the barista with a few crumpled dollar bills from my purse and she looked disgusted. After Willie’s second shit, I realized I’d run out of doggy bags. Steam rose from his fresh poop sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. I hoped nobody saw me leave it there, half-knowing it would get stepped in. We walked briskly home with another secret.

My phone buzzed. I was getting LinkedIn notifications that I wanted to ignore. I’d quit my last job because I wanted to focus on getting into a Master’s program. I ended up signing up for an app where I would get paid to host dogs at my apartment while their owners were out of town, which got me enough money to cover my half of the rent. I took photos of our walk and sent them to his owner, who was somewhere in Italy.

I hadn’t thought about college too much since graduating. All of my friends from back then had moved on, becoming successful and wealthy whether in their own right or by way of their parents. My senior year, I sublet a room in an apartment with a classmate, Haley, who had a buzzcut. It was in a hundred-year-old Sears kit house, deep dusty pine around big windows and avocado cabinets and cracked white tile in the kitchen. She started to hate me around November.


My lunch was several spoonfuls of Tabasco and some swigs from an old bottle of ranch dressing sitting in the fridge. I belched and it tasted like acid coming back up from my stomach. I grabbed a plastic teaspoon and stuffed it into a jar of my boyfriend’s homemade peanut butter, pulled it out and licked it clean. I did it again. I opened the fridge and eyed the hot sauce, and thought better of it. I hesitated to close the fridge, but I threw the teaspoon down the sink and drizzled it with dish soap.

My boyfriend texted me about how much he hated his job. I wanted to commiserate, but even letting him complain about sorting packages in a warehouse felt hollow when I knew he resented me for being unemployed. I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself. I read a thread about internet celebrities from the 2000s. I watched 90 Day. I was being useless. I hummed to myself as I swept the dust bunnies into little piles all over the apartment. Willie followed me and barked at them. I knew I had to check my email.

I had been rejected from a job at a gallery uptown that sold postmodern furniture. I was overdue for a dental cleaning. I held my breath until I saw that Zach hadn’t answered me.

I searched for him on Google and saw on LinkedIn that he held a tenured professorship at some small private college in rural Pennsylvania, teaching Early Modern Art. He looked about the same as I’d remembered him, but with more gray in his hair and an angular pair of glasses. He was never particularly handsome, but he was tall and had warm, crinkly eyes. I was an ugly person back then, I thought to myself. I think I am ugly still.


“Can you take your clothes off?” my boyfriend asked me that night. He wrapped his hands around my waist and nuzzled me.

“If I can turn the lights off,” I said. I crawled over him on the bed to switch off the lamp on his bedside table. He sighed at first, but felt all over my body as I straddled him in the dark and seemed to make peace with it.


I had a dream that Zach and I had sex. It was in the apartment I shared with Haley, the one at the top of the Craftsman-style bungalow in Kerrytown. I was breathing heavily after climbing the five or so flights of stairs, back in the twin-size bed that belonged to the blonde girl I had sublet from. She had stretched a faded floral top sheet over her mattress, with little rust-colored stains, and I’d been too lazy to take it off and wash it. I could see the shelf of Zach’s hairy stomach hanging over his belted pants. He was on top of me and when he pulled his hand out from inside of me his fingers were covered in blood. There was a shard of glass in his hand.

“Aw, man,” I heard, which had conditioned me to expect bad news. “The dog shit on the rug.”

I ran over to the hallway.

“Willie,” I said, looking for him in the bedroom. He was hiding underneath the bed. “It’s okay.”

“Does the app pay for rug laundering?” my boyfriend asked. “Like, are they covered?”

“I can pay for it,” I said.

“They don’t cover cleaning it?” he asked.

“I’m an independent contractor, nothing is covered,” I said, as if this was supposed to comfort him.

“Great. Well. It’s ruined anyway,” he said. “It’s gonna just smell like dog shit forever now.”

“I’ll buy a new rug,” I said.

“My mom got me this rug. I liked this rug.”

He had never seemed to care about the rug before it was ruined.

“I’m sorry,” I said. Willie was still under the bed.

“I’m so sick of these fucking dogs. Can’t you just get a real job?”


It was early enough for me to order McDonald’s breakfast. I sprayed the rug with some kind of enzyme and looked up a tutorial on how to clean dog shit from rugs. I ended up just scraping off what I could, filling the bathtub with OxyClean, and letting it soak.

By the time the food was delivered, I’d changed into a different t-shirt and different sweatpants than the ones I was wearing before. I always felt bashful answering the door and retrieving a big brown bag with “McDonald’s” logos all over it, so I tried to make it quick and smooth like a drug deal.

I always ate the hash brown first, before it got cold and soggy. I moved onto the eggs, which were okay with the salt and pepper packets. The hotcakes were spongey with cheap syrup and I cut them up with my plastic utensils like a caretaker at a mental hospital. I drank the orange juice so quickly that I was gasping for breath by the time I finished. Willie watched me as I ate and started whining at me. I gave him some of my sausage, but he just kept staring.

I took Willie out for a walk. I went back into the bathroom and agitated the shit-rug-stew in my tub. I rinsed it until the water stopped turning brown. I hung it up to dry. The shower curtain pole sunk under its weight.

I checked my phone and saw that Zach had emailed me back. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears when I clicked it.

I don’t think we should be in communication. I thought we decided on that a long time ago.

I stuck my fingers down my throat until everything I ate came out. Willie had followed me into the bathroom and plopped himself on the floor next to me. I stared back at the regurgitated scrambled eggs in the toilet bowl, swimming like koi fish, and flushed.


I sat on the bathroom tile and thought about him. I’d decided, day one, that I wanted to fuck him, and so I did, not after that class or any other of his boring classes where I would stare at him and think about sucking his cock, but after we’d met for drinks at the horrible Polish-themed bar by the quad and he told me about his fiancée who’d gone to Amherst and was getting her PhD. It was after months of asking him asinine questions, of turning away other guys throwing themselves at me inin a way that never happened anymore and that I had always thought would happen forever because none of them would tell me how smart I was as if they were almost surprised, none of them were just ugly enough to seem honest. I didn’t find comfort in them that reminded me of all the mundane paintings of boats in my grandparents’ house, the unsettling darkness of late-autumn afternoons, falling asleep in the warm bed inside of my drafty childhood room while my mother watched Happy Days reruns on Nick at Nite downstairs. I didn’t know what was so wrong with me that I found solace in low-level agony, like there was some part of me that felt safer in a small amount of pain.


An hour or so later, I was hungry again. There was still hot sauce in the fridge. The Hidden Valley ranch had expired—in fact, it had been expired for a couple of weeks. I glanced at the half-empty jar of peanut butter. I hadn’t put the lid back on properly the other night and it had dried out and hardened, so I threw it in the microwave to loosen it back up. I hit the thirty-second button twice and scratched Willie’s head while I waited. We were both startled when the jar exploded.

“Fuck,” I hissed to myself. If I didn’t clean the whole thing up by the time my boyfriend got home, he’d be pissed. And even then, he’d wonder what happened to the rest of his homemade peanut butter, and the jar it was in, that he probably wanted to keep and reuse. I was always making stupid mistakes, like a stupid child. I swept all of the peanut butter-covered glass shards into a bowl, wiped down the inside of the microwave. I set the bowl full of broken glass and warm, oily peanut butter into my lap and picked up one of the biggest fragments. I studied it in my hand like it was an opal, and licked off all of the peanut butter. I didn’t stop until I cut my tongue. And then I kept going.