2020 Junior Division: 3rd Place

Under 500

Ceara O’Sullivan


One hundred and fifty.

That’s all I’ve had today, one hundred and fifty calories, that’s all.

I’m so hungry.

The bowl of milky, underdone oats sits in my stomach fermenting, maggoting. My body could not bear to use any of it, to absorb any of it, take in the nutrients, proteins and antioxidants I’m told are in them. And so instead it just let it spoil.

A (hundredth) look to the clock will tell me it’s 1:42pm.

One forty-two, the helpless hour; ‘Lunch’ time.

Though I can feel worms squirming, grumbling and gurgling in the cold milk, my stomach asks for more. Please give me more, it pleads. Something good… something dense.

A rye bread sandwich with olivani, cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, Colby cheese-

It rings through my knitted brain, it warms the cold in my bones, the taste rises to my mouth, beckoning spit to my tongue. It’s overwhelming, my stomach swelling, my breakfast rising, my brain racing with the numbers, counting them up, higher and higher and higher they went until the room was filled with water.

You’ve eaten today. That part of my brain chimes in. Remember your oats?

The room was empty again. I do remember them. They were underdone, only warmed by the microwave that yielded bitty clumps floating in a skim-milky mixture.

See what I mean? 

What do you mean?

Your oats, they had a lot of milk in them, they should be enough. Why weren’t they enough? Always hungry eh, fatty?

It was only 150 calories –

I think it was more like 200.

Okay fine, 200.

Two hundred. I’ve had 200 calories today. The room breaths a dull sigh of 50 more calories than we first thought.

Okay, two hundred so far, and dinner will be 200 too, so that leaves…

100 for lunch.

I thought for a minute. Silence around me and in my head.

I can wait a bit longer I guess, I want to save what I have left. Looking to the clock, it’s 1:44pm.

I can wait until 3:30, that’s only two hours. I can do it.

There you go.


Dry weetbix sticks in clumps in the crowns of my teeth, but milk was something I was forbidden to have any more of, so dry weetbix biscuits it was.

Oh, but come on, A different part of my brain that I haven’t heard in a while interjects. You should have something else. You barely ate yesterday, and you’re still hungry right now-

No. It replies, addressing the rational suggestion directly.

Yes, she should.

No, you’ve already eaten today. It reminds me, turning its words back to me. If you have something else, you would’ve had too much.

You should be having more, It cuts through the other voice, talking to me directly as well. You’re not even eating close to half what the doctor said. You should have something else if you want to start getting better –

NO. No. Don’t you dare! It shouts at me. If you eat anymore than you are, you’ll stop losing weight. You’ll be a fatty. The doctor doesn’t know you; he doesn’t know how much you should be having –

I am powerless in the volume of their war, caught in the crossfire, all I can do is stand back and watch.

Yes, he does! He’s a doctor!

He doesn’t know her, she never used to eat that much.

And for a while there is silence.

  Have something else, Angel.’ A third voice, a real one, carefully intervenes with the tenderness that came with a mother’s worry.

Yes, you should have something else. It agrees.

Maybe I’ll just have something small, I should, I really want to. I’m so hungry.

‘Yes, have something.’

No! Don’t listen to them! I try my best to drown the voice out.

I’m so hungry.

Toasted, crispy rye bread lathered thickly with peanut butter. That sounded so wonderful and horrible at the same time. My mind was racing again, my stomach swelling but this time I turned a blind eye to the numbers, grabbing the bread and knife quickly.

No, stop. What are you doing?

  Pretty soon I was back on the barstool, triangle-cut disgusting deliciousness on my plate.

Don’t eat that. I sternly ignored the voice still, grabbing the piece of bread and taking a bite before I could hesitate.

No, stop it! Stop! STOP IT! I chew slowly, but soon enough I had to take another bite, and the moisture was stolen from my mouth. I swallowed. I took another bite, chewed, forced it down my throat, I felt it land dully in the oaty-weety bog. Again, and again and again. All the while I heard the voice demand in hysteria,

Spit it out! Spit it out! SPIT IT OUT!


And there was that feeling again, the one only worse than hunger when I was feeling it. It didn’t seem that bad when I wasn’t feeling it, but when I was it was worse than the bottomless feeling of starvation. The one that felt like a leaden ball stuck in my chest. It will stick with me for the rest of the day and the one after.

You’ve done something wrong.


It’s okay, I made up for it.

Each breath out was a sigh of relief that calmed the frantic guilt bouncing around in my chest. I didn’t have to panic anymore, it’s fine now.

I just cut down my dinner a little to make up for it, but it’s fine now.

Sitting on my bed atop thick blankets, Bob Ross finishing off his painting of distant mountains framed by evergreen trees atop a small peninsula on the screen, I can think.

And after a bit, once the outro music played and my rooibos tea was finished and Penelope jumped up onto my bed and curled up next to me, I thought.

  That wasn’t so bad. 

I could do that again tomorrow.

Good girl.