Short Story from the Shadow Side

Nutmeg: Confessions of a Narcissistic Hypochondriac


Chapter One


She looked in the mirror, but she didn’t see a face. Her eyes zoomed in and traced around her hairline, scouring the skin for blackheads and pimples like CCTV cameras sensing criminal activity. They moved over her eyebrows, scrutinising each hair like an army major checking his troops are standing inline. They followed the T-bar line down her nose, and she winced at the site of a pregnant pore. Full, fat, beige, everything she despised. Her gaze briefly softened as it fell onto her undeniably full lips, but brittled again as she fine-tuned her focus on the tiny sharp lines lacing each labia. She opened her mouth and the sight of off-white made her gasp and sigh in horrified disappointment. She slammed her eyelids shut and recoiled. No, not a face, but an image of imperfection goaded her from out of the glass.

V fled the bathroom and dived into her bedside cabinet. She grabbed her sea kelp, vitamin E and spirulina supplements and gobbled them up greedily. For “dessert” she squeezed out a tasteless cream bleach into what looked like a mini ice-tray and stuck one on each line of her teeth. She held her mouth closed with the determination of a police officer harbouring a convict, and as over-secretions of saliva slipped down her throat and dribbled out of the corner of her mouth, she found a little comfort that in an hour her teeth whitening kit would kick in and she would be beautiful again, well, at least a shade closer.

V worked 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday as a civil servant in the Town Hall of Piechester. She left for work at 8:15am in her little (easy-to-park-easy-to-clean) smart car, and returned home at 5:30 – 6pm, depending on the traffic. Her routine had been the same for 5 years. To kick-start her daily regime, at 6am her IPhone 7 was pinging with activity. She didn’t need to set an alarm. Health blog updates, and Google alerts silently squawking the latest diet and exercise tips, were being amassed from the far corners of the ether-world and stuffed into her external cyber-brain-box device. What would today’s algorithmic allopathic ringtone bring?

On this particular morning, on the very instant of regaining consciousness, her arm moved faster than her lifting eyelids and swung for the flickering filament to shove the azoic blue light into her line of vision. What new discovery had fought it’s way through the endless ethereal ethernet channels? What sales pitch of somatic science had ridden the backs of the latest trends, zeitgeists, fads and fashions in response to the worldwidewaves V had sent out on search engines like siren songs calling for exploitation? What was going to make, or ruin, V’s day today?   

Her eyes hastily met with an update on the benefits of nutmeg. Her cerebral cortex stimulated by the name of that nostalgic little spice that jazzed up her rice pudding back in 1995 at Granny and Granddad’s cosy cottage in Cornwall. Her heart rose as she read about the myriad health benefits: good for digestion, for neutralising bad breath, for the brain, the liver, kidneys, skin, sleep… Everything she needed, she suggestibly surmised. Nutmeg had her name on it. Barely blinking the sleep from her eyes, she logged into her Amazon Prime account and ordered a kilo of the all-things-nice spice to be delivered the next day. 

She moved onto the next website alert, and found out that she probably wasn’t getting enough Chromium. She jumped out of bed, squeezed 15 minutes of pilates into 10, 20 minutes of yoga into 15, washed her hair only twice and briefly circled her supposed cellulite prone areas with a hard bristled brush, she would come back to that later. She downed a cocktail of supplements and luckily had some of her green juice left in the NutriBullet. She must pop into Holland and Barrett before work and stock up on the C-stuff.

The next day, she eagerly awaited her nutmeg delivery. She had taken half a day’s holiday to wait in for her package this morning. 10:00am looked up at her from the screen of her mobile phone; the 4 hours she’d been up already seemed like weeks, and she’d scrubbed her entire flat with bleach to pass the time productively. But deep in her heart of hearts, she knew Amazon wouldn’t let her down. Sure enough, at 10:02am the familiar face of Preston, the Wednesday courier, arrived at her door with a parcel.

“Hi V, how are you? Think it’s been nearly a week since I saw you last?”

“Hi Preston, not bad thanks, yes, I bulk ordered the aloe vera, and found a few things on the high street. Shops are finally clocking onto the good stuff.” She grinned with genuine glee, then quickly closed her lips to hide her teeth. She still wasn’t convinced they were white enough to be seen in public, especially by someone she saw as regularly as Preston. In the split second of her lips parting, Preston had to squint his eyes and take a micro step back as her incandescent smile burned into his retinas. He was instantaneously reminded of last Friday night at ‘Wenzdayz’ night club when he was throwing up under the strobe lights.

As Preston handed V her package, he watched her sore red hands reach out anxiously. The smell of strong bleach leaked out of her apartment door and he winced in mirror-neuronic empathy for the raw sting she must be experiencing at this moment. He waited patiently while she signed her electronic signature. She made the machine look so heavy. He glanced discreetly at her skinny body, ludicrously awash with an inch of fake tan. At least the extra layer of weight might keep her BMI in range he thought, half sympathetically and half sardonically. Her yellow hair frayed over her oppressed face like an overly-ironed curtain. She handed back the signed bulk of plastic and metal with a brief “thanks” devoid of eye-contact, and ran inside. Preston shuddered with pity and walked away. 

Inside the screamingly clean walls of V’s apartment, she ripped open the plastic outer wrapping of the parcel and lovingly lifted out the bag of ground nutmeg powder like a new born baby. She pulled her over-night soaked chia seeds from the fridge and sprinkled a few well heaped tablespoons of nutmeg over them, added a spoon of Manuka honey, put on her morning breakfast meditation mantra, and tucked in. It tasted strong but good. “Familiar in flavour yet nouveau in form”. She must add this to her blog, she thought. As the glucose induced serotonin eased V into a near state of semi-serene calm, she ran her eyes languidly over the back of the packet. Suddenly, she froze. 

Her focus caught on a phrase like barbed wire. Her pupils dilated with an arousal of pure fear. She nearly choked. She dropped the spoon and stood up, letting the chair tip back and crash to the floor; bruising her delicate calves… “WARNING: Too much nutmeg can be fatal”.

She darted to the bathroom, stuck her fingers down her throat and regurgitated every last meg of nut. Exhausted physically, and emotionally, she sat down on the bathroom floor and cried and cried and cried. Maybe she should just eat it and die. Trying to be healthy was all just too confusing! With a head full of bleach fumes and tears full of nutty nostalgia, she collapsed upon the cold hard tiles.

The snowballing trauma of incessant episodes of hypochondria had finally caught up with her. She was utterly exhausted. Underneath her clinical cleaning routines, her bombastic beauty regimes and her seemingly sociopathic dietary requirements, her state of mind was as painfully loose as a hang nail. 

Since her mother died of untreated diabetes when she was just 10 years old, V was flippantly diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and OCD. For years little V sat watching her mother’s apron gunt grow and grow as she devoured the barely edible insides of infinitely unfolding packaging. Her mother, obsessed with the taste buds on the tip of her tongue, seemed oblivious as her own legs blackened, then greened, then yellowed and finally rotted away beneath her.

V was forcefully exposed to this daily horror show as though her eyes were being pinned opened. Brief breaks from surveying this slow “sweet” suicide were only awarded to her as orders to run to the shops to stock up on “supplies” of shitty excuses for food were screamed at her over shouts from soaps and serials on the gogglebox. As a result, V grew up compelled to keep her own blood sugar down by only eating the absolute minimum when she felt faint with hunger.

Her father took an alternative route to the grief of losing his wife by drinking and drugging himself into oblivion. All day he would get high and play violent video games, ordering V to bring him coffee, booze and cheap maize snacks. Did this guy know how to party or what? V approached her teenage years watching him slowly disintegrate into the festering carpet of crusts, crumbs, ash and ends. Whilst she slaved after him she learnt to look after herself, well, she learnt how to survive, and how not to die. 

She peeled herself off the tiles with a pathetic push and struggled to her feet. As she verticalised her spine her stomach somersaulted and her brain fell back down again. Urgh, I must call in sick, she thought, although she was just feeling so rough she fell on the sofa and fell back asleep.

Six sorry hours passed in silence, her limbs warmed yet her body ached and shivered. Past traumatic stress and myristicin squirmed around her feathery mind like weevils on a spider’s web. V began to dream, or was she hallucinating? Some of the nutmeg had not been completely jettisoned from her gullet and it sunk into her otherwise empty stomach lining and into her bloodstream. Since she had piled on so much of the stuff, there was still plenty to effect such a small specimen of a woman. Mixed with the strong bleach particles wafting up her nasal flue, a potent chemical compound alchemised at the point between her eyes. 

The vision was so vivid…

A shaman came, he was brown and round and proud. He told her that the key to all her health problems and woes could all be cured by just one simple task. It seemed so obvious, so perfect, so pure. Drink the blood of an unborn baby. The information resonated with a moral-less morse code logic intrinsic to V’s over-analytical thought processes.

After a few hours had passed V waded through the theta waves and arrived on the shores of consciousness. It was mid-night, exact time unknown. The blackness pounced on her as she lifted her heavy eyelids rendering her visual cortex useless for navigation. How strange it is to emerge from the sea of subconscious without seeing your feet step onto the sand. She followed her tactile system instead and groped her way along the walls, feeling for the familiar protrusion of the light switch which she eventually found and pressed down upon with a nervous finger. Even that was an effort for her feeble phalanges.

The brightness stunned her and she stood still, shocked by the immediate as well as the recent. What to make of it all…what to do next…

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