In this episode, the models' challenge is to stay photogenic while spiders crawl all over them, creeping on their flat stomachs and toeing their belly buttons and climbing their breasts and making homes in the little shells of their ears. It's the tall girl's turn. The man holding the cage lets three tarantulas loose on her toes, and the camera follows to watch one dance around the ball of her ankle. She puts her string-bikini back to the floor, lifts her leg, and makes an arrow out of it. I think, Sharp. She's sharp like a shark tooth or a hipbone. There's flashing, flashing, and the spiders work their way down towards the razor burn, like a pilgrimage to that sharp, clean space between the edge of her bikini bottom and her pelvis. Tim hits the clicker and freezes right on a close-up of the fatty spider on her inner thigh.
Tim asks, "Hungry?"
I am hungry, so I remind myself of one of my tricks from the Internet: WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE SNACKING, DRINK A TALL GLASS OF WATER INSTEAD.
"Maybe a water," I say.
I am hungry, so I remind myself of one of my tricks from the Internet.
Tim heads into the kitchen and I stay planted, eyeing into the part of the cushion that's gone hollow from the weight of a body. I look back at the screen and make my fingers into spidey legs, walk them up and down my Pillsbury thighs. Remind yourself: WILLPOWER. Remind yourself: SPIDER LEGS.
Still, though, I'm hungry. When Tim comes back and sinks down into his old couch hole with his bag of Bugles and his Bud Light, I start to hate the shitty glass of water that he hands me. I feel temptation. Remember from the diet forum online: ELIMINATE TEMPTATION and DRINK A TALL GLASS OF WATER INSTEAD. I drink.
Tim hits play. The tall girl finally cracks and her leg spazzes hard. The photographer kicks over a lamp, yelling something in Korean. The subtitles ask: DO YOU EVEN HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?
"She's out this week," Tim says, "out for sure."
They bring the next girl out from the dressing room and stick her in front of the black backdrop. Over the sound of Tim's Bugle crunching, this model is crying big and loud. Cradling one giant spider in her cupped hands, she tells her story with the subtitles trailing a few seconds behind her, something about how—CRUNCH—she got knocked up as a teenager and had to live in this dump—CRUNCH—apartment for two years, flicking—CRUNCH—bugs out of her baby's crib and shooing vermin away from the—CRUNCH—cereal boxes. She explains how she is overcoming her bug trauma today in honor of her—CRUNCH—baby.
Over the sound of Tim's Bugle crunching, this model is crying big and loud.
The sound is just too much. I have to invent a new trick: WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE SNACKING, REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU THREW UP FROM TEQUILA. Think of acid in your nostrils. Think of pigs in a blanket all spat up like baby bird food. Later on, try and remember to write that one down. Abbreviate: TEQUILA PUKE.
"What do you think the model's baby's name is?"
"No shot that she really has a baby," Tim says, sticking three of his fingers into the wide ends of three Bugles so it looks like he's got a corn-chip manicure. CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH. "They just tell the girls to say this junk so you'll be all, like, 'oh, poor model, poor baby'."
"Poor model, poor baby," I repeat. The camera follows the mommy model. She's wearing a yellow bikini and two tarantulas. Tim keeps crunching.
Think of acid in your nostrils. Think of pigs in a blanket all spat up like baby bird food.
"If she did, though," I say, "do you think it's got a Korean name?"
"None of these girls are really Korean."
"It's a Korean show," I tell him.
"Yeah I know."
"Isn't your friend Korean?" I ask. I know her name, have typed it in search boxes and seen it written in bubble handwriting on postcards. Even five episodes in, even after the one with her nude photo shoot, even after the night he mumbles "Love you" into my hair, her name is still something that we keep stuck in dresser drawers and hidden in stacks of mail.
"No," he says, "Puerto Rican and white. Grew up in Philadelphia. You can't tell with how they're all made up, but she says most of the girls on the show are only half something."
Even after the night he mumbles "Love you" into my hair, her name is still something that we keep stuck in dresser drawers and hidden in stacks of mail.
I stick my hand in the bag, grab a handful of Bugles, and grind them between my molars as loud as I can to keep myself from asking all my questions: WAS HER MOTHER'S HALF OR HER FATHER'S HALF PUERTO RICAN? WHICH OF HER HALVES DO YOU LIKE BETTER? WHICH OF MINE? DID YOU EVER TAKE PICTURES OF HER? DO YOU WANT PICTURES OF ME? HAVE YOU MADE LOVE IN PHILADELPHIA?
Another for the notepad: THE BEST WOMEN ARE HALF SOMETHING.
"Anyway," he says, licking greasy salt off his middle finger, "if this girl really has a baby, I'll bet you anything it's named something super white, like Brad."
"Yeah, or Ronny," I say, "or McDonalds." Tim laughs, shakes his head, bumps me with his elbow, and puts his arm around me.
"Poor little Bradley McDonalds," he says. "We should adopt him. Give him a better life."
"We really should," I say, glancing up at Tim in time to watch him take a sip of his beer. All of a sudden, his eyes go wide and he snaps his fingers with his arm stretched out towards the screen. I turn my head to follow and there she is, lit up against the black behind her. I can almost see the Puerto Rican half now.
"She's got this one," he says with his eyes bright and voice low.
They've got her all done up. The camera man gives instructions in her ear before they start. Subtitles say: YOU ARE THE LEADING LADY. LET THE SPIDERS BE SECOND TO YOU.
The camera gets snug and close in time to catch one spider nestle up behind her ear. She brings a hand up, charms the it onto her fingertip, and then brings it towards her mouth like a little kiss. Camera flashes. Tim watches with his body leaned forward towards the TV and his elbows on his knees.
At the end of the episode, the camera moves up and down the panel of judges. The most important judge holds up the photo of the kiss with his eyebrows up and mouth turned up like it's the real deal. They all turn back and forth between each other and the photo. Subtitles say: VERSATILE JAWLINE and YES, VERY STRONG EARS. In the end, they keep her another week and send the tall girl home to whatever not-Korea she comes from.
In the end, they keep her another week and send the tall girl home to whatever not-Korea she comes from.
I decide I can't, that I'm practically out of my mind for somewhere else not-Korea.
When I get back home, the first thing I do is grab the notebook from today's spot. Right after breakfast this morning, I pulled over a chair and stuck it back in the part of the cabinet that I can't reach. Yesterday, I threw it way back underneath the couch so that I had to press myself onto the floor and stretch to grab it. Internet says: FIT A DAILY WORKOUT IN WHENEVER SUITS YOUR LIFESTYLE.
I pull the pen out from the spiral and turn to the next blank page to start a new list:
Internet says: DON'T JUST MAKE GOALS. KEEP YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE. I'm about to close the little journal, but then I remember:
THE SPIDERS ARE SECOND TO YOU
This last one I write down and then have to stare at for a minute, checking out all the little letter shapes and hollows between them. I erase it. The journal goes back into the cabinet. The whole thing gets me in a mood, the kind where I try to wash a dish and end up thinking about garbage disposals. I try to wash the feeling off in the shower but before I can lose sight of myself in the steam, a million little shots of water hit at all of the extra parts of me and I'm crying.
The whole thing gets me in a mood, the kind where I try to wash a dish and end up thinking about garbage disposals.
Of course there are beers in the fridge. On the second page of the notebook are the calorie counts for my three favorites. The kind in my fridge is 175 calories a bottle. I open the door anyway just to look. There are the four beers I have left all lined up on the inside of the fridge door like slick little soldiers. Just one is nothing.
It's early enough that I could still do anything; I could call my mom or my sister or my friend. I don't. I drink 175. I drink 350. In the end, I stay up, drinking and staring at TV Land until I'm too drunk to do the math.
Cara Dempsey is from New Jersey. She does not have an MFA and hasn't founded anything, but she once won a contest in elementary school for a report that she wrote on armadillos. Her fiction has most recently been featured in Dogzplot, Hobart, and Monkeybicycle.
Illustrated by Keara McGraw.