Last Time in Lake Nipples…
When Esmerelda Poppingcorn was 33-years-old, she wore dresses as beige as boneless, skinless chicken breasts; her long, knotty brown hair wrapped in a messy, unkempt bun; her face nearly naked but for a smear of Carmex medicated lip balm. Though she did her best to be invisible, Esmerelda’s devastating natural beauty made it impossible for her to fully disappear. Behind thick tortoiseshell glasses were eyes as violet as grape soda; her cold sore-free lips plump like plums, concealing a row of teeth set in her luscious gums like pickets in a fence.
She hid her Lamborghini curves beneath drab, shapeless sheaths and oversized sweaters. Her frame slight and frail; all sharp angles and straight lines save for her ample tush and gargantuan knockers. She wrapped herself in puffy jackets and ponchos, knowing how impossible it is to be sexually aroused by someone in a poncho.
Though her world was bland by choice, Esmerelda was not immune to pleasure — or at least what passed for it in her world. She could ravage a bowl of buttered noodles like an unhinged beast, and enjoyed rubbing prescription lotions across her milky white flesh to the soulful tunes of Michael Bolton. As for pleasures of the carnal variety, Esmerelda was acquainted with them in the most obligatory of ways. She shed her virginity in her junior year of college, not because she wanted to, but so that she’d no longer be burdened by it. She seduced a man she met in a bar by saying “Hello, would you like to have sex with me,” and sex, they did have.
Esmerelda was not impressed.
Since then, Esmerelda Poppingcorn fornicated three times a year on a strict four month schedule, and only because it made her feel like a functional member of society. She didn’t like sex, but she had sex — always on the first of the month so it was out of mind as quickly as possible. She’d go to the bar across the street, find the least repulsing man in the joint, ask if he’d like to have sex, and twenty minutes later, the burden if physical intimacy would be off her delicate shoulders. She’d jump straight into the shower and vigorously scrub the scent of sex off her tender body before returning to her crossword puzzles and chamomile tea, relieved the chore was over and proud of herself for doing a good deed.
Dive headfirst into the titillating waters of Lake Nipples. What’s the worst that could happen?
As one of the top five OSHA inspectors in the country, Esmerelda’s life was full of travel and excitement, taking her from Trenton to Toledo and everywhere in between... everywhere except her hometown. After moving to OSHA HQ in D.C., she’d been back only twice: once to pick up the ashes of her childhood dog, and once for the execution of his will.
Her action-packed career always provided a good excuse for why she couldn’t go back, but now she couldn’t avoid it. Lily Tashman, her best friend since preschool, was getting married, and Esmerelda was heading home to be her maid of honor.
She read a book in the cab from the airport to Lily’s house so she wouldn’t catch an accidental glimpse of the world she ran away from. She strained to keep her eyes focused on the words as the familiar rumble cobblestones shivered up her thighs, forcing her to clench them tightly. Even if she couldn’t see Main Street with her eyes, she could feel each inch of it vibrating through her body, recalling every single detail as the cab cruised down the street and around the corner. Milken’s Pharmacy. Milkweed Ladies Fashions. Jimmy’s Lemonade Stand. Grandma’s Fudge…
…Burningham’s Fine Foods.
Her eyes squinched shut. Her stomach turned. She remembered everything so vividly, she could taste the ham juice.
Twenty minutes later Esmerelda exited the cab like wobbly giraffe, her eyes blinded and thighs tingly from all the clenching. The raucous din of the Taschman house could be heard from the sidewalk; the stately Colonial Revival swarming with relatives who had come to “help” before the big day. Lily had four sisters, nine first cousins, three cousins that weren’t technically cousins but their mothers were “like sisters,” six nieces, and an incalculable number of friends. And still, Lily chose Esmerelda to be her maid of honor.
She’d go anywhere and do anything for Lily. Even if it meant going back to Lake Nipples.
“ESME!” came a booming voice somehow louder than the nasal buzz of three dozen screetching Tashman women. Turning around she saw Lily charging towards her, her left eye twitching, her body shaking, her face turning blotchy pink with stress-induced hives.
“Thank god you’re here,” Lily said, gripping Esmerelda’s arm so tightly she thought it might snap. “I am going to fucking murder all these fucking people. I’m going to fucking murder every single stupid fucking one of them in their stupid fucking faces.”
“I missed you, too,” said Esmerelda, a smile finally cracking across her stoic face.
“I’m sorry,” sighed Lily before throwing her arms around Emerelda’s shoulders, leaning against her fragile frame as if she was about to collapse. “I didn’t mean to scream at you. It’s just that I’m getting married tomorrow and I’m losing my mind and seriously I’m going to kill my bitch mother.”
“Did you expect any different?” said Esmerelda.
“I probably shouldn’t have, should I,” replied Lily with a laugh. “I need your help, Esme. I haven’t eaten anything all day, but I don’t want to go into the kitchen because I will slap everybody. I am going upstairs to hide in the linen closet. Could you sneak me a sandwich?” she whimpered in a baby voice with a coy smile. Lily loved herself a good sandwich.
“You got it, dude,” said Esmerelda, breaking from Lily’s grasp and slinking into the kitchen as quietly as possible, hoping to avoid Lily’s bitch of a mother. She was an expert in making herself invisible, and probably would have succeeded in staying undetected had she not found the fridge completely barren.
“ESME!” screamed Lily’s Bitch Mother even louder than Lily had. “How nice you showed up I need a favor” she blurted out without pause in one heaving, exasperated breath.
Esmerelda smiled and nodded, knowing she couldn’t say no. She was the maid of honor, after all. Her only job was to keep Lily happy, and that meant keeping her best friend awash in sandwiches. Besides, Esmerelda hated confrontation, and more than that, she hated people hating her.
“Just tell me what to do, and I’m on it!” she chirped through a forced grin.
“These assholes showed up unannounced and I’m completely unprepared. I was supposed to be getting my hair and nails done, and now I’ve got my bitch mother-in-law telling me I’m a shitty hostess.”
Esmerelda understood. There were a lot of filthy, dirty bitches in Lily’s family, and that included the elderly.
“I ordered food and I need you to pick it up. It’s a bunch of salads and cold cut platters from Burningham’s.”
Esmerelda felt her stomach drop straight through her vagina.
“Also, after I placed the order my mother-in-law tells me she’ll only eat ‘grass-fed roast beef’ because that miserable cunt wants something to complain about. I need you pick up a pound of it so she’ll shut the hell up.”
Esmerelda felt sick, but she continued to smile and nod. What else could she do? She grabbed Lily’s car keys off the kitchen table, backed her BMW out of the garage, and proceeded to drive towards Burningham’s Fine Foods at a steady seven miles per hour, hyperventilating the whole way there.
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The sky was barely turning orange when she pulled Lily’s car into the Burningham’s parking lot; by the time she pried her white-knuckled hands from the steering wheel, it was pitch black. Realizing the store was minutes from closing time, Esmerelda summoned what little bravery she had and rushed head down into Burningham’s, tearing through it like an Olympic speed walker, hoping to get in and out before she stopped breathing. Over the past 24 years she’d become a pro at shoving her feelings deep, deep down into a pit within, tucked into the darkness between her pancreas and gallbladder. Esmerelda Poppingcorn was steely, serious, and a master of emotional suppression.
So why were her knees shaking so badly?
She kept her eyes on the floor with laser-like focus, using every trick in her arsenal to hold herself together, reminding herself to be logical about such a simple, mundane task. How many times had she strolled through these aisles hoping to find Randall Burningham, only to never see him but once? Besides, they were grown now. He had probably left their hometown in his rear view mirror with his trust fund in tow, moving to New York or L.A. to be a hedge fund manager, or agent, or some other form of professional douchebag.
Using the floor tiles as a guide, Esmerelda navigated past the salad bar, turning left at the bulk legume bins, walking past the wall of nut milks to reach the deli counter She took a number even though no one else was there, because she was a woman who respected rules and appreciated an efficient numbered system.
She gently tapped the service bell once and waited, trying to control her breath while squirming in her own skin. She tapped twice, this time with a bit more force than her usual style of tapping, anxious to get the special roast beef and be on her way. Still, no one arrived.
She tapped again, and again, and again; each tap more severe than the last, growing faster and so violent that the piece that goes “DING!” left a little purple bruise on her palm. She began losing control of her breath; buried memories lurching from their hiding place into the center of her chest, burning through her spaghetti squash-sized breasts like wildfire. (The Game of Thrones kind.) She remembered the cold cut platters at her grandmother’s funeral. She remembered all the ham.
She remembered all the ham.
Esmerelda was seconds from exploding when a voice rang out from the room where they keep all the extra meat.
“Hold on! I’m coming!”
It was enough to jolt Esmerelda back to reality; back to being the stoic, hardnosed OSHA inspector that was all business, all the time. She regained her composure just in time to lose it again.
The door of the extra meat room swung open, and out walked Randall Burningham.