Prelude: The Hammening
Every erotic heroine needs an origin story
When Esmerelda Poppingcorn turned eight years old, her grandmother gave her a dress as blue as a raspberry Ring Pop that shimmered like sapphires. Next to Randall Burningham’s eyes, it was the most beautiful thing that she had ever seen.
Every night that summer, after her parents had tucked her in and retreated to the den to watch Walker, Texas Ranger, Esmerelda would quietly slip out of her canopy bed, put on her beautiful blue dress, and twirl and twirl until she got so dizzy she’d crash into a wall. She loved the danger of possibly getting caught as much as she loved how grown-up the dress made her look— like a fairy princess who was also a horse doctor, and sometimes an astronaut. Her parents never did catch her semiconscious on her bedroom floor, though, because Walker, Texas Ranger was just that damn good.
Most children want summer vacation to last forever, but for budding sophisticate Esmerelda Poppingcorn, school could not come fast enough. She spent her days imagining the first day of third grade in vivid detail; how her classmates would gasp as she strolled into class in that beautiful blue dress. She’d “accidentally” drop her Littlest Pet Shop lunchbox as she passed the teacher’s desk, giving everyone a chance to really take it all in. Of course, there was only one set of eyes in that classroom she cared about, and those eyes were in the sockets of Randall Burningham.
Randy’s eyes were greenish-blue like bread mold... or perhaps they were more bluish-green, also like bread mold? He had luscious chestnut brown hair, a perfectly straight nose, and was the second tallest boy in the class; just tall enough to look like a man, but not so tall that he was a gangly freak like Jamie Boyle, who had to sit in the back of the class because of his height and confusingly large head. “He’ll probably die alone,” thought Esmerelda.
Randy, on the other hand, was in no danger of dying alone. Not only was he cute and tall, he was the son of Franklin Burningham, owner of Burningham’s Fine Foods, an upscale supermarket chain that sold expensive cheeses and tres chic imports from Europe. Esmerelda used to beg and plead with her mother to take her shopping there, hoping that Randy might be there working alongside his father. He’d see her strolling the aisles, lingering over bespoke lunchmeats and exotic canned goods, and realizing her to be a sophisticated girl with exquisite tastes, fall madly in love and whisk her away to away to Paris (the City of Love), where they’d live the life of luxury the Burningham fortune could afford. Esmerelda did not love Randall Burningham because he was rich, but having a boyfriend with an in-ground pool would be nice.
Dive headfirst into the titillating waters of Lake Nipples. What’s the worst that could happen?
She never saw Randy at his family’s market that summer before third grade, but being the smart biscuit she was (biscuit is what classy people call cookies), Esmerelda’s munchable machinations were twofold. Now that her family had a taste for the finer foods in life, the lunch her mother packed for her every day would be full of special treats from Burningham’s Fine Foods: sandwiches of brie with raspberry jam, heart-shaped Belgian chocolates in crinkly gold wrappers, Coastal Cooler Capri-Suns. She would not sit too close to Randall in the lunchroom, but close enough that he’d be able to see her gourmet lunches and, she prayed, be super impressed. Oddly, Randy never ate the lunch his parents packed for him, preferring to eat school lunch like the rest of his friends. Esmerelda swooned whenever she’d see him shoving spoonfuls of franks and beans past his luscious lips; he was filthy rich, yet humble — a true man of the people.
On the first day of school, Esmerelda’s beautiful blue dress did not go unnoticed by her classmates, but even in her dazzling poly satin blend with sparkles of cubic zirconia, to Randall Burningham, she remained invisible. When she dropped her lunchbox, brimming with Burningham’s Fine Foods, Randy’s head was turned, his attention stolen by Jamie Boyle who had snuck a Game Boy into class. For Esmerelda, the day that fat headed freak would die alone couldn’t come soon enough.
All morning Esmerelda was able to keep her eye on Randall Burningham, since she sat close to the classroom’s iguana tank, which helpfully captured his reflection. Not once did he cast a glance in her direction; not even to look at the iguana. By lunchtime, she had descended into a deep state of melancholy no amount of Capri-Sun could ever fix.
Esmerelda didn’t have much faith that her lunch that day would attract Randall’s attention; after all, he hadn’t much noticed her since kindergarten, and if he was blind to her beautiful blue dress, what hope did she have of attracting his eye with a tupperware container of Italian meats and cheeses? She glumly took her place at the girls’ side of the table, opened her magenta lunchbox, and began woefully nibbling on a proscuttio-wrapped grissini, as her classmates returned from the lunch line with cellophane-wrapped ham sandwiches and cartons of 2% milk.
“What’s with the wiener, Poppingcorn?”
For a moment she froze, the grissini stick dangling from her mouth like a candy cigarette. She’d played this scenario out in her head thousands of times — the way she’d turn to meet his gaze, the grace with which she’d flip her hair, the exact words she’d purr when at long last, Randall Burningham would call her name.
“Wha?” she blurted out with a startled jolt, whipping around so fast she nearly slid off the bench in her slippery sateen. All the boys began to laugh, and some of the girls, too. She made mental note of their names so that one day she could make them suffer for their betrayal.
“Your lunch,” said Randall. “Are you eating a weiner?”
“Yeah, why you eating wieners, Poppingcorn?” said Jamie Boyle, dragging out her beautiful name as to mock both her and the very concept of corn. Her eyes shot daggers towards his large, bulbous head; her heart hoping they’d pop it like an overfilled balloon.
She straightened her spine and tilted her head, just like the ethereal models in those Calvin Klein commercials, pulling her shoulders back to make her look like she had boobs. She planned to rebuff his teasing remarks with a witty retort, peppered with 5th grade vocabulary words as to flaunt her advanced reading level. However, the moment she gazed into those bread mold eyes, her language was lost.
“My lunches are from your store, jerkbutt,” screamed Esmerelda at the top of her lungs, who had lost all ability to control the sound of her voice.
The girls side of the table exploded into laughter, but Esmerelda saw nothing funny about what she had done. Her big moment with Randy Burningham — the moment she’d been dreaming about since the first day of kindergarten, the moment that would begin their long, happy lives together — had come and gone, and it included the word “jerkbutt.” She steadied her shaking knees and looked straight down into her lunchbox, brimming with the luxurious foods that made Randall’s family in-ground pool rich. She would have been bowled over by the irony of it all, but she wasn’t, because the literary concept of irony isn’t taught until 4th grade.
With another deep breath, Esmerelda once again held her head up high, attempting to assert her dominance among the other girls in her class. Randall Burningham be damned; between her moxie and beautiful blue dress, this could be the moment that propelled her into popularity, setting the course for the rest of her natural life. She lifted a wedge of imported Fontina cheese and took a proud, fearless bite.
She heard it before she felt it — the loud, smacking sound that bargain basement lunchmeat makes when it’s launched full speed at an object, like a wall, or a dog… or a beautiful blue dress. She looked down in horror at the perfect circle of ham splayed across her bodice, watching it slither down towards the rhinestoned hem like a Wacky Wall Walker, leaving a trail of meat juices behind.
“How about some ham with your wiener, jerkbutt,” Randall shouted, a tempestuous fire blazing behind his bread mold-blue eyes.
The lunchroom burst into a typhoon of mockery, with even the teachers pointing and laughing at poor precocious Esmerelda, who they thought was an annoying little shit. She wrenched her face into a painful knot, attempting to cut off the tears that were welling in her eyes, but it was no use. The tears were knocked free by another slice of airborne ham, slapping against the side of her face with a vicious — yet hilarious — sound.
“Yeah, jerkbutt!” screamed Jamie out of the gaping hole in his basketball-sized head. “Have some ham!”
Another slice of metallic-sheened meat plastered itself on Esmerelda’s beautiful blue dress, followed by another, and another. There was ham in her hair and on her face; droplets of ham juice and flecks of yellow mustard erasing the fabrics shine inch by inch. Leaving her Littlest Pet Shop lunchbox behind, Esmerelda fled from the table to the school’s side door, thrusting it open in defiance of its “Emergency Exit Only” sign, running towards home in the brisk September air, sheets of ham falling away like autumn leaves.
Esmerelda arrived home with her face as red as San Marzano tomatoes, gasping for breath and choking on tears. She ran to the upstairs bathroom and ripped off her once-beautiful blue dress and started stuffing it into the toilet, because eight-year-olds aren’t very smart. Perhaps if she flushed it enough, the toilet water would rush through the fabric and take all the ham juices away. Her mother and father must never know that she ruined the beautiful blue dress her grandmother bought her; the dress that made her look like a princess, and made her grandmother beam with joy.
Gallons of water began seeping out of the bathroom as Esmerelda continued to furiously flush, the sounds of the toilet drowning out the sound of her parents wood paneled station wagon screeching into the driveway, the clomping of their feet as they rushed up the stairs of their drafty Victorian home, praying they’d find their daughter who ran away from school. Esmerelda looked up at them with a face stained with fear as they flung open the bathroom door, collapsing like a tower of blocks as they grabbed her in their arms and held her close.
“DON’T TELL GRANDMA!” wailed Esmerelda through labored breaths, her body heaving in hysterics. “DON’T TELL GRANDMA I RUINED MY DRESS!”
Her parents held her tighter, rocking her back and forth, soothing her the same way they did when she was an infant. “Shhh...” they whispered. “Everything will be okay.”
Her breathing slowed and steadied; her clenched jaw relaxed. “I hate school,” she sniveled, her lip still quivering. “I hate school, I hate Randall Burningham, and I hate ham.”
“We know,” whispered her mother. “The school called and told us what happened.”
“Please don’t tell grandma.”
“We won’t, Esme,” said her mother, her own voice shaking as badly as her broken little girl’s. “We... we can’t,” she said, dissolving into tears.
Esmerelda looked up at her father, the strongest man she knew, whose face had paled and eyes gone hollow. He closed the lid on the toilet and sat down, letting out a few labored sighs before meeting her stare.
“Esmerelda,” her father said. “We won’t tell Grandma. She’ll never find out about what happened to your dress... because your grandmother is dead.”