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  • Hunger
  • Susan Neville (bio)

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Photo by Kenny Louie

[End Page 28]

I’m driving down the street and I have an overwhelming urge to take a bite out of my steering wheel, so I do. The steering wheel is black plastic, more like a toy car’s steering wheel than the faux leather-covered wheels [End Page 29] my parents had when I was growing up. I don’t know what’s come over me. It doesn’t taste particularly good, and it makes a loud crunching sound against my teeth. It’s like the crispy version of a plastic pen, a familiar though not entirely unpleasant taste. It’s hard to swallow, but I swallow it and take another bite.

I have to say that I like the sound it makes as I eat it. It fills my head with sound, like when you eat ice. I’m aware that my mouth is filled with shards of black plastic, but somehow it doesn’t seem to cause any harm to my gums or teeth or to my esophagus.

Of course now I’m worried about the steering because I eat and eat the wheel until I’ve gnawed it down to nothing, and at the end I’m attempting to drive the car by holding on to the post with both hands. It’s not an easy thing to steer the car this way. In fact, it’s impossible. Luckily, I’m in a small town on a Saturday night, and there’s no traffic and the auto parts store is open, blaring light.

It’s a dark night, no stars, and I drive right into the garage bay, which is connected to the storefront by a sliding glass door, which tonight is open, as there are no engines running in the bay. In the waiting room, red and yellow and fluorescent lighting and cash registers and stacks of luscious clipboards with pens hanging from the clips on strings.

Some faceless guy in a mechanic’s jumpsuit doesn’t seem to mind that I’ve driven straight through the garage and into the store. He finds a replacement wheel behind the counter. It’s like he expected me. I’m pleased to not feel embarrassed and to not have to explain that I ate the first wheel, though I’m sure he’s seen my kind before. In fact, I’d noticed a car in the garage that appeared to have big bites taken out of the chassis. As I looked closer, though, I saw it was just the ordinary hunger of oxidation, that lacy rust.

The mechanic pops open the hood on my car, and I ponder sucking the fluid from the battery, putting a straw in the lovely chartreuse of the antifreeze. Suicidal thoughts, those, so I consider instead stuffing my mouth with wires or snapping the axle and eating it like a sugar stick. Or the headlamps? The combination of the glass and metal and the filaments might do for a snack. But nothing, I realize, would give me the pure pleasure of the steering wheel. It’s not a generalized hunger for cars, I tell myself, and that comforts me. Somewhat. I haven’t gone completely mad. The plasticky crackle of the wheel is what I want.

But why? I’m in a waiting room, waiting, and I have time to think a bit. (Should you have engaged in thought before you ate the steering [End Page 30] wheel? I can hear you asking. Of course, though my desire was so great that thought in all its thoughtiness would have been helpless against the desire.) But my hunger could have chosen something else. Medicine bottles or street lights. Tree branches or aluminum siding. I have never wanted to take a bite of the cup holder or a handful of change from between the seats or, for that matter, to devour the headrest. Why this particular desire?

For the moment that the steering wheel was inside me, of course, I had no way of controlling the car. Is that what I wanted? To lose control? Did I want to...


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