by EMILY WEBER
Cheetos by Mr. Brian | Flickr
Look. I know you’ve been waiting. Pretty patiently, I guess. The trendy thing to do nowadays is to be grateful instead of apologetic. Like if you’re twenty minutes late to work and your work husband Jeremy has to cover for you, again, you’re supposed to go, “Thank you for telling Melinda that I was in the locker room so I didn’t get stuck on the customer service desk again as punishment” instead of being all, “Sorry I made you lie for my tardy ass again.” Personally, I don’t say either. Jeremy doesn’t care. Melinda doesn’t care. The only people who care are just keeping score to make sure they’re still better than you. But you’re supposed to be grateful. Which I have been, of course. Gratitude is the only rational response to a 2,000 percent markup on a Cheeto. Overall, you’ve been kind about this whole thing, considering we both know the Cheetos you’ve been ordering from me are fake. Not fake…sculpted? Altered? That’s fair: let’s say they were altered.
I swear to God, the first ones were real. A few months ago, I was starving at work, shaking a little bit. Blood sugar shot to hell. I got Jeremy to cover for me and waddled back to the break room. They’re not my favorite, but Cheetos are one the cheaper things in the vending machine. And my feet were throbbing, so I actually sat down to eat rather than run back to the customer service desk. And there it was. It just appeared in my hand like a woodland creature in a fairytale: a little orange dog, or a cat or a rat or whatever. Look, it had a big head and a tail, and it stood on its own four cheesy legs. A little lopsided, like a hunter cut off its front paw. So maybe it was from a German fairytale.
So the dog-cat-rat is sitting there on the sticky break room table, and it’s watching me, this crooked little thing. And then Ravi from the tech center comes in all quiet behind me and swipes it off the table and starts galloping it through the air like a pony, and he laughs and says his kid would love it, she’s six. Could he have it? So I’m like: fifty bucks and it’s all yours.
And he did. Well, not the full fifty. He gave me a twenty, which was still pretty generous, and I got a giant slice of pizza from the Italian place next door. Extra cheese, too. The rest of Ravi’s money covered my electric bill, or one tenth of my student loan payment that month, or one of Katie’s various copays. It went to some bill, that’s all I remember. When you make eleven bucks an hour with nineteen grand in student loan debt and a little sister with somatic symptom disorder, which is I guess what we’re calling it nowadays, everything goes toward a bill.
After that? I don’t really remember. Look, I have cravings all the time, and it was fun finding the little animal thing, so I started eating Cheetos more. Not, like, to keep selling Cheetos to people. Honestly, most Cheetos look like radioactive penises. But I did find a lobster-shaped Cheeto and a tiny one that looks like the bag of money from Monopoly if you really squint. Meanwhile, Katie, who swears she’s been working on a baby shower for me, started getting what she described as “lightning hot” headaches behind her eyeballs. She was convinced it was either a brain tumor or an aneurism—the usual—and I didn’t hear from her for almost a week after that.
I start looking up funny Cheetos on the internet. To my surprise, most pictures are on eBay. There are a ton of them. There’s a Cheeto shaped like Rocky at the top of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps ($999 or best offer) and a jalapeño-flavored Cheeto shaped like Tyrian Lannister, which is fine, but why not just call it Peter Dinklage and be done with it, and a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto seahorse that has two bids because the starting price was sensibly set at fifteen dollars. Ebay Cheetos are abstract art: you sort of know what you’re looking at, but you have to peek at the title to be sure. And the best ones confirm what you’re thinking instead of changing it.
A couple of days later, Katie texted me about getting more MRIs. Which was weird. Ten times out of ten, her health issues have led to nothing but a cold sweat and a copay. This time, instead of being anxious and melodramatic, she sounded scared and kind of vindicated. Someone else agreed she was sick. When she used the word tumor, I had to put my phone down, do something with my hands. Something mindless.
So I guess we’re at the point where it gets…fraudulent? Let’s call it “dicey.” It turns out that Cheetos are easy to manipulate. That’s how they melt in your mouth. You can break off a piece, or do a little sanding with an emery board, or use a toothpick and attach two good ones together to make one shape. Like all great art forgeries, it's a delicate balance. You want it to be obvious what the thing is—a turkey or the Virgin Mary or the Liberty Bell—but not too perfect. You want suggestions, not diagrams. A sharp curve for a bird beak. A dimpled slope that becomes a woman's body. You want the imperfections that mimic the chaos that creates a Cheeto. A Frankenstein without stitches. A sculpture without fingerprints. The fakes went for twenty-five dollars here, fifty dollars there. Then the custom orders started coming. The good folks of the Internet, like yourself, started putting in orders for a Mickey Mouse or an ankh or a vagina or the Chinese character for strength. Then you, dear ChesterA69. You with the body part orders. First the breasts, of course. Then a pair of legs, and later a head. Obviously, you’re building a Cheeto woman. I’m sure you’re going to eat her. It was weird, sending her in the mail piece by piece, like a kidnapping victim.
Pretty soon it was more than I could keep up with. Most days after work I was carving so many little Cheetos that I started dusting the fakes with the orange powder that collected on my coffee table. A little gruesome, I guess, sprinkling the skin of carved-up Cheetos onto other Cheetos. But sometimes everything just gets on top of you. The orders for Cheetos, of course, and also Katie. Suddenly she had these extra appointments and second opinions and articles printed out from the Internet. I never wanted never wanted so badly for something to be all in her head.
She stopped by yesterday with a disc of her latest scans and a bottle of Chardonnay and she was all, can we talk? I can’t do this on my own, we need each other, you’re about to have a baby and I’m about to start treatment, blah blah blah. She sat there on my orange-dusted couch with her game face, conspicuously not mentioning the fifteen bags of Cheetos surrounding us and the four unfinished Cheeto sculptures on the coffee table. And I’m, like, reeling. One second I want to hug her and the next I was trying to figure out how many Cheeto sculptures of pumpkins and camels and Donald Trump I’d have to sell to help her keep up with her medical bills. A lot, probably. A lot of Donald Trumps.
I spilled the Cheetos onto the coffee table and started feeling for them with my hands outstretched, getting Cheeto dust on everything. Katie kept saying my name, asking what I was doing, telling me to stop, stop, please, just stop for a second, and I blurted out that someone—you, ChesterA69—needed me to find a Cheeto in the shape of a woman’s foot. But that was a lie, ChesterA69. Because I was looking for a Cheeto like that very first one, the horse or dog or whatever. Something that would stand up on the coffee table. I wanted Katie to see it and smile and tell me how it looked like the black lab we had growing up, Ash, and how funny that he came back as a Cheeto.
Except I couldn’t find one with four legs. And then Katie grabbed my wrist and said something about how I wasn’t being present, and why does someone even want a Cheeto from me anyway, and also what the hell was I even doing with fifteen bags of Cheetos? I told her I wanted to find her a good Cheeto shape because I couldn’t talk about anything else. I just couldn’t. And then I started crying, like for real. Gulping and sharp breaths and water works. I bet there were orange streaks running down my cheeks.
Katie sighed and I could tell she was exhausted, but she put down her wine glass and started helping me look. Every Cheeto she examined, she held it up and told me what it looked like—a baseball bat (it didn’t); a cardinal (not really); the goofy hat the Pope wears (God, she’s bad at this). And when she announced the shape of each one, she ate it, just popped the whole thing in her mouth, or gave it to me to eat. After a few minutes of naming and eating, naming and eating, there were no Cheetos left at all. Not a crumb. Not even a lump vaguely shaped like a woman’s foot, as you requested. And that’s why order #095742 will be late. Very late indeed, ChesterA69. If it ever reaches you at all.
Emily Weber’s most recent work has been published in The Cincinnati Review, Barren Magazine, Passages North, and elsewhere. She works in digital marketing and lives near Philadelphia. Find her on Twitter @emilyweberwood.