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Suckler

Fiction, Jenna Welty


Azniv was the first to arrive at the theater. She took her seat at the top left edge of the back row amongst the swarm of red, leather seats. With popcorn and a heap of napkins in hand, her right leg bounced in anticipation of her fellow filmgoers arriving. It was the opening weekend for The Solitude, a campy horror only playing in select theaters. Azniv had been dying to see it with her non-committed girlfriend for weeks, but Jessica hated scary movies almost as much as she hated commitment. Over time, Azniv was breaking down both. They agreed to meet for the six o’clock showing in a nearby theater just outside town. 


Though she’d been nestled in the seat for several minutes, Azniv’s large popcorn remained untouched. Film and food should be enjoyed together. The ads projected on the screen were not worthy of quenching her appetite. A woman enjoyed a cocktail in one. Her delicate lips parted as her slender hand raised the glass. She was blonde and skinny, the opposite of Azniv. Their only commonality was the thin gold watches on each of their wrists. Twelve minutes until the film starts. There was still plenty of time for Jessica to arrive. 


The following advertisement was for a local petting zoo. Kids, piglets, lambs, and children scampered around on the screen while a cheery jingle played over the speakers. Azniv recalled going to a zoo with her mother ten-odd years ago. They went to the children’s area to see her mother’s favorite animal: goats. Her grip on her mother’s hand tightened when they walked closer to the pen’s entrance, where six goats were fighting to get a taste of milk from the child feeders. Their lips moved together and apart over and over and over, willing the bottle into their mouth’s grasp. Their lips smacked the air and nibbled on arms and legs. Their lips were never satiated; they just kept moving even after countless gulps of milk. The children acted as mothers, feeding them with nursing bottles. A keeper handed Azniv the next bottle. It was her turn to be assaulted by the animal’s perpetual lips and yearning gaze. Her mother urged her forward into the havoc, releasing her grip and leaving Azniv alone with the goats’ bulging black eyes. The goats in the commercial were equally ravenous. Their heads bucked around, practically popping out of the screen. 


Azniv’s popcorn remained untouched; she kept her hands fastened stiffly on the sides of the bucket. The warm lights dimmed even further, and a trailer began to play. No one had entered the theater since Azniv’s arrival. The only other company she had was the actors on the screen. It was the usual sorts of characters: a handsome lead in a war movie, a beautiful woman who’s just like one of the guys, and, oh look, the blonde from the cocktail commercial. But there was no sight of her auburn-haired, non-committed girlfriend. 


Jessica would’ve loved the cocktail actress. Her dating history was full of blondes.  Though she had dark hair in tight curls, Azniv became the object of Jessica’s craving. They met in the ladies’ restroom at a café. Jessica was touching up her makeup while Azniv had just thrown up in a stall. Azniv always liked the aftermath of giving praise, so she complimented Jessica’s eyeliner, even though she was miserably sick.  Azniv savored the “thank yous,” and Jessica relished the flattery. From then on Azniv continuously listened, gave the best advice, brushed and braided Jessica’s hair, called for their appointments, and shared her food. She seldom ate even half of the fries on the side of any meal. Her drinks always had two straws, and she never got the cherry that topped the whipped cream. Azniv was patient with Jessica’s lack of dedication and hopeful that if she gave enough, Jessica would eventually love her. Giving made Azniv valuable. Taking made her nauseous.


Azniv’s fingertips grazed over the butter-soaked popcorn. 


No, the trailers were still rolling. She moved her oiled fingers toward her tongue but stopped to wipe them on a napkin. Eyes fixed on the red, lit-up exit sign that doubled as the entrance, Azniv’s body settled in her seat while her mind settled on the fact that Jessica was not coming. 


A blank, white glow cut her from her trance; The Solitude was starting.


The empty screen was bright enough to light up the entire room. The formerly shadowed seats were now a radiant red. There was no sound, no visual, only whiteness, a fitting way to start a movie about loneliness. But the vacant picture made it hard not to focus on the vacant seat next to Azniv. Her hand plunged into the over-filled bucket, sending flying pieces and kernels across the walkway and Azniv’s denim lap. Grease stains settled on the fabric covering her thighs, the yellow butter tint illuminated by the white screen. She crushed a handful of puffy and hard bits of popcorn in her teeth, swallowing whatever would go down. Hulls and husks remained lodged in her gums, but her lips didn’t quit. 


No one could see her feast except the two black spheres staring from the screen. The eyes looked jealous, but Azniv didn’t stop chewing. The goat remained still. Its lids slid down and over its round eyes, then popped back into place. Azniv blinked back. A low-pitched “maaa” escaped the animal’s mouth. 


“Maaa,” it said. “Maa, maa, maa.”


The bleat grew louder. Soon, the whole screen was covered by mahogany fur, black eyes, and lips that wouldn’t stop. Neither did Azniv’s. Its mouth opened wider, revealing crooked teeth and soft palate. “Maaaaa,” it called out; wet, pink tongue outstretching as if through the white vinyl display. Azniv swore she could see gobs of saliva saturating entire seats. 


All she wanted was to see a movie with her girlfriend. 


Her lips closed around a handful of popcorn.


She just wanted Jessica to be there for her one time.


“Maa,” said the goat, tongue salivating closer like that night in the bathroom, Jessica’s lips closing on her own. She kissed her with longing, tongue moving in without intention. Their first kiss was sloppy; drunk slobbers in the bathroom ruining Jessica’s freshly applied lipstick. Azniv said they should stop, but Jessica didn’t care. Her appetite was never satiated. One kiss or seven, Azniv needed to give more. By their third date, she was the suckler sustaining Jessica’s well-being. Jessica arrived drunk, without any money, and counting on Azniv’s generosity. This trend continued without any consideration of weaning off.  “Maaaa,” said the goat mere inches away from the abandoned Azniv. There was no mother to protect her. The baby bottle was her only defense. Feeding was her only defense. So, she fed them: the goats, Jessica, everybody


Azniv guzzled the final bits of popcorn. “Ma,” said the goat, its entire head now sticking out of the screen. Its tongue was still sweating, and its lips were so hungry. Azniv’s jaw halted. Bile climbed the interior of her neck, but she pushed it down with a bitter swallow.


“I’m not your mother.” 


The devoured bucket fell to the crumb-covered floor with a flurry of butter-stained napkins.


 

Jenna Welty is a junior studying English, Creative Writing, and History. She runs her university's literary magazine, Paha, and is the campus editor for the newspaper. Her fiction work tends to delve into peculiar & supernatural elements. While fiction and short stories are her utmost love, Jenna also dabbles in poetry. She hopes to pursue her MFA in Creative Writing after graduating.

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