Tanja Mravak

Illustration by Emily S. Franklin

Magda had a fairly large stomach, massive tits, wide hips; her squished thighs rubbed against each other. Magda was often on a diet. She had tried the moon diet, the Dukan diet, the UN diet, the one with eggs and grapefruit, the yoghurt diet, the cabbage diet (during which she was allowed bananas once a week). She drank teas, tinctures, and infusions. These diets, however, often merely served as time off from food, the same way that smokers quit smoking for about ten days. Because she ate the way other people smoked. When she got up, with coffee, with a drink, before doing something, during a break, after work, when she got the blues, when she got annoyed, when she was waiting, when she was happy, when she was arriving somewhere, when a good song came on; she ate even after meals. Croissants, donuts, brioches, strudel, jam buns, and baklavas. She’d cook stews, Bolognese sauces, carbonaras. She’d fry potato chips, make crepes; twice a week she’d roast veal. She was beautiful, our Magda was; green eyes, olive complexion, full, brownish lips, thick hair, and button nose. Shame she’s so fat, look how pretty she is, women used to say. Her doctor kept on telling her that she needed to lose weight; she kept on telling him that she’d been trying. He told her to leave off fat and sugar, to eat three small meals a day, to eat more fruit, vegetables, and fish, to go easy on bread and pasta, to stay clear of sweets. To walk and to take the stairs, to swim and ride her bike. Not to eat after six, to drink plenty of water. To eat three meals a day, that she did not know how to and could not do. Gosh, even when she was on a diet, she’d eat at least seven times a day; even with those cabbage soups she’d polish off a whole pot come afternoon (not to mention the banana days, uh-oh!). Three meals a day, that’s just like prison. Gosh, prison’s about the only place in which she’d be able to eat in such a way; there’s no shilly-shallying in prison. You eat when you are given food and that’s that. But Magda was a good sort; she’d never be so lucky as to end up in prison. Or in a hospital, that is something she could actually do, they also give you three meals a day in a hospital, light food, boiled, unsalted, bland as anything. But what would she do in a hospital; there’s nothing to laugh about there, and Magda always laughed at everything and nothing. She laughed even when things were not funny; she was able to find a joke in everything. People loved Magda, even men liked her, you know, really liked her. They’d take a fancy to those green eyes, those juicy lips, the button nose, but most of all they liked her laughter. She’d laugh and her belly wobbled, she’d laugh even on a diet morning while squeezing a grapefruit at the crack of dawn. She’d put a single pea and half a carrot on her own plate, and crack up laughing as she heaped his with meatballs, mash, and boiled ham, and she’d keep on chewing on that pea of hers until every little bit of it disappeared somewhere inside her. They would tell her that she had beautiful eyes, some even mentioned her hair; but most often, during tender moments, they would mention her spirit, her cheerfulness, her throaty laugh, her love of life, and other such things that, when left on her own, she could not see in her mirror. She would then start thinking again where she could get only three meals a day and not a piece of toast more, and she would think of nuns and monasteries; they can’t be eating more than that in there, be moderate in food and drink, that is what they have vowed somewhere. But it was long ago that she started doubting her faith; she just could not get over that bit where Jesus fed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish, or was it the other way around, no matter. Eight years old she was when she started asking such questions, who got the head of that fish, who cut the bread. And in any case, Magda only ever had fish as a starter. She could do anything, be on a diet, not eat bread, refuse ice cream like it was a drug (as if it actually weren’t!), but she’d find it easier to not eat at all than to eat three meals a day. Just like smokers don’t know what to do with their hands and so they smoke, she just didn’t know what to do with her stomach and so she ate. Her hands were always busy. Cutting, slicing, mixing, kneading, folding, peeling, stirring. And so once again she ended up on a diet after leaving her last boyfriend because he kept on telling her she didn’t know how lucky she was to end up with him. Well, when she finished with him she knew exactly how lucky she was. She could not be on a diet when she was in a relationship; it took too much time, too much dedication, too many explanations of why she couldn’t have that bit of bread, that half biscuit, that snack or chewing gum. That is how our beautiful Magda ended up browsing through web pages, forums, and portals and started on a new, untried and untested, meat diet. She did not like to repeat a diet (even though the one with grapefruit and eggs actually worked). She was always on the lookout for something new, something revolutionary, something that would astound doctors. This meat diet allowed her to eat, or so the forum testimonials went, as much meat and vegetables as she wanted whenever she was hungry, and some of them swore that after a couple of days you no longer felt hungry. Only she was not allowed a single crumb of bread, not even a grain of rice, not a slice of potato, not even boiled. Pasta, gnocchi, dumplings: they were all on the meat diet’s blacklist. Fruit, too, was forbidden—perhaps that was Eve’s biggest mistake. She went looking for chops, steaks, joints, ribs, a bit of pork shoulder. Drumsticks, chicken wings and feet, schnitzels, tenderloin, and liver. Hamburgers, gyros, kebabs, rump steak, well-done beef steak. And this is where the story begins.


Vatroslav, the butcher’s son, was gradually taking over his father Ratko’s business. Dressed all in white, at the crack of dawn he’d step into the van, put his arms around half a skinned calf, swing it over his shoulder, and bring it into the shop. With one practised move, he’d hang it on a hook and put it on a rail behind the counter, placing the better-looking cuts of meat in the shop window. Below, little pools of blood would form, pools which his father Ratko would wipe with a magic cloth upon arriving in the shop around nine o’clock. Old Ratko arrived every morning clean-shaven, his grey hair neatly combed; he changed his white overcoat four to five times a day—it was not for nothing that he had learned his trade in Germany. It did not escape his attention, for he had the roving eye of an old rake, that Vatro’s shoulders would twitch and his spine straighten every time Magda entered the shop, and lately, she’d been coming to the shop almost every morning.

“What will it be today? We have some lovely beef tenderloin,” Vatro suggested.

“Today I’d like a nice veal shank, so soft, you know, that it melts in my mouth.”

And she started laughing, her tits wobbling, and when he turned around Vatro didn’t know what it was she had asked for, so his father had to whisper it to him.

“Only the best for you, miss. Go on, Vatro, bring her the stuff from the back.”

While Vatro was making his way through a curtain of sausages in order to bring her that special bit of locally reared veal that was kept on the off chance the food inspector turned up, Ratko would lean on the massive chopping board, which he’d cleaned of the skin and bones, and he’d hit on Magda. He did not do it for himself, this old butcher; after all, he made regular deliveries in person to some very fine city ladies around noon. No—he chatted her up so that she would take a shine to his son.

“There you go, miss, it’s as tender as your soul,” Vatro offered, growing bolder, too.

“Let me feel it,” laughed Magda. “Dear me, my mouth is watering, just from thinking about nibbling on it, imagining how much I’ll enjoy it.”

Vatro’s mouth started watering, too, and his own flesh stiffened a bit.

“You know what,” old Ratko chipped in again, “we’ll give you our number so you can call us whenever you cannot make it here in person and we’ll leave you a bit on the side.”

“Or deliver it to you in person,” Vatro chimed in, for an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

And so Ratko gave her Vatro’s number, Magda left hers, and in a couple of days, after a series of messages and photographs in which they mostly cut good figures, Vatro took Magda out to the Hunter’s Lodge to try their wild boar stew, marinated rabbit and hunter’s platter for two.

“You eat wonderfully,” said Vatro.

“Thank you, and so do you,” Magda laughed.

He put a piece of meat on a fork and brought it to Magda’s lips. She bit into it, stopped, looked at him, held his hand to steady it (it’s hard to eat if it’s shaking), and started chewing while locking his gaze.

“Oh, this is so scrumptious.”

“You are more scrumptious.”

Later that evening Vatro nibbled on her second chin, rubbed himself against her thighs, kneaded her belly, got to know the exact cut of her.

“God, you have such a beautiful body!”

“Beautiful body?!”

“Beautiful, beautiful.”

“You mean you’re not with me because of my wit and love of life, eyes, and laughter?”

“Well, yes, that too, but your body . . . ”

“So you mean to say you’re with me only because of my body?”


How Magda laughed, how she giggled, how she pulled him on top of her. Vatro asked her to put her legs together, pushing his member between her thighs. And so it went on, without ever really beginning, Magda looking at his face as it got all deformed; he looked to her like an ape, made an ape-like noise, and then went limp. He put his arms around her; OK, fine, it happens, you never know how things will turn out the first time; OK, fine, she put her arms around him, too.

Immediately he introduced her to everyone as his girlfriend, and old Ratko’s eyes twinkled. He took her to local fairs, to public celebrations, to election campaign events, wherever there were oxen and lambs being roasted on a spit. They even went to a bikers’ party, to horse races, and to the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady. On this meat diet, she lost fifteen kilograms, more or less around the waist, her arms became a little bit thinner, too, but her thighs still pressed against each other, which is exactly how Vatro preferred them. My fatty, my very own piggy, my piglet, he’d say as he rubbed himself against her thighs and never would they move further or deeper than that, he never quite cut it. But OK, fine, she liked him, he was attentive, he was happy to be with her, he even bragged about it. How many women have that, how many? thought Magda. In any case, he came quickly, and afterwards, he held her for a long, long time, calling her pet names until she fell asleep. How many women have that, how many? She’d close her eyes, she no longer wanted to look at that ape-like mug, she’d touch herself a bit, and it would all pass somehow. He’d bring her meat, beat schnitzels for her, and put aside the best bones for soup. How many?

“Bend your arm at the elbow,” he told her one night.

He must have become bored with the thighs or something. She readily obliged, but when she opened her eyes she realised that no women had this and that she wouldn’t have it either.

“I’d like to put an end to this,” she said as he scratched her back.

He sulked, shed a quiet tear.

“Could I at least stay the night? My folks will have locked me out of the house.”

“You won’t ask why?” Magda wondered.

“I bet it’s the cunt bit.”

“What’s up with that, then?”

“Nothing, I’m surprised you put up with it all as long as you did.”

“No, really, what’s with it, now that you've brought up the subject.”

“I can’t talk about it.”

“Then sleep.”


As well as with the butcher, Magda decided to break up with the meat diet, too. However, she had to lose more weight; after all, all manner of fools could be after her only for her body. And those thighs of hers, she no longer found them funny, she looked at them and saw two pork hams. Mother of God, she thought, who knows what manner of things he used to rub himself against.

That evening, before the unusual event with the elbow, they had been at some wedding party; it was hot; the prosciutto tasted a bit odd, but it was a shame to waste it. The following afternoon, while Vatro was telling his dad a few white lies, Magda doubled over with cramps; her temperature shot up and she sat on the loo until midnight; she then decided to call an ambulance because she got scared she wouldn’t last until morning. The doctor and the driver could barely carry her down the stairs, and as she lay in the van she was hoping that everything that needed to come out of her had already come out because she’d be really embarrassed if she made a mess in front of these two nice men. The more educated one explained to her just before dawn that somewhere between the prosciutto fibres a tiny bacterium had wedged itself, possibly carried from a bit of faeces by a little fly. Shigella it was called. The bacteria, not the fly. And she now had bacterial dysentery. Magda, not the fly. She got something for the pain, something for the bacteria, and a piece of paper, an umpteenth photocopy of a diet, given out at the infectious diseases ward as if it were a discount voucher. Unsweetened tea, carrot soup, boiled rice; lukewarm, fat-free broth. In a couple of days soft-boiled eggs; lean meat, finely chopped; fresh cheese, toast, stewed rice, and yoghurt. And when your poo gets a bit harder, that’s how the doctor put it, you could throw in a veal steak or two. No beans, no cabbage, no turnip, not for a while. Then she phoned her mum; she hadn’t wanted to bother her during the night.

“My sweet pea, my baby, why didn’t you call right away, Mum will cook for you, are you in pain, my little one, everything is going to be fine.”

Magda started to cry; that’s the effect mothers have on people. She cried for the guy she was supposed to feel lucky about and for the guy she wanted to be happy with; she cried for all the grapefruit, cabbage and bananas, boar stew, and hunter’s platters. Her mother visited her for a month, but barely managed to persuade her to eat anything.

“You have to eat a little, sweetheart, even if you have to force yourself to do it.”

One morning her pyjamas simply slipped off her hips.

“God, they really cannot even make elastic bands properly these days; you can’t even wear the same pyjama bottoms for more than six months.”

“Let Mum have a look.”

Her mother bent down, took the elastic band, stretched it a bit, and when she looked up she saw a gap between Magda’s thighs.

“My dear, you have truly wasted away; I’d like you to see your doctor again.”

She put on a dress; it flapped about her more than usual, her thighs touching just a little, only at the top, and below that, above her knees, where the friction used to take place, a space gaped. Thirteen kilograms in a month. Plus those fifteen, or, to put it better, minus.

“You see, it’s good to have a few kilos to spare for a rainy day. Some people save money in case of an illness, and it turns out I’d been saving kilograms.”

And so Magda started to laugh once again and she married some guy who ate small meals three times a day, just like in a prison, just like in a hospital, just like in a monastery.

translated from the Croatian by Antonija Primorac