The ingredients were simple. A whole stick of butter, to be consumed as you wished.
Some women would just eat the whole thing, forcing themselves to grimace past the greasy, fatty, overpowering taste. Bite into it like it was a cake instead of just a stick of butter. Ignore the sickness that came over them almost immediately, and the thoughts of wider hips.
Some, like Macey, were more balanced. A whole stick of butter had to be eaten, but that did not mean you could not hide it in other things. Baking a cake large enough to accommodate the whole stick had turned disastrous when she had tried it as a young woman, and so she found a more tried and true method: butter on toast.
Smeared thick, so thick you could barely see the bread. A little jam, perhaps, for when you needed sweetness to see you through. The trick was to keep your tongue on the unbuttered side, chew it and swallow it quickly, so that you barely tasted it.
But, of course, if you did not feel the discomfort of the sacrifice, it was not really a sacrifice at all.
Macey had undergone the butter ritual seven times. Seven, she thought, ought to have been a lucky number of some kind. Seventh time’s the charm, or so on. But things do not always work out in the neat ways we expect of them.
The first time was Richard, Ricky, a guy in her year at school with floppy brown hair and straight white teeth. He had been on track for Oxbridge, son of a doctor and a lawyer with a dazzling future ahead of him. Ricky had been hers for a while, and then he had been racing a car on the bypass at three in the morning when it hit the central barriers and flipped.
Then there was Paul. Ricky’s best friend had been hurting, too, as she had. They had gravitated towards one another like insects over spilled sugar. He had been a shoulder to cry on, then more. But grief led him in another direction. Party drugs were not so fun when they dehydrated him so much that he passed out and never woke up.
The third stick of butter had been for Carlos. Oh, Carlos! An exotic exchange student in her first year of university, and she had never seen anyone like him. His olive skin and dark eyes, his accent both rough and smooth at the same time, like a sip of aged whiskey. Oh, Carlos. There had been some tragedy at home when he returned for the holidays. She never did find out precisely what the nature of his loss was, but he was gone, all the same.
After graduating, there was Tommy. He had been offered a junior position in the city right out of his course, and had moved to London immediately. He wore blue striped shirts, fitted suits, and colourful ties. Macey thought he was ridiculous and wonderful both at once. He took stimulants to stay awake at work, and one too many laid him out on his desk one afternoon, foam pooling at his lips.
Years passed before Ben. Ben was firm and solid and dependable. He had some kind of dull job, she could not remember exactly what: just that it paid well and made him a stable prospect. Poor Ben had been boring, but that was what she wanted. Finding him swinging from his living room light fixture was not boring at all, but perhaps not completely unexpected.
The fifth time Macey choked down bread so laden with butter it almost stuck to the roof of her mouth, it had been for Linda. A bit of an experiment, really. A try. But perhaps Linda’s change in behaviour had only been the result of the brain tumour all along, and none of what passed between them was real. It was hard to know, now, with no Linda around to ask.
Number six was Jamie. He’d lost a girlfriend once; they’d found one another at a support group. But Jamie was soaked in sadness, so saturated with it that Macey feared another Ben. In the end, it was not that at all. Just an infection, that worsened in hospital and took down a man who had no more desire to fight.
The seventh, the one Macey placed her hopes in most of all, was still too raw to think about. Oh, the way he had reached out for her! But she, despite all her powers, had never learned to swim. There was no diving in to save him. And when the tide swept him further away, they both knew it was over.
Macey sighed, and put the butter back in the fridge. Some things required a finer touch, like the hands of fate gently guiding. Some things could not be forced down, even with sweet jam and crusty bread to smooth the way.
This time, she would let things play out the way that other people did. Letting go of control was frightening, but Macey knew that normal people managed just fine. Besides, there was only so far you could go.
Seven mistakes was sloppy; eight would be suspicious.