Emily Unwin

The Feeling of It Ending


I turned eighteen and cut up my fake ID in the bathroom of my father’s Edinburgh flat. He was out of town with his new Scottish wife. The people I wanted to see, Jamie and Cormac, only liked hanging out with me in clubs, doubly so when I could get them in behind me as guests. It was Tuesday, the night we all went out to Midnight Bass at Bongo.

I spent sundown in the bariatrician’s office. It took a bus and a tram ride to get out to the clinic. The tram provided a nice view of an empty Murrayfield stadium and blown-up faces of attractive, athletic men pasted against its outside.

After the nurse took my weight—an inexcusable but consistent number—and blood pressure, she said, “Wait here.” No mirrors in the office. I could see my body only as others saw it, imagining their perspective. Or my own gaze, down, everything backwards. But I’d come this far. So many fights with my mother, over and over, about my stubborn body. So, with her gone, why not change, be incredible? That was what Jamie had told me: “Why not?” Cormac had said, “Jesus, sounds invasive, pal.” Then a change of subject.

My mom—an American, a feminist, a “health coach”—had me meet with a dietitian once. My mother figured, correctly, that I hadn’t wanted to talk with her about my growing body and the habit I’d accrued of starving myself during school hours, so much so that teachers began to call home, asking if I was being given snacks and lunch money. The dietitian told me that weight loss happens during sleep. She asked if I slept well, which I didn’t. She asked if I hoarded food. I said no, which was true; she asked me again, saying, “You sure? Nothing stocked away in your room?” I said, “Nope, just always been big.” She said, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with that! Boys always grow out of it.”

A knock on the door, then the bariatrician, a woman who looked uncannily like my mother.

“I’m Doctor Éirrin, please, sit!”

“I’ve already got the therapist sign off,” I said, “my PCP form completed, and the appropriate BMI,” I said, scrambling for the paperwork I’d rolled up and shoved in my pocket. She gestured for me to sit, again, and I moved my wallet off the chair and onto the floor. “Sorry.”

“That’s alright. Who suggested surgery to you, Jamie? It’s quite unusual for me to receive consultations on someone so young.” Dr. Éirrin had what I guessed was an Irish accent; her words came out fast.

“My American doctor.” Which was untrue. I’d gotten a letter from my PCP saying that I was allowed to skip class for three days for mono. Bariatric Reddit helped with medical clearance form examples. I practiced my PCP’s signature over and over until it looked right. I’d be horribly caught if she decided to call the doctor, decided to look too closely at any of my records that indicated no conversation or organization around stomach stapling, but that was a later hurdle. I handed Doctor Éirrin the letter from my therapist, my PCP, and a packet I’d used to track my BMI over the course of six years.

“Goodness. You’re more prepared than most of the adults I see in here.” She flipped through the packet, not looking at anything in earnest. “Thing is, you’re not going to be able to get this surgery till you’re eighteen.”

“I’m eighteen, I just turned—”

“And your BMI is barely in the target range, so you won’t be high priority. It might be a while until the surgery—”

“I know—”

“I understand that you want a gastric sleeve?”


“But you haven’t tried—”

“I’ve tried everything.” I became aware of my baggy clothes as if they were too tight. I’d been trying to grow a mustache to no avail, and the spaces between hairs beaded with sweat. “I understand that my medical records aren’t complete since my doctors in America haven’t sent you all the paperwork yet. And being a minor—until yesterday, I mean—. Listen, I’ve tried Qsymia, Mounjaro, and Alli. I’ve tried HIIT, running, long walks, short walks, pools and fitness classes and CrossFit and every diet under the goddamn sun—.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you, Jamie. I just want to understand.”

“I know. Sorry.”

She handed me a box of tissues, and I grabbed a few, stuffing them under my eyes.

“It’s just…” Doctor Éirrin put down her clipboard and tried to look at me in the eyes, tilting her head. “You will most definitely see the results you want with your weight. But the thing is, nearly everyone complains of the restrictions this surgery puts on their life. The pain with eating, the inability to consume alcohol and sweets and fizzy drink in the same way—.” She saw my face, saw that maybe, yes, I could be convinced out of this. “I love my job, and I love that I see mostly success stories, but I can tell you, hun, a surgery isn’t going to change how you feel about yourself. Nothing will do that except a lot of hard emotional and mental work that I think you’re too young to be prepared for.”

I’d stopped crying, my trousers gripped in my hands.

I asked, “Will you do the surgery or not?”

She said, “There’s no point in saying no, is there. You’ll just go to someone else, and the only other doctor in town who does anything like this is under a malpractice suit for attaching some woman’s stomach to her anus, so yes, I’ll do the surgery. But I want you to try something else first.”

Doctor Éirrin wrote me a prescription for Ozempic.

I decided I would fill the prescription, try it for a month. I could wait, I guessed. I could wait.


Bongo was a club popular for its Tuesday nights. It was located in the center of Cowgate, a strip of clubs and bars that functioned as a semi-seedy basement holding up all of Edinburgh’s Old Town tourist traps. Bongo trafficked in indie DJs, fashionable early-twenties uni students, and Cowgate’s best smoking area. Awnings, nets, ash from upstairs neighbors smoking, gravel and cups, picnic tables filled with people dressed in what I couldn’t stop thinking of as Matrix cosplay. My American sense of style didn’t help me here. I wore too much color.

People watched as I fumbled through the crush; some guy patted me on the back, said “Great set, man,” and offered me his freshly rolled cig. Into my pocket with other handouts, tallying the offerings I’d have for Jamie and Cormac.

I found them in the back corner. Cormac was twenty-four, Scottish, well-dressed and tall, bisexual, maybe, and I’d been in love with him for three summers. We worked in the same pub, me the kitchen porter to his chef. Cormac spoke with a barely-there Scottish accent—he said his English father beat it out of him, but that sounded like a lie. Cormac and I met Jamie last weekend—she’d drank at the pub til close and then stuck around, semi-permanent, like easy stick wallpaper.

Already, we’d been given nicknames: Wee Jamie for me, American Jamie for her. Silly, noticing she was smaller than me and we both shared the same Southern mix of tone and language. I’d decided if Cormac liked her, I liked her too—better yet, I loved her by proxy, wanted her by proxy. I’d told Cormac as much the night we’d met her—God damn, I love her, please, when I turn eighteen and get my body in order, please man, let me have her. Cormac said, Chill, I have a girlfriend. And isn’t she too old for you?

They looked so out of place against the drunk people, coked out people, the ketamine-induced near coma people, strung across the street like graffiti, against walls and under awnings to avoid the steady mist. Jamie was nearing thirty and looked it, her club outfit all wrong, business casual and heels. Deep smoking wrinkles around her mouth, dark circles under her eyes. Cormac dressed fine enough, but he was so tall and high on coke that his eyes rocketed around like confused homing missiles trying to find their targets.

That was not entirely foreign, the seeking around. He’d developed a reputation at the pub—new women on the staff always fell for him, it was nearly a right of passage. I tried to understand how the charm functioned, and why I was so easily taken in by it too. When I first met Cormac, I figured it was his easy sense of humor, how he laughed at everything, was quick to a comeback. But over the years, the jokes remained the same, the stares the same, but still, my eighteenth birthday felt like the first real opening for something to happen. Not that I was organized enough in my feelings, then, to have a plan of action. Mainly passive enough and hopeful enough to think that, now adult, Cormac or Jamie or both would swoop in. It was a juvenile thought: that an arbitrary marker of adulthood, seventeen to eighteen, would make me desirable. But Cormac was the only person I’d developed desire around, a strange latch into place. Jamie by proxy, a decorative add-on.

Cormac offered Jamie white powder on a key, placing it under her nose. They hadn’t clocked my presence. He took the back of her neck and held it while Jamie sniffed, eyes wide. She licked the key and Cormac watched her mouth.

“Do you test your stuff?” Jamie asked.

“Why would I test it?” he asked.

“People overdose from fentanyl all the time in America. God that’s nice.” She sniffed again, and he offered her another bump, what was going to be his. “Had an ex who died from fent. Just like that.”

“Fucksake. We don’t have that here. Doesn’t make sense, why’d you want to kill your clients?”

“It makes it more potent,” she said, “cheaper, gets people hooked, easier to find—.” They looked at each other for too long. I thought, How can they not see me.

“I have drugs, too,” I said, too excited, my voice this foreign object that I slung around me. They looked at me, confused, then like two hawks realizing they had a little baby bird that needed attention.

“So great!” Jamie said. She hugged me too hard, too platonic for my liking. “You were so great up there! You’re actually a DJ, I didn’t believe it!”

“You didn’t fuck up!” Cormac hugged me under one arm. “You had some girls up there…” He wiggled his body around, made out with the air in front of Jamie’s face. She laughed and thumped his chest. I felt like puking, like more coke.

I said, “I wasn’t into those girls, I dunno.” I tried to look at Jamie and Cormac with some form of hint—not girls, but women, not boys, but men—but it was misconstrued.

“Oh my god,” Jamie said, “You’re gay!”

Cormac laughed in my ear.

“What, no!” I said. “I meant—. I’m not gay.”

Jamie said, “I love a bi guy.”

Cormac looked at her in a way I hated, all lust. “Noted.” He shifted around, pulling me with him, the air around my head filled with his laughter in a way I’d never hated before.

And there, I’d missed the perfect opportunity. I couldn’t come out now. Couldn’t “relate.” That would make me look like I was copying, make it obvious how badly I wanted to fit in. I started to fiddle around with the coke baggie in my pocket, only to realize I had two baggies.

“I have drugs.” I pulled out two sweaty, crumpled cigs, a bag of white, and another bag of white. “One is coke.”

Cormac said, “Jesus, rookie mistake.”

Jamie grabbed for the bags and missed, stumbling a step. Her heels stuck in the gravel. “We must sacrifice one of us. Who’s gonna try it and see.”

Cormac reached for me. “I think I should be—”

“No,” I said, hunched over my drugs. “It’s chill, it’s definitely this bag. The coke, I mean.”

I took a large bump of ket and was in a hole nearly instantly. And, unfortunately, Cormac and Jamie had done ketamine before, “loads of times!” and had various “solutions” to the problem, anything but sitting me down and letting it pass. They waffled over whether or not they should call my dad. Jamie insisted more coke would fix things. Cormac put a blunt to my lips and said, Inhale, a worried look on his face. Sentences around me. The two of them laughing, bonding over my misery. Two strange girls taking over while Jamie and Cormac traipsed off holding hands. Jamie and Cormac back, sweating profusely, battling through the crowd in the smoking area. Everyone leaving me, strangers asking me if I was okay. Me telling anyone who would listen that when I turned eighteen, I was getting invasive surgery.

And then the club closing. Bar staff shuffling people out of the smoking area, picking up cans and cups. One of the other DJs telling me to get my shit together, to stop looking so sloppy in public, that it looked bad on the promoters, I could get banned, or worse, the club would suffer, to stop telling people I was underage. I thought, fine enough, I’ll come back transformed, new, mature body, but I think I cried and did what I thought was coke, which was ket, which took away whatever good work had pulled me out of the hole, and there I was, back in on myself again. In a cab with Jamie and Cormac. Afters—Where should we go? I suggested my flat—they laughed.

I woke up wedged between two trees, like someone had tried to set me upright, at what felt like five in the morning. I registered where I was after a few fearful moments.

Blackford Hill was covered in grass, fresh, green. There’s a period of time in the late spring where Scottish grass is at its peak length, peak wetness, peak thickness, and laying on the hillside is better than most standard issue mattresses. The sky was nearing anytime blue and the clouds were the off white-pink white of a white baby’s cheeks, and my mouth tasted like sheets of old piano music and salt.

I heard laughing and wandered sideways out of the woods and into the brush.

Another laugh, away from the path, one more detour onto a deer track that walked the edge of the hill. I saw Jamie and Cormac up ahead, tripping over themselves—But how could they still be that drunk—side by side. I followed.

I realized, then, what I was about to witness. Like the future had implanted itself in my stomach and was rising, rising, about to spew. I slowed down and closed my eyes, trying to fight off nausea. I was unsuccessful, I trudged three paces into deeper brush—bushes, twigs, sharp—vomit. It was a massive rush, silent other than the splat of waste on the ground.

It must have been audible, I thought. They must know I’m behind them, no? I vomited again, less this time, more self-directed and for the pleasure of finding bottom, and then wiped my hand on a soft-looking tree trunk. I teetered back onto the deer path, disoriented.

Again, that unembarrassed laugh. I folded sideways. An outsider would’ve known that I was spying; my body reeked of it.

I got on my hands and knees and followed the sounds.

I saw them. Out in the open grassy hillside. Everything green. I imagine they thought themselves hidden. There was a taller crop of grass at their heads. Anyone below could see them. Their bodies looked over the city, the city looked up at their bodies.

How differently they touched each other. Jamie suggested love through her fingers, light and slow, moving over Cormac’s hairy stomach with precision. Cormac touched Jamie only to move her, to bring her over him, next to him, to move hair, to put his fingers inside of her, inside of her mouth.

When you watch the people you love touch anyone but you, the immediate thought is, of course, my body, my stupid body, could never be put over a new lover’s lap in an open field at an unknown time in the morning.

Cormac told Jamie, “I can’t sleep with you.” They touched and kissed and touched, more, more, and he was stiff against her, his pants buttoned, until they were unbuttoned, until she was touching him with painful patience, like she had done that so many times, she knew he would crack, and he did, partially, as he began to touch himself, faster, until his cum was on her face, in her mouth, and she was smiling, and I was gripping myself through my trousers, unsure about which of them I’d made a mess over. Who had I watched more? Which set of hands? It was both. And again, in the fevered after shame: this stupid body. Too young, too big.

They rested. Jamie seemed to lack the need to impress now that Cormac was done.

His guilt—a movement. “Jamie, please put your shoes back on.” A retraction. “Your bare feet will hurt against the ground.”

I ran back, down the hill, stumbling over my steps, until I was out in front of Blackford, looking left and right, trying to figure out if I should go home or go back up or sit and cry.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and fished out my phone and a wadded-up piece of Blue Tack gluing together my favorite black pen and a small travel floss kit. I pulled the items apart and pressed the Blue Tack into itself and squished it together and yanked it in different directions and made small shapes and thought about how they did this to me. Their fingers tugging me here, there, while I stretched and tried not to rip in half. I considered how long I could last like that. Or if I needed to change my nature.

I began the walk home and called the other bariatrician in town, Doctor Wilson. It was 6:45am; I expected an operator, a list of options, a voicemail. The call went directly to him, and he picked up with a cheerful, “It’s Wilson, howya fare?”

I said, “Oh, hey, yeah, I just had a consultation with Doctor Éirrin—” He scoffed. “—and she said it’s going to take months to get me in, but I want—”

“Ye done all the steps? Whatcha looking to get? Staple, tuck, lipo, roux-en-Y?”

“Whatever—. Honestly, whatever works the fastest.”

The sound of papers flipping.

“I can get you in on Tuesday. That work?”


Emily Unwin (she/her) is a queer writer who splits her time between the American Southeast and the United Kingdom. In 2023, Emily was endorsed by Arts Council England to live and work in the UK under the Global Talent Visa, with Exceptional Promise in Literature. She’s the co-founder of Finley Light Factory and tacky! Magazine, recipient of the AAAC grant. Emily has published or is forthcoming in Litro, Heavy Feather Review, Polyester Zine, Salty Magazine, and Gigantic Sequins, among others. She’s been a finalist for the Gigantic Sequins flash fiction prize, the Get Artistic grant, and the Perennial Press Chapbook Award. She is represented by Joanna Volpe and Jordan Hill at New Leaf Literary.

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