Hot Cheetos: A Chorus

An illustration of a bag of Hot Cheetos coming at the viewer against a background of isolated Hot Cheetos

all illustrations for this series by A. Andrews

Our fingers were permanently stained, dancing in a dust so red it seemed to originate from inside our bodies, birthed from our arteries, a pigment as abundant as the moles on our faces, the ones that troubled our mothers, who sent our faces to get read by fortunetellers. Unlike moles that could be scraped off and boiled into peas, our redness couldn’t be removed by soap or water or spit, though we suckled on our stained knuckles like udders, mothered ourselves with that color. Even years after we graduated high school or left our hometown or eschewed processed snack foods, we couldn’t deny the evidence of our former appetites, each of our fingers a flapping red flag. When we showered for longer than the drought policy allowed, water filtered red through our fingers, slopping at our feet like pig’s blood, and when we scratched ourselves surreptitiously beneath faux-wood desks, our crotches burned for hours afterward. When we touched other girls on the chin or the back of the neck or beneath the right breast, we trailed red streaks like fenghuang feathers, flicked into flight by our siren-tipped tongues. We learned that some bird species grow bright feathers on the breast to attract mates and wondered what would flock to us. We scoured our hands with steel wool, cheese graters, the bark of starved birches, but beneath our skin was blood, another red, and we wondered what our mothers meant when they said it was a lucky color, that someday we would get married in it, that gods with red faces should hang in our doorways. We thought of our own ruddy faces when we ran to the 7-Eleven, the only place that served food within the radius of our school, where the woman at the counter demanded that we drop our backpacks on the blacktop before entering, and we stood outside waiting to be let in, watching our own faces in the windows while she counted us aloud, her wrists so thin we thought they would break beneath the weight of our combined coins, her silver-capped teeth when she said, You girls always eat such shit, don’t your mothers feed you better? We staked Hot Cheetos through our tongues before responding, we tracked red fingerprints into the tip dish when she wasn’t looking, we flew our fingers to the perch of our lips, ate an entire family-sized bag before PE because we loved the steam it generated in our bellies when we ran, like matchsticks striking alive inside us, we twined red tongues in bathroom stalls, we packed red dust beneath our fingernails and called it a French tip, we practiced snorting it, we ignored our daily recommended serving of sodium and our names, we deemed our dyed teeth a deity, we pet the plumage of our thumbs and dipped them into the powder at the very back of the bag, never enough, the silver lining mirroring our mouths, multiplying them infinitely, refracting all the red in us.

DINNER PARTY is a four-part weekly series of bite-sized essays edited by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya. Illustrations for the series made by A. Andrews.

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K-Ming Chang

K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of the New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice novel BESTIARY (One World/Random House, 2020), which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. In 2021, her chapbook BONE HOUSE was released by Bull City Press. Her short story collection, GODS OF WANT, is forthcoming from One World on July 10, 2022.

K-Ming has written 1 article for us.


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