Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dream Theater 1: Gluttony

This might be part of a longer work...

Every day began with twenty minutes of Tai chi, twenty minutes of plyometrics, and twenty minutes of Pilates, followed by an hour jog and a long bath. For breakfast, she nibbled one ounce of almonds, four ounces of apple, and eight ounces of soy protein drink. While she ate, she gazed at the small, strapless, backless, slit-leg black dress hanging over the window, and planned her trip to Main Street Image Works.

Her friends went to Brainpix or Sweet Dreams, or, for special occasions, Expanded Mind, and she did too, when they asked her to dreamshare, but for her own dreams she chose Main Street. It wasn’t trendy, and she didn’t have to worry about bumping into someone she knew and being forced to make small talk about her dreams.

At the dream theater, the receptionist waved her into the third chamber. Candace could interface without help, and purchased advance minutes every month, so her visit would be automatically credited. Smoothing the electrodes over her skin, she lay back in the cradle and tapped the start button with her elbow.

A moment later, she sat at her grandmother’s dining room table, piled high with homemade doughnuts: glazed, jelly, crullers. An old plastic pitcher served as a bottomless fountain of whole milk. She ate six doughnuts without thought, then slowed down to enjoy the sensations: hot lard mingled with crisp dough, the faint crackle of glaze, the squirt of jelly. Crumbs rained from her lips, milk dribbled down her chin, and she never made a dent in the piles. She kept stuffing her mouth, occasionally swigging from the pitcher.

“Candy for my Candy?” her grandmother called from behind her.

When she turned around, the world went dark, and a voice said, “Five seconds have elapsed. Would you like to purchase five more seconds for five New Credits?”

“No, thank you.” She floated to work, the flavor of doughnuts very much in her mind, if not in her mouth. They felt so real! She might feel hunger later, but there would be another trip to Image Works. And another.

On her way out at noon, her boss stopped frowning at a nutrient replacement bar on her desk long enough to call out, “You look incredible! Seriously, what’s the secret?” The older woman pressed one hand against the perpetual inner tube around her own waist and sucked in her stomach. The secretary at her side sighed.

Candace shrugged. The secretary volunteered, “You never eat lunch, do you? You just, like exercise for an hour, right?”

Keeping her head down, but conscious of how thin she looked between these two women, she smiled. She had thought of it first, and she deserved to be the skinny one. An exclusive club. She felt bad about leaving them out, but if everyone knew, it wouldn’t be exclusive anymore.

“It’s all about resolve,” she said, at last, because they kept looking at her. “I decide in advance what I’ll eat that day, and that’s all I eat. Period. Plan it out.”

The secretary laughed, fanned her hands over various electronic interfaces. “Planning I can do.”

The boss laughed, too. “It’s sticking to the plan that’s hard.”

Alone, she crept back to Main Street, where she enjoyed the meal her family traditionally ate on Christmas day, including honey-glazed ham, a strata of cheese, eggs, bacon, and white bread, and cookies dusted with red and green sugar. She washed it down with a couple mug of eggnog, the effects of which dusted her afternoon with a tipsy halo, although a blood test would evince no alcohol in her system.

After work, she returned to the dream theater and devoured a few large sausage and pepperoni pizzas, a bottle of soda, a six-pack of beer, a birthday cake, three pints of ice cream (butterscotch, rocky road, and chocolate chocolate chip), and a mound of real whipped cream. In thrall, she opted for a second dream of eggrolls, sweet and sour chicken, shrimp fried rice, and fortune cookies, and then a third five-second hour of childhood comfort foods: macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes with cream and butter, rice pudding with brown sugar bananas, and a can of sweetened condensed milk, drunk through a twisty straw.

Then she went home, ate four ounces of canned tuna, four ounces of celery, four ounces of grapefruit, one ounce of cottage cheese smeared on a rice cake, and a breath mint. She practiced forty-five minutes of yoga and fifteen minutes of meditation, then wrote rapturous things in her diet journal, ending with, “I hope I dream about pie tonight!”

Pie filled her dreams, but rather than eating it, she splashed in it, like a child lying in a plastic pool. A peach pie, with ice cream, the perfect, spiced mixture of hot and cold, sweet and creamy running over her skin and down her throat. Nearby, her boss lolled in an apple pie with ribbons of caramel melting across the top. The secretary wore a quivering lemon meringue that fit her round shape like a party dress, and the boss also matched the curve of her container.

And so, to her horror, did Candace. While communing with heaven’s peaches and cream, she had bloated to the size of a weather balloon, the diameter of her stomach equal to her height. She was fat, fatter than ever, the fattest woman on earth.

She awoke screaming.

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