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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mary's New Boobs

When they announced the new policy, Mary peed in the cup without a fuss, but there wasn’t any point to coming to work after that. Cashing in all those stupid stock options to pay for her boob job was the best decision she’d ever made. They came with a lifetime guarantee—no sagging—and people finally stopped treating her like a twelve-year-old. She knew a girl whose dad owned a bunch of titty bars; with her perky new C-cups, she could always get a job waitressing.

Who needed a job, though? After she paid the plastic surgeon, she still had something left over, enough to pay the rent, anyway. It wasn’t like she’d ever pay for a drink again. Before she got a new job, maybe she’d just get a rich boyfriend.

She and Bella bought cute sundresses with spaghetti straps and went dancing every night, scorning any guy whose shoes didn’t pass Bella’s test, which was most of them. Mary picked out the perfect spangled purple halter to wear to Jen, Jenn, and Jenny’s triple birthday party. She twirled a plastic wine glass between her fingers, laughed each time someone spoke to her, and used her peripheral vision to check out her silhouette in every reflective surface. Even distorted and upside down in a stainless steel spoon, she looked spectacular.

The more wine she drank, the better Jenn’s cousin Alex looked. Bumping into him accidentally on purpose, she batted her eyes and threw back her shoulders. Oh! Alex had brought a friend who looked good too, but he kept skulking in corners, his eyes darting around like a caged animal’s.

“Who’s your friend?” she asked. “What’s his story?”

“Josh? I don’t know, really. He just moved into my building.”

“Wait, Josh?” Mary’s eyes crossed, focused, and unfocused. “Didn’t he used to live here with Jen, before Jenny moved in?”

Alex tipped his head to the side and rubbed his ear with his shoulder. “Yeah, he said something like that. Something weird. Didn’t move out on good terms, I guess. He didn’t know if it was OK for him to come to this party, but Jen’s cool. I told him to come. No big deal.”

“Right.” She caught Josh’s glance and smiled. He shook his head, but smiled back. Maybe she should just try to for Alex? She already had his attention. His shoes looked OK, and Josh wore sneakers, so Bella wouldn’t approve. She could still wink at Josh if Alex looked away.

More wine. She tugged at her halter and looked around for someplace to sit, but Jen, Jenn, and Jenny didn’t have that many chairs. The floor looked inviting. She sank down and leaned against a coffee table, her nice breasts perched just above the glass, and saw Josh and Alex in the hallway. Josh kept saying something, and Alex kept frowning, and finally Alex walked away, but not toward Mary. He went out on the fire escape and lit a cigarette.

Catching Josh staring at her, she smiled again and wiggled her wineglass in his direction. He didn’t take the hint though, just kept grabbing people as they headed to the bathroom. She couldn’t hear what he said, but everyone he touched gave him a funny look and hurried away. Maybe there was something to Bella’s shoe test, after all. But he looked fine, really.

Another guy brought her some more wine. His shoes were only medium OK: leather, but old and scuffed. It was just a party. She rolled her shoulders in time to the music and smiled when he touched her arm. He totally hung on her story about the losers who tried to pick her and Bella up at the Double Door last week, until someone started yelling on the other side of the room.

Jen, Jenn, and Jenny had made a little semi-circle around Josh, all henpecking him at the same time. His face looked dazed. “Just go!” Jen said. “Jeez. Just get out.”

Josh mumbled something, and Jenny said, “You’re ruining our party.”

“You’re drunk,” Jen yelled. “You need to leave.”

“I just want to know if Mary’s a whore!” Josh shouted. “Is Mary a whore? That’s all I’m asking. Is she a whore or not?”

Then Jenny’s boyfriend grabbed him by the arm and a second later both guys were gone, leaving a vacuum filled by the rushing sound of nervous laughter. Mary stared at the floor.

“Who’s Mary, I wonder,” said the guy who’d brought her the drink.

She shuddered, threw back her shoulders, and shuddered again. “Do you think I could borrow your jacket?” she asked him. “I’m like, really cold just now.”