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Shelly Auclair is the pseudonym of an aspiring writer who is currently working as an accountant until she can get into an MFA program and flee the corporate world.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@cyberus.ca.

All materials copyright 1996-1998 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

Via Annelise

by Shelly Auclair

     "And extra gravy on those potatoes ... and ... ooh! The Chocolate Jackpot."
     The climate in Tillie's mouth humidifies, the first expectant moments before a maelstrom. Well. She can eat all she wants now. Larry has left her. No more public salads and private pizza. What is Larry eating for dinner tonight? She sips the foa m from her beer, hearing Larry chide her about her belly. It is hard to not think about Larry. Or, more accurately, it is hard to not think about Larry and his little nose-job patient, Annelise, the new French porn sensation.

     "I'm sorry, Tillie. She's just so sophisticated, so sensual. I'm in love with her, that's all."
     "So, that's it? Five years, down the toilet? Is it because I'm pudgy?"
     "No, no! I...I don't know. She graduated from the Sorbonne. She's brilliant...she stimulates so many senses I never knew I had."
     "So it's because I didn't finish college?"
     "No! You didn't finish because you didn't want to wait to get married!"
     "Well, I think I'll go away for a little while. Stay with my brother."
     "I can understand that. We'll work out all the details, don't worry. You can have whatever you want."

     Her food arrives. She blushes. Two waiters have to carry all the plates. And, oh, dear, there is the Chocolate Jackpot: a foot-long brownie luxuriating in a bath of hot fudge, molded in the shape of a very voluptuous woman, with a chocolate mousse mane and a scanty whip cream string bikini. This isn't exactly what she pictured. But it probably tastes just fine. She spoons in some of the mousse hair and with another spoon ladles some gravy from her plate. Paradise. Satiety without surveillance .
     A couple is staring at her, their eyes bloodshot; Tillie wonders if she should offer them some hair or part of an arm when she notices that their eyes are focused on the TV screen above her head. Keno. In Las Vegas, you probably have to learn to gam ble even when you're eating. She has only been here once, when she had waited in the hotel room for Larry to return from his bachelor party. Since then, he comes back every month or so with his doctor friends, no wives invited. It seems a good way to ease her way out of Larry's life, stomping one more time on his turf. And Las Vegas is a good detour between L.A. and Tucson, where her brother Rusty teaches. She'll stay with Rusty for a few days to sort things out. He'll help her. After all, he's ne ver liked Larry. Something had happened after Larry's bachelor party, although neither of them had explained to her what.

     "Great bachelor party, Larry."
     "Thanks, Russy. Good-lookin' girls, huh."
     "It's Rus-ty, Larry."
     "Oh, right." He leaned toward Rusty and put a hand on his knee. He left it there, grinning like a satyr.
     "What in the hell are you doing?"
     "Tillie doesn't know about you, huh, Russy."
     "What do you mean?"
     "You know what I mean. That you go both ways."
     Rusty slapped Larry's hand off his knee. "How would you know?"
     "One of the surgeons I know was gay. Till he decided how gross it was. Anyway, he knows a lot of your kind, Russy."
     Rusty hauled back and punched Larry's glasses. Through the blood and pain, Larry sputtered.
     "Don't worry, I won't tell her. Just stay the hell away from us."

     Tillie butters her bread thoughtfully. Yes, Rusty will understand. She can't wait to see him; it's been a long time. He's almost like a sister to her, happy to listen to her complain about her thighs over raw chocolate chip cookie dough. She scoo ps in a mound of coleslaw, more mayonnaise than cabbage, and eyes the rest of the Chocolate Jackpot. She's going to feel ridiculous eating it. Why didn't they shape it like a man for her, at least? She doesn't know any man who likes chocolate enough to order a whole jackpot of it. She looks around. The couple is giggling and feeding each other. Oh, well. No one is going to notice her. Tillie cuts off the thigh and watches its ascent to her mouth, mesmerized. She opens and lets the moist chocolate melt all over her tongue. It's delicious. Maybe it won't be so bad, being single. This is much better than her last supper with Larry.

     "Tillie, you really shouldn't butter you bread so liberally. There's only so many liposuctions a person can have."
     "You can't say that anymore. We're breaking up."
     "It's in your best interest. You'll find someone else, soon."

     Well, so what. She's left him, and she's going to be fat, so fat that the ripples of her thighs spill over chairs, so fat the she'll need three seats whenever she flies, so fat that even Larry would prescribe some of those fancy diet drugs before he would operate. She dips her knife into the white whip cream, leaving the Jackpot nude. Fortunately the brownie is not detailed. She's glad she came here; they don't serve this much food in Los Angeles.
     The couple across from her must have won Keno. Either that or they're very passionate; they've been kissing each other ravenously throughout the Chocolate Jackpot. The man separates a strand of the girl's Nice-and-Easy blonde and runs his tongue along its length. Does Larry do that to Annelise's stringy hair too? She pictures Annelise, standing in their driveway, her blonde mass pouring over h er head like fettucine alfredo, sashaying around her heart-shaped sunglasses. She had leaned against her pink BMW, watching Tillie pack her car. Larry had rushed from the house and stared up at her, a narrow, chesty pillar supported by fuchsia stilettos, like an appreciative dog. She looked like a female version of one of those rock singers -- Bon Jovi? The guy from Metallica? One of them. The heart-shaped glasses had looked over to Tillie sympathetically.

     "Tillie, it ees so good to finally make your acquaintance. I just vish it wasn't like theese. In France, ve vould all be friends," Annelise said.
     "Well, I'm not French."

     Tillie sops the remaining leg in the last hot fudge puddle and asks for the bill. She gives them Larry's card; she supposes they'll have to settle all that. She'll worry about those money things later. The couple is done too, and follows her out the door. She already feels fatter.
     She emerges into lights so bright she imagines she's on stage, the audience snickering at her bubbly behind. The casino signs are brighter than the sun. People push by her, people so big and colorful and strange that she could imagine even Annelise fitting in here. As she waddles through the crowd, the neon sign of a convenience store obscures the clamoring beacons of the Siegfried and Roy show. She stops and picks up a frozen Sarah Lee Cheesecake and a six-pack of Lone Star Beer. She's going to need them.
     Towards the end of the strip she sees her hotel: not one of the glitziest (she figures she'll have to learn to economize), but an older one, washing up against the tide of the desert, built during the years when Las Vegas was still a disreputable des tination. As she fumbles for her key, the couple from the restaurant, flushed and giggling, passes by and unlocks the room next door. The girl cocks her head in recognition and smiles.
     "You've got some chocolate on your nose," she offers helpfully.
     Tillie cringes. "Oh, thank you."
     "Good night," nods the man cordially, and turns to the girl, lifting her up and carrying her with a flourish into the room. She giggles hysterically.
     Tillie opens her own room, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. She wonders if Larry, or any man, could pick her up like that. Probably not after this meal.
     She collapses onto the bed. Well, the room isn't that bad. The blanket is really awful, though, with orange and brown zig zags. She reaches for the phone and dials her brother's number.
     "Rusty, it's me, Tillie. I've been trying you for the last few days -- you're impossible to get hold of. I'm coming to stay with you for a few days. I think I'm going to leave Larry. I'm in Las Vegas tonight -- I'll probably get there tomorrow. C all this number if you get a chance."
     Rusty! Always running around, busy with his French classes. Well, she understands -- he's a professor. The only sibling who actually went all the way in school. She sighs. The walls are thin -- so thin she can hear the two next door, laughing and cooing. She imagines the girl, naked and smiling and skinny on the bed.

     His breathing becomes ragged, as it usually does when they reach this point.
     "You know, I've had a lot of women, but you're built differently," he pants. "Especially here."
     She supposes it's time to tell him. She's surprised her unique anatomy hasn't come up sooner.
     "Vell, before I came to ze United States, I vas a man."
     "Yeah, right," he laughs.
     "I am telling you ze trufe, cherie."
     He looks into her eyes and sees -- no, not the whimpering cornflower blue in his wife's iris, but the hard-edged steel pupils of masculinity.
     "OH MY GOD!"

     Tillie flips on the TV -- it's a Jerry Springer re-run -- something like, "The Joys of Femininity -- From Women Who Were Once Men." Tillie feels a mound of food fall with a thud into her stomach. She doesn't really feel joyous in her femininity right now. But she's never really minded being a girl. If she can just find someone who wouldn't try to operate on her every time she gains a few pounds. Someone like Rusty, who tells her she looks fine no matter what. She admits it; he had warned her about Larry from the start. She reaches for the cake box, and lifts out the partially-thawed mound, the moisture on its surface glistening like rhinestones. The last time she did this was the night she first picked up the phone and heard Larry clucking and cooing to Annelise -- he had never clucked and cooed to her, at least not for that long. She dips her finger into the slowly softening sponge, and reaches for a can of beer. As she cracks it open, the headboard next door slams against the wall. She jumps, beer spilling over her cake.

     "How dare you ... confuse me like that! You're revolting!" He jumps off the bed and recoils as if touched by something highly contagious.
     "But Larry! Vat ees this ... I zought you loved me! I never thought zat would be a problem ... it ees just a part of my past!"
     "My God. You're ... I never want to see you again! OUT!"
     The shock on her face gives way to comprehension. "So ve are fineeshed?"
     "Vell, I guess I should tell your ozer doctor friends too. I had no idea you vould take it so badly."
     "DON'T YOU DARE TELL ANYONE ELSE! I've been humiliated enough!"
     "But zey have a right to know, just as much as you do!"

     The moaning next door is lilting its way into Tillie's consciousness. She and Larry never made noise like that. Is that what he sounds like with his new Annelise? She sees him complimenting Annelise's concave stomach, her jello-molded breasts, and sees him getting lost in all that fettucine hair. No wonder he didn't moan with her -- she's just a roly-poly brunette. Someday she'll find someone to moan with -- just like the two next door. In fact, they're getting so loud now she can hardly hear herself chew. Two women -- or is it two men? or one of each? -- are pulling each others' hair on TV. One is yelling, "I came out MUCH better! " Jerry is trying to separate them. Tillie wonders how they judge whose procedure went better. Her stomach expands as the headboard taps out an accompaniment to her feast.

     "But of course I vas vith zem, cherie."
     "You little whore!"
     "Of course I am a whore. I am a porn star, Larry. You knew that."
     "God! You make me want my fat, prudey wife back!"
     "How dare you talk about Tillie like zat! She needs someone to love her. She deserves better zan you. I vill tell her how awful you are."
     "You're not going to get out of L.A. if I have anything to say about it. Who else have you done? Zuckerstein? Chang? Musharef?" He reaches for the phone.

     The phone rings, shocking Tillie out of her food-induced stupor. She licks chocolate off the roof of her mouth.
     "Ahh! C'est vous ... I mean, it ees you, dear Tillie. I got ze right hotel. Ze Love Boat, oui? Listen to me. I am in trouble. Your hoozeband and all his doctor friends are coming after me. I know you are in Las Vaygas. I am in my car on my way. Can I hide vif you?"
     "Annelise, you're the last person I want to see."
     "Oh, please, please, I'm sorry, Tillie. You won't regret seeing me. I vant to talk vif you."
     "Oh, please. How do you know where I am, anyway?"
     "Zer was a brochure on your night table."
     "Wait a minute. Why are they after you?"
     "Zey found out I used to be a man."
     "AAAAAAHAHAHAH!" Tillie reaches for the last bite of her cake, crumbs exploding triumphantly all over the ugly zigzags. She listens to the cell phone's static echoing her laugh.
     "Please, please, it ees not funny. Zey have been chasing me ... zere must be 500 Mercedes behind me down ze road. I don't know vere else I can go. I vill ditch my car and come to your hotel."
     "Why do you think I'll help YOU, Annelise? You ruined a perfectly decent ...." Tillie pauses, picturing Larry leering at her bulbous thighs and flat chest, lusting to deflate the former and inflate the latter. She sees his face across the table on their first date, remembering how his "You would be beautiful after a liposuction" seemed so fatherly. She sees him grabbing a beer can out of her hand and replacing it with seltzer, guzzling the beer down himself, patting his flat stomach.
     Tillie gulps. The girl next door lets out a joyful "WHOOO-HEE!"
     "... a decent ..." She's not sure now what exactly Annelise ruined. She looks up at the TV and sees Annelise's heart-shaped glasses staring out at her, talking to Jerry about how she prefers her new sex. She jumps.
     "Annelise! You're on my TV!"
     "Oh, merde ... oh, zat is just a little TV show I did for some extra money ... it's so silly, really, don't watch me. I'm embarrassed."
     Tillie leans to turn it up, but a commercial for chocolate diet pills flashes on.
     "Oh, Tillie! And I must help you also. Your hoozeband said somezing about you, after I told him about me. I zink I should tell you."
     "What? What did he say?"
     "I vant to tell you in person. I vant to help you, give you some money. Ve vomen must stick together."
     "But you're a man!"
     "OH ... MERDE! I see zat Dr. Zuckerstein behind me ... a red Mercedes ... be ready for me! I vill see you soon ...."
     "Wait! Annelise...?"
     What could Annelise possibly have to say to her? What could Larry have said? Annelise was a man? Now, there's a surprise. She glances at the TV, still playing commercials. Well, Larry deserves it. So do all those other doctors. Tillie hops off the bed, brushing the cake crumbs off the bed into the garbage. She glances in the mirror, peeling a cohesive lump of pound cake from her lip. The moaning next door becomes so insistent that Tillie wonders if they're dying. She's never heard sounds like that. Hopefully she'll make them someday too.
     The phone rings again. "Tillie, honey?"
     "Larry? What do you want?"
     "You. I want you back. I'm so sorry. I don't know what got into me. It won't happen again."
     "So you're saying you'd rather have me than another man?"
     "No, Tillie! I'd rather have you than any other WOMAN. I had doubts about how I felt for Annelise even before s..he told me."
     "And why should I believe you?"
     "Because it's me, your husband! I want your forgiveness!"
     "Well. Where are you now?"
     "On my way to Las Vegas."
     "How did YOU know I was here?"
     "That creep Annelise."
     "Well, she's on her way here too, and she said she has to tell me something you said about me."
     "WHAT? Why is s..he coming out there?"
     "She says all the other doctors from your center are coming after her."
     "Geez ... I didn't think they'd get that carried away. Well, it doesn't matter. Tillie, don't listen to her. She'll just make up some lie to get back at me. I love you, I love you."
     "But I'm still the same pudgy me."
     "We can get around that ... I want you, plain you." He pauses. "What is that NOISE? Tillie, are you WITH someone?"
     The grunts next door stampede through the walls like a herd of wild boars. She hadn't even noticed.
     "Is that any of your business?" Wow. She's impressed with herself.
     "Tillie ... please!"
     "Oh, Larry, you know I don't move as fast as you do." She pauses. "Annelise is on Jerry Springer. Did she tell you that?" She's beginning to enjoy this.
     "WHAT? Has she mentioned my name?"
     "Not that I know of."
     "Tillie, keep watching and don't let her in. Just wait for me. I love you." He hangs up.
     The phone rings yet again. Tillie feels more popular than she has in five years of marriage.
     "Tillie?" Through cackling static, she hears Rusty's voice.
     "Rusty? You've been hard to get a hold of! Where have you been?"
     "I'm sorry, Til. I've just got back from a trip to France. So what's wrong? You're leaving him? It sounds like it's about time. You know I could never stand that bastard. He treats you like ...." A whooshing sound drowns out his voice.
     "Rusty, are you there?"
     "Oh, sh... listen, I've got to go. When can I expect you? You said you're in Las Vegas now?"
     "I should be there sometime tomorrow, I guess, but Rusty ... I think he might be coming here for me. I think he wants me to forgive him."
     "Tillie! I expect you here tomorrow. End of story. Listen, I've got to go. I'll see you tomorrow."
     She reaches over to turn the TV up over the sounds next door, the show having temporarily disintegrated into an inter-transsexual brawl. She picks out a strand of Annelise's blonde at the edge of the tussle. The panting drowns out Jerry Springer's yells. She pictures Larry at the bottom of the pile, trying to fight his way out. She giggles. The man next door grunts like he's in the middle of slab of prime rib.
     She rolls off the bed and leans out the window. In the flat, dry distance a pink BMW careens towards the hotel. It must be Annelise. Further down, she sees an caravan of Mercedes: Annelise is right! There must be 100 ... black, red, midnight blue trophies for great doctors, all intent on destroying an errant self-prescription. And there, looming over the flat horizon, she sees a white convertible ... Larry. What could Annelise possibly tell her? Why should she trust this French ex-man who has had an affair with her husband?
     She runs into the bathroom and runs a comb through her hair. A monstrous, fragrant beer burp escapes from her mouth. She hiccups. She looks down at her paunchy little belly and cups some rolls in her hands, not with chagrin as she usually does, but with tender purpose, like she might knead dough. It may be flab, but it's female flab. Larry will just have to deal with that, if she takes him back. The moans next door build to a crescendo.
     Outside, below her window, she hears a car door slam. She runs to the window and sees Annelise duck into the bushes. "Annelise! Up here! 2Z!"
     Annelise nods and scampers into the lobby. Then, one by one, the Mercedes screech into the parking lot. Tillie ducks below the window, watching the blustering doctors leap out of their cars. Zuckerstein, Chang, Musharef. And here comes Larry! The cries next door overflow into an unseen sea of ecstasy.
     She hears a knock at the door. Staying low, she scampers over to the peephole. There is Annelise. She unbolts the chain lock.
     "What did Larry say about me, Annelise?"
     Annelise squeezes through the door, just as a hand forces it open, knocking Tillie backwards.
     "Stay away from my wife, you creep!" bellows Larry, shoving Annelise out of the way and helping Tillie up. "Don't listen to a word s..he says, Tillie."
     Tillie pulls away from Larry. "I want to know what she has to say." Not wanting to look at either of them, she glances at the TV. Jerry Springer is asking the women why they changed their genders.
     "Well, besides telling you that Larry's a creep, I do have one more thing to say to you, Tillie. And you too, Larry," says Annelise, taking off her heart-shaped sunglasses to reveal her eyes. A shiver of recognition slithers its way up Tillie's spine.
     "What happened to your accent?" asks Larry.
     Annelise glances at the TV. It's her turn to tell Jerry why. Tillie listens to the TV, astonished.
     "Why did you do it, Annelise?" asks Jerry Springer.
     "Well, mostly I did it because I always went both ways, and I think women are better in every way. But partly I did it to get back at a creep who insulted me. And to help out my sister."