Editor's Note

Fiction

Poetry

Nonfiction

DARK PLANET Staff

Submission Guidelines

Archived Issues

Marc Drummond is a writer from Hasting, MN who is currently studying in Aberdeen, Scotland. His fiction has appeared in various small press publications and in the Albion Review.


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 1996-1999 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).

Farewell, Obesity

by Marc Drummond

 

     The lout squinted at me with his beady black eyes and sneered. "Hey, Delmor Raydeen! Think you're a real item, eh?" He brushed some crumbs off his cabbage-green suit. Java Junkie. "Bah ... you know what you are?" The lout curled his lip. "You're fat."
     A few of the cardigan-sweatered patrons of the Café de Crème kept sipping their mochas, pretending not to notice. Some snickered, spilling their coffee on oak tables. Waiters with purple slacks and bow ties rushed to wipe up the mess. The tux crowd, up in the Mezzanine, sneered. At me. The world no longer stomached fat men. After tonight, obesity would be a felony.
     I throbbed. "Fat?"
     The lout cackled. The smell of his liquor-laced junk java wafted over me.
     "Fat." I slammed my cup of joe down on the table. "That's all you can come up with? Fat?"
     The lout raised his eyebrow and his eyes lit up. "At least I have the pleasure of knowing that tomorrow all the fat bums like you will be locked up where they belong."
     Rizzlyn ran her fingers along my shoulder. "Let it go, Delmor. He's not worth it." My apprentice straightened the folds of her maître d' uniform and leaned forward, twirling her silky scarf in my face. "What were we discussing... oh, did you see my latest review in the Star Tribune?" I smiled and clasped her hand, stroking the backs of her fingers....
     But the Lout stuck his head into the guillotine: "Tell me, Tubby, do you like looking at your bloated body every morning? Give me one good reason why you don't pop the Turbo NOG and watch those pounds melt away." The imbecile wouldn't stop if a red light hit him in the head. I let go of Rizzlyn's hand and closed my eyes for a moment, breathing deeply.
     "One good reason?"
     I arose and began circling him. The patrons turned their chairs so they could watch. The Lout obviously didn't know when to stop drinking junk java, and he certainly didn't know when to shut his mouth.
     "I could tell you a practical reason, like:

     If I fell out of a boat,
     I'd not drown, but float.
     Or:
     My heating bill's never inflated:
     My body's naturally insulated.
     That probably wouldn't satisfy you, though, would it?"
     The Lout rolled his eyes.
     "I could cite:
     The Fourteenth Amendment, of liberty fame,
     Says that I must be treated the same.
     Unfortunately, the Supreme Court already nixed that line of reasoning. I could say:
     After I won a Nobel Prize,
     Who cares about the size of my thighs?
     However, you probably aren't even aware of what a Nobel Prize is."
     He stuck his square jaw out at me and crossed his arms, frowning. Rizzlyn shook her head and adjusted her violet scarf, smiling. A steel-haired man at the table next to me chuckled.
     "Perhaps you could comprehend:
     Most women find fat men
     More sexy than Sean Penn."
     I stood nose to chin with the Lout. "But I think you and I both know that's false. So yes, I am fat. But you... you are just a juiced-up, drunken sot, who can think of nothing more intelligent to say than 'You're fat.' Please refrain from bothering me, O Baron of Brandy, until you have completed your prayers at the altar of His Holy Porcelainess and are able to utter complete sentences. Until then, I bid you, adieu."
     The Café resounded with laughter. Rizzlyn winked at me. "Marvellous, Delmor." I chuckled along with the crowd and then winked at her.
     The lout glared at me, flinching at the crowd's sniggers. He tromped straight towards the door, knocking over a chair. Before exiting, he spun around. "You think you've won? The rest of the country doesn't give a whit for you fat freaks! Nobel Prize? Bring it with you to your jail cell!" He slammed the door behind him.
     The Café hushed. They turned their heads away, knowing the lout was right. Rizzlyn shook her head. "Don't listen to him, Delmor." But her brow wrinkled and she ran her fingers through my curly hair. "Just sit down and enjoy your coffee." I closed my eyes, basking in her warm touch. But then her fingernail snagged a curl of my hair, and my eyes fluttered open.
     I looked past Rizzlyn, past the clientele, past the espresso bar, and into my reflection in the backbar mirror. The lout was right: I was fat. My rumpled velvet shirt and suede vest couldn't hide my obesity. My reflection stared back at me with accusing eyes. Why did you do this to yourself?
     Tired eyes, sagging jowls, scraggly hair and beard--I looked as chubby as Santa Claus. Correction, the Old Santa, before Congress had ordered Santa's image thinned, to prevent children from being enticed by a role model as unsavoury as Joe Camel. Associating fat and jolly could make children feel that obesity, that cruel disease that had cut short so many lives, was socially acceptable, and who wants their children growing up to believe that a deadly disease was merry?
     I tried to drink the coffee, but the bitter tang overpowered me. I could hear the patrons mumbling about me: the crone shrewishly scrutinising me, the smirking yuppie gabbing with his uptown friends, the ivory-smiled tuxes in the Mezzanine gawking from above. Why did you do this to yourself? As if I chose this.
     I've always had to stick out, that's my problem. I never found the time to fit in. Hollywood loved having fat sidekicks, fat slapstick artists, and fat villains... but fat heroes? Never. Yet the silver screen always needed a fat man to laugh at. So, I became America's Number One Fat Man. Yet once Turbo NOGs eliminated obesity, the humour fell flat. I was an embarrassment -- all of us fat people were. They called us a health risk and an economic burden. Now they call us criminals.
     The door swung open, and my agent, Dalric Roberts, entered the Café. He stopped at every table, shaking hands, patting backs, smiling from sea to shining sea. The women melted as he graced their hands with a kiss. The Café forgot my performance at the twinkling of Dalric's blue eyes. Once again, my agent overshadowed me.
     Eventually, he made his way over to us. He loomed over me, golden hair dazzling the room. "Raydeen, old pal. Glad to see you!"
     "I'm sure."
     Dalric smirked at Rizzlyn. "Well, well... if it isn't Raydeen's rising star, Rizzlyn Lange?" She blushed, but still smiled coyly at Dalric. "Yesterday, I heard of a role that would fit you perfectly. It's worth a lot of money: it could make your future. How would you like to hire me as your agent?"
     Rizzlyn tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "It's not that I don't want your help, Dalric... who wouldn't? But Delmor's been my mentor since I graduated, helping me find roles..."
     Dalric wheeled behind me, patting me on the back. "I'm sure he has. But he hasn't heard of this role yet. Tell you what, we'll chat, Lange."
     "All right." She crossed her legs and grinned at me. I managed to smile back.
     He glanced at his Rolex. "Raydeen old boy, not much time to talk now, but let's make an appointment for later." His bright grin widened. "Lots of opportunities ahead of you, m'boy. This window will be only open for a few more hours, so I suggest you come up to the Mezzanine later. Movies, book deals, talk show appearances... and all you have to do is one small favour for me." Dalric winked and checked his watch. "Boy, how time flies... must be off." He started towards the Mezzanine, an upper eating area reserved for the upper crust. Looking back over his shoulder, he shouted, "Don't forget to come up, Raydeen!" He winked at Rizzlyn and left.
     At the foot of the stairs, Dalric greeted an old gentleman in a dark black overcoat, clapped him on the back, and led him up into the Mezzanine. The man turned his head as he paused on a landing with Dalric. That long nose, sharp chin, and small pair of spectacles looked familiar. Ahh.... Dr. Michael Nelryn, the Health Czar. What was he doing in St. Paul?
     I dipped a chocolate biscotti in my coffee. "He probably wants me to take the Turbo NOG, just like everyone else."
     Rizzlyn clasped my hands, under the table. For a moment, a wrinkle appeared on her brow, but then a wide smile broke out on her face. "Didn't you say Dalric has connections in Hollywood? This could be my big break, Delmor!"
     She wasn't even listening. My fingers slipped out of her caress and, taking hold of my mug in both hands, I took a deep sip of my mocha, letting the steam flow over my eyelids.
     "I'm sorry, I just got so excited. What were you saying? Oh, the Turbo NOG... Just remember, 'To thine own self be true.' You're in the right here."
     "Am I?" The biscotti didn't taste right, it had a flavour of ashes in it. I shook my head. "I highly doubt anyone else in this room feels that way."
     "Delmor... you're not alone." I shifted my leg and our feet accidentally brushed against each other. Goosebumps on my arm sent a warm chill through my body.
     "Who else is there?" I waved my hand at the patrons. "Do you think they really care? Does Dalric? Sure, some of them call me their friend now, but when the cops come for me at midnight... I can't wait any longer, Rizzlyn. The clock is ticking against me and I have to decide whether to pop that pill and sell my soul, or to stand firm and make a cell my home."
     "Delmor, you don't have to take the pill if you don't want to. If you think Dalric is going to force that on you, then don't talk to him about it. If being forced to take the Turbo NOG bothers you so much, then fight it in court." Rizzlyn squeezed my hands, gazing into my eyes. "You're not going alone. You have me."
     I shook her hand off. How could she understand? Rizzlyn knew all my secrets... well, almost all... but she had no idea what it felt like to be a fat man in a country which commercially encouraged gluttony and which socially punished gluttons. "Wait a minute, is Rolly here?"
     She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips for a moment. "I think I saw him up in the Mezzanine earlier..."
     "If Rolly stuck with me... that's it! Rolly! Hey, Rolly!" I stood up and looked towards the Mezzanine. Rolly O' Reilly, a Fat Cat in the truest sense of the word, practically lived up there. "Come on down, it's Delmor!"
     Rizzlyn's time card called and she headed back to work. Dalric broke off from talking to Dr. Nelryn and caught up to her right before she entered the kitchen. He slid his arm over her shoulder and they whispered as they went through the swinging doors. Dalric was always on the lookout for new clients--even if she happened to be my apprentice. Even if I coached her, wrote with her, helped her to actually use her theatre major... well, she wouldn't be the first to use me as a stepping stone.
     Soon enough, Rolly appeared at the top of the stairs, munching on a Reuben sandwich. He had red hair, a receding hairline, puffy cheeks, and a paunch that deserved his nickname. He beckoned me with his finger to come up to the Mezzanine. The grin left my face, but he nodded towards a table near the balcony.
     I sighed, and headed towards the foot of the stairs. As I took my first step up, a shrewish woman, wearing a too tight yellow dress with a grey mink collar, bustled down towards me. Mrs. Hawthorne, wife of the CEO of the largest health insurance conglomerate in Minnesota, RiverCare.
     She stopped and raised her nose. "Where do you think you're going?"
     I looked up at Rolly. He shrugged his shoulders. I turned to her. "To speak with a friend, Mrs. Hawthorne."
     She sniffed. "Well, we don't need our evening ruined by the presence of an obese criminal. It's because of your kind that my husband nearly went broke. Your breed nearly left millions penniless because of rising premiums. Triple bypasses, quadruple bypasses, quintuple bypasses... and you expect to just waltz up these stairs? Why not just walk to your jail cell now, Mr. Raydeen." Her grey eyes were livid and her finger was inches away from poking a hole through my ribs.
     Obese Criminal? I opened my mouth, but was stopped by the thin fingers suddenly resting on my shoulder. I looked to my right, and there was the drawn, starchy face of Dr. Nelryn.
     Nelryn's lips were pressed tightly together in a thin line. He raised an eyebrow at me and then turned to the reddening face of Mrs. Hawthorne. "Criminal is not the term we prefer. While I am sure we are all well aware of the health risks of obesity, I don't think this man will harm anybody as long as he agrees not to promote his... disease." Mrs. Hawthorne's face had calmed considerably, though she glanced at me warily.
     Diseased indeed. "Yes, I'm just here to talk with a friend, not to spread a plague."
     Nelryn looked to Mrs. Hawthorne for her approval. She harumphed, spun, and headed back up the stairs.
     Dr. Nelryn took his hand off my shoulder and motioned with his head to follow him up into the Mezzanine. He offered a handshake. "Dr. Michael Nelryn." I shook his hand as step after step I came closer to the Mezzanine. "You are Delmor Raydeen, are you not?"
     I nodded.
     A hint of a smile played on his lips. "I quite enjoyed Night Snowfall. Though I disagreed with the point you made, it was one of the better literary works I've seen of late."
     "Most literature these days has become milquetoasty and pleasant. Some topics just shouldn't be broached in fiction. We wouldn't want to infect the public with images of obese decadence, would we?" We reached the top of the stairs. "Thank you for your help back there."
     He nodded and paused at the top step. "See me later." Then, he headed off towards a dark booth at the rear of the Mezzanine.
     As I stepped into the Mezzanine, I was greeted by glares and whispered mumblings. Slicked-back hair, pressed suits, fashionable ties. Once, I would have felt comfortable here. Yet as candlelight dimly lit the shadowed faces surrounding me, a queasy feeling ran through my stomach.
     The bubbly grin of Rolly saved me. "Delmor, my favourite man! What you been up to? Been a while since I've seen you on the screen." He came over and clapped me on the back.
     My lip twitched. "You know that's been outlawed. Overweight actors could corrupt young children."
     "Yeah, well..." he wiped some crumbs off his navy blue pants. "Well hey, Dalric'll get you out of this fix!"
     "Listen, Rolly, it's you I'm interested in." He munched on his Reuben. "Remember the good old days?" I slugged him on the shoulder. "Behind the scenes? You and me, straight to the top. You made your first million on a movie of mine."
     Rolly chuckled. "Yeah, the revolving restaurants, white gloves, black suits and all. Weren't those the days?"
     I grinned -- maybe he'd go for it. "So what do you say, Rolly? Stick with it, you and me?" He raised his eyebrow. I walked him over to his corner table next to the Mezzanine's balcony. "If we don't, we'll be on our way out..."
     Rolly shook his head. "You should hear some of the movies I'm producing."
     We sat down. "No, no. I mean, you and I are unique. You don't want to give that up, do you?"
     He bent his head down. "Delmor... if you mean..."
     "If he does, he'll be short one agent." Dalric shook his finger as he leaned against he balcony, flashed his ivory smile, and adjusted his khaki jacket. He placed his hand on Rolly's shoulder. On cue, Rolly stood up beside Dalric. "You've got a career to think about, O'Reilly. Don't try anything stupid." Rolly stared at his feet. Dalric patted him on the shoulder. "Your career still has a chance, too, Raydeen."
     Dalric Roberts had been my agent since the beginning. He was almost a decade younger than me, but his life had been one big shot to the top. A fast mover and a faster talker, Dalric's clientele never stopped growing. Some days, like everyone else, I loved the man. "Found your way out of your scum-infested, muck-a-muck cesspool, Dalric?" Other days, I didn't.
     He kept smiling his implacable grin. "Let's go back to your manor, Raydeen. I've got the Turbo NOG all ready."
     "I'm visiting Rolly. You know, a friend?"
     "You don't have all night, Raydeen. It's already nine."
     "Listen, Dalric, I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet..."
     "What's left to decide? So you were born before Genems and got stuck with a bum set of DNA. Big deal. The fat schtick worked for a while, but it's gotten old. You're in a slump, Raydeen. Give it up."
     "Ever heard of standing up for something you believe in?"
     "That benefits me... how? I've invested too much in you. Come on."
     Rolly was looking down onto the main floor of the café
     "Listen, Rolly, you'll stick with me, won't you? You and me. We won't let them jail us just because we're fat, right?"
     Rolly's eyes wandered over the sea of coffee drinkers.
     "With my money and your influence, we can put together the best team of lawyers since OJ. We'll take this straight to the Supreme Court!"
     Dalric glared at him. Rolly glanced up at me, but then returned to his Reuben, mumbling through a mouthful of meat and bread. "Actually, Delmor, I was just getting ready to take the Turbo NOG before you came up here."
     "Rolly! You've always been unconventional: you can't give that up!"
     "Sorry, Delmor. I love the old times... but I also love eating my Reubens, laughing in the Mezzanine, and making movies. I'll find other ways to stand out from the crowd."
     Rolly turned to leave, but Dalric caught him by the shoulder. "How about you take that Turbo NOG right now, O'Reilly. Just so Raydeen doesn't get any funny ideas about not taking the pill."
     Rolly tittered uneasily. "They say you're not supposed to take it on a full stomach."
     Dalric rolled his eyes. "Your stomach is always full, O'Reilly. Now."
     Rolly gaped at me, mouth half-open. Dalric loomed over him. In slow-motion, Rolly reached into his sweater pocket and pulled out a pillbox with the letters TN on it. He clicked open the box, pulled out the dull grey pill inside, and ever so slowly, his mouth opened wider and wider and the pill fell, dropping from his hand, until it plopped into his mouth. He squinched his eyes shut and gulped, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down.
     Turbo NOG. Turbo NanObesoGen. Millions of microscopic molecular machines metamorphisized his body, molecule by molecule, cell by cell. The little devils, more powerful than any virus, spiralled through his DNA, eliminating his susceptibility to obesity. As good as a Genem, long after Rolly had left the womb.
     Rolly blinked. For a minute, reality suspended, and dust motes floated through the air. It was like watching a bad science fiction movie. He just stood there, mouth slightly open; the Reuben dropped out of his hands and onto his shoe. The sheen of his skin slipped into a cool plastic and a slight hiss arose. Then his body bubbled ever so slightly and his face pulled taut: his jowls and puffy cheeks disappeared. His waddling thighs were no longer barrels, but barbells.
     A woman in furs at a nearby table shrieked.
     His stomach sucked in, his chest flattened, his arms unflabbified. Rolly stood there in shock, because he was no longer Rolly, but Tom O'Reilly, and he wasn't a Fat Cat, but a debonair movie mogul.
     All the tuxes in the Mezzanine had their wide eyes fixated on him... and on the floor. Before Rolly, on the ground, lay a steaming wad of flesh. The shrieker clutched a cloth napkin to her mouth and turned her head.
     The nanomachines had rushed through Rolly's body, gathering up excess fat cells, blood vessels, and skin folds, carrying them out of his pores like express couriers, heaping them in a pile on the floor. The flesh wad steamed and shrunk, as the nanos sweated the water out. The wad grew crispy, like a molted snake skin, and then crumbled into a fine layer of dust, which the nanos carted off to the nearest trash bin.
     Dalric swung his head around. "It's easy, Raydeen. See how easy it is?"
     A redhead waitress pinched Rolly's butt and winked at him as she walked by. "I like it, Not-So-Rolly." Dalric glanced down at Rolly's now firm rear and raised an eyebrow.
     Then, he turned to me and glared. "Don't you want that, Raydeen? Come on."
     "Since when has my life revolved around a pinch?"
     He tapped his foot. "We'll see."
     And I left, sliding away from the balcony, Rolly staring at me. His mouth moved like there was something he wanted to say, but I kept walking. As I looked out on the main floor of the Café, the chandeliers blinded me.
     The Mezzanine became a blur of dimming lights, a bitter hazelnut aroma, and a low din of whispers. The faces held no expressions, the voices no words, and the hearts no Delmors. Dalric's care for my career consisted of restoring a once worthwhile client to the status of cash flow. Rolly liked our laughs, but not a harsh prison cell.
     I trudged to the Mezzanine's bar, near the back, and untucked my doublet. A few eyes glanced at me and looked away. I had no time and Rolly wouldn't... couldn't... stand with me. What good could I do in jail? Could I take the pill? I'd have to force myself to. But not here.
     As I sat on a leather stool, I caught Rizzlyn gliding up the stairs, into the Mezzanine. Her curvy hips swayed back and forth as she toyed with her scarf. The warm glow of candlelight prismed off her earrings, but all I could see were those lovely, lavender eyes.
     Rizzlyn rushed over to the bar and grabbed my hands. "I got the part! It's small, but it's in a film. A big film!"
     My hands trembled. "That fast?"
     "Dalric said you put in a good word for me. He's heard all about me in your circles."
     My cheeks grew hot. "It really was nothing, Rizzlyn. Just some foolish ramblings from an old man past his prime."
     She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "You and I know that's not true." She smelled of lavender.
     "Rizzlyn, the moguls don't even listen to me anymore. I'm practically an outlaw. They must have seen your acting and..."
     Rizzlyn reached out and adjusted my collar. "Don't be silly, Delmor. I've studied with you for, what, two years now?" Her whispers sent tingles up my spine. "You landed me some spectacular roles at the Guthrie.... " She tucked my doublet into my pants. "I couldn't have done that without you."
     "Rizzlyn..."
     "Where would I have been? In some dirty apartment? You gave me a place to stay..."
     "Rizzlyn, please..."
     Her eyes sparkled as she cocked her head and grinned. "Don't worry about a thing. You'll get through this."
     "Rizzlyn, listen..."
     She straightened my hair and softly patted my cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, Delmor. My shift is done, and I need some sleep. Breakfast?"
     "Uh... Of course!"
     "Good. Well, then, have a good night!" She winked, spun around, and, with a swish and a sway, was gone.
     Rolly -- Tom -- waved his thinned hand in front of my face and led me back to his table. "Dalric had an executive meeting to attend; I found an excuse not to go with him."
     "You abandoned me, Rolly."
     Tom shrugged. "I'm here now, aren't I?
     I turned away, numb. "Yeah..."
     He saw me staring after Rizzlyn, heading out the door. "Why, you old cad, you've fallen for her, haven't you?
     I sighed. "Tom, whenever I'm having a rotten day, I only have to think of Rizzlyn and I'll be smiling till sunset." We sat down. "But she's my apprentice."
     Tom chuckled, "Apprentice affairs? Why don't you tell her how you feel?"
     I scratched the back of my ear. Her voice still echoed inside me. "Tell her how I feel? Tom, you have no idea what it's like." Her lavender perfume still clung to the air and when I closed my eyes, I could almost see her dimples and hear her giggles. "Why do I love her? She's beautiful, of course. What's more, she's practically the only person who listens to me anymore when I talk about acting. She even understands my writing." Those eyes, twinkling inside my mind. "All I know, Tom, is that when she's happy, I'm happy. Logical? No, but there it is. If that's your definition of love, then that's how I feel."
     "Maybe she feels that way, too."
     "Tom, if there's anything I've learned, it's that nobody wants to love a fat man because of who he is."
     "Hey! I had plenty of lovers before I took the TurboNOG! "
     "She's the closest friend I have. I can't risk ruining that friendship. Do you have any idea how many female friends I've lost over the years because I felt the urge to tell them how I felt? Once those feelings are in the air, everything's different. You can never go back. Imagine a nightingale, singing a moonlight hymn to the stars, and getting cut off mid-breath."
     "Did you watch how she fussed over you?"
     "Perhaps like a father figure, I'm a decade and a half older than her..."
     "Did you see how she smiled?"
     "Society is sick of my kind, I should just take the pill."
     "Delmor, if you never tell her, then your chances for love are ruined anyway."
     I blinked. "What?"
     He rubbed his now-thin freckled cheeks. "Rizzlyn Lange's middle name is not 'Society'. She's an individual. Yes, you've had defeats in the past. You've led a lonely life where you watch others hold hands as yours grow clammy. So what? You love her, I know you do. Go sing a moonlight hymn or two."
     I looked hard at the chequered tablecloth. The squares spun--shifting, moving, changing places. An acrid odour hit me -- the coffee's bitterness had bite. "All right, I'll tell her." Rolly grinned. As I left, I saw him munching on another Reuben sandwich.
     Dr. Nelryn caught me at the foot of the stairs. "Delmor, I need to speak with you at once."
     I headed to the coat rack and shrugged on my overcoat. "Sorry, but I need to get home." I looked down at my watch and shook my head. "It'll be rough catching a cab out to my manor at this time of night."
     Nelryn folded his fingers together. "May I offer you a ride?"
     Slowly, I nodded my head. "I suppose."
     We headed out the door, into the amber streetlight. With a wave of Nelryn's hand, a black limo pulled up to the curb. The chauffeur hopped out, trotted around, and opened the door for us. The inside was comfortably plush, as befitting the nation's Health Czar. The chauffeur shut the door behind us as Nelryn eased into the seat opposite me.
     As we headed out of Uptown, Nelryn gazed over the myriad buildings flitting by the darkened window. "Delmor, midnight is coming soon. The Obesity Law will then come into effect."
     I sank into the seat, examining the ceiling. "Dr. Nelryn, you seem like a reasonable man. There has to be some other solution at hand. Once, maybe, someone would have stood up for my rights."
     Nelryn's lips pursed. "The cures for cancer and AIDS left insurance companies with one main cause of death -- heart attacks. Can you say that promoting healthy bodies is wrong?" He paused. "Why should insurance companies fund people who could be perfectly healthy with a single pill? Most of all, why should the government pay for billions and billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid when many of the costs could be eliminated? Why pay for heart surgery or a thousand other costly medical procedures that could be prevented with the elimination of obesity? Why should the public subsidise those unable to control their eating and exercise habits?"
     The limo sped up as we headed onto the interstate. "It's just a political game, Dr..."
     "Please call me Michael."
     "The obese are an easy target. Last year there was, what, a million or so left?"
     He nodded. "Roughly."
     "And most of those were too poor to afford a Turbo NOG, cheap as they are. Not exactly a lot of political influence there. The insurance companies, though... they have a stranglehold on Congress." The limo shifted lanes, a sports car filled with slim party-goers passed us on the left.
     "Medicare and Medicaid have a stranglehold on the budget. How many poor go without food because of the health costs that keep spiralling upward?"
     The limo passed billboard after downtown billboard plastered with images of health and glamour, fashion and beauty. "You ignore the aesthetics issue. Pencil-thin bodies have long drawn drooling stares from pimple-faced teenagers locked to supermodels on the TV, in magazines, everywhere. But I didn't get stares of hatred till the Teens. You don't think the insurance companies' advertising blitz had anything to do with that?"
     Nelryn turned to face me. "Perhaps. What you refuse to face is that obesity is a disease. Somewhat genetic, somewhat psychological, but a disease nonetheless. I sympathise with the persecution you've faced, truly I do. Yet there's no reason why you can't live a perfectly normal healthy life, Delmor." We slowed down, pulling off the interstate and onto a county road. We passed miles and miles of moonlit fields and tree copses.
     I bit my lower lip. "When I first started out, making it big as the comic fat sidekick, I couldn't use the "fatoceuticals" to trim down. Do you know how much I wanted to, despite the myriad side effects... heart palpitations, diarrhoea, and the lot? Loneliness: I tried weight-loss programs. Yet Dalric insisted I had to keep my figure to get bigger roles, no pun intended. TurboBurn didn't have the side effects, but I had just landed my first Bond villain role then..."
     "I remember that one..."
     "Yes, well I missed out on TurboBurn, I was born to late for a Genem, and even when the first NOGs came out--could have had my DNA fixed then--Dalric was still insisting that my image kept me unique, in the public eye."
     Nelryn's mouth opened slightly and he nodded, "And by then, the market was dropping off. No new obesity-prone children being born, due to Genems, and with NOGs dropping in price, the masses thinned out, so to speak..."
     I leaned forward. "And I was left an outcast. Your comparisons of obesity to cigarettes and cancer helped that."
     His brow wrinkled. "So why haven't you taken the pill? You knew this day was coming for six months. Shape up or ship out..."
     I collapsed back into the plush cushioning as the limo slowed and turned onto the back road leading to my manor. "I'm tired of being told how to look." I closed my eyes. "Listen, Dr. Nel... Michael. There has to be another way. Locking people in prison?"
     "It's an Obesity Reduction Detention Centre. You'd get out as soon as you trimmed up."
     "I'm glad we've had this talk... why are you here, anyway?"
     He pointed at me. "If you get arrested, it will make news. You're probably the last famous obese man left. You'll be an example to all. As you go, the nation goes."
     The limo came to a halt in front of my manor. "Thanks for the ride." The limo pulled away after I slammed the door behind me.
     The Victorian steeples rose above me along with the dark bricks, iron windows, and massive oak door. Dark clouds hung low and a soft wind whistled through the Forsythe Woods to the west.
     I cut through the knee-high grass and made my way around back, to the guest cottage on the bluff. This was my chance. I knocked on the cedar door and she opened it, clad in a white night-gown. "Delmor, I was just getting ready for bed. Come in."
     We walked into her white-linened bedroom. "Rizzlyn... there's something I have to tell you." My breath caught in my throat. "Your visage is so radiant..." She turned and looked at me quizzically. I shook my head. "I'm doing this all wrong." My eyes flitted across her face. "Your visage is so radiant that it shines like the stars ... it's ... it's like ... it's like looking in the face of love."
     She cocked her head and looked at me oddly. "Are you practising for a role, Delmor?"
     "No, Rizzlyn." I sighed. "I love you."
     Her eyes widened, but she smiled. "Well, why didn't you just tell me?"
     "Because... because..." I looked at my feet. Only I couldn't see my feet, just the wrinkled velvet... just my stomach. "Because... I'm fat."
     She stroked my hair, and we sat on the window seat, under the starlight. Rizzlyn embraced me in one of her warm, friendly hugs.
     She caressed my cheek. "Do you want to hear a story, Delmor?" I nodded. "This may sound silly, but I've always dreamed of a knight in shining armour coming to save me one day. I know, it's cliché. But when you're a little girl shoved from family to family every six months, you have to hold on to something." She smiled and her eyes twinkled.
     "Lately I've been thinking that if that knight ever comes for me, Delmor, I want him to be like you. Funny, flamboyant, the sweetest guy... a fabulous actor! If he could teach me even the tenth part of what you taught me... to open up, to be myself, to risk everything I have.... to act. You're one of a... very few... you're..." Her eyes scanned my face and her lips pulled tight together. "Delmor, I care for you very much."
     A breath of air rushed out of me, and I leaned against her, holding her tight. "I was afraid you wouldn't stick with me through this persecution, this dreadful law."
     For a moment, all I could feel was the stars hanging over me and the cold night air hanging between her lips and mine. Then, she slipped out of my embrace, and looked out at the moon. "You're going to take the pill ... right?"
     My heart went still, my lungs emptied, and I stared.
     She shook her head, wringing her hands. "If I had any choice in this, Delmor ... but you can't fight this thing. Everything you've accomplished ... everything you've dreamed for ... gone. For what? A hundred extra pounds?" Her lips trembled and the corners of her eyes shook, but she couldn't bring herself to look at me.
     Staring at nothing and everything and the moon and her dark shock of hair, I stood up, ever so slowly, and without a thought, a motion, a word, I slid out of the window seat, through her room, through the door, and out of the cottage with the smell of midnight dew and the sound of the nightingale singing its moonlight hymn to the stars as I left the guest cottage and didn't even look back.
     The whips of grass thrashed my legs. Grey clouds flooded above me, drowning the last stars left in the sky. I stepped onto the icy pebble path and scuffed my way through the grimacing hedges and leering gargoyles. Then up the gravel drive and up the brick steps to the oaken gate, my doorway. I would open the door, go in the lounge, and I'd dig up the Turbo NOG. It didn't matter how I got it, I would just take it and everything would be fine. My life would return to normal and I'd be back on the road to fame and riches. Dalric would be happy with that. And Rizzlyn would love me.
     I heard a warble from the nightingale in the woods to the west and I opened the great oak doors and entered the red carpet and gold candlestick foyer. The low amber lights brightened as I hung my woollen cloak on the coat rack. The doors creaked shut behind me. I stepped through the crimson-curtained archway to the left and entered my private library. The pill awaited me..
     The ancient grandfather clock donged its heavy chime, and I glanced over at its aged face: 11:30. No time left to procrastinate.
     Ceiling-high shelves of leather-bound, dusty, puce and mauve tomes stretched on both sides of my library. My paper-enshrouded Old English desk sat in front of the bay window. My burgundy armchair faced the glowing limestone bluffs. I stepped towards my abode. It would be nice to sit, read some Thoreau, and decide once and for all. Slowly, my chair turned around. A dark form sat in it. The green hooded lamp on my desk flicked on.
     The emerald glimmer gave an eerie shroud to Dalric's hooded, hollowed eyes. He calmly folded his long fingers together, one at a time, and pursed his lips. His crowd-pleasing smile disappeared. He motioned with his hand to a glass of water and a paisley pillbox sitting on my desk. "The Turbo NOG is ready for you."
     I frowned and slunk behind him, collapsing among the rosy pillows of the window seat. A wisp of smoke rose from a plastic ashtray on my desk.
     He grimaced. "Imprisonment or the silver screen and high society? It's not much of a choice."
     "What if I said there was something more important at stake here?"
     "Don't even start in on that," he hissed. "The Right to be Fat? There's no such thing. And I'm not talking Supreme Court rulings. What sense is there in going to prison to have a pot belly and a bloated face?"
     "It's not just that." I shut my eyes and took in a deep breath. "Twenty years down the line, some kid may never see a fat man... or woman. That kid will never know that it's possible to be overweight. Eat as much as you want, lounge around, there's no consequences. Then what? People get the idea in their head that they don't like big noses, or blue eyes. Pop a pill and change them... or else."
     "Oh, the old Domino Theory. It's hardly the same thing." Dalric rolled his eyes. "Don't be ridiculous. Your sentiments are nice, but you're still wrong! We're talking about health here. Longer life, feeling better about yourself, more energy... at no cost! What do you want to do, preserve every evolutionary quirk, useful or not"
     I stared hard at him. I hadn't wanted to pull this card. "Dalric, how did you feel when you were persecuted for being bisexual? I'd think you would feel grateful for the protection the law now offers you." He crossed his arms, but said nothing. "Did you enjoy when people castized your evolutionary quirk?"
     In a quiet voice, he whispered. "No. But you have a choice in the matter. Don't try and make me feel dirty for something I am perfectly content with."
     I raised an eyebrow and nodded.
     He stood up and waved his finger in my face. "You don't mean a word you say, you're just out to ruin me! 'Dalric Roberts' biggest client's a criminal.' That's what they'll say, you know!"
     Complete silence. Dalric paced back and forth as the clock ticked and tocked. The glass of water sparkled with a lime sheen. The paisley pillbox beckoned me.
     The crimson curtains slid apart and Rizzlyn slipped through. Her hair was swept back in a gentle curve and she wore a tight pale satin dress. She glided over to me and grasped my hands. Frowning, she picked the pillbox up and opened it. A grey capsule lay nestled in lavender velvet. "Take it, Delmor. Please take it."
     She ran her fingers through my hair and breathed deeply. I caressed her marble cheeks... "Please, Delmor, take it."
     I trembled and took the paisley pillbox in my hand. The capsule was so small, it could hardly hurt me. Just a few seconds, and millions of nanogens would spread through my body, reordering my cells, altering my DNA. I would be thin and her warm caresses would never leave me. I brought the glass of water up to my lips. I closed my eyes and took the capsule in my hand. It would go down easy. I placed the pill in my mouth and prepared to swallow the solution. As soon as the pill hit my stomach acid, the nanos would be released, and the magic would begin.
     Dalric turned away, apparently satisfied that the pill was working. "Love conquers all.. How sweet." Dalric stood in front of the desk, arms crossed, smirking at Rizzlyn. "Raydeen taught you well, Lange. Marvellous role."
     I turned to her, cheeks puffed with water, about to sacrifice myself for her. Her eyes widened and she shook her head back and forth at me. "Delmor, listen... "
     Carefully, I spit the pill into the velvet folds, put down the glass and the pillbox, set the Turbo NOG back within the lavender velvet, and closed the box with a click. My voice caught in my throat. "Rizzlyn?"
     "I meant every word...." she said, but when I looked into her eyes, her mouth opened wide, her plucked eyebrows arched, and her eyes blinked rapidly. She bowed her head.
     I stood up, away from her. "I want you to leave, Rizzlyn."
     She did not move.
     I gritted my teeth. "Now."
     She straightened the lace on her dress and headed towards the door, but a tall man stopped her. Dr. Michael Nelryn The clock bonged twelve times, slower than the muddy Mississippi in the dead of winter. My time was up.
     The ashtray's smoke encircled Dalric's head. He pointed the cigarette, clasped between his fingers, at me. "Raydeen, you have a choice -- comply with the law now, or Dr. Nelryn will escort you to a ... detainment area ... where you will await your trial."
     Dr. Nelryn stood there, his long face inscrutable.
     Rizzlyn slipped back to Dalric. "Please Delmor, do what he says."
     Dalric straightened his hair and grinned. "What would you like nailed on your cross, 'Here hangs Delmor, Son of Gluttony?' Give it up, Raydeen, you haven't a prayer."
     Dr. Nelryn glanced at his watch. The clock ticked relentlessly.
     I narrowed my eyes at Dalric. He shrugged. "I have a career to think about, Delmor. You can line my pockets nicely if you choose, but I don't want to be made a fool."
     Rizzlyn turned away. My eyes bore into the back of her head. She fingered the fringes of her dress.
     I strode up to Dr. Nelryn and held out my wrists.
     Dalric shook his head. "Go ahead, throw your life away. You think anyone's going to care about a has been fat man? I'll have other clients: Lange will be a big star soon. Isn't that right, Lange?" He played his piano fingers on her shoulder, but she shoved him away and fled from the room. My throat itched and my eyes burned.
     Dalric narrowed his eyes.
     Dr. Nelryn clapped the iron manacles on my wrists. They chafed, but I could live with that. I turned towards Dalric. "I'll get my trial. Justice will be served." Dalric rolled his eyes and crossed his arms.
     Dr. Nelryn led me away, into the starry night. We paused, outside his limo. Nelryn nodded to me. "There's still time, you know."
     I shook my head. "There's a lot of reasons for me not to take the pill, most of them silly. Some seem important to me, though. Yes, society's stares pain me. Yet it's that pain that fuels my motivation for writing, for acting..."
     Nelryn's eyebrows furrowed. "Yes, but there's hundreds, maybe thousands of actors, who can write and act without being obese, diseased."
     I clenched my fists. "It's my pain, it's part of who I am.
     The moon flashed through the crowds, sparkling across Nelryn's dark eyes. "You are an individual, Delmor, but your personality and vibrancy is much more than just your body weight. That's just your outside, not your inside. That's what I want people to understand ...."
     I cut him off, by raising my hands, letting the moon glint off the handcuffs. I glanced over my shoulder. Rizzlyn and Dalric stood in the gaping doorway. Rizzlyn cringed, and Dalric pulled her close to him. She resisted only a little. "Rizzlyn just reminded me of something. There's one distinct advantage of being obese."
     Nelryn raised his shoulders. "What advantage could there possibly be?"
     "I know for a fact that if anybody does care for me, they care for me because of who I am, as a person, and not because of what I look like. It's a painful safeguard, but it works."
     Nelryn held the door to the limo open. "Even if it keeps everyone out?"
     I slid into the limo. "If everyone's kept out, then maybe they're not worth letting in."
     Nelryn closed the door behind himself as he got in. After staring at the floor a moment, he looked straight into me. "There's been talk amongst the medical community of a new generation of nanos tailored specifically towards eliminating the side-effects of obesity -- clogged arteries and the like -- without eliminating the obesity itself." He wrung his thin fingers. "Perhaps I could work on that. Your stay in the detention centre might be minimal."
     As the limo sped off, leaving Dalric and Rizzlyn behind, a twitter came through a crack in the window. "I'd like that."
     Was it a nightingale or a lark?
     "I'd like that a lot."

 

THE END