Marcynia, a mixed race, twenty-year-old is struggling to gain weight in order to be accepted by the Order of Orb, a Monarchy wherein women must be fat in order to be accepted. Women are weighed in every two weeks to determine if they are making progress. Men must be buff. Marcynia’s mother (Justine) was taken away by Orb Goons, but Marcynia does not know where she is. An underground resistance is growing. Their secret passwords are the lyrics of Frank Sinatra songs.
Marcynia meets Karl at Weigh-in Day, and he whispers the bywords of the resistance. They plan a meeting and begin to fall in love. (sexual content). He has knowledge of her mother’s whereabouts.
Darlene is Marcynia’s jealous neighbor, a big woman with a prominent place In the Order. She also falls in love with Karl who works as a sex-service worker to the Order of Orb. Darlene is determined to win Karl, even if she has to destroy Marcynia.
Karl tells Marcynia that her mother (Justine) is most likely going to be used in an experiment at the Farm, the place where the hopeless thin, or members of the resistance are sent.
Darlene falls as she walks through the woods to spy on Karl and Marcynia. She hits her head and dies. Karl is arrested for the murder of Darlene. Of course, he was not there, but his true alibi would implicate Marcynia, so he must confess.
Wait... it turns out that all of this is the dreams of Marci Blackwell, a twenty-year-old in the hospital for an eating disorder. She is befriended by Dr. Kevin, a young intern in the hospital, who studies the new research on eating disorders and tries to present those finding at a hospital meeting. He is ignored and reprimanded for taking an interest in his patient.
They initiate a harmless relationship. This leads to his dismissal.
Days later Marcynia Codes. We return to reality.
We watched things change everywhere else in the world, but we never expected the whirlwind of change that showed up one day on our doorstep. (In our case, me, Mom, and Dad). The change came in the form of a little Rumpelstiltskin of a man carrying a black valise and a clipboard. (Odd, I thought, that he didn’t have a computer or smart phone.) He said he was from the Census Guard of The New Order, and that I was obliged to answer honestly. I didn’t dare ask who was doing the obliging, mostly because of the elephant-gray vehicle moving slowly down the street. I answered his questions politely, but I wanted to tell him that the information he asked for—my health history, my height and weight, my dietary habits, even the last day of menstruation—was off limits. He was Dr. Freud, Dr. Ruth, and the FBI all rolled into one strange package.
Like I said, I went along, and I was polite to the weird guy, but his arrival sent many of our neighbors packing. At least I think they left on their own accord. Many of the abandoned homes remained empty for months until government workers called the “Orb Compliant” moved in. I heard that a wall was built around the Great Lakes, walling off other states’ access to the Lakes. The excuse was that the rest of the country had little access to fresh water, that too many people were moving into the area of the Great Lakes. The Detroit-Windsor border was left wide open for commerce, I guess. But well-equipped warships sailed up and down the Detroit River. Small skirmishes were a daily occurrence at various walls. People yelling “tear down that wall” came up against an army of young and buff men in uniforms, decorated with festive colors like Sprinkles. It was easy for them to make a quick end to any rebellion on land. A battle here and there doesn’t stop a rebellion, not in hearts or minds at least. The lack of rain and climate change-related heat and subsequent fires was an argument on both sides of those walls. Many outside of Orb territory found innovative ways to access lake water, ingenious ways and reckless ways.
The newspapers (while they were allowed to continue) asked for a manifesto from Orb. The only reply she gave to the request was that it was time for fat-shaming to stop, and it was time that men were made more useful in the service of women.
The Change Came
From Marcynia’s bedroom window, the neighborhood looks as it has for the last decade, save for the camera atop the light pole on the corner closest to her house, the type of camera that is on every corner now. A large camera with a tin-man head and a cyclops eye, bigger than a bread box, she thinks, but empty, no bread. Why this hulking camera when the technology would offer something smaller? Is it all for show, a warning?
She looks into her dressing table mirror and hates what she sees, the double chin, the biscuit-top jowls. Her mocha-colored skin is a shade lighter than her mother’s; her father, so white he looks anemic, looks like unbaked bread dough. Then, oh my God, she thinks, why do even these private thoughts suggest food references, food images? Has her brain been altered? Marcynia walked along the garden path yesterday, noticed the steadfast zinnias were coming up, but she also noticed that the weeds were beginning to take over. Her mother would never allow the garden to be smothered in weeds, but her mother was gone—taken in the night.
At age twenty, Marcynia, is a mere 150 lbs. The slight bulge of fat around her midsection resembles a deflated bicycle tire, when what she needs is a sea-worthy inner tube. Despite her self-loathing, she considers the dire consequences of not gaining more weight. Beyond the kitchen window, the butter-colored forsythia buds are fading, dropping, and soon there will be deep breathing and swooning over the plentiful, odiferous lilacs. The natural world gives her comfort and what sometimes feels like subterfuge, sometimes feels like hope. She fears that eventually The Order will consider the flowers and trees as too much of a distraction—order them destroyed. But we cannot survive without trees, does The Order know that? There was talk years ago about a pandemic that would make all other worries seem unimportant, and Marcynia thinks about that warning as testament to the power of nature over even this hideous Order. The influx of people from the coasts was proof of that. They came for the Great Lakes and are now helping to pollute those lakes. She wonders if there are trees and flowers where her mother is, if her mother is still alive. Her father, Steven, sits across from her at the kitchen table, his face hidden behind the sports section of the newspaper. A fringe of sand-colored hair above the parchment-colored skin of his forehead; his callused hands holding the outstretched newspaper is all she can see of him. When she can see the rest of him, he has the slumped posture of someone walking into a hard wind. Truth be known, her father has little interest in sports, but having an interest in sports is part of being what the Orb wants men to be. Orb also wants men to be buff, and that means they are always hungry while the women around them are constantly stuffing themselves. Why her father pretends an interest in sports while at home, alone with her, is a mystery. Are they watching? Maybe he knows that they are watching by way of the camera on a streetlamp pole, or maybe there are cameras in their house? She wonders if an actual human is watching or if a video is being stored and watched later if there is a concern, if something seems off. Just video, or is there an audio component? Sometimes, when she exits the house, she looks up in the direction of that camera, waves and grins. If they were to look closely at the grin, they would see that it is more an expression of anger than cordiality. It is the grin of a caged primate, a grin that can mean reluctant solicitation or challenge. Thinking of herself as a primate is not very P.C., she thinks, but that is where her mind takes her. When she started dating, her date would invariably ask, “What are you?” Sometimes she answered with, “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” It would have been easier to say mixed-race, but then there would be more questions and that painful silence that follows. She looks like many women her age, hair pulled back into a low pony tail most of the time. She is shaped like a pear, but when she gains weight, the fat seems to settle around her middle, and way too much derrière. One of the nicknames for her, the name the taunting boys called her in middle school, was “big butt” or “Manaj” as in Nicky Manaj. What would they call her now that she has gained more than fifty pounds? Beautiful, they would call her, beautiful. Barf, barf, barf.
Her father peeks around the newspaper from time to time. The tender but curious expression on his face, his chiseled nose, his round eyes, makes her think of a Vermeer portrait, the way their eyes look sideways in that skeptical, sometimes confused way. She used to visit the Detroit Art Institute with her father. On one of those visits he told her that he always wanted to be an artist, but life got in the way. He never really elaborated about this, and she never saw him paint or draw more than the doodles on a pad on his desk while talking on the phone. Phones are gone now. No more phones unless issued by the Orb. The satellite towers destroyed. Those old walkie-talkies are back, with their crackling delays, fuzzy silences.
Her father will sit at the table with her until she eats what he has prepared for her. No matter that he either overcooks or undercooks everything; she is expected to eat whatever he sets before her. He places the food before her and says, “Eat, this is the law.” This morning he has prepared three runny fried eggs, a glob of butter melting atop each one. She has told him over and over that he doesn’t need to fuss, that a bowl of cereal would be fine. His retort was that eggs are brain food. Still, she lifts her fork and eats, even sops up the gold swirl of egg yolk with a piece of biscuit before she moves to the half rasher of bacon he has put on a second, smaller plate. Her eggs sit on a plate that once belonged to her grandmother, a cream-color plate with a cabbage rose border. Thinking of her grandmother breaks her heart. She is not sure why thinking of her grandmother stirs such feelings when her grandmother died long ago, when she was still in grade school. She remembers her grandmother’s nappy curls against her cheek when they hugged. She thinks now about the cookies her grandmother served on those very plates. Cookies that were soft, shell-shaped, vanilla that she learned to make in France before her grandmother migrated to the U.S. If only the plate held those cookies now or even the cinnamon rolls Grandma made from leftover pie dough. Marcynia hates meat most of all. Has been a vegetarian since the day her mother told her where the bacon she was eating came from. No matter how humane the slaughter, she can always smell the stink of fear in the meat, and that seems especially true of pork; it is pinker than other flesh she is forced to eat—she thinks, pink pork is puke worthy, then laughs at the surprising alliteration of the phrase. Sometimes she chews and spits into her napkin when no one is looking. Lastly, she eats the cinnamon roll that her father had eyed longingly before pushing it toward her. She needs to be free of her father’s watchful eye so that she can empty her stomach, needs her face-down time, needs to look down into the porcelain throne. Bile rises up in her throat, and she forces the bitter fissure back down. Gaining weight would make her life easier, would give her more time to herself. If she can get to Stage Three, that is, if she can get to 250 lbs or more, she will be allowed to skip Weigh-in for a while. Females aged sixteen or older who hit the first goal of 250 lbs are called “Hefts” and are excused from the weekly Weigh-in for a period of two months. Hefts are also encouraged to do very little in the way of physical activity in order to keep the weight on. She fantasizes about having hours of leisure time, of listening to the music that she has stored on the old iPod tucked deep into the batten of her mattress. But who is she kidding? She is nearly 100 lbs. short of that goal—but not for lack of eating. In the past week alone, Marcynia has eaten several large bags of potato chips, drunk a malt with lunch, even had beer with dinner (her father’s suggestion). There was a time when she and her friends rinsed their hair with beer, supposedly to give their hair body. Now she just needs more body.
If only she could keep the food down long enough to digest it, to give it time to turn into fat. But, she can’t. She must do what she does or she will burst. She wonders if anyone has ever burst from overeating. Better not ask, better not be caught using the term “overeating.” The hours after dinner are the most trying because her father is usually home for the night, and he is growing suspicious of the time she spends in the bathroom. Mostly she pretends she is taking a shower so that the sound of the water will drown out her gagging. It is a miracle that she has gained any weight at all. She attributes that miracle to her love for chocolate. She can always eat chocolate and, for the most part, it stays down. But she has her mother’s metabolism and tells anyone who will listen that her failure to gain is hereditary; but metabolic excuses are not accepted by Orb. Marcynia tells no one about the vomiting.