FICTION — Thinner

Image - Z Photography

Image – Z Photography

Ponderous bulk, Elizabeth thought as she looked in the mirror. The weight hung heavy on her frame, slabs of flesh dangling from her arms, thighs that swayed while she walked. Disgusting, really.

And her face, she thought as she squinted in the mirror – her face, that was the real shame. Once an attractive woman, plump and vivacious; her looks were now long gone, buried beneath the cement of solid flesh.

Eyes that sparkled at one time were now hidden in fleshy folds, blue no longer visible even with the eyeshadow she wore. Her hair was a ratty nest of failed drug store fixes, quick dye jobs over the bathroom sink while she panted with exertion and tried not to pass out from the fumes.

But, it was the best she could do. Visits to the hair salon were a thing of the past – her bulk simply would not fit into the chair. Better to stay home and fumble through Miss Clairol’s false promises rather than endure that humiliation.

Her ass was simply too big.

Sighing, Elizabeth turned away from the mirror. It was time to give it up.

Stuffing her thighs into leggings – specially ordered online in ‘Beyond Queenly’ plus sizes, she pulled a flowering blouse over top, her bosom jutting forward like a mountainous range of cheap polyester.

Great, I look like a circus tent. Just call me the big top. Or, as she glanced at her thighs dimpling through black spandex, I’m the fat lady. The Great Humongo.

And there’s nothing she could do.

Her doctor said, ‘eat healthy’ so a regime of salads was the norm, high protein, low carb was her mantra; faded greens accompanied by slabs of tofu, white congealed flesh resembling her own, or, in rarer instances, blanched chicken breast, a pallid, flavourless source of protein de-fatted and de-skinned to be devoid of taste.

Her exercise program was moderate, as she eschewed gyms and personal trainers, avoiding the stinging humiliation of appearing in public surrounded by scantily dressed bodies, all toned to tightness.

For, Elizabeth did try to walk. Her work was a just two blocks away, and truthfully, there were days when she hailed a cab for the ride home in the evenings, but most mornings would find her shuffling down the street with her sensible lunch of salad and tofu tucked under her arm.

It was her doctor who gave her the idea at her last visit, with her blood pressure reaching skyward and her weight shooting to equal heights. “There’s some medication that might help. It’s worth a try.”

*

Pulling her purse onto her shoulder, Elizabeth planned walked to the pharmacy, it was only a block away, and her Fitbit told her she needed the exercise.

She stared around her apartment; filled with knickknacks, curios from shops, a piece of jade from China, a rug from Pakistan, a silver cup from Istanbul – all trifles bought through local antique shops, and hinting at a life far more exciting than her own.

It was time to leave, and face yet another humiliation.

The elevator.

The elevator was the ultimate exercise in humiliation, however brief; because as the doors opened, and people glanced inside, then ducked out quick, muttering excuses about taking the stairs or forgetting something back at their apartment – their wide eyes told the truth.

No one wanted to be caught in a small box dangling from a steel cable with her. And, as the elevator shifted and groaned as she passed by the floors alone, she understood why. Who’d want to be stuck inside an elevator with a fat lady – why, their combined weight alone would put them well over the safety limits.

Stepping out of the elevator, it was a quick walk down the street to the drug store. Or rather, it would have been a quick walk, previously, before she became so heavy. It seemed a lifetime ago – where did the weight come from? No matter, it was here now, she thought as she leaned against a street garbage can panting, trying, just trying, for a moment to catch her breath.

Her Fitbit chirped as she reached her goal of one thousand steps.

Elizabeth frowned. One thousand steps. She may as well be one thousand pounds, there was nothing she could do to get the weight off.

Pretending an interest in the post office’s window display of bulk packages of toilet paper (how do they manage such things, she wondered), she ignored the sporting goods store across the street. Bikes were on sale – with signs proclaiming Get active! Get healthy!

A bicycle – now that would be truly ridiculous, a tiny seat wedged into her ass, both cheeks overflowing and threatening to swallow the whole thing up. But still, as she glanced across the road, what a feeling to be had gliding down smooth city streets, the wind in her hair, her muscles straining with exertion and the rush of speed filling her very being.

Now she really was being ridiculous, a slow waddle was the best she could do. Giving her head a shake, Elizabeth made her way into the pharmacy.

In the crowded shop things seemed to leap off the shelf as her hips brushed by. Standing in the family planning aisle, inconveniently located beside the vitamin supplements and suppositories, she scanned packages looking for a medicinal fix.

Lose weight fast.

Holding a bottle in hand, she squinted at the ingredients – how was ginseng supposed to work, really? Wasn’t it for memory – she startled as a sales clerk approached. A young twenty something, probably working through college. He smiled at her, “Can I help you?”

“Uh,” Elizabeth flushed. A large part of the shame of being, well, heavy, came from having to tell others that oneself was more than a tad overweight. It was truly embarrassing, and redundant, really. Couldn’t they see?

“Is there anything you’re looking for?” the clerk smiled again, a snide smile, Elizabeth thought, and she was sure she saw his eyes dart to the bottle in her hand. EZ-weight off. Hastily Elizabeth replaced the bottle back on the shelf.

“Um, I’m just here to drop off a prescription.” She fumbled for her bag, rooting around for the scrap of paper covered in the doctor’s scrawl.

“Prescription drop off’s over there,” he jerked his head at the sign above a long counter.

As Elizabeth squeezed past him in the aisle, her hips brushed a row of cardboard boxes stacked precariously on the shelf, and an avalanche of condoms in assorted shapes and sizes tumbled to the floor.

“Oh, I am so sorry about that – here, let me –” Elizabeth stammered.

Did the clerk smile at her – an oily smirk of amusement? Not friendly in the least. Of course, the fat lady takes out the contraceptive display, because she’s clearly not getting any at home.

Cheeks burning crimson, Elizabeth bent, struggling to pick up the boxes without becoming short of breath. Gasping, she backed up, and sent another cascade of family planning supplies tumbling to the floor. Who knew there were so many different kinds? Flavours? Textures? And ribbed for her pleasure – oh, my.

“Watch it, lard ass.” His voice came as a whisper – did he really say that? Out loud?

She ignored him and fled the aisle, leaving boxes of condoms and suppositories scattered across the floor, Elizabeth pressed up to the pharmacy counter, scrap of paper in her hand.

“Let me take that for you, hon,” the pharmacist smiled at her, and then glanced down at the paper. “Alrightly, dear, that’ll be about twenty minutes – will you wait?”

Elizabeth glanced back down the vitamin aisle where the clerk was still stacking boxes of condoms and lube. She flushed, “Uh, no – I have some errands to run first. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

*

Stepping out of the pharmacy, Elizabeth took a deep breath, trying to fill her lungs, as though she was suffocating. It was stifling in that shop, really.

Now where too?

She supposed she could wander the street, a fat lady meandering down the sidewalk and drawing stares and curious looks. She glanced at her Fitbit. She could walk back to the post office, and pick up some stamps, and see if the bathroom tissue was on sale for a good price.

As she walked down the street, she glanced back at the sporting goods store; laughing at herself over the bicycles. Foolish, really. And better to laugh than cry, she’s already done enough of that.

Strains of middle eastern music caught her ear, faint sitar, and instruments she couldn’t begin to name. Elizabeth looked up, where was that coming from? Perhaps there was a new restaurant around –

Suddenly the music surged, as though someone twisted the volume knob, and Elizabeth stopped on the sidewalk looking around expectantly for a sandwich board announcing daily specials. Strange.

The empty sidewalk stretched before her, and she glanced at the garbage can she had leaned on earlier. A tattered poster reading ‘Psychic – all seeing, all doing, all powerful’ hung limply. As she watched, a breeze passed by, catching the paper and pulling it to the ground, and then slowly slid the poster along the sidewalk.

Elizabeth walked over and stomped on it, pinning it beneath her foot before it could go away. The Great Ramuh – seer of the unknown.

What a load of bullocks, she thought, but yet – Elizabeth glanced at her Fitbit. She still had nearly twenty-five minutes to kill. Why not see the shop? She glanced around as curious passersby stared at the oversized woman in stretch pants straddling a poster, it’d be better than standing around here.

And, she thought, as she picked up the poster, the address was less than half a block away. There and back would be a whole extra block in her exercise program. Poster in hand, Elizabeth set off down the street.

*

Elizabeth heard the shop before she saw it, or perhaps she smelled it. Reedy sitar and otherworldly voices twisted together with the scent of patchouli, add in the doorway framed in gold paint and red velvet plush in the window display, all showcased to a riot of flickering Christmas lights, and the effect was overwhelming.

Blinking at sensory excess, Elizabeth glanced down at her poster. This was most definitely the place.

Mounting the steps with some effort, Elizabeth pushed open the door amid the jingle of bells, and stared into murky dimness. More patchouli, and dust, and the scent of things long forgotten, time, perhaps, or decay.

She sneezed.

“Bless you.”

Elizabeth startled, and peered around the shop. It looked larger than from the outside, dusty glass display cases held all manner of curios, a row of mirrors hung behind the counter, all reflecting back, what she supposed must be the shop, angles distorted and skewed into unfamiliar places. Shelves filled with trinkets circled the room, and by the front window a low table sat between two plush chairs; catching a movement out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw someone sitting in one, but –

“Ah, welcome to my humble abode,” a man rose from behind the counter, jet black hair and olive skin, and, with a magician’s practiced grace, he draped a cloth over one of the mirrors. “I am Ramuh. How may I help you?”

Suddenly feeling foolish, Elizabeth glanced down at her poster. She hadn’t wanted anything, particularly, and now she felt as an intruder. She stammered, “I’m sorry, I was just coming to have a look, I wasn’t planning on –”

“Well now,” Ramuh smiled at her, white teeth gleaming in the shadows. “You found my poster, so you are obviously in the right place. Please, take a look around, no pressure to buy here, just enjoy looking at my little treasures.”

“Uh – well thank you.”

Ramuh bent down behind the counter, unboxing something and arranging items in the glass case. A flash of light caught her eye, they appeared to be snow globes, in a multitude of colours, with stands in gold and silver, all encrusted with jewels.

Elizabeth leaned over for another look, “Those are lovely snow globes – where ever did you find them?”

“Ah, my travels go far and wide, I find them in far off places, and bring them to share with others.”

As Elizabeth stared at them, they appeared to change colour, darkening as though a shadow passed over head. She looked up at him, “They are unusual, aren’t they?”

“Each one is unique,” he smiled.

One of the globes in the lower case burst into a riot of colour, flashing yellows and reds, angry orange. Elizabeth leaned closer, “They’re not plugged in, are they? Do they run on batteries?”

Ramuh smiled broadly, “You might say they have their own special power source – they truly are one of a kind.”

She watched transfixed as the globe continued to flash, a strobe light of fiery colours, alternating sequence in patterns of three. “That one’s odd, almost like a warning light.”

“Ah, yes,” he laughed, and reaching inside the case, he tapped the globe with his fingers. It suddenly went dark. “This one seems to be a little defective.” Standing up, he smiled at her, “Please, continue to look around, I get so few visitors here.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth glanced behind her, watching for obstacles, remembering the avalanche of condoms in the pharmacy. The shop seemed to expand around her, curios in far off corners catching her attention, and as she approached them, they seemed to dissolve into an ordinary deck of cards, or a simple water glass.

Picking up a mirror, she held it up, studying the carved wooded handle. Her reflection flashed before her, and then twisted into blue sky; tilting the mirror, she stared at it, wondering how it caught the outdoor light in the dark shop.

“Madam, perhaps not that one,” Ramuh appeared beside her and lifted it from her hands. Elizabeth recoiled, startled. He had moved noiselessly, and as she shifted her weight, the floorboards creaked beneath her bulk. She wondered how he did that.

“Would you like your fortune read?” He waved his free hand at the small table set up in the front of the shop, a clear glass ball mounted in ornate silver sat perched on top of a red velvet cloth. Just like the movies, she thought.

Her Fitbit chirped, time was up, she had to go pick up her prescription and start the pills her doctor ordered, anything to help her lose weight.

He touched her elbow, and nodded at the table. “Now, please, I must insist. I get so few visitors here, I would love to read your fortune –”

Elizabeth stepped aside, “I’m sorry, I’ve taken too much of your time already, I was just looking, really.”

“It won’t be a minute – for you, madam, I will tell your fortune free of charge – on the house, you might say.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.”

“But I insist.” Teeth gleaming, his touch as soft as a kitten, Ramuh took her elbow in his hand, and guided her to a chair. She eyed it suspiciously.

“Please take a seat, madam,” he smiled as he eased himself into the plush armchair.

Elizabeth stared at the chair. What could she say now? Refuse outright, and appear rude, or – “Actually, I think I’ll stand and watch from here,” she smiled through the lie.

“You’ll be quite comfortable, I think.”

Elizabeth blinked. The chair seemed to have doubled in size, wide enough to accommodate her girth and then some, nearly the size of a loveseat, it sat where a simple armchair had sat moments before. Elizabeth shook her head. Her eyes must be playing tricks on her.

Two hands braced on the armrests in case of catastrophe, she lowered her bulk to the chair, and was pleasantly surprised to sink into soft plush.

“There now, are we comfy?”

She nodded.

“Let’s begin.” Waving his hands above the globe, Ramuh shielded it from her momentarily with his fingers, gold rings flashing in the dim light, and peered into the glass.

Elizabeth shifted in the chair, feeling faintly ridiculous, like she’d just walked onto the set of a movie she had no part in, getting her fortune told of all things. A bright flash from inside the display case caught her eye, and she turned toward it. The familiar pattern, red, yellow, orange, warning lights flickering in sets of three; how odd, she thought.

Her Fitbit chirped again; she was late for the pharmacy. No matter, they’d hold the prescription for her to pick up, and then she’d need to get groceries, and then a cab to carry them home, there was no way she could –

“Ah, now I have it.”

Elizabeth leaned forward in spite of herself.

“This is it – you wish, you wish to be thinner.”

She burst out laughing.

Ramuh looked puzzled. “I’m sorry, but that is your greatest wish, is it not?”

Still smiling, Elizabeth patted her enormous belly, “It’s hardly a secret.”

“But I can help you on your journey.”

She smiled at the rows of curios scattered around the shop. “I’ve tried the alternative remedies – ginseng, Chinese medicine; now my doctor’s given me some pills. I think have enough.”

Rising, she turned toward the door. “Anyway, thank you for your time.”

“But I can help you,” Ramuh smiled; his hand now suddenly closing on her arm, his strength was surprising.

“Really – I’m sure –”

He waved his hand at a nearby shelf, crammed with bottles, and shrivelled pieces of what looked like bark or a tree branch. She startled when she saw five tiny fingernails embedded in the end of it. Her stomach rolled. “I’m fine, really – and I must be going – I have an appointment.”

She tried to twist her arm from his grasp, he held her tight and smiled. “Don’t worry madam, we won’t be a moment.”

Elizabeth stared at the shelf, she thought she saw the fingernails move, as though a tiny hand was waving, and then nothing. Impossible, she told herself, she’s just freaking herself out, this guy’s an odd duck, that’s all –

“Let me give you something –”

“No – thank you. And I must be going. Now.” Elizabeth pulled her arm back, and his grip loosened, his hand falling to his side. She rubbed her elbow. “Anyway, I’ll be going now –”

He smiled. “No, really, I insist – consider it a loan. No payment required. Think of it as a personal favour.”

Elizabeth tried to edge away from the shelf, maybe she could just take whatever he’s giving her, and get out of here, and dump in in the trash later. She pretended to take an interest in the shelf, “What are those?”

“Ah, my remedies – cure alls. Some call them – how do you say it – placebos. Others claim they work.” He smiled at her, his teeth gleaming. “I have yet to discern the truth.”

“So that’s what your going to give me?” Elizabeth blinked. She was positive the hand-thing just moved. And then nothing.

“No, I think not for you, madam.”

“Well, then what are you trying to sell me?”

He smiled, “As I said, not sell you, madam, give you. Perhaps on loan for some time.”

“What?”

With a flourish, he whipped the curtain off of the mirror. The glass shone darkly, and then slowly, as though a television image coming into focus, the shop came into view. Elizabeth sighed at the sight of herself, her bosom rising beneath the floral blouse, her belly hanging beneath; her thighs thankfully cut off by the counter. It was good to see a familiar face, even if it was only her own.

From inside the glass case, the snow globes lit up like a fireworks display, all blinking frantically. Elizabeth glanced down at them. “Isn’t that strange?” she bent down, staring. The red and orange one flashed brilliantly, yellow light sweeping around the case.

In a smooth motion, Ramuh swept the cloth over the glass case, draping it neatly and hiding the globes beneath it. “There now,” he stood beside the mirror, “This is something I believe you’re interested in.”

Elizabeth turned toward the mirror, the carved wood frame looked old, with unknown creatures wrapped around the glass. “What – is this an antique?”

He laughed, his voice rising with fluid notes. “No, madam, I would say even older than that. Some might call this an ancient artifact.”

“But what –”

“It is truly priceless,” he smiled. “But I’m more than happy to lend it to you, I think it will help you on your journey.”

“A mirror?”

Ramuh nodded. “Just look into it.”

Elizabeth glanced at the mirror, and then paused. Staring. There she was, in the same floral blouse and leggings, the blouse now hanging loose on her frame, draping seductively over her cleavage. “No way –”

“This mirror shows you what becomes, the truth of a situation, if you will.”

“But how does it work?”

He shrugged. “Like most things do – if you see what can happen, you make it so.”

Elizabeth looked down at her body, the blouse now strained over her bosom. If it was simply a matter of suggestion, something to get her to be more active, maybe she could finally lose some weight. It wouldn’t hurt, and who knows, it might help.

“So you’ll take it then?” Ramuh leaned on the counter.

“Sure, I may as well. On loan, right?”

Ramuh nodded, and removed a label from beneath the glass case, as he bent down, the curtain shifted, and flashing lights broke through, then, as he smoothed his hands over the curtain, nothing.

Elizabeth stared down at his fingers, she hadn’t noticed how long his nails were; like claws, almost, she thought.

Picking up the mirror, he placed it facedown on the counter, and stuck the label on the back. He smiled at her, “Just in case something happens, and people need to know where to return it.”

Elizabeth nodded as he wrapped the mirror in the cloth; as the curtain was lifted all the snow globes lit up, flashing in a brilliant display. She bent down, tipping her head to the case, “Isn’t that odd, it’s almost like they’re humming.”

“What a strange fancy,” Ramuh smiled, placing the bundle in her arms. The snow globes continued to flash, and then he rapped his knuckles on the case, suddenly silencing them.

But that’s ridiculous, she thought.

“Anyway, enjoy the mirror, and good luck.”

“Thank you, I’ll let you know how things turn out,” she nodded at him as he held the door.

“I’m sure I’ll see you very soon,” he smiled.

*

Alone in her apartment, Elizabeth unwrapped the mirror, and set it on the floor, propping it upright against the sofa. She shook her head, what a strange man; but, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she did look better. Fresher, her clothes were less strained.

Smiling at herself, Elizabeth sat down on the floor in front of the mirror, studying her reflection. Her eyes seemed brighter, their sparkle came back, no longer hidden beneath rolls of flesh. Twisting her head from side to side, she raised her hand to her neck, studying her jowls. They seemed smoother, less heavy.

She sat up, feeling muscles tighten, and smiled at her reflection. It must be some kind of trick mirror, like inside the fun house. Running her hand over her neck again, still, she seemed to feel smoother, her flesh tighter.

She inhaled deeply, why, she felt energized already. Her mind drifted to the bicycles for sale, and pictured herself riding one down the street, her newly developed muscles straining against the wind, racing down hills in a burst of speed, and then –

Leaning forward, she pressed her hand to the mirror, feeling the cool glass beneath her palm; and then a sudden lurching sensation, like a misstep. The sound of gears clicking, and spinning wheels.

And then nothing.

*

Midmorning light crept through the apartment. Elizabeth peered out of the mirror as her telephone began to ring, it was work phoning, to see why she wasn’t there.

But, as the ringtone cut off when voicemail took the call, she smiled, she was busy, flying through narrow streets on a bicycle, the wind blowing in her hair.

*

The bell above the shop door rang, and the blonde woman leaned inside. “Excuse me, is this the psychic?”

Moving with cat-like grace, a man stood up from behind the counter, sweeping his palms over the dusty surface. “How may I help you?”

“Oh,” she flushed, suddenly self-conscious. “I’m just looking.” A flash from inside the glass case caught her eye, red, orange and yellow blinked in warning.

“Ooh, snow globes, aren’t they lovely?”

The man smiled.

“That one is precious – such a lovely floral pattern,” she bent down staring at it spinning within the glass globe. “It keeps going around, doesn’t it?”

He nodded. “We just got that one in.”

“And what about this red flashing one?”

He smiled, revealing even teeth, “Don’t pay any attention, it’s defective. Keeps giving off false warnings.”

*

 

Liz McAdams is a fan of all things dark and twisted, and as a long-time fan of Stephen King, she didn’t think he’d mind her use of the title ‘Thinner.’

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