Misfortune's Parade
by Oscar Deadwood
forum: Misfortune's Parade
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Misfortune's Parade


Beth sits on her couch in languid repose. She sits so very, very still and each breath is more labored than the previous breath, each breath hints at the promise of possible sweat, each breath brings the gritting of teeth.

       Breathe. She has to breathe, she has to breathe slowly, she has to breathe in shallow gulps and she does what she can to forget. She has to forget that breathing is so hard.

       To forget, to forget today and tomorrow she stares at the holoalbum of still photographs taken from her previous life, her life of just a few years ago when she was a different woman altogether.

       She was a thin woman.

       She was a happy woman.

       She was a married woman but not necessarily happily married.

       And Claude, too, wasn't happy, apparently. He had left for someone younger and thinner and probably more lusty and he left her, left her to fend for herself, leaving her to survive on a permanent part-time job at the Company Store.

       Leaving her to survive on rationed air, leaving her to survive in a one-room dome that the Company provided, taking the money for air and rent out of her paycheck.

       And the rationed air is just to enough to breathe, to breathe at rest, to breathe at rest.

       And a woman her age needs to exercise. She used to exercise, aerobics and yoga and weights.

       She used to feel good.

       Now she feels like she's wrapped in chains, the chains made of her own flesh.

       But she can't afford the extra air, she can't buy the extra air one needs to exercise, she can't afford to sweat, she can't afford to accelerate her heart rate.

       And sex? Well, that would be the gentleman's air, and gentlemen always seem to have extra air, except for the men who work at the Company Store, the men who struggle in clothes that are too tight as they stock the shelves and sweep the floors.

       And no man has shown her much interest, no man has looked at her twice the way they did before Claude flew away; living on rationed air can do that to a body. She's had to breathe measured air for five years now and each succeeding month and year cause the chains of her flesh to feel heavier and heavier.

       She thought she would save, save money out of her paycheck and get an AirCard with a lot of minutes. She fantasizes about exercise; she so badly wants to move her flaccid muscles the way she used to, the sweat like a drug, cleaning her pores, her mind.

       But no.

       Her paycheck is waif-like after the Company charges her for rent and air and she tries to eat healthily, healthy and light.

       But she can't. She can't afford good food. She can only afford the plastic food that they sell in the Company Store. She can only afford the food that has been processed and frozen and put in boxes or cans with a shelf life of a hundred years.

       And sometimes she can't even afford that kind of food.

       The Company takes it out of her check.

       And the chains, the chains they grow heavier and heavier.

       She has to buy clothes, bigger clothes, clothes she can't afford.

       The pants she's wearing now, they leave on imprint on the jiggly flesh that rings her waist, the flesh that cushions her pelvis, her intestines.

       She'd like to find another job, maybe, one that pays more. The job at the Company Store was only supposed to be temporary, just long enough to get her on her feet, to get her past the evacuation of Claude and the financial vacuum in her life his departure caused.

       But who would hire her now? Who would hire a near middle-aged woman with no training?

       Who would hire a middle-aged woman with a few too many chins and clothes that don't fit, with bras that cinch and pinch the flesh of her back, causing her to walk around all day in subtle pain like some sort of zealous flagellant.

       Slowly, slowly without too much exertion, she peels the pants off of her legs.

       She has another hour, another hour before she goes to work at the Company Store, her and all the other fat people.

       She unbuttons the oversized shirt that was designed for a man, and she still sits nearly motionless on her couch, the images of her former self flickering on the stained and dirty tile floor of her dome.

       She wants to be that woman again.

       She stands and starts to walk around the room, slowly at first, in a deliberate march. And she walks faster and faster until beads of sweat form at her temples and the small of her back.

       It feels good—the sweat, the muscles moving—it feels good.

       She wonders if anyone will notice, will notice if she isn't at work today.

       She starts to run, she runs and runs and the sparse furniture shakes as her bare feet strike the floor. She runs and runs and sweat pours out of her forehead and stings her eyes.

       It feels good, that stinging in the eyes.

       She runs and runs and she stares at the images of her former self that change in a slow parade as her holoalbum turns its pages.

       She breathes; she breathes and breathes in thirsty and decadent gulps.

       She ignores the warning siren that sounds in her dome; she ignores the flashing siren that casts amber shadows on the walls.

       She breathes.



copyright 2006 Oscar Deadwood.

Oscar Deadwood lives in Royal Oak, Michigan. His novel The Perfect Revolution will be published this spring by Silverthought Press.