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.
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.
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.
was a thin woman.
was a happy woman.
was a married woman but not necessarily happily married.
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.
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.
the rationed air is just to enough to breathe, to breathe at rest,
to breathe at rest.
a woman her age needs to exercise. She used to exercise, aerobics
and yoga and weights.
used to feel good.
she feels like she's wrapped in chains, the chains made of her own
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.
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.
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.
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.
paycheck is waif-like after the Company charges her for rent and
air and she tries to eat healthily, healthy and light.
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.
sometimes she can't even afford that kind of food.
Company takes it out of her check.
the chains, the chains they grow heavier and heavier.
has to buy clothes, bigger clothes, clothes she can't afford.
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.
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.
who would hire her now? Who would hire a near middle-aged woman
with no training?
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 without too much exertion, she peels the pants off of her
has another hour, another hour before she goes to work at the Company
Store, her and all the other fat people.
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.
wants to be that woman again.
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.
feels goodthe sweat, the muscles movingit feels good.
wonders if anyone will notice, will notice if she isn't at work
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.
feels good, that stinging in the eyes.
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.
breathes; she breathes and breathes in thirsty and decadent gulps.
ignores the warning siren that sounds in her dome; she ignores the
flashing siren that casts amber shadows on the walls.