On the day that Tilda almost lost her job, her mother came in for her eighth fat removal treatment. This time it was her hips. She had the procedure twice a year and got a small discount since Tilda worked at the Opti-Fit Laser Center. Tilda was one of the nurses who staffed the front desk, admitted patients, and showed them to an examining/operating room.
‘Are you sure about this?’ Tilda whispered to her mother as she filled out the preliminary paperwork.
Tilda’s mother rolled her eyes. ‘Of course I’m sure,’ she said.
Tilda sighed. ‘It’s hurting your skin,’ she said.
‘Only as much as a sunburn,’ said her mother. ‘I get those every summer and don’t have anything to show for it.’
Her mother was semi-retired, worked part-time as a tax accountant and had her late husband’s pension from the army. She could still fit into her wedding dress and did so from time to time just to prove the surgery’s efficacy. Tilda’s mother looked a good bit better than her wedding dress which hadn’t been packed terribly well so the lace was yellowed and looked even moreso against Tilda’s mother’s skin which bore a permanent light red tinge due to repeated treatments on her arms and legs.
Tilda walked with her mother back to an examining/operating room, gave her a folded pink paper dressing gown and a kiss on the cheek.
‘See you in an hour,’ said her mother, and Tilda nodded.
The laser treatment was simple and imparted minimal damage to surrounding tissues, at least after just one or two treatments. Radio waves and ultraviolet waves were used in tandem in a beam that penetrated three centimeters down into the patient’s body, heated tissues, and disrupted fat cells. The fat melted away. Such an elegant solution to obesity. It allowed patients to be back at work the next day, several pounds lighter and eating powdered sugar donuts while everyone commented on how good they looked. The treatment was not covered by most insurance packages, but it was fast. The doctors took off fifteen pounds at a time as much more than that would result in loose skin. Most patients kept losing and regaining the same fifteen pounds over and over. If only the inventors hadn’t sold franchise contracts so cheaply, they would have been living in mansions instead of one-story bungalows.
When Tilda returned to the front desk, two women were standing there, both wearing sweatpants and flannel shirts. Tilda gave them medical history forms to fill out and glanced at the ladies out of the corner of her eye after they sat down. Maybe it was just her imagination, but more and more patients had been coming in with shabbier clothes. She bit her lip and knew she shouldn’t judge, but too many people who had the surgery didn’t look like they could afford it.
Tilda was filing patient medical histories and waiting for her mother to emerge when Marlene appeared at her shoulder.
‘I need to see you in my office,’ she said. Marlene was tall and thin with skin the color of cotton candy.
‘Fine,’ said Tilda and did not look up.
Marlene had been hired a year ago as the nurse supervisor. She did not like Tilda. Tilda did not like being overseen by a woman without a background in nursing. Marlene had been a human resource officer for a snack cake company. Rumor had it she’d been unceremoniously dismissed from her previous job, but no one at the laser center knew why.
Tilda had been working at Opti-Fit for nine years. She’d been Employee of the Month six times, meaning she got a nice parking space, a three-layer fudge cake, and a fifty percent discount on any laser procedure. She’d used the discount once, had fat removed from her abdomen. For three hours after the procedure she was fine, but then the redness developed, pain blossomed and intensified. Tilda was bedridden for two days and it took three more weeks for the burn to heal. She took up smoking shortly after to dull her appetite. The other nurses walked past her quickly when she lit up behind the clinic. Marlene reprimanded her constantly.
‘It just smells bad,’ said Marlene, wrinkling her nose when Tilda walked into her office. ‘And it’s not healthy.’
‘Of course it’s not healthy,’ said Tilda. ‘But it works better for me than lasers.’
Marlene pointed a thin red finger at the patient comment slip in the middle of her desk. ‘Explain this,’ she said.
Tilda bit her lip. It had happened yesterday afternoon. The patient’s hair had been light blonde and her skin almost crimson, the color that developed after thirty or forty treatments. It made Tilda’s stomach hurt to see her. When Tilda led the woman back to the examining/operating room, she handed her the pink paper gown and closed the door.
Tilda said, ‘Are you sure you want to have another procedure?’ Up close she could see the woman’s skin was so damaged it was like leather. Of course there were warning pamphlets at the front desk, ones the government ordered all Opti-Fit Laser Centers have available for distribution. But nobody ever read them. The woman glared at Tilda with wide eyes and a slight frown, shook her head. Tilda left the room. She was not surprised to hear the woman had filed a complaint.
‘The patient was beet red,’ said Tilda, ‘she shouldn’t be getting any more treatments.’
‘It is your job to tell her about products to relieve pain after the operation,’ said Marlene, ‘not to dissuade her from having the procedure after she has made her decision.’
‘Even if it’s dangerous?’ said Tilda. ‘I’m a nurse. I have to tell her things like that.’
‘We are not here to be medical advisors,’ said Marlene. ‘We are here to provide the care that patients need before and after the procedure. One more complaint like this will be grounds for dismissal.’
Tilda bit her lip and nodded, left Marlene’s office to go stand behind the front desk and wait for her flushed mother to emerge from the operating room.
It was hard to dissuade anyone from getting the treatment. Tilda had spoken to patients twice before, women with wide hips and skin that was almost paper white. Her cautions seemed to have worked on some level – both of the patients delayed the procedure for a week, but both returned looking slightly sheepish and muttering excuses about bridesmaids dresses and high school reunions. At least, Tilda reasoned, they’d seriously reconsidered. But she’d have to shut up from now on. Positions at Opti-Fit Laser Centers were coveted ones for nurses. They paid better than hospital jobs, had better hours, and had the laser surgery discount. Since Tilda was raising Bradley alone, she needed the extra money. The center had been her first job, too. She was hired right after graduating from nursing school when the technology was still new. It would be hard to find another job if she were let go, especially if Marlene wouldn’t give her a good reference.
Tilda didn’t share this with her mother post-treatment, just smiled and said she’d see her for dinner. Tilda’s mother cared for Bradley after school from four o’clock when the bus dropped him off until five-fifteen when Tilda arrived home. They lived in the same apartment building and had supper together most nights.
‘Don’t give him too many snacks,’ Tilda said, touching her mother’s shoulder.
Her mother winced but recovered. ‘I’m a grandmother. I’m supposed to spoil him.’
Tilda sighed as she watched her mother walk out of the center. Bradley was only eight and getting a little pudgy. Her mother had cupcakes and chips and all sorts of junk food around the apartment, sweets she liked and fed to him. Bradley looked like his father, had a stocky build. Bradley’s father and Tilda divorced when Bradley was two. He’d moved to California and Bradley saw him once a year for a month of pampering. Tilda didn’t mind that her son was a little rounded, but she didn’t want him to gain too much weight, to ask for a laser treatment when he was fourteen or fifteen like some boys did before the start of the high school athletic season. Every year she saw more and more of them, teenagers anxious to nip a bit off their adolescent guts.
The fat man and the elderly woman entered the Opti-Fit Laser Center a few minutes after Tilda’s mother left. Tilda handed the usual forms to the fat man when he approached her desk.
‘You have an appointment?’ she said.
‘It’s for my mother,’ he said, handing the papers to the elderly woman.
‘Getting my tummy tucked,’ she said. ‘A birthday present. I have a little too much bounce to the ounce.’
‘Oh,’ said Tilda to the fat man. She blushed. ‘Sorry about the mistake.’
The fat man smiled at her, shrugged, and went to sit down beside his mother on one of the uncomfortable orange plastic chairs in the waiting room. He picked up a cooking magazine and started flipping through as his mother scribbled away. The fat man and his mother were both dressed nicely – he was wearing a shirt and tie, she had on a purple dress and good shoes. Tilda glanced at them and decided the fat man was not terribly obese, maybe two hundred twenty pounds, but he looked too well-to-do to be so overweight. Since lasers made weight loss easy, obesity had become an affliction of the poor. Those with lower incomes were eating the same diet as rich people, fast food and desserts and the like, they just couldn’t pay to get it zapped off their bodies.
The fat man walked with Tilda and his mother down to an examining/operating room. He moved more smoothly and gracefully than Tilda expected, kissed his mother on the forehead and told her he’d see her in an hour.
Back in the waiting room, he kept reading his cooking magazine.
‘I love to cook,’ he said to Tilda. ‘And eat.’ He looked down at his stomach and then smiled up at her, pleased at his joke.
Tilda wasn’t sure what to think of him, his certain grace, his happiness with his ample body. She wasn’t used to it.
He greeted his mother with a big smile when she came out of surgery.
‘Happy?’ he said. The fat man was grinning but knit his eyebrows.
‘I love it,’ she said. ‘Best birthday present ever. Barely felt a thing.’
Tilda gave the fat man’s mother a five-minute lecture on aftercare, side effects to expect, creams and lotions to buy. The elderly woman jaunted out of the center, her son at her side. Tilda smiled to herself. This was the nice part of her job. People were happy when they left. The treatment hadn’t started to hurt yet, so they were cheery while they wrote their checks.
After they were gone, Tilda went out back to have a cigarette while keeping alert for Marlene. The number of smokers had decreased since the laser procedure gained popularity and smoking wasn’t needed as an appetite suppressant. Because of fewer smokers and fewer fat people, there had been slight decreases in lung cancer and heart disease rates in the past couple years. Some doctors lauded the treatment as a therapy that would revolutionize health care, but many of these overlooked the fact that a lot more people were getting skin cancer.
When Tilda arrived home, the pizza was ready. Her mother wrinkled her nose when Tilda walked in the door and interrupted the scent of dinner.
‘Smoke,’ she said. ‘Awful.’
Bradley stopped watching TV and hugged Tilda, but made a face when he sniffed her clothes.
‘Ick,’ he said. ‘That stinks.’
Tilda kissed his forehead and shrugged. She didn’t smoke in the apartment, and because she’d had a couple of cigarettes outside the Opti-Fit building she only had one slice of pizza. Bradley and her mother both had three.
‘Getting a treatment makes me hungry,’ said her mother when Tilda raised an eyebrow.
‘You’re spending your life savings getting the same fifteen pounds burned off your rear again and again,’ muttered Tilda.
‘There are worse things I could do with my money,’ said her mother.
‘Bradley, don’t have a fourth piece,’ said Tilda as her son reached for the pizza pan.
‘He’s growing an inch a month,’ said her mother. ‘It’s not going to hurt him any.’
‘I’m hungry,’ said Bradley.
‘If you just waited a minute for your stomach to settle, you wouldn’t be,’ said Tilda. ‘You need to get out more. Play. Go down the street to the basketball court or something.’
She was worried about him, worried what would happen when he entered junior high and high school, worried he’d get teased. Tilda had seen one girl in the center last week, maybe sixteen years old, warbling to a nurse about how the girls at school taunted her. Tilda thought the girl wasn’t even that big. Maybe one hundred fifty pounds. Plump. Not fat. But weight was more than just cosmetic. If kids were overweight it meant their parents didn’t have enough money to get the fat burned off. And this wasn’t just true in schools. Everyone repeated the smug adage, The bigger the stomach, the smaller the wallet. Even though smaller stomachs eventually led to smaller wallets, few people brought this up.
After lunch the next day the protestors came for the fat-in. Tilda secretly enjoyed the fat-ins. The fat people meandered inside the center, nodding to Tilda and smiling. She couldn’t smile back very wide, but she kept the tiniest of grins on her face. The fat people were all wearing their largest and puffiest clothing, filled the lobby and started to filter down the halls to the examining rooms. Then they all sat down on the floor. There must have been sixty of them, enough to block the main entrance and consume much of the floor space in the modest building. The fat people didn’t yell protests or chant pro-fat epithets, they just chatted amongst themselves and didn’t move. And when the fat people weren’t moving, the nurses couldn’t move, the patients couldn’t move, and nobody could get into the clinic.
The protestors were good-natured and had great senses of humor. They were also all over two hundred pounds. They were bus drivers and teachers and auto mechanics and bank tellers and cafeteria workers and librarians who had started a movement to end the laser centers, the needless removal of fat. They said it was dangerous, made bodies unnatural, and Tilda didn’t completely disagree. One or two treatments, maybe that wasn’t so bad, but there were so many people who were ending up like her mother…
Often the police tried to break up pro-fat organizations before they could take radical action. They sent plants in fat suits to meetings of ‘fat rings,’ but sometimes the plants were discovered because their hands and faces seemed a little too slender. Some of these undercover agents had been unceremoniously disrobed, sent out into the streets wearing only their skivvies. But even when police plants went undetected, they couldn’t infiltrate every fat ring, uncover every planned fat-in.
Tilda never called the police on them. She let Marlene or another nurse do it.
‘Dammit,’ said Marlene as she dialed. ‘Why didn’t you pick up the phone the minute you saw them start coming in? Why didn’t you bar the door?’
‘I was in the bathroom,’ said Tilda, ‘and by the time I got out they were already seated. I’m certainly not big enough to push them around.’
Marlene fumed at her but didn’t say anything more. She was talking with the dispatcher anyway, requesting that several cars be sent to the laser center. Tilda heard sirens ten minutes later. Six police officers marched up to the laser center. It took all six of them to drag away the two fat people positioned in front of the door as human barricades.
The police had yearly fat removal treatments covered as part of their job contracts. They needed to be lithe and fit in order to chase equally lithe criminals. When it came to moving fat people, however, they were at a disadvantage.
Marlene tried to wade through the sea of fat people to reach the police, but two fat women held up their hands and grabbed Marlene’s arms so she had to stay by the desk.
‘Let go,’ she said, but the fat ladies just smiled and shook their heads.
‘Time for a little afternoon break, honey,’ said one of the fat women.
Tilda knew the fat people held tight, though not so tight it was painful.
‘We could use teargas,’ the police called to Marlene.
‘No,’ she said, ‘I have a nursing staff and other patients to consider.’
‘Then what do you want us to do, ma’am?’ said the officer.
‘Move them,’ she said, trying to wrest her arms from the fat women. The ladies smiled and held her wrists like she was a child they wanted to stop from getting lost.
‘They’re too large,’ the policeman said.
‘Get a forklift,’ Marlene said.
Fat-ins had been occurring at the center every couple months for the past year, sometimes more frequently. Tilda was never sure why Marlene insisted on calling the police because the fat-ins always ended the same way, with the police unable to do much of anything and the fat people sitting immobile until eight in the evening when they left peacefully to go have dinner. The clinic’s last scheduled appointments were always at seven. As Marlene stood in the grip of the fat women, one of the police officers took out a camera and started snapping pictures. They usually got a few photos of the fat people so they could identify and fine them later for obstructing the flow of traffic and the movement of laser center personnel, but even though the fat people knew they would be fined, they did not leave. A few had been jailed for participation in fat-ins, but that just rallied more fat people to the cause. The fat-ins became more prevalent and the participants even larger.
Tilda called her mother from the front desk and explained the situation. Her mother said she would keep dinner on the stove.
‘But I don’t understand what business it is of theirs to decide what other people can and can’t do with their bodies,’ she said.
‘I’ll be home a little after eight,’ said Tilda.
The other nurses were frantically pacing back and forth behind the desk. Fat people made them anxious. Marlene was still immobile in the grip of the two smiling fat woman. The police took more pictures. Two squad cars with four officers left because there wasn’t much more they could do. At eight the fat people stood and yawned and shook hands with each other. The police took more pictures. Most of the fat people waved at them.
As Tilda was getting her purse she noticed the fat man she’d met the day before had been among the protestors. He was actually a bit small in comparison to many of them, and he still moved with his certain grace out the front door.
Tilda went out the back door to have a cigarette. After five hours behind a desk with Marlene, she really needed one. When she stepped out of the building she found him there, the fat man and his fat friends, who had parked their cars in the nurses’ lot.
Tilda lit her cigarette and nodded at them, gave a little smile.
He nodded back and smiled. ‘Smoking is a nasty habit,’ he said.
‘It keeps me thin,’ she said.
‘You could use some hips,’ he said.
‘My hips are fine just as they are,’ she said. ‘I didn’t ask for an editorial.’
‘It was an honest opinion,’ he said. ‘Would you like to have dinner with us? Maybe you could get some meat on those bones.’
‘What?’ she said. ‘My mother is waiting. And my kid. I need to get home.’
‘Just wondered,’ he said. ‘We’d pay for you, of course, since you’re on our side.’
‘How do you know that?’ she said and took a long drag.
‘Kind of hard not to tell,’ he said. ‘You were the only nurse who wasn’t going crazy to be in a room full of fat people. One would think you didn’t mind us much. Even appreciated the effort.’
‘I have to get home,’ she said and bowed her head. Tilda dropped her cigarette on the pavement and ground the red tip out under her heel. The fat people waved at her as she drove away. They were rather nice, she thought. Especially that fat man. But she’d have to be careful during the next fat-in. Not smile or anything. Marlene might very well get after her.
The next day at work there was a card for her at the front desk. A card from the fat man.
I enjoyed making your acquaintance yesterday and think you are an interesting person, he wrote. I will be waiting in the parking lot at five tomorrow evening if you would care to join me for dinner.
Marlene eyed Tilda close all day, looked over her shoulder while Tilda was filling out forms, watched Tilda walk down the hall when she escorted patients to examining rooms, read customer comment forms following the laser operations. Tilda ducked out the back door for a cigarette twice, looking over her shoulder to see if Marlene was following her. One little mistake and that could be it. What would happen if she went out with the fat man and Marlene saw her? Tilda knew she couldn’t get dinner with him. Too risky.
Her mother made lasagna and garlic toast for dinner. Bradley and her mother both had two servings of lasagna and three pieces of garlic toast.
‘Bradley needs to eat healthier things,’ said Tilda. ‘I’m worried about his weight.’
‘Kids need to eat a lot,’ said her mother. ‘They need to be kids.’
‘I’m a growing boy,’ said Bradley. ‘I’m big like Dad.’
Tilda rolled her eyes. He was learning to repeat her mother’s reasoning.
‘Just one cupcake,’ said Tilda when Bradley reached for a second.
‘A second won’t hurt him,’ said her mother, putting a cupcake in front of her grandson.
‘I’m not paying for a laser treatment in eight years,’ said Tilda, ‘just you remember that.’
‘He doesn’t need one,’ said her mother as Bradley unwrapped the cupcake. ‘That’s for adults, anyway.’
‘And soon enough that’s what he’ll be,’ muttered Tilda.
After dinner her mother laid down on the couch before Tilda and Bradley left to return to their apartment.
‘The treatments,’ she said, ‘sometimes they make me a bit tired for a couple days.’
‘Have you been using aloe?’ said Tilda.
‘Every night,’ said her mother. ‘The skin’s a bit red but really doesn’t hurt that much.’
Tilda sighed, glanced to her plump son standing by the apartment door. He’d be asking for a laser treatment in a couple years and his skin was like hers, fair and freckled, apt to burn easily. She knew her mother would pay for a treatment anyway.
‘I won’t be home for dinner tomorrow night,’ Tilda said. ‘I’m going out with a friend.’
The next day at work she smoked twice as much as usual, almost a full pack. She was terrified Marlene might see the fat man in the parking lot, or even worse, somehow see them together at dinner. But then she thought of her tired mother. Her plump son. Her own self puffing away on cigarettes. At first it had been to keep off the pounds, but now she really couldn’t stop. She shook her head, dropped the cigarette and crushed it underfoot. Tilda knew she shouldn’t be so paranoid. There had been many people at the fat-in, and there was only a small chance Marlene had seen the fat man or would remember him at all.
At five she stood in the parking lot and tapped a new pack of cigarettes against her hand. The fat man’s car was green. He drove in the lot, pulled into a space, nodded and smiled at her without getting out. Tilda got into her car, took a deep breath, and started the engine. She followed the fat man when he drove out, figuring if he went somewhere that looked shady, she could stay in her car and leave. The Italian restaurant she trailed him to was a good one, though, one she had eaten at before.
‘A nurse who smokes and works at a laser center but likes fat people,’ the fat man said once they were seated at a table. ‘I find that very interesting.’
‘You came with your mother to get a treatment and then were at a fat-in,’ Tilda said. ‘That’s interesting, too.’
‘The treatment wasn’t my idea,’ he said. ‘My sister campaigned for it. She said it was what mom wanted. I couldn’t really argue. It was nice for me to be able to inspect the facility before the fat-in. And I guess a treatment or two won’t hurt Mom. But people don’t understand the side effects. We have to stop them long enough to make them think. And we need more doctors and nurses on our side.’
He looked up at her.
‘Don’t count on me,’ she said. ‘I’ve got my job and my kid to think of. Not everyone who’s getting treatments should be, but it’s not my money or my body or my choice.’
The fat man sighed. ‘It’s harder than I thought it’d be to get treatment professionals behind us. Some doctors write articles against laser centers, but a lot of them have had the surgery, too. I don’t understand it. Don’t they see the risks?’
‘I’m not the best person to ask,’ said Tilda. ‘I have my own vices.’
The fat man wrinkled his nose at her and smiled. ‘Better to be fat than smoke,’ he said. “You’re a nurse. You should know.”
Tilda shrugged. ‘My aunt was a nurse and she smoked. A bunch of the nurses who work at the center, they get treatments twice a year and they know it’s bad for their skin. Just because you’ve been educated about what’s good for your body and what’s not doesn’t mean you’ll only do good things. It means I can give a detailed explanation of why what I’m doing is wrong. I can tell you exactly what organs and tissues and blood chemistry levels cigarettes will affect. We nurses get too little credit for having the same damn weaknesses as everyone else.’
They both glanced around to the tables of red-skinned pasta-eating diners.
‘Would you help us?’ whispered the fat man.
‘No,’ Tilda whispered back.
‘Would you get dinner with me again?” he whispered.
‘Will you keep trying to get me to help you?’ she whispered.
‘Light hints will be dropped,’ he whispered.
‘Chinese food?’ she whispered.
‘Of course,’ he whispered.
She shook his hand in the parking lot. It was pleasantly soft and warm, not like her mother’s thin fingers or Marlene’s claws.
When she got home her mother and Bradley were side by side on the couch eating chocolate chip cookies. Bradley stood up and hugged Tilda. She smoothed his hair, then plopped down in an armchair and squinted at her red mother, her peach-colored son. Really he looked kind of cute as a plump kid. Like his father. Like the fat man. He wasn’t meant to have a slim build. But she wanted him to be healthy.
The fat man appeared in the laser center parking lot at five o’clock two days later. Tilda followed him to a Chinese restaurant and felt pleased to be going out with someone. She hadn’t dated in seven years, ever since her husband left for California. The fat man was a good conversationalist, told her about his job as the financial manager of an athletic shoe company. It was also nice to talk with someone else who was apprehensive about the laser treatments. She didn’t have anyone to discuss it with at work, anyone to complain to about the growing number of people with burned skin.
‘You have to tell them about the drawbacks before they go in for surgery,’ he said. ‘Where else are they going to get that information?’
‘I can’t just thrust the pamphlets into the patient’s hands,’ said Tilda.
‘Why not?’ he said. ‘The information is there. ‘They need it.’
‘Marlene would get on me,’ she said, ‘call it patient counseling or something, forcing the material on them. That’s the last thing I need.’
‘But you’re a nurse,’ he said, ‘you’re supposed to tell people about how the treatment can help them and how it can hurt.’
‘I know,’ she said quietly.
The fat man touched her fingers gently with his warm hand.
At work Tilda found she was starting to appreciate bodies more, mourn the pleasant curves on women that disappeared after treatments. There were too many of them forgoing their hips and rears. Even more often than before she wanted to say something to the patients, had to bite her lip instead. On the street she smiled at rounded men, ample women, grandmothers with soft hips. Her grandmother had soft hips. Her mother had hip bones.
Tilda complained to the fat man after they went out for pizza.
‘Why not leave the job?’ he said.
‘It’s not that easy,’ she said and lit a cigarette.
He shook his head. ‘Nasty habit.’
Tilda shrugged. ‘Some people can eat anything they want and stay thin. Some people can smoke all they want and live to be ninety.’
‘But not too many,’ he said.
Tilda blew a puff of smoke. ‘One of the things you learn from nursing. The curse of genetics. In the end sometimes there’s not much we can do.’
‘So we have lasers,’ he said.
‘Yeah,’ she exhaled. ‘F*cking lasers.’
He kissed her on the cheek.
She paused for a moment, then kissed his cheek back.
The next fat-in at the Opti-Fit Laser Center was three days later. Tilda was a little surprised, almost hurt, that the fat man hadn’t told her about it. The occupation was the same as before, but the fat man winked at her as he walked past the front desk. Marlene paced back and forth. Two slim police came armed with a camera. The other five laser center nurses twitted among themselves about how the punishments never worked, the fat people could not be deterred.
After the fat-in Tilda nodded to the fat man and his fat friends in the parking lot but didn’t stop to chat. Marlene was close behind her to bawl them out.
‘You held up our business for seven f*cking hours,’ she yelled.
‘And a lovely seven hours it was,’ said the fat man.
‘I’m going to sue your ass,’ she said.
‘I’ve got a lot of ass to sue,’ said the fat man.
Tilda ducked into her car and smiled all the way back to her apartment.
Two days later it was on the front page of the local paper – ten people who had staged the fat-in had been identified from police photographs and arrested in their homes. All of them posted bail, would be in court in a matter of days. The paper didn’t include photographs. Tilda worried.
She didn’t see the fat man in the parking lot for a week.
The trial was fast and the charges were simple – the fat people had been obstructing the flow of traffic. They refused a lawyer, plead guilty and issued a statement because that is what they always did. They never denied that they wanted to obstruct the flow of traffic. That was the point. Traffic should be obstructed. People who wished to receive a laser treatment needed to pause, reconsider, read the pamphlets.
On the evening news Tilda saw a picture of the judge who was presiding over the case. She thought the judge looked rather like a cardinal with her crimson face and pointed nose. The newscaster reported the verdict. As previous judges had done, this one fined each offender four thousand dollars. But she also ruled that, because all of the accused had admitted to their crime and were repeat offenders, measures should be taken to prevent their participation in future fat-ins, something similar to ordering guilty parties to wear ankle bracelets that monitored their activities outside their homes. The judge reasoned that the only way of truly hindering the fat people would be to make them easier for police to move, so she ordered that they all have forty pounds removed from their bodies.
‘Serves them right,’ said Tilda’s mother.
‘Ghastly,’ said Tilda. ‘They can’t do that, can they?’
‘Very bright judge, that one,’ said her mother. ‘It’ll save the police some time.’
Tilda stomped out of her mother’s apartment, dragging Bradley behind her.
The ruling was lauded in all of the papers the following day, and the fat people were once again on the nightly news.
‘If the public cannot see the brute violence in this act,’ said the fat spokewoman, ‘then what is the point of our protesting it? We won’t make them think differently. And maybe some will see nothing wrong with ripping flesh off our bodies. Maybe others will. No matter what happens, realize that we will not stop our protests.’
On the day the fat people returned to the Opti-Fit Laser Center for their surgeries, there were gawkers and onlookers and protestors all screaming at each other in front of the building. Tilda was standing behind the front desk as the ten fat people were led into the facility, each flanked by two armed police officers. All of the fat people were biting their lips. Marlene was smirking. Tilda twisted a tissue in her hands.
The fat man looked right at her when he walked past. Tilda knew she should not care. She’d only been out to dinner with him a few times. He’d tried to recruit her. He’d put her in a position where she could have lost her job.
Tilda left work early.
Threw out her cigarettes.
Packed herself a suitcase and packed Bradley a suitcase and was waiting on the corner when he got off the bus. She hugged him and gave him and apple and they got into her car.
Maybe it would just be for the weekend.
She didn’t know.