by A. Easton
The numbers danced across the screen as she typed, a row of skinny little stick figures, jubilant in their stark simplicity.
No way. In a week?
Penny couldn’t believe it either. She hadn’t been that low since first becoming aware of her existence within tightened skin and the expectations of shame that bounded alongside. Definitely not since those churlish teen years when the commentary of others had shifted seamlessly from clumsily administered care to sharp concern and cruelty.
Three little dots ticked with desperate anticipation. Penny savoured the seconds before Nicky typed the inevitable.
Found a new regime 🙂
She caught herself smiling; even the tapping of her fingers on the keyboard felt lighter these days.
Now she hesitated. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to share it just yet, or if she even knew what it was other than a chance find on a miserable night trawling webspace and clickbait, like a shark through chum. Feeling overwhelmed and undernourished by the earnest promises of the naturally perfect preachers who haunted her pages with their bone-white smiles and toned, outstretched arms, her attention was waning to blindness when she stumbled onto it.
What is it? Did you get it from your doc?
Simply titled ‘Regime’, the video had started predictably enough with the questions that punctuated every guarantee of a miracle: Are you tired of failing? When did you last feel happy? What would you gain if you lose? Yet the soothing voice which resonated from the soft, black screen held more conviction than those other chattering hawkers; it drifted through to her as a balm, neither male nor female, human or electronic. Non-judgmental, almost kind in its hypnotic promises of transformation, just as radical as the yoga-pant credentials were peddling but at a price she could afford.
It would take nothing to send him the link. Three clicks and done. Her fingers hovered over the string of numbers and letters, suitably cryptic for something so simple… and then a familiar voice uncurled itself from the rageful part of her head: No. Don’t. It’s ours. Didn’t she deserve something just for herself, for once? She had lived three decades in a world designed for people not like her, a world actively against people like her where absence and constraint were valued more than spirit or heart. She had weathered the well-meant concern of teachers and peers, the self-congratulation of boyfriends who lusted for curves like it was a fucking charity endeavour. The wistful comments, as her mother made a show of slaving over her sewing machine with endless alterations and widenings, wondering how her daughter had blossomed into such a shape through a childhood littered with diet mags and calorie counters. Even in the office, having to laugh off jibes for bringing salad to work or wearing colours, for enjoying karaoke on nights out, for daring to breathe. She had done it all. And then the final indignity of sitting opposite a man twice her age, crammed in a sweaty doctor’s chair, as he told her she’d never have kids if she didn’t shift some weight. As if that were her only value. Yeah, she had fucking earned the right to keep something for herself.
Nicky was no one, really. Picked up online under the guise of solidarity when they were all clutching at the same elusive secret. Just another digital vampire. She owed him nothing.
She closed the laptop and got up. A glimpse in the mirror caught her off-guard as it had done since she started this path; her dress hung loosely over parcels of space where her body used to be, ebbing and sighing at the luxury of concavity. For a bittersweet moment, she almost missed the security of those extra pounds. Almost. Her flat hand smoothed the folds of glorious black and red kimono silk over herself. Colours meant for confident bitches who take control and fit into the world’s neat, tight order.
“Bitches like me,” she told the mirror, and she meant it.
She hummed as she looked for her shoes. That was something she would miss, her pretty collection of heels and sandals and boots but there was no point mourning something so minor when she could choose to be happy instead.
At that thought, a small circle of panic noosed her throat: Was she happy? She didn’t miss the restrictions or recriminations, the baptisms of bile and self-hate over the toilet bowl; now she could eat when hungry and rest when tired. Be natural, intuitive. Human. In the end, it was that simplicity which had sold the Regime to her. Yet gritty remnants of doubt still littered her head like the itch of a healing wound. Just how maintainable was it? Mindless fingers caressed her bandaged stump.
It had been harder than expected but she was a resourceful girl. “Measure twice, cut once”, her mother had lectured through a mouthful of glinting pins and Pen had taken the time to procure the right tools. The video talked her through it in slow, encouraging tones and after the first incision, she had found a measured pace with surprising ease. An inch at a time, circling the bone, then pause to tighten the tourniquet and finish the sutures before the anaesthetic wore off. The neater and tighter, the better. And she had been neat and tight.
Pen went to the kitchen to look for her keys and frowned at the stack of dirty pans on the stovetop. That had been the toughest part but the Regime was clear: calories owned are calories already consumed. There was no sense wasting good meat and what better sustenance than free-range, organic shank? Fried in Armagnac and sage butter, it had been deliciously sweet and truly guilt-free. Exhale the negative, ingest the positive. Never be hungry again. Even the mantras tasted good in her sated mouth.
She returned to the living room and allowed herself another admiring glance in the mirror. Stage two would require more thought and the return to work would bring trickier questions… but she shrugged off such concerns. People see what they want to see and once she had reached their target, they would eat up her lies like candy floss. Traffic accident, diabetic complications, meningitis… all easily swallowed.
She was about to leave when the guilt tugged at her heart with little sharp teeth. Maybe she should tell Nicky. He had been through a lot, after all, piling on pounds after losing first one parent and then the other and finally his job. Shame heaped on layers of grief and yet he had always been kind to her. She leaned over her desk to open the laptop, heart skipping at the thought of sharing such a gift. Click, click and then click: she sent him the link.
You should be proud, she thought to herself. You did it. You beat them all at their own game.
And she was getting pretty good at typing with one hand.