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This post contains mature subject matter.

skeleton by maria teresa adalid, flickr

skeleton by Maria Teresa Adalid, flickr

Marie spends her days drawing blood from women whose veins hide behind layers of subcutaneous fat, cells furiously hoarding water. The women come to The Clinic to finally and once and for all time Lose Weight.

Marie wears the soft dusty rose scrubs of nurses and staff, a pair of scrubs which are now deliciously loose against her skin. Though they are a few sizes smaller than when she first started working there, her progress is ongoing, even though she has surpassed her initial Goal. Soon it will be time to order a pair in a size she hadn’t worn since the eighth grade. She feels light and frail and powerful all at once.

She has only been working as a phlebotomist for a few months and whenever she makes a successful blood draw on the first try, she relishes the prospect of telling The Doctor who never seems to tire of hearing of her accomplishments, however small. Like when she finally made Goal Weight.

When they rang the bell for her after Weigh In that Best Day of All Days, signifying her Victory, all of the staff and other patients came out of cubbyholes, offices, and the officer manager played Alicia Keyes over the sound system the song “Girl on Fire,” the music video on every screen and the staff sang it for her loudly and cheerfully, arm and arm. The Clinic manager handed her a gift basket of candle, water bottle, diet powdered instant soups and lemonade.

But the best part of all, The Doctor gave her a huge hug after their exit interview. It was long and warm and sweet, and he held her tight against him like this was the reward for finally having A Body, A Real Body. On her way out she had almost gotten to her car but decided to come back and asked to speak to the doctor. She explained she was recently divorced but had trained as a phlebotomist in order to support herself. She wasn’t sure what made her flush more in front of him: That she had confessed to being recently divorced or that she was so bold in propositioning herself for a job. In a few weeks, there was an opening.

In the first few days, whenever she had made a successful first draw, she met him between patients with the vial of blood though he had told her repeatedly to take it directly to the lab. He still smiled at her anyway and took care of it himself, the contents of that draw necessary to understand clients’ status in the world of Health and Happiness.

Soon she would understand what to do with the blood and the true nature of his feelings, he told himself. He was used to crushes and usually found if he gave someone a little attention first he could gently transition them into realistic expectations. Perhaps it was how vulnerable they had been with him, coming to him as they were initially in their distress, and allowing him to help. He found it created a bond which he didn’t find altogether unpleasant but there were moments of discomfort.

“Thank you,” he would say gently and touch her on the elbow which unbeknownst to him she had creamed with a $150 jar of stem cell moisturizer, wrapping it in plastic wrap for absorption, preparing for the following day when he will touch her there. “Just remember to take this directly to the lab next time,” and he would smile, disengaging himself.

“You like that doctor,” says her roommate, Rhonda, who is a skeleton. “You got the hots for him.”

Rhonda lives in the closet beside Marie’s front door. She likes the confinement when alone but bursts out as soon as Marie crosses the threshold. She is not too bad looking as far as skeletons go. She has some of her long blond hair and she had Marie buy her false eyelashes and a padded bra.

Some of Marie’s boyfriends have enjoyed having sex with Rhonda. You would think this would not be the case since she is all bone, but it just goes to prove the very thing Marie’s mother has told her all along: Men just want something to rub up against.

When Rhonda has seduced her dates into the bed, Marie waits until their groaning ceases. She waits in the kitchen while she writes in her food diary what she has eaten and how many minutes she has exercised and at what intensity level and whether the exercises were cardio or anaerobic.

Always the men who have fallen for Rhonda’s ploys and dirty invitations, who have fallen into bed with her, leave with their eyes downcast. They do not come into the kitchen to say good bye to Marie. Their self-abasement saves Marie the trouble of having to break it off with them.

“You want to screw him,” says Rhonda of Marie’s feelings for Dr. Wideman. This is after Ricky had fled the apartment, practically in tears. Marie is pretty sure he’s never had sex with a skeleton. She’d known him since grade school. He’s even been a student at the seminary.

“I wish you’d stop seducing my friends.” She checks her Maintenance Plan. It is time for a boiled egg. “Would you like an egg?”

Rhonda is smoking her Pall Malls. “I’d like a stack of pancakes with bacon on top and syrup drizzled all over.”

Marie puts on the coffee. She slips in some decaf though Rhonda would want the straight stuff but she wants to go to bed. She’d been noticing the deepening of the lines around her eyes and mouth when she stayed up for one of Rhonda’s chats.

“I want you to go to this man tomorrow and I want you to say ‘I want to fuck you,’ just like that, right into his ear.”

“I can’t use that word.”

Marie gently lowers a brown egg from the fridge into the boiling water with a kitchen spider. The egg clinks lightly against the bottom but holds together. She puts in another egg for Rhonda in case she changes her mind. Rhonda knows Marie doesn’t keep pancake mix or bacon or syrup. House Rules.

“One time I used that line on a man, I got him right away. He cleared his desk. We did it again the next day, and the next. He gave up his girlfriend. We did it so many times he lost his job.”

Marie sorts her mail while Rhonda smokes, putting letters in her tiered wall system – read, pay, respond – and placing catalogues in a little basket she keeps below. Now that she is almost of a fashion viable weight, shopping for herself is enjoyable.

Marie pulls each egg out with the spider, placing each in a milk glass bowl passed down from her grandmother. She puts one before Rhonda, one at her place and puts a plate in the middle for the peel and a silver salt shaker, also her grandmother’s.

“I don’t want this,” says Rhonda, pushing the bowl away, causing the bottom to catch on the plastic cloth protecting the cherry wood table, nearly toppling the egg.

Marie puts the egg in the refrigerator for tomorrow and returns the salt to her spice rack. The salt had been for Rhonda. Sometimes the extra seasoning helps Marie stick with the diet but she doesn’t generally advocate salt or salty products at The Center. To help clients navigate this for such things as eating eggs, she recommends a no sodium stone ground mustard to mix into the mashed up cooked egg to make a kind of egg salad.

She herself forgoes even this, relishing instead the plain fleshy cooked white outer meat, just a bit more set than a well steamed flan, and the yolk rich and chalky, forcing her to drink a glass water to get it all down. The slight pain and deprivation seemed right somehow, and cleansing. Oh and that long hug from Him on that Best Day of All Days!

“When you get the doctor in the room,” says Rhonda, leaning into the table, her forearms flat against the plastic cloth, “Put his dick in your mouth.” And she inserts her middle finger between her teeth. “But take care to use your lips!” And with her other hand she encircles her teeth with her forefinger and thumb to simulate lips. “Hahaha!” She cackles, slapping her bone hand down hard on the table, and bounces up and down in her chair so that it clacks and scrapes against the tile.

Eddie the apartment manager had come by one night when they were up talking like this saying neighbors were complaining. They said it sounded like Marie was moving furniture at 2 in the morning. Marie had only opened the door a crack so he couldn’t see inside, so he couldn’t see Rhonda.

“Well take it easy will you, ok?” he said, softening after she explained, contrite, that yes, she was moving a few things. She closed the door gently to prove she meant to be the perfect, perfect neighbor. Besides, he was always nice to her. He had helped her move in. And he was always asking after her in a way that made Marie feel better, like she had a family member close by, though she couldn’t have him in because she couldn’t be sure of Rhonda.

“Time to party,” says Rhonda, pushing back from the table and clacking across the kitchen in her heels. She slams her closet door. Soon Marie can hear a riot of bones as Rhonda masturbates.

Marie puts a pot of water on for chamomile tea. She decides not to risk the coffee with her sour stomach. She would not be able to eat her egg until Rhonda calms down and goes to sleep. Her orgasms were always numerous, loud, and lengthy as she moans and slams against the walls of the closet.

When at last she hears Rhonda snoring she peel hesr treat, her delicious evening meal, the Doctor had said.

“The egg is a gift to yourself,” the Doctor had told her that initial meeting when he explained the basics of the diet to her. “It is the perfect meal, along with the vegetables I have listed for you on your plan. You will be so happy you found this little miracle worker. And you will be happy you have found all of us, at The Clinic. We will all become your very best allies.”

On that day of The First Day of the Rest of Her Life, she was thanking her guardian angel for guiding her into how to spend a portion of the settlement from the divorce: On a Plan to Get Her Body Back. Those hazel eyes of his stirred something deep in her, not just a heart skipping way but also in a stirring in her hips. She knew with everything that was within her he saw her beauty, he was going to help draw it out, unveiled, naked, dewy, made young.

The Doctor reminded Marie of her pastor when she was young and went to church with her family, on the days they took communion: “And Jesus said ‘Take, eat, all of you, this is my body which is broken for you. As often as you eat of it you do so in remembrance of me.” The Doctor had that same benevolent, beatific quality as her pastor, but her pastor had never been able to help her with her real problem, which was her inability to stop eating.

The egg feels good on her teeth as she bites through the flesh and straight through to the yolk. She drinks ice water, really cold “to shock the system” he had told her though in her nursing training she had never heard anything about the benefits of the temperature of water in the body, though Jesus did say something about lukewarm water. He didn’t like it and said he would spit it out.

Rhonda is still asleep when she leaves for work the next morning, which is usually the case. Marie had stayed up late the night before to launder her new, smaller rose colored scrubs, a pair she has decided to finally wear to show to maximum effect her more streamlined body. Now she is a size six. At her Goal she was a size ten which, according to the Doctor was average and healthy for her height and build. What the Doctor and most men didn’t know, however, that to a woman size six was most desired of all the sizes, no matter the supposed health and desirability of other larger sizes at whatever height.

She had bought a new soft burgundy cardigan to wear with her new scrubs. She curls her hair and sets it high on her head. She takes even more care with her makeup, jewelry , and perfume. This is the day something would happen. She isn’t sure what, but she would get closer to him, close enough to feel the heat of him rise from his muscular frame. He would start to learn, really know, how she feels about him, and she feels most prepared to show him, what with this smaller body and the clothes to match.

But he doesn’t come to work that day. She feels faint and has to sit down. During the couple of weeks leading up to her final “reveal,” she had sharply curtailed all carbs and drank water constantly. Coupled with her frantic, almost manic, vertiginous climb to her best self for this Special Day, she was disorientated. The other nurses coached her to put her head between her knees. One of them drove her home while the other followed behind in her car.

“Is everything ok?” says Eddie at his office door as the nurses walked in, guiding Marie between them.

They explain the situation to him and agree to let Marie stay in his office while she recovers enough to be on her own. “Please feed her something,” one of them said. “I think she feels a bit weak.”

He takes her in gently, holding her by the elbow with one hand the waist by the other. He is a large man, but not unpleasantly so, the kind of man The Doctor would have attempted to diet down a bit, but he seems comfortable with himself. Marie feels the soft plushness of him as he guides her to sit on the couch under the window.

“I am worried about you, Marie,” he says gently. “Can I call you by your first name?” He had always called her Ms. Stapleton.

She nods.

“Would it be ok if I made you something?”

She nods again.

He softly claps his hands together, happy for the order. In his kitchenette, he warms a pot of cheddar bacon potato soup that he had made for himself the night before. He puts it on a tv tray along with a side of saltines.

Everything on her plate is such a No No, thinks Marie. She would never had eaten this on her own. But somehow with Eddie, she didn’t feel overly uncomfortable.

“Here, I like to put a little extra cheese on the top,” he says, and sprinkles some shredded cheddar on her soup with his big soft thick fingers.

She hesitates, her spoon hovering over the impossibly loaded bowl of fat and carbs, but then, diving in, she takes a sip.

“See, isn’t that nice?”

She doesn’t answer but takes another sip and another. Salty, fatty, buttery, cheesy, potatoey. Yum, says her body.

He turns on the tv for her. A news program about the traffic in the city, then the weather.

What if she had met Eddie earlier under different circumstances? Would she have children by now? Would she be fat with happiness and comfort? Would she be yelling at their kids and chasing them, worrying over them? Would she be nagging and arguing with Eddie but would they laugh about it later and make love or be tense some nights but know, overall, things would be fine? Would they be poor but happy with it and go to church as one big happy scruffy mess?

When Eddie takes her back to her apartment he asks her if he could call her. She nods. “Maybe you would like to go see a movie.”

She loved the movies. It had been a long time. She had been afraid of the smell of the fattening, delicious popcorn.

As if reading her mind, he says, “I’ll bet you love popcorn.”

She smiles, the first time he’d ever seen her smile.

“We’ll get a big tub of it and put it right between us.” He says, pleased with himself. He says he will call her to set something up for the following weekend and touches her shoulder. “Call me if you need anything before then, ok? And I mean, anything, Marie.”

When she is inside her small cluster of rooms, she leans her back against the door. How different this day has been from what she had anticipated. But she isn’t upset, just a little shocked.

A warm glow emanates from her sheers, the still early hour of the working day, just past noon, an hour she isn’t usually home to witness. She could indulge in a movie on television and work on her needlepoint. Or she could read a book. It amazes her to think she isn’t thinking about food – what to eat or what she couldn’t eat. All she wants to think about is what she can actually do, things she enjoyed doing in the days she wasn’t worried about Being the Best Version of Herself.

And there is quiet. No banging around in the closet. She opens the door. There is nothing. She closes the door. It is once more a place for guests to hang their coats.