Cindy was assigned to a building a few blocks away. The good news was she would now be able to add a whole six extra blocks of walking commute to her day—“free exercise,” as Jacob called it. The bad news was that she and Jacob would no longer be able to meet during most workdays. Office delivery people had odd hours, one of the reasons the job was so undesirable; they had to make sure that work assignments arrived before people got to work every day, and then they had to make regular updates of memos and interoffice mail throughout the day. C.O.F.E. generated a lot of paperwork. Sometimes Cindy thought that paperwork was the main work product of C.O.F.E.—that, plus the thousands of ways of saying “no” to people who were hoping to get government assistance with their weight control.
Cindy was about two weeks into this new job when she noticed her first evidence of real weight loss: her new C.O.F.E. uniform was so baggy that it kept sliding off her shoulder. At first, she dared not hope. She even checked that she got back the right uniforms from the dry cleaners. But as she spent a whole day adjusting her gray blouse every few minutes, it was unmistakable—she had lost a measurable and noticeable amount of weight. She couldn’t wait to tell Jacob.
“It’s too soon, too soon,” Jacob said. He was visibly agitated.
“I was hoping for ‘That’s great, Cindy!’ Or something similar.” Cindy was sitting on the chair in Jacob’s dorm room. It was after work on Friday.
“I’m sorry. That’s great, Cindy!” He smiled at her, but there was something off about it.
“Much better,” Cindy said approvingly. “Now, what’s up? What are you worried about?”
“Well, you can’t obviously wear that anymore.” Jacob waved at her uniform, which hung off Cindy as if she were a rod, which she wasn’t. For all the weight Cindy had lost, she was still a very heavy woman.
“Obviously,” Cindy agreed. “I’ve put in a requisition for a new one, two sizes smaller. Do you think I should have gone with three?”
Jacob gave her an appraising look. “Perhaps. We can’t have you ordering new uniforms every few weeks.”
“What do you mean?”
Jacob gave her an exasperated look. “Just think about it.”
“I have. I’m losing weight. On my own! And it’s wonderful!”
“It is wonderful, Cindy. And I’m very proud of you. I just don’t want to give it away. If you keeping getting new uniforms every few weeks—smaller and smaller uniforms—somebody’s bound to notice and start asking questions.”
“What could they do? They took away any hope of me getting thin via a tits account. The only way I can get the body I used to have is by doing it myself. That’s not illegal.”
“No, it’s no illegal per se. But it is discouraged. Strongly discouraged. Have you ever heard of anyone losing weight on their own?”
“Before you? Never.”
“See? And I keep my weight loss a secret.”
“But why, Jacob? Why?” Cindy was positively floating with her success, and she wasn’t getting Jacob’s paranoia.
“Our whole society is set up to support and propagate Transdimensional Industries. Babies are born and are automatically signed up for a personal tits account. Baby showers are all about contributions to tits now. The government practically pushes everyone to overeat. And why not? It’s all safely stored away in tits. At least for some people. For the lucky few people. The rest of us…” Jacob waved his arms wildly around, making the giant flabs of extra skin on his upper arms flop dangerously. He wasn’t wearing his fat suit, just a pair of loose shorts and a t-shirt. “The rest of us are slaves to the system. We’re made to hope and work all of our lives for the minuscule possibility that we might get lucky and get a fully funded fat-sucking tits account. But that will never happen. Never.”
Cindy got up and poured Jacob a glass of tap water. He looked red and out of breath.
“Thank you,” he said. He took the water and drank it down.
Cindy didn’t want to argue with Jacob, especially not when he was like this. She just wanted to understand what he was worried about. Sure, some people at C.O.F.E. were jerks. There were jerks everywhere. Certainly Charles Perrault II was one. But most people Cindy worked with were nice people, ordinary people, people like Dezdemona, people who just wanted to get through the day and do their work and go home and eat and watch a movie. True, most people also hoped to get a fully funded government-supported tits account, but they weren’t evil for wanting that.
Cindy waited until Jacob sat back down on the bed. “What are you saying, Jacob?”
“We’re all chasing beauty and—”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. And also it’s not just about beauty. My life expectancy is in the low thirties at the moment. I worked with the Actuarial Department; I know the statistics. For each additional category of fat, the life expectancy goes down by two point five years. Being thin is not just about looks, it’s about living longer, living healthier. It’s about having a family. It’s about being happy. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter. It does.”
“Of course it does! Then why are we discouraged from losing weight on our own?”
“I don’t know, Jacob. I’m still new to all this. What do your friends think?”
Jacob looked uncomfortable. Cindy knew he didn’t like to talk about the “we” of his group of rebels—the people who helped him with his weight loss and designed his fat suit. But those people were clearly part of all this; they had shaped Jacob’s understanding of what was going on.
“If you want me to do something crazy like hide my weight loss from everyone, you’ll have to explain to me what’s going on,” Cindy said. “And I have to believe you.”
“Look, Cindy, it’s not my secret to tell. I just don’t want you to get hurt. Okay?”
“Okay. So tell me what you can. Because I’m not going to stop losing the weight. And it will show. People will notice.”
“Eventually.” Jacob was fiddling with the hem of his t-shirt.
“Soon, Jacob. Look at me. I’m already much less than I used to be.”
“Okay. We would have had to make adjustments for you anyway,” Jacob said.
“I’ll take you to meet the group soon. Just let me get permission first. Okay?”