Weeks flew by, until the day the world came to a screeching halt. It started with another official envelope that Cindy found on her desk. It wasn’t clear who had delivered it; Cindy and Jacob stayed late at the office most nights to finish Cindy’s workload, and she arrived to work earlier than everyone on her floor. The whole C.O.F.E. complex was deserted at night; government workers didn’t show up early or stayed late—that was part of their contract. And Jacob did all of the inter-office deliveries as far they knew. So who? Who had left the ominous-looking envelope on her desk in the middle of the night?
With shaking hands, Cindy ripped it open.
Dear Ms. Rella, It is with great sadness that we must inform you of the death of your father, Mr. Dexter Rella. You may take the rest of the day off to attend to the death documents, which you will find enclosed with this memo.
Sincerely yours, Charles Perrault II, Second Level Government Administrator of the Civil Office of Fat Excision.
P.S. You will of course be expected to complete your work assignments. You may do so this weekend, at your earliest convenience.
Cindy didn’t remember how she got to the human resources office. It was still empty, about two hours before anyone would show, so Cindy found a chair in the waiting room. Some time later, someone asked what she was doing there. Cindy lifted a neat stack of death processing applications held together by a large black alligator clip. The person nodded, perhaps with sympathy. Cindy couldn’t tell. More time passed. At some point, a man asked her to come into his office.
“What can I do for you, Ms. Rella?” he asked.
“My dad…” Cindy lifted the paperwork again. She found it hard to speak.
“Yes, we know about Mr. Rella. Tragic, very tragic…”
“You know how my dad died?” Cindy wanted to know how her father died. The memo and the papers had provided no explanation.
“Well, you know it’s all very private. And we here at the Civil Office of Fat Excision are very careful about privacy,” the man explained.
“But I didn’t even know he was sick. He told me he would stop by. He sent me a cake from DeLessio.”
“Good choice, good choice.” The man seemed very uncomfortable. He kept picking up and putting down his pen, as if unsure whether he would be in imminent need of it, but wanting to be prepared for such an eventuality.
“Was he sick?” Cindy asked.
“You mean Mr. Rella?”
“Well, as you know, Ms. Rella, it is a private family matter.”
“But I am family.”
“Well, yes. Yes, you are.” The man almost made a decision to put the pen into his desk drawer, then changed his mind again.
“How am I supposed to fill out these papers? I don’t know anything.” Cindy felt herself starting to detach from this conversation. Reality felt slippery; there was nothing to grab hold of, nothing to keep her in the moment. Her father was dead.
“Ah, well, the paperwork…” The man visibly brightened. “As I was saying before, there’s nothing we can help you with, Ms. Rella. Filling out death processing papers is a very private activity. Very private. Human Resources works hard to protect C.O.F.E. employees’ privacy. So I… we couldn’t possibly.”
“Are you saying you won’t help me?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all, Ms. Rella. Human Resources is here to assist all the employees of the Civil Office of Fat Excision.” He graced her with a practiced smile.
“Good, because I need help filling out my father’s death processing papers.”
“We can’t help you with that.”
“But you just said?”
“As I was telling you, Ms. Rella: privacy! We have to guard your privacy. We are very proud of our office’s record on privacy.” He gave her another smile.
“But…” Cindy began. But her attempt was met with yet another smile, and the Human Resources man rose from his seat, finally depositing the pen into the desk drawer.
“I wish you all the best, Ms. Rella. But as you can see,” he pointed to the waiting room, “we are quite busy.”
Cindy followed his finger. The waiting room was empty.
“I see,” she said, getting up. “I guess I’ll just figure it out on my own.”
“Privacy!” The man smiled again, and this time his relief was palpable.
Cindy walked out of the Human Resources Department and then straight out of the C.O.F.E. building. She needed to find out what happened to her dad.
She didn’t know his phone number. She didn’t have his current address. She had no contact information. Her stepmother had thought it best that Cindy’s father be the one to initiate contact with his daughter. “Your father mustn’t be pestered,” she’d explained to Cindy. “I’m sure he’ll call you all the time.”
Cindy had seen him only three times in the last six years.
The only thing she could think to do was to go back to her childhood home. That was the last address she had for her father. So she took the people-mover to the train station and boarded the next train out of town.
The ride to the small suburb where she’d grown up took only forty minutes, but Cindy felt like she’d traveled fifteen years back in time. She remembered taking the train home with her mom and dad after going to the In.O.F. Day Parade. It was a glorious day, perfect in every detail. Cindy had an ice cream sundae and cotton candy. She shared a few hot dogs with her dad, even gulping down the nasty sauerkraut her dad liked so much. Her mom laughed, watching her eat and run along the parade route for a few blocks. That was the first time Cindy had been allowed to be so far away from her parents—blocks away—while in the city. Before then, her parents had been too worried about Cindy being grabbed by one of the nasty fat people watching the parade from behind the barriers.
Now I’m one of those people, Cindy thought.
Cindy looked around the train car. It was midmorning, and there were only two other riders. People who worked in the city wouldn’t be returning home until much later in the day, and people who traveled to the city on errands were probably just getting ready to leave home. Perhaps they would take this same train car back.
Cindy’s thoughts seemed to jump from one idea, one image, to the next. She noticed that the two other passengers made a point not to notice her, turning away when she looked in their direction. Cindy would have done the same if she were thin and beautiful, she realized. So be it.
Cindy got off at her stop and looked around. Across the tracks, people were waiting to ride into the city, but her own platform was deserted. It’s better this way.
Cindy went over to look at the transit map. It had been so long since she’d been here, the people-movers had probably changed course half a dozen times. She tried to find the best route to the house.
“Is there something I can help you with, Miss?”
The man standing next to Cindy was dressed in a civil police uniform. He was huge and muscular, but thin—small towns like these didn’t tolerate fat policemen. Local taxes paid for local police tits accounts. The six-sided golden police badge was a tits anchor.
“I’m just trying to get home,” Cindy explained, but from the look on the officer’s face, she immediately knew that that had been the wrong thing to say. People like Cindy didn’t have “homes” around here. “I meant, my family home,” Cindy quickly clarified.
“I see,” the officer said, but clearly he didn’t. He pulled out his radio tablet and started punching something in. “Your name?” he asked.
“Cindy Rella. But—”
“And where did you say you were going, Miss Rella?” he interrupted.
“You see, Officer, my dad died. And I have these papers.” Cindy pulled out the official packet and showed it to the policeman. He glanced at it briefly but continued punching buttons.
“There is no one with the last name of Rella living in this district.” He looked up at Cindy.
“But…” Cindy was confused. Had she taken the wrong train? Gotten off at the wrong stop? She looked around. The station had changed, but it still looked familiar. For instance, the ticket office used to be a dark shade of green, to match the AstroTurf that lined the pedestrian walkways leading to the station. It was now blue, but Cindy thought she saw a bit of green paint sticking out near the ground. And there was the big clock with the mirrored base; she remembered that distinctly. Thin people liked to check themselves out prior to boarding a train for the city. No, aside from minor details, everything was just as Cindy remembered it. This was definitely her home town.
“You were saying, Miss?” the police officer prompted.
“This must be it. I used to live here. As a kid. I used to be thin and beautiful,” Cindy explained.
“I see.” The officer clearly didn’t believe her. “Is there another name I could look up?”
“My mom died.” Cindy didn’t know why she said that. It wasn’t like this man would take pity on her.
“And now your dad is dead too. Yes?”
“Yes. But he remarried.”
“And what was your stepmother’s name?”
“Ms. Rella,” Cindy said. “Marian Rella. She took my dad’s name.”
“Uh-huh.” The policeman was punching more buttons. This was not going well.
“She had… has a daughter,” Cindy volunteered.
“And did she take your dad’s name as well?”
Cindy felt like the officer was toying with her. Maybe he was just keeping her talking until the authorities arrived to take her away to wherever they took fat people who didn’t belong in places like these.
“I don’t know.” And she really didn’t. Pruddy—Prudence—was a few years older than Cindy. That’s how her dad had explained the need to give the tits subsidies to her instead of to Cindy. “She needs to find a husband, Cindy. Who would take a fat cow for a wife?” Who indeed?
“Well?” the officer prodded again.
“I’m sorry. My dad just died. Or he might have died earlier, but I only found out this morning.”
“What does that have to do with your stepsister’s name?” The officer turned to look at something around the corner. Cindy followed his gaze and saw a police van. They were going to take her away.
“You don’t understand. I need to fill out this paperwork. I work for the government. You can check the city C.O.F.E. office. They know all about this. They were the ones who told me about my dad’s death. See?” Cindy pushed the papers into the officer’s face.
He pushed them aside roughly, almost spilling everything to the ground. Cindy felt hot tears start to roll. She wasn’t even sure if she was crying because her dad died or because of the absurdity of this situation.
“Tears don’t work on me, Miss. We’re going to go for a little ride to the station and figure this out.”
He took Cindy by her upper arm. It hurt. Cindy walked—or rather, she was pulled—into the van. Inside, there were no windows; instead, the interior walls were covered in mirrors. Cindy stared at the fat monstrosity with red puffy eyes. That’s why no one has mirrors, she thought bitterly.
After an unpleasant ride during which Cindy tried not to look at the fat woman that stared back at her from every direction, the van doors finally opened onto an underground garage. Cindy was helped out of the van and then loaded into an elevator, which took her up to a room with, again, no windows. The only items of furniture in the room were a chair, a bench, and a table. The chair was meant for thin people.
Cindy took the bench. It was hard and uncomfortable.
What happened to Dad? Where’s Marian? Where’s Pruddy? Didn’t the supervisor say my… Marian’s F.A.T.O.F.F. application was expedited? Wouldn’t that mean…?
The thoughts twirled and swirled in Cindy’s head. Nothing made sense. She was starting to feel lightheaded from hunger. How long had it been since she’d eaten?
Cindy took out the death papers from the envelope and tried to read. The only blank she knew for sure she could fill in correctly was her dad’s name: Dexter Rella. Nothing else. Was that enough?
Cindy suspected it wasn’t.