Jacob didn’t come by Cindy’s desk the next evening. He was a no-show the day after, too. Cindy hadn’t realized until then just how much Jacob had been helping her with her workload. The stack of papers was now piled higher than the walls of her cubicle. She never even got the chance to go home on the second day Jacob didn’t stop by. The amount of work was frightening. And now Cindy wasn’t only trying to finish up her daily quota, she also needed to get through the work that had piled up when she missed a day to visit her childhood home. She began to realize that she wasn’t going to catch up on her work at all—at least, not on her own.
Cindy worked all through the weekend, going home for only a few hours to sleep, shower, and change her clothes. She had a vague thought that perhaps she should be worried about Jacob. Where was he? But she was simply too exhausted and overworked; she couldn’t afford the time to look for him or even to inquire about his whereabouts. Cindy was sure that made her a terrible person.
On Monday morning, Cindy couldn’t get out of bed. Her body just refused to function. She told herself that she would just close her eyes for a few minutes and then she’d get up, take a hot shower, and everything would be better. But the next time Cindy opened her eyes it was already after nine—and she was late for work. After weeks of getting to work hours before everyone else, Cindy was late!
She forced herself to get out of bed. It was more of a roll, really. There wasn’t time for a hot shower, but Cindy still needed to get dressed. She crawled to her closet. Getting dressed wasn’t a big deal most days—the same gray blouse day in and day out reduced the fashion choice and made dressing a snap. But this day, Cindy couldn’t seem to close the buttons. The fabric stretched and made unhappy sounds, and the buttons and the holes refused to line up.
“I’m ginormous!” The panicky thought hit Cindy like a bucket of ice water. In a strange way, that realization totally banished all feelings of tiredness. Blouse after gray blouse—all five of them—were tried and discarded. Not a single one fit. They were all the same size, and all of them had fit yesterday before Cindy went to bed—the government believed in maintaining stability and consistency—but none fit now.
Yet Cindy needed to get to work. Lateness was a vice that C.O.F.E. didn’t tolerate. There would be a price to pay, although Cindy couldn’t imagine what it would be. They couldn’t possibly assign her more work. She was barely able to keep up as it was. In fact, without Jacob’s help, Cindy couldn’t do it.
Cindy looked at the pile of gray cloth on her bed. If she filled out a requisition form for a new uniform, she might get one by Friday. They would take the cost of the new uniforms out of Cindy’s salary, of course, but she could afford it. The bigger problem was: what to do until then?
Cindy considered calling in sick. It wouldn’t even be an outright lie—she was feeling quite ill. But the uniform requisition had to be done in person, which meant going to the office.
She looked at the bed again. Sighing, she took two blouses and buttoned them together, creating a shirt fitted for a four-armed person. She took two of the sleeves and loosely tied them together, then slid the resulting creation over her head. There was plenty of room now. Too much, in fact. The two sleeves tied at the back worked to pull the gray monstrosity up a bit. The neck was way too wide. The front draped like a curtain.
“Well, it’s a look,” Cindy told herself. Good thing there were no mirrors in her room.
Cindy looked in her closet again. In back, there was a shelf of items she never wore—scarves her dad had gifted her for birthdays back when he still acknowledged them; a cute little hat her mom bought for her that one time they went to the In.O.F. Day Parade as a family; a giant ugly old sweater her stepmother had brought to her at a sleep-away school to “keep you warm, dear.” Cindy never wore scarves or sweaters anymore; fat people had a hard enough time keeping cool in this climate. She vaguely remembered needing a coat and boots as a little kid playing outside. But she had been so thin then—no body fat to keep her warm.
Cindy pulled out the sweater. It was huge! But was it huge enough? She slipped it on and zipped up. It fit, snugly, and showed off lumps where the blouse sleeves were tied together in the back, but it covered up the gray uniform experiment. It would have to do.
Cindy quickly finished up her morning routine, rebelliously drinking another two cups of tap water, and rushed out the door.
The C.O.F.E. foyer was crowded already. Cindy moved past the mass of fat humanity and slipped into the line for the elevator. It had been a long time since she’d had to wait for a ride up—she’d been arriving to work too early for that. Other people made a show of not looking at her. Cindy stood in silence, fretting about the late hour. The people around her were probably on their first break of the day.
She spotted the big red envelope as soon as she arrived at her cubicle. There was no missing the fire-truck color or the big “urgent” stamp on the top. With a big sigh, Cindy ripped open the envelope; it was becoming a familiar activity.
The memo was signed “Charles Perrault II, Second Level Government Administrator of the Civil Office of Fat Excision.”
Cindy turned and walked back to the elevator. Back on the first floor, she passed the people still waiting to go up and walked toward the main office. The supervisor was waiting for her, his door open, his eyes on the path from the main office entrance to his door.
Cindy walked with her head held high, her eyes locked with those of Charles Perrault II, Second Level Government Administrator of the Civil Office of Fat Excision. She had nothing more to lose, she thought.
“Ms. Rella. Please come in. And close the door,” he said.
Cindy walked into the office. This time no one had bothered to bring in a double-wide office chair for her. She eyed the delicate leather chair on her side of the supervisor’s desk and decided to remain standing.
“I was feeling sick this morning,” Cindy started to explain, but the supervisor interrupted her.
“You were late with your work, Ms. Rella. The government can’t tolerate shoddy work ethics. We are here to serve the people. Do you understand this, Ms. Rella?”
Cindy was too shocked to answer. He must have known how much she’d been working these past weeks.
“When you don’t do your work, you cheat the people. And we take cheating seriously here at C.O.F.E. Cheaters pay. Do you get me, Ms. Rella? They pay!”
“I’ve been working double, triple shifts, sometimes. I’ve never cheated!”
“They pay. So, as of one o’clock this morning, we’ve disconnected your tits account, using those funds instead to pay back the government for the work you’ve chosen not to do.” Charles Perrault II sounded almost giddy.
Now things made more sense—the feeling of sickness, the sudden explosive weight gain, the pain in her bones and muscles. It all made sense. All the extra weight that Cindy had been carefully storing away in the Transdimensional Industries Tanks, one ounce at a time, had been pushed back into her body all at once.
An unconscious groan emerged from Cindy’s mouth—the sound of a desperate wounded animal, cornered and panicking.
“What was that, Ms. Rella?” The supervisor was smiling at her, apparently enjoying her discomfort.
“That’s not legal,” Cindy managed to squeeze out. She’d never heard of anyone cut off from a tits account.
“Oh, it’s perfectly legal, Ms. Rella. We are the government. We always work within the law. We are the law.”
Cindy stared into his eyes. There wasn’t anything she could say to him, so she just looked. At some point, he looked away, uncomfortable. Cindy smiled.
“You can go. I’m sure you have a lot of work to do,” the supervisor said, dismissing her.
Cindy turned and left without another word. But she didn’t go back up to the office. She walked out onto the street and headed for Jacob’s dorm.