Mickey J. Corrigan lives and works and gets into trouble in South Florida, where the men run guns and the women run after them. Mickey writes...read more pulpy fiction and neo-noir from a woman's viewpoint. Her newest crime novel will be released in September by Salt Publications in the UK. Visit at www.mickeyjcorrigan.com.
IT WASN'T LIKE I WAS LOOKING TO POP MY CHERRY. My brother was the one who clued me in, but I went with my sister the first time. I was, of course, a virgin in such matters. And, coming from a sheltered background, I had no idea places like EE's even existed.
At the time, I thought I was a member of a law-abiding family, and I believed we'd all been following the State Sanctioned Health Rules carefully. Mom ran ten miles before breakfast every morning, and Dad was a marathon swimmer, twenty-six miles in the open ocean every month. They prepped our meals a hundred percent organic, and on Halloween we gave out little pots of sprouting wheatgrass. Mom and Dad worked at Whole Earth, both in management, and they wore their recycled uniforms with pride. I thought we were happy and healthy. A normal family.
But when I was fourteen, something changed. The twins became secretive and quickly put on weight, both of them, until they were horribly fat. It was shocking to watch. Over a period of about six months, Leaf and Barley blew up like a couple of puffer fish. My parents couldn't figure it out. What were they eating at high school? Because at home, everybody ate well and worked out every single day. We didn't want to end up at a fat farm with all the food offenders.
Mom talked to the food director at the twins' school. They were given the regulation raw vegan lunch provided to all students by the State. And the director of body control reassured my mom the twins participated in the required daily physical education classes.
Dad made a doctor appointments for them. The twins were pissy about it, but they went. There was nothing wrong with their glands or anything. Nothing wrong with their health. The pediatrician, however, threatened to report my parents to the State for child abuse if my siblings gained any more weight.
My parents freaked out. They badgered, they grounded, they threatened. The twins shrugged, gave each other intimate looks, and remained silent. They ate their meals quietly. And quietly got fatter.
My normal family was no longer happy.
Leaf and I were in the first floor gym when he let it slip. "I could go for a double grilled cheese beef burger sand right about now," he said. He was sitting on the stationary bike but he wasn't riding it. His broad pale face had a dreamy expression. "With bacon," he added.
There was nobody else in the gym at the time. Otherwise, we could have been reported to the State by any one of our nosy neighbors. As it was, the twins were getting some pretty rough stares from the health-conscious folks that populated our building.
"What's a double grill cheese burg? What's sand?" I asked. I had just finished my evening sit-ups. I walked over to the bike and poked him in the belly. It was soft, like wheat bread only softer. "And what's bacon?"
Leaf snorted. "You are such a dweeber, June Lake. Are you always gonna be Mommy and Daddy's little priss?"
I punched his arm. My hand bounced off his thick rubbery flesh.
Leaf laughed at me, then leaned in to whisper, "A double grilled cheese beef burger sand is the best thing that will ever happen to you. If it ever happens to you."
He eased himself off the bicycle seat and stared at me. His licked his fat lips and his eyes sparkled with a weird light. "It's the greatest feeling in the world. Eating something that rich, that decadent, that…illegal. Eating and eating until you feel so full your head is spinning, your heart's kicking in your chest, your loins growing wet with..."
Leaf turned away and waddled across the carpeted room toward the water cooler. "If you're very nice to me, I might tell you what bacon is," he called over one fleshy shoulder.
He filled up his portable water bottle and began guzzling. Glug glug. Boys grossed me out, so I wiped off the bike seat with a towel before I started in on my eight miles. I didn't want to know what he was talking about. I figured it was some kind of dirty trick anyway. Leaf liked to mess with me because I was gullible. I wasn't as smart as he was, but only because I was three years younger.
A few weeks later, my sister and I were Christmas shopping downtown. The crowds were thick in Mazy's Athletic Warehouse, where we were looking for Google-equipped running shoes for Mom and a pair of flippers with GPS for Dad. Barley was standing in the middle of a narrow aisle, blocking passage with her wide rear, when she suddenly turned to me and said, "June Lake, are you hungry?"
I had a headache and I did feel kind of weak. Sometimes the carrot sticks and nut butter they served at school wasn't enough to get me through the afternoon.
"I'm starving," I told my sister. "Can we go to Veggie Palace for a beetroot smoothie?"
"I know someplace way better," Barley told me. "But afterward, you have to promise not to tell anyone where we went."
I put down the fake fur-lined track shoes I was holding. Her tiny eyes, buried in mounds of white flesh, were glimmering with a sickly excitement. My sister wasn't the excitable type, so this piqued my curiosity.
"Sure," I said. "Let's go."
She took me by the hand and led me uptown a bunch of blocks until we were just south of the park. Then we ducked down a Dumpster-lined alley, which smelled so bad I had to hold my breath.
"What the heck?" I asked Barley in a nasally voice, pinching my nostrils closed.
She laughed at me and said, "Grease. Cooking oil, drippings, grilled flesh. When you've never smelled it before, it takes a while to get used to." My sister took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "Ummmm," she said, her eyes bright with appreciation. "I'm so used to it now that, as soon as I get near EE's, I start to salivate."
I wasn't sure what EE stood for, nor what salivating was, but Barley had quickened her pace so I sped up as well. Then her pudgy knees buckled under her as we descended a set of wide stone steps. I grabbed onto my sister's bulky arm and held tight until we got to the bottom of the deep, dank stairwell.
There was no sign above the unimpressive metal door. A buzzer below the plain black mailbox was labeled "E.E." My sister pressed it with one fat finger and I listened as a bell echoed inside the basement. Who were we visiting, and were they really cooking illegal foods, possibly meats like Barley seemed to imply?
I didn't let go of my sister's arm until she shook off my hand and said, "Ouch. You're stabbing me with your fingernails."
The door was opened by the fattest man I had ever seen, except in the Just Say No To Bad Food movies they showed in phys-ed class. His watermelon head rested on a neck tucked under folds of overlapping flesh. His torso was round as a ball, a big pasty ball of dough. I could feel the heat coming from his body, and an oddly distinctive odor wafted my way. Bakery smells. He reeked of grain bread and rolls, but sweeter. I might have been scared, but when he smiled his face was as open as a child's.
"Barley! Where have you been all week? We missed you on garlic night." He stepped back far enough that my sister and I could squeeze past him into the dark hallway. "And who's the cute little string bean with you?"
When Barley introduced us, Coughton let out a booming, contagious laugh. "Your sister? Of course. Reminds me of you the first time you came here. So scrawny, so itty-bitty." He grinned at me. "Don't worry, honey, we'll fatten you up."
Before I could stop myself, I said, "But then I'll be breaking the law. I don't want to go to a fat farm."
Barley snapped, "Shut up, June Lake. You're about to learn something today. Consider this a lesson in political activism. Civil disobedience. Patriotism in the historic sense of the word."
Coughton said, "Aw, she's just frightened. Remember how nervous you were on your first visit?" He patted my head. His hand was heavy and hot, like a bath towel gets in a sauna. "We'll need to take this slow, Barley. Like we did with you."
My sister sighed. She had no patience with me. She never had. I was always just this burden she had to drag around whenever our parents forced her to watch over me. So I wasn't sure why she had brought me to this place, whatever it was. Later on, I figured out her motive. She wanted me on her side. So that I would join her and Leaf in the conspiracy. She'd recruited me into a growing army of anti-government rebels. But at the time, I had no idea.
When my stomach rumbled, as if on cue, both Barley and Coughton giggled. "Okay, maybe we won't need to take it that slow," the big man snickered and my sister laughed. She grabbed my hand and yanked me down the hall, Coughton lumbering along behind us.
"What is this place?' I whispered, but my sister shushed me.
The hall flooring creaked under our feet, the walls were damp and green with mold. The moistness seeped into my bones. I never liked basements, they gave me the creeps. I was an apartment girl, born and raised, and I preferred heights to dungeons.
When I shivered, my sister said, "You're too skinny, that's why you're cold. You need some meat on those bones."
Behind us, Coughton snorted. "You were like a block of ice last winter, Barley. We all start out that way. It's not your sister's fault, it's her faulty environment." He tsked.
When we reached the end of the hall, my sister stopped before a set of huge wooden doors. The archway loomed twenty feet overhead. An army of giants could've passed through the doorway.
"We'll have you fixed up in no time," Coughton said to me as he pressed a series of buttons on a computerized entry panel. "You'll just have to trust us, okay?"
As we waited for the doors to open, Coughton stood behind us, arms crossed on his massive chest. His shiny dome dripped with sweat, even though I was freezing in my poly-fur coat. He gave me a paternal smile and reached out to rest a hand on my head once more. Like he was a priest about to say a prayer for my poor starved soul.
"Today is a big day for you, June Lake. What you are about to do is for your own good. You are embarking on a rite of passage, one you are experiencing for the sake of your individual self. But the choice you are making is also for the good of your country. This is about freedom and justice and good eating for all. Understand, young lady?"
What could I say to this fat man with the tender smile? I don't trust you because you are a food criminal? A food offender who seduces minors like my siblings, a man who could go to jail for what he was about to do, that is, food seduce me? There were laws about this kind of thing. If you were a convicted FO, when you got off the fat farm, you couldn't live within two blocks of a kid under eighteen.
This was what I thought at the time, but I was too overwhelmed to speak up. I looked at my sister for help. Her legs were wobbling and a strand of drool dangled from the corner of her open mouth. She stared at the doors ahead of us with a look on her face that reminded me of our old dog Gretchen. The way Barley's tongue lolled? That was exactly how Gretchen looked whenever she waited for us to open a can of Science Dog for dinner.
"Government controlled food consumption is the real criminal activity," Coughton said, as if he had read my mind. "Do you think the founding fathers intended us all to live on winter grass and soy milk, sweet niblets, whole grains so coarse they would be better served in a horse trough? Thomas Jefferson was a foodie, and William Taft was obese. Bet they didn't teach you that in school."
He rolled his bulging eyeballs and sighed. His breath smelled like a pizza oven. "You kids don't even know our country's history. The big repasts that were once served in every home. Three times a day, vast meals with pounds of fresh-killed meat. America was built on the fuel provided by animal foods. Even the White House held orgies of self-indulgence, with specially trained chefs hired to prepare multi-course dinners that took hours to consume."
He was right. I'd learned nothing of the sort in history class.
Coughton nodded his melon head sagely and added, "We come from a nation of gourmands. And we cannot continue to trick our bodies, our brains, our very genes into thinking we no longer hunger for primal foodstuffs."
There was a click as the doors unlocked and began to swing open. When my sister swooned a little, I grabbed her, allowing her to lean heavily on my shoulder. Coughton moved to her other side, snaking a long arm around the two of us, propping us up. I was annoyed at his grip on my upper arm, but quickly changed my attitude. Once the room we were about to enter came into view, I understood his protectiveness. It would have been so easy for me to fall over, taking my sister with me.
When the doors were fully opened, I gasped. My sister made a choking sound. Coughton held us tight.
The light, bright and harsh, splashed down upon a vast ballroom. People sat on benches, huddled close together, hunched over their plates in row upon row of long wooden dining tables. So many people, talking and eating. They roamed about carrying massive trays piled high. There must have been more than a hundred of them in the huge, noisy room. And there was so much food. I had no experience with it, but I knew what it was. Instantly. Intuitively. I could smell it, I could almost taste it.
Food. Bad food. Unhealthy food. Illegal food.
The din was so loud I was tempted to cover my ears. The peals of laughter, yells of raucous joy, belching and groans of sensuous pleasure combined with the clang of silverware on china, ice on glass, all of this created a deafening clamor. The aromas were varied, enticing, strange. The colors were wild: deep magenta, neon green, rusty brown, and cream, lovely cream. The heat was intense. I felt dizzy, my senses overwhelmed.
"Welcome to your first eat-easy, June Lake," Coughton said, slowly releasing his grip on us. "I can guarantee that your first evening here at EE's will not be your last."
My sister giggled, lurched forward and bounded into the frenzied crowd. I heard several people greet her, and someone yelled for her to join their table.
I stood there for a moment, frozen in place. The people in the room were so intimidating. Most were fatter than my sister, some massively obese. I had never seen so many lawbreakers before. Most Americans of unwanted size will hide themselves inside their homes. They work out of the house on computers and they telecommute. They shop via the Internet. The kids are homeschooled. The parents are sent to fat farms. You'll see them about, but they're in the minority.
I was awestruck, scared and thrilled at the same time. Wow, so many deviants, all in one big room. And these fat people, they seemed to be having so much fun!
Coughton took hold of my arm lightly and led me inside the boisterous banquet hall. The doors closed automatically behind us. He bent down to speak directly in my ear, his breath a yeasty gush of warm air. "I'll take you to your sister's table. Do what she does. Eat all you can. Indulge. You are an animal, my dear. Animals gorge themselves. It's natural. And good."
I sat down in a trance, and in that trance I ordered a double grilled cheese beef burger sand. The pudgy waitress, a girl not much older than me, gave an appreciative nod. "With bacon?" she asked with a conspiratorial raise of her shapely eyebrows. When I said yes, she flashed me a toothy grin. "Good choice," she said, and hurried off.
"Three kitchens back where she's headed," Barley explained. "One for butchering. One for cooking. And one for the employees. If you work here, you eat all you want for free. I'm hoping to get a job here. I still need to put on around ten more pounds. Show my commitment to the cause."
"The cause?" I asked. The man to my left was twice the size of my dad, and he kept belching between bites of what looked like grilled raccoon. It was red and white and grey with black rings. I leaned into my sister until she pushed me away. "What cause?" I repeated.
The burping man butted in. He had ruby-red sauce splatters on his dimpled chin. "We're buildin' a movement. Fatties unite, take back the plate. We're gonna storm the city and demand our rights to eat freely, eat what we want. It's a privacy issue. Where in the U.S. Constitution does it say we all gots to be thin?" He leaked a little gas and apologized.
Barley said, "They just don't want to pay for our health care costs. This is all about saving money." She leaned forward to smile at the man beside me, then added, "It's a government plot and it's unconstitutional, just like Jack said."
"Tell her 'bout the rally," Jack managed to spit out between chews.
My sister looked at me. She appraised me for a second, her eyes squinty, unsure. Then she said, "If you want to join us, June Lake, there's going to be a fat pride march in the spring. People are flying in from all over. The eat-easies are funding it. It's going to be awesome."
She talked with Jack about the plans for the protest rally, her big face alight with excitement. I'd never seen my sister so passionate. When our meals arrived, I saw another side of my sister I'd never seen before. She tore into a rare steak with the fury of a rabid fox. The sounds she made were deep and guttural. I didn't know she had it in her. I would've been embarrassed, except everyone around us was grunting and moaning as they ate.
When my own heaping plate was set before me, I caught my breath. Holy wheatgrass, what the heck was I looking at? The ten-inch mound dripped grease. It reeked of oil and salt and something else, something earthy. It looked like an oversized soy-curd sandwich, but the concoction smelled much richer, more vital. I put my face next to the mound and inhaled deeply.
The waitress laughed and said, "The sand is a triple-decker sandwich. It's also a burger. Like they served in fast food restaurants back in the old days. This one's made from two grilled cheese sandwiches on white bread, with a twelve-ounce beef patty in the middle. They grill the whole thing in butter and bacon grease. The bacon strips on top were freshly butchered. They're maple-flavored. You're gonna love it." She winked at me and took off, heading for a rowdy table across the room.
I took a deep breath and picked up a soggy, heavy sandwich half. I knew I was breaking the law. I knew I was doing something unhealthy, even dangerous, and there would be consequences for my actions. I knew I shouldn't do it, but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to be bad. I wanted to eat bad food.
So I did. I bit into the sand and closed my eyes as the grease coated my lips, my tongue, my throat, and dripped down my chin. "Ahhh," I think I said. "Oh my god," I might have muttered. I took another bite. And another. The feeling filled me up inside with a combination of spiritual joy and earthy pleasure. I kept eating.
That was the day I popped my bad food cherry. Bye-bye bad food virginity, hello sensual animal delight. And let me tell you this: A double grilled cheese beef burger sand with bacon is the best thing that will ever happen to you. If it ever happens to you.
The waitress was right. I loved bad food. Who doesn't? We're animals, and bad food appeals to our primal nature.
Coughton was also right. My first visit to EEs was not my last. I went as often as I could, and soon enough I was fatter than both my sibs.
Barley, too, was correct when she promised me the spring rally was going to be fantastic. It was. We marched side by side down Broadway, singing "We Shall Overcome." There were marches in other cities including LA and Austin, Detroit, Boston and Seattle, but ours attracted the biggest crowds.
I marched next to my sister. My brother was there, huffing along, shirt off, doughy belly glistening in the afternoon sun. A lot of my friends from EE's were there, too. Our community spirit was almost as high as when we broke white bread together. To my surprise, crowds of people of all sizes lined the sidewalks and cheered us on. Who knew so many of us felt the same way? We wanted our eating freedom back. The times they were a-changin'.
So I don't blame my siblings, Coughton, and the other people from EE's. Nobody had lied to me about the wonders of eating bad. However, they did fail to warn me about how awful it was to live on a fat farm.
I've been here for a year now. Barley and Leaf went home last month, slim and trim and determined to go straight. But it looks like I have an addict's brain. I can't stop thinking about EE's delicious sands. Group therapy, pharmaceutical appetite restraints, hard labor, nothing seems to change my need, my craving, for the thick sweet taste of bad food.
As soon as I lose the last twenty pounds required in order to get released, I'm going back to EEs. I've decided to approach them with my idea for a side business. I plan to run an eating escort service. I'll outreach on school playgrounds, at kid gyms and parks. I'll introduce young folks to EE's, just like Barley did for me. Because I'm committed to this. I want to help other kids discover the joys of eating freedom.
See, I plan to do my part to usher in a new era. One in which all body types can live peacefully together. I know you think I'm a martyr to the cause. But as a revolutionary, I can eat all I want at EEs. No health insurance, but all the grease you can take.
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