Escape Pod 861: The Pill (Part 1 of 2)

The Pill (Part 1 of 2)

By Meg Elison

My mother took the Pill before anybody even knew about it. She was always signing up for those studies at the university, saying she was doing it because she was bored. I think she did it because they would ask her questions about herself and listen carefully when she answered. Nobody else did that.

She had done it for lots of trials; sleep studies and allergy meds. She tried signing up when they tested the first 3D printed IUDs, but they told her she was too old. I remember her raging about that for days, and later when everybody in that study got fibroids she was really smug about it. She never suggested I do it instead; she knew I wasn’t fucking anybody. How embarrassing that my own mother didn’t even believe I was cute enough to get a date at sixteen. I tried not to care. And I’m glad now I didn’t get fibroids. I never wanted to be a lab rat, anyway. Especially when the most popular studies (and the ones Mom really went all-out for) were the diet ones.

She did them all: the digital calorie monitors that she wore on her wrists and ankles for six straight weeks. (I rolled my eyes at that one, but at least she didn’t talk about it constantly.) The strings like clear licorice made of some kind of super-cellulose that were supposed to accumulate in her stomach lining and give her a no-surgery stomach stapling but just made her (and everyone else who didn’t eat a placebo) fantastically constipated. (Unstoppable complaining about this one; I couldn’t bring anyone home for weeks for fear that she’d abruptly start telling my friends about her struggle to shit.) Pill after pill after pill that gave her heart palpitations, made her hair fall out, or (on one memorable occasion) induced psychotic delusions. If it was a way out of being fat, she’d try it. She’d try anything.

In between the drug trials, she did all the usual diets. Eat like a caveman. Eat like a rabbit. Seven small meals. Fasting one day a week. Apple cider vinegar bottles with dust on their upper domes sat tucked into the back corners of our every kitchen cabinet, behind the bulwark of Fig Newtons and Ritz crackers.

She’d try putting the whole family on a diet, talk us into taking ‘family walks’ in the evening. She’d throw out all the junk food and make us promise to love ourselves more. (Loving yourself means crying over the scale every morning and then sniffling into half a grapefruit, right?) Nothing stuck and nothing made any real difference. We all resisted her, eating in secret in our rooms or out of the house. I found Dad’s bag of fish taco wrappers jammed under the driver’s seat of the car while looking for my headphones. Mom caught me putting it in the garbage and yelled at me for like an hour. I never told her it was his. She was always hardest on me about my weight, as if I was the only one who had this problem. We were a fat family. Mom was just as fat as me; we looked like we were built to the same specs. Dad was fat, my brother was the fattest of us all.

I’m still fat. Everyone else is in the past tense.

And why? Because of this fucking Pill.

That trial started the same way they always do; flyers all over campus where Mom works, promising cash for the right demographic for an exciting new weight loss solution. Mom jumped on it like she always did, taking a pic of the poster so she could email from the comfort of her broken-down armchair with the TV tray rolled up close and her laptop permanently installed there. I remember I asked her once why she even had a laptop if she never took it anywhere. She never even unplugged it! It might as well have been an old-school tower and monitor rig. Why go portable if you’re never going to leave the port?

She had shrugged. “Why call it a laptop when I don’t have a lap?”

She had me there. I could never sit my computer in my ‘lap’ either. That real estate was taken up by my belly when I sat, and it was terribly uncomfortable to have a screen down that low, anyway. I’ve seen people do it on the train, and they look all hunched and bent. But mom wanted the hunching and the bending. She wanted a flat, empty lap and a hot computer balanced on her knees. She wanted inches of clearance between her hips and an airline seat and to buy the clothes she saw on the mannequin in the window. She wanted what everybody wants. Respect.

I guess I wanted that, too. I just didn’t think it was worth the lengths she would go to to get it. And none of them really worked. Until the Pill.

So Mom signed up like she always did, putting the meetings and dosage times on the calendar. Dad rolled his eyes and said he hoped this time didn’t end with her crying about not being able to take a shit again. He met my eyes behind her back and we both smiled.

She just clucked her tongue at him. “Your language Carl, honestly. You’ve been out of the Navy a long time.”

Dad tapped his pad and put in time to meet with his D&D buddies while Mom was busy with this new trial group. I smiled a little. I was glad he was going to do something fun. He had seemed pretty down lately. I was going to be busy, too. I had Visionaries; my school’s filmmaking club. We had shoots set up every night for two weeks, trying to make this gonzo horror movie about a virus that made the football team turn into cannibals. (Look, I didn’t write it. I was the director of photography.)

Off Mom went to eat pills and answer questions about her habits. I had heard her go through all of this before and learned to hold my tongue. But I knew exactly how it would go: Mom would sit primly in a chair in a nice outfit, trying to cross her legs and never being able to hold that position. Her thighs would spread out on top of one another and slowly slide apart, seeking the space to sag around the arms of the chair and make her seem wider than ever, like a water balloon pooling on a hot sidewalk. She would never tell the whole truth. It was maybe the thing I hated about her the most.

“Oh yes, I exercise every day!”

(She walked about twenty minutes a day total, from her car to her office and back again. Her treadmill was covered in clothes on hangers and her dumbbells were fuzzed with a mortar made of dust and cat hair.)

“I try to eat right, but I have bad habits that stem from stress.”

(Rain or shine, good day or bad, Mom had three scoops of ice cream with caramel sauce every night at ten.)

“I do think I come by it honestly. My parents were both heavy. And my sisters, and most of my cousins, too.”

That one’s true. The whole family is fat. In our last family photo, we wore an assortment of bright-colored shirts and we looked like a basket of round, ripe fruit. I kind of liked it, but I think I might have been the only one. The composition of the shots was good, and we all looked happy. Happy wasn’t enough, apparently. Mom paid for those, but she never hung them up.

She came home from the first few sessions chatty and real keyed up. She posted on her timelines how happy she was to be trying something really innovative, and how she had a good feeling about this one. She wasn’t allowed to say much, they made her sign an NDA. Later, I think she was glad that nobody could ask her the details.

I knew this time was going to be different the first night I heard the screaming. I had been up way past midnight, trying to edit footage of football players lumbering, meat-crazed, hands outstretched against the outline of the goalposts in a sunset-orange sky. My eyes had gotten hot and I’d had to put two icepacks under my laptop to cool down the CPU. (The machine just wasn’t up to all that processing and rendering.) I woke up at 4AM to the sound of it, jolting upright, my heart in my ears like someone had stuffed a tiny drum set into my head. I was so tired and out of it, I almost didn’t know what I was hearing. But it was her voice. Mom was screaming like she was on fire. She did it so long and loud and unbroken that I couldn’t understand how she could get her breath at all. It was out, out, out, and hardly a gasp in.

I ran into the hallway and smacked straight in Andrew, who was going the same way. We whacked belly against belly and fell backwards on our butts like a couple of cartoon characters. I can picture it exactly in my head; the way I’d frame it, the sound effects we could layer over the top. But in the moment, there was no time to laugh or argue. We just scrambled back up and made for our parents’ bedroom door.

It was locked.

“Dad!” I hammered my fist against the hollow-core six-panel barrier. “Dad, what’s happening? Is Mom ok?”

There was an unintelligible string of sounds from him. With Mom screaming like a steam whistle, there was no chance to make it out.

“I’m calling 911,” Andrew yelled. His phone was already in his hand.

When the door opened, the sound of Mom’s screaming hit us at full force, and Andrew and I both stumbled backward a little. The door muffled it only slightly, but when the sound is your own mother dying, a little counts for a lot.

Dad was there, his gray hair a mess that pointed fingers in every direction, seeming to blame everyone at once. He put a hand out to Andrew, his face in a grimace, his eyes wide.

“Don’t. Don’t call anyone. Your mother says this is part of the trial she’s in. She said it’s worse than she thought it would be, but it only lasts for fifteen minutes.”

Andrew looked at his phone. “I woke up almost ten minutes ago, when she was just growling.”
“Growling,” I asked. “What?”

Andrew rolled his eyes. “You could sleep through a nuclear strike.”

Dad was nodding, looking at his watch. “We’re almost out of it. Just hold on.”

“Dad,” Andrew said. “The neighbors probably already called the cops. She’s really loud.”

Dad’s grimace widened. “I’m going to have to—”

The screaming stopped. The three of us looked at each other.

“Carl?” Mom’s voice sounded exhausted and raw.

Dad fixed us both with a stern look, oscillating back and forth between the two of us. “You two don’t call anyone. You don’t tell anyone. Your mother is entitled to a little privacy. Is that understood?”

We looked at each other and said nothing.

Mom called again and he was gone, back on the other side of the door.

I didn’t go back to sleep. I’m betting Andrew didn’t either. But we stayed in our rooms for the next three hours, until it was time for breakfast. I went back to editing footage, and I was pretty pleased with what I’d be able to show to the Visionaries the next day. The movie was going to come in on schedule. It was great to have a project; something to take my mind off the weirdness in the night. I’m betting Andrew just signed on to his game. That’s all he ever does.

I heard him turn off his alarm on the other side of the wall, followed by the sound of him standing up out of his busted computer chair with a grunt. He’s way fatter than me, so I feel like I’m allowed to be disgusted by some of his habits. Andrew can’t sit or stand without making a guttural, bovine noise. I’ve seen crumbs trapped in the folds of his neck. I used to work really hard to not be one of Those Fat People. I was obsessively clean, took impeccable care of my skin. I never showed my upper arms or my thighs, no matter what the occasion. I acted like being fat was impolite, like burping, and the best thing to do was conceal it behind the back of my hand and then always, always beg somebody’s pardon.

I didn’t know anything back then.

Andrew made it to the stairs before I did, so I got to watch him jiggle and shuffle down them, filled with loathing and disgust. I couldn’t remember what bullshit diet we were supposed to be following that week, but I vowed to myself that no matter how small breakfast was, I would eat less of it than Andrew. I would leave something behind on the plate. Let Andrew be the one to lick his fingers and whine. I was above all that. There was wheat toast and cut apples waiting for us when we came into the kitchen.

And there was Mom at the coffee pot, fifty pounds lighter. Her pajamas hung off her like a hand-me-down from a much bigger sister. She turned, cup in hand, and I saw the dark circles beneath her eyes. She was beaming, however, with the biggest smile I’d seen on her face in years.

“It’s working,” she said, her voice still rough and edged with fatigue like she’d been to a rock concert or an all-night bonfire. “This thing is actually working.”

That was our life for two weeks. Dad did his best to soundproof their bathroom. He stapled carpets and foam and egg crate to the walls. He covered the floor in a dozen fluffy bath mats he bought for cheap on the internet. He told me later that he tried to put a rag in her mouth, just to muffle her a little more.

“But I’m worried she’ll pull it into her throat and choke on it,” he told me, his eyes wide with dread. “I can’t stand this much longer. I know she’s losing weight, but it’s like I’m living in a nightmare and I can’t wake up.”

That was a year before he decided to take the Pill, and back then he was more willing to talk about it. When it wasn’t his own privacy, only hers, he would tell me how gross it was. You can see videos of it online. It was the same in that first trial as it is now: you take the Pill and you shit out your fat cells. In huge, yellow, unmanageable flows at first. That’s why they scream so much. Imagine shitting fifty pounds of yourself at a go. Now, people go to special spas where they have crematoiletaries that burn the fat down. Dad said Mom screwed up our plumbing so bad that he had to buy a whole case of that lye-based stuff to break it all down and keep the toilet flushing. That was as gross as I thought things could get, but Dad said it got worse.

Toward the end, Mom (and everyone like her) shit out all their extra skin, too. The process that broke it down meant no stretch marks and no baggy leftovers, hanging on your body like over-proofed dough on a hook and telling people you used to be fat.

That was some trick, and it was part of the reason it took so long for a generic to hit the market. It was a “trade secret,” they said on the news. They also said “miracle” and “breakthrough” and “historic.” The miracle of shitting out skin just looked like blood and collagen and rotten meat, it turns out. Not less gross, but different. More lye into the S bend. More and more of Mom gone at the breakfast table.

At the end of the trial, she was a person I didn’t recognize. She was 110lbs soaking wet. The research doctor told her that she was at 18% body fat and she would stay that way for the rest of her life. Her face was a whole new shape, with the underlying structure very prominent and her eyes huge and wide above it all. I could see her hip bones below her enormous drawstring pants, pulled tight as a laundry bag around her now-tiny waist. Her collarbones could have held up a taco each. The cords in her neck stood out like chicken bones caught under her skin. Even her feet were smaller—she went down one whole shoe size and I inherited all her stretched-out sandals and sneakers.

I slid my feet into them, thinking how it was like my mom had died and some other woman had moved in. Late at night, I gathered up all the clothes she had given me and bundled them into the garbage. They were ugly, but they also felt somehow humiliating to wear. I couldn’t explain the impulse. Luckily, she never asked me where any of it went. She was very focused on herself in those days.

“It finally happened,” Mom told me with tears in her eyes. “They finally made a Pill that gives you the perfect body, no matter what.”

And yeah, she could eat anything she wanted and didn’t have to work out. As long as she kept taking the small maintenance dose of the Pill, she would stay this way for as long as she lived. Which she thought would be much longer, now that she didn’t have to carry around the threats of diabetes and heart disease everywhere she went.

I remember one day I walked in and found her and Dad sitting at the kitchen table, both of them obviously crying. They tried to hide it from me; Dad ducked his face into the shawl collar of his sweater, Mom swiping her eyes with quick fingers.

“What’s up with you guys,” I asked, trying not to look.

“Nothing, honey. There’s carrot and celery sticks cut fresh and sitting in water in the fridge, if you want a snack.”

Mom’s voice was thick in her throat; she’d really been sobbing.

I ignored both the sorrow and the content of what she’d said and fished around in the cabinet over the sink until I found one individually-wrapped chocolate cupcake.

“I’m good,” I said, and I tried to leave the kitchen.

“Honey, do you think I lost all this weight so that I could leave you guys?”

I stopped and turned on the spot like something on a rotating plate; a pizza in a microwave. I couldn’t help it. I should have just kept walking.


Dad buried his face some more. Mom just looked at me, her eyes all shiny. “Did you ever think that my desire to lose weight was about you? Like, do you feel like I’m trying to leave you behind?”

I stared at her. There wasn’t anything I could say. How could I feel any other way? How did she not know how obvious she was? Every diet, every scheme, every study was just her trying to find a way out of being what we are. Every time she tried to change who she was, who we all were, it was like betrayal.

I looked over at Dad and realized this wasn’t about me. He was worried she was going to physically leave him, now that she thought she was hot enough to hook up with somebody else. I saw it all at once; the way she was never worried about me being on birth control, the way Dad looked at other women in the supermarket. The way all of us were so focused on what we looked like as if it mattered, as if being thin was the only kind of life worth living.

So I lied.

“No, Mom. I don’t think about it at all, I guess. It really has nothing to do with me.”

I left them alone and went to eat my cupcake in peace. I looked at the timer I’d had running on my phone since the beginning of junior year: the countdown to the day I’d leave for college. I wanted out even back then, but I hadn’t sent out applications yet. Back then, two years seemed like forever.

Mom and Dad made up, I guess. They never told us anything that mattered. Anyway, that was when the deaths started to make the news.

The averages are still debated all the time, because pre-existing conditions can’t be ruled out. But people seem to agree it’s about one in ten. In each group of thirty participants in the early studies, ten were control, ten got the placebo, and the final ten got the Pill. Nine out of ten shit themselves to perfection. That tenth one, though. They ended up slumped on a toilet, blood vessels burst in their eyes, hearts blown out by the strain of converting hundreds of pounds of body mass to waste.

I never thought it would get approved with a ten percent fatality rate, but I guess I was really naive. The truth was it got fast-tracked and approved by the FDA within a year. Mom was in a commercial, talking about how it gave her her life back, but this was a life she had never had. It gave her someone else’s life entirely. Some life she had never even planned for. In the commercial, she wore a teal sports bra and a lot of makeup. I did not recognize her at all. She stood next to that celebrity, the one who did it first. What’s her name. Amy Blanton.

Remember those ads? “Get the Amy Blanton body!” She had gained a little weight after she had her kids, but her Before picture and Mom’s Before picture looked like members of two different species. In the commercial, their former selves got whisked away and there they were: exactly the same height, exactly the same build. A little contouring and a blowout made them twins. Mom had the Amy Blanton body. For just a little while, people would stop her on the street and ask if she was Amy Blanton. That got old fast. I used to just walk away fatly while she pretended she looked nothing like her TV twin.

I watched Dad grow more and more insecure about the change in Mom. I saw him get mad at a guy at the gas station who checked out Mom’s ass when she bent over.

“Get back in the car, Carl. Gosh, you’re making a scene about nothing. It was just a compliment!”

Dad sat down, fuming, but he wouldn’t close his door. His ears were bright red. Andrew was playing a game on his phone, totally zoned out. I watched Dad trying to calm himself down.

“You probably haven’t been jealous about Mom since you guys were kids, huh?”

He blew out hot air through his nose like a bull. “Try ever,” he said, his voice tight.

“Wasn’t Mom hot as a teenager.”

His lips closed into a line I could see in the rearview mirror. “She was always heavy. She was… she was mine, god damnit.”

That sort of shocked me. He hadn’t ever talked about her that way before. And it hadn’t ever occurred to me that maybe my dad the football player had gotten with my less-than-perfect mom because he knew she’d never cheat on him. Could never. Just like she thought I could never go out and get myself in trouble. Because fat girls don’t fuck, I guess?

I looked over at Andrew, too big for a seatbelt, pooling against the car door. Did fat boys fuck? Was anybody going to pick him because he’d be theirs? I didn’t want to imagine. But just as I was feeling sorry for us all, Mom slid lithely back into the car.

“Don’t be a goose, honey,” she said. She laid a hand on Dad’s knee. “You have nothing to worry about.”

That turned out to be a lie.

It was about a month after FDA approval when Dad announced to us that he was gonna take the Pill.

I couldn’t help but give Mom the look of death. He’d never have done it if she hadn’t gone first and made him worry about losing her. Andrew grunted at the news the way he grunted at everything; as if nothing in the world held much interest for him.

I hate crying, but I burst into tears. I couldn’t even yell at Mom. I just wanted to talk Dad out of it. I tried for weeks, and I ended up trying again on the day that he began treatment. I just had this feeling in my gut that he was going to be one of the unlucky ones.

“One in ten,” I croaked at him, my voice wrecked by crying. “One in ten, Dad. It’s just slightly better odds than Russian roulette.”

He smiled from his spa-hospital bed with the special trench installed below. He was wearing one of those paper gowns and I thought how stupid he would feel dying in paper clothes while taking a shit. Was it worth it? How could it be worth it?

“But the odds of dying young if I stay fat are much worse,” he told me in his sweet voice. He reached out and put a hand on my shoulder and I heard his gown rustling like trash dragging through the gutter when it’s windy. “Don’t worry, Munchkin. It’s in god’s hands.”

I guess it was, but I had never trusted god not to drop stuff and break it.

Dad made it to the third treatment. It felt cruel, like I had just started to relax and believe that he might be ok.

We came back and saw him on day one, down about fifty pounds and looking like someone had slapped him around all night.

“Honey, you look wonderful,” Mom cooed, kissing his cheeks and hugging him to her middle. Andrew had stayed home. I looked him up and down, remembering the way Mom had just melted to reveal the stranger within.

“You look ok,” I managed to say.

“I told you, kiddo.” We sat with him while he ate some graham crackers and drank lots of water. My parents held hands.

I skipped the second visit. The knots in my stomach were huge and twisting and I just couldn’t face it. Mom came home whistling and very pleased with herself.

“He’s in the home stretch now! I can’t wait for you kids to see what your Dad really looks like.”

I just sat there, wondering if I was real. Are fat people fake? Do we not have souls? Does nothing I do count, if I do it while I’m fat? These were questions I had never really thought about before, but with both of my parents risking death to be less like me I suddenly had to wonder about a lot of things.

I knew the minute Mom picked up the phone the next day. I could tell she wasn’t expecting the call. She stared at it just a second too long before she picked it up. My film professor calls that a beat, like a drumbeat or a heartbeat. One beat too many, and I knew.

One beat too many and Dad’s heart gave in.

Neither one of us could go with Mom to deal with the body. Andrew wouldn’t even leave his room. I don’t remember those weeks very clearly. I remember weird parts.

Mom buying Dad a new suit he could be buried in, because nothing he owned would fit. Mom saying Dad wouldn’t want to be cremated, now that he was thin. Dad’s D&D buddies looking into his casket and saying how great he looked. The never-ending grief buffet of casseroles and cake in our kitchen. The nights when I could hear Mom crying through the vents.

That should have been the last of it. Other people could die, even famous people, but the Pill killed my Dad. That should have been it, end of story, illegal forever. But that’s not how anything works. The world is just allowed to wound you any way it wants and move on.

And so are the people that you know.

The minute Andrew brought it up, I almost laughed. There was no way Mom was going to let him do it, after what had happened to Dad. Maybe we weren’t the best of buds, but I didn’t want him to die.

I could hear her in his room, and she was never in his room. It was permadark in there, blackout shades on the windows and nothing but the dim blue glow of his monitors to light it. I could hear them talking and I came close to the door, not quite putting my ear to it.

“I’m too old to be on your insurance,” he said. “But they’re saying there’s gonna be a generic within a year. So it’ll probably be cheaper.”

“I think that’s the best idea, sweetheart. But you’re still going to have to pay for your hospital stay. We have a little money from Dad’s insurance, so I can help you with that. It’s what your father would have wanted.”

I pushed the door open, already yelling. “No. No. No. No. It is not what Dad would have wanted. Dad would have wanted to be alive. Do you want to end up dead, too?”

They both stared at me like I had come through the door on fire.

“What is the matter with you?”

“Yeah,” Andrew sneered. “Don’t you knock?”

Mom put her hands on her hips. “This is a private conversation, kiddo.”

“I don’t give a shit,” I told them. “We just buried our dad, and you want to take the Pill that killed him. How stupid can you be?”

Andrew shrugged. “Ninety percent is still an A.”

“And dead is still dead,” I said at once. “There’s no curve on that.”

Mom came and took my elbow and walked me back toward the door. “You’re letting your emotions get the best of you,” she said. I could hear her voice trembling, and when I looked up her eyes were wet in the dim blue light of the bedroom. “I miss him too, but I don’t let it cloud my judgement. Your brother needs to do what’s best for him.”

“It’s better for him to be dead than fat,” I shot back. “Is that really what you think?”

We both turned back to look at Andrew.

Andrew would never tell me his actual weight, but I had heard him say once that he was in the “5 club.” Nothing fit him but the absolute biggest shirts and elastic waistband shorts, and he wouldn’t wear shoes that had to be tied. His fingers were so fat he could barely use his phone and finally upgraded to one with a stylus.

He sighed at us both. “I’m tired of this,” he said to me, but Mom started to cry. “I’m tired of never going out and never fitting in a chair. I’m tired of getting stared at and having to hide from people to eat. Aren’t you tired of it, sis?”

I shrugged. “I’m not tired of being alive.”

I didn’t convince him. I didn’t convince Mom. She gave him the money and he checked himself in. I went with them, only because I was worried I wouldn’t get to say goodbye otherwise.

Andrew was twenty-four when he did it, and his doctor had to get his digs in first. I remember his old-man chuckle as he lined my brother up next to the chart on the wall. “Well, son. You’re not going to get any taller. And let’s quit getting wider while we can, shall we?”

Andrew laughed with him, as if his fat self was already somebody else. Someone who it was ok to laugh at. My thin Mom laughed, too. Somewhere in thin heaven, was Dad laughing? Already I was an anomaly on the streets. I’m sure it used to be hard to be fat in L.A. or New York. I’ve read about that. But living in Dayton, Ohio meant always fitting in the booth at a restaurant, and never being the only fat person in the room. By the time Andrew got the Pill, I couldn’t count on those things any more. A year later, the whole world was shrinking around me, and I could already feel the pinch.

Andrew came home from the hospital looking like some other guy; a dude who played basketball and got called Slim. His eyes were bright.

“Munchkin, I can’t wait for you to do it. It’s amazing! I mean, it’s super gross and really painful, but after that it’s the fucking awesomest.”

They had all called me ‘Munchkin’ since I was a kid. Not because I was short and cute, but because they said I was always munching. I hated that nickname and he knew it. He was just using it now to remind me I was the only one left.

“You look like Dad looked in his casket,” I said.

He tried for a little while to go out and enjoy his new thin, life, but he didn’t really know how. He couldn’t talk to anybody. He missed his online friends and he hated the sunlight, the noise, the feeling of people always around, sizing him up. He had a new body, but it didn’t matter.

I watched Andrew go back to this gaming pod; the ruined chair with the cracked spar he had fixed with duct tape no longer sagging or groaning beneath him. The same shiny spots on his computer where he kept his hands in the same positions for fourteen hours at a time while he pretended he was a tall, muscular Viking warrior on some Korean server every day. I watched him settle right back into his old life using his new body and wondered what it was for. He really was the Viking now. He could have put on boots and left the house and had a real adventure. But adventure didn’t appeal to him.

I was stuck between them in the house. I always had been, but Dad and I had understood each other. We had been a team. I guess I was a daddy’s girl, but I was never spoiled like that. We just got along. Andrew was silent and Mom never shut up. Dad was the only one I could talk to, or sit in silence with without feeling bad.

And now I was the only fat member of the family. Slowly but surely, even the aunts and cousins signed up to take the Pill. I started to joke with my friends in Visionaries that fat people were going to become an endangered species.

Some of them laughed, but a couple suggested we actually make a short film about that. We kicked the idea around, but mostly they wanted to film me eating in a cage while people stared. I didn’t know how that would get anything meaningful across, and they didn’t know how not to be thin assholes. So we dropped the idea.

Mom was at least using the way she had changed to enjoy the real world a little more. She wore workout clothes constantly, all bright colors and cling like the patterning on a snake. Every day, she got to enjoy the way people looked at her brightly now, eyebrows up, not searching for their first chance to sidle away.

“People just respond to me so much better now,” she said in one of her interviews. “It changes everything about my daily interactions. I’m a mother and a widow, and I don’t need a lot of attention,” she had said, smiling coyly. “But even the mailman is happier to see me than he ever was before.”

I wanted to barf when she said she didn’t need attention. She had been thirsty enough before to talk to absolutely anyone, even sign up to take injections and hypnosis to get it. Now she was always posing and watching to see who would look. Attention was like the drug she couldn’t get enough of. She still ate the same bowl of ice cream every night, sitting next to the groove in the couch where Dad used to fit. No, Mom, you didn’t need attention. You took the Pill, you let the Pill take Dad because you were so a-ok with yourself.

(Continued in Part 2)

Host Commentary

By Tina Connolly

I absolutely loved this story, but I have read all of it and you have only listened to half of it so I will save my commentary for next week! I will, however, leave you with Elison’s dedication for this story, which says: This story is for everyone who’s ever been on a diet, and especially for those who are never going back.

About the Author

Meg Elison

Meg Elison

Meg Elison is a Philip K. Dick and Locus award winning author, as well as a Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Otherwise awards finalist. A prolific short story writer and essayist, Elison has been published in Slate, McSweeney’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fangoria, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and many other places. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

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Meg Elison

About the Narrator

Sandy Parsons

Sandy’s fiction can be read in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Escape Pod, and Reckoning, among others. In addition to writing fiction, Sandy also narrates audio fiction. When not writing, Sandy works as an anesthetist in Georgia. More information and links to stories can be found at

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