By Geoffrey C Porter
This story was originally published in Breath & Shadow.
I took to wearing long sleeve shirts on my fourteenth birthday. Two years before, I received my bracelet, and the restrictions started. I was born with the sugar disease, and ever since I have been on insulin. The insulin doesn’t matter, for it lives in a simple little pump I wear around my bicep. I replaced the cartridges of medicine with fresh ones and watched the battery charge. I could charge it with any one of my other devices, so that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the stinking bracelet.
Worse for some of my friends at that age. One boy I knew had failing kidneys, and he couldn’t even walk up to a drinking fountain and take a drink of water if he was over the limit his doctor prescribed. The damn bracelets controlled everything. If I walked up to a vending machine, 82.3% (I did the math) of the selections would flash red and be locked out by black screens. If I walked up to the counter in a restaurant and tried to order a large milkshake, well they aren’t really milk shakes of course, a resounding alarm will sound if the equipment is in place. The equipment wasn’t always functioning or on, so it was worth it to wear long sleeve shirts and tempt fate on some of my crueler days.
It wasn’t illegal to try and ask for things I wasn’t allowed. They have talked about it in Congress, but you know how they talk and talk and talk. One of my friends made the mistake of asking for a beer when he was 16, and they called the cops. The cops just laughed and hit him a few times with their clubs. Only two or three times, not like they would if he had done something truly heinous like playing his car stereo too loud.
I turned 18, and I moved on to college. The equipment was everywhere. I met a guy without a bracelet, and he offered to sell me a Snickers bar for two dollars. I asked him, “What do they cost from the vending machine?”
He smiled. “You’ll never know, will you?”
Having never tried a Snickers bar, I still relished in the commercials. They did make sugar free Snickers, yes, but that is beside the point. I gave Bob his two dollars, and he handed over an ice-cold Snickers bar. I was in heaven. I ate it so patiently. Of course, I threw it up later. My stomach simply twisted itself in knots until I went to the bathroom and encouraged it with my will to empty its contents.
The machines and cafeteria barely allowed me enough food to survive. I weighed in at 130 lbs. I told myself countless times standing on the scale, ‘130 lbs. is unhealthy…’ I was hungry all the time. They let me have all the celery, carrots, and plain lettuce that I wanted. Oh, and vinegar, if I wanted to put vinegar on the lettuce, that was allowed. I craved a satisfying meal. At least I could get meat, when I wanted it. Mostly. The guys with kidney disease could get a thin slice of ham with breakfast, or a cheeseburger at lunch with the smallest slice of ground beef you’d ever seen.
I could get cheeseburgers, with no ketchup. I could get a steak, but they were costly. It’s like the government wanted me to live forever. But it was like that for everyone. I heard stories about the bracelets they give the elderly. How they cause doors to lock when you’re near, so you can’t even go outside to enjoy the fresh air.
I met this girl, and she was nice. She did the most wonderful things to me. She wore no bracelet though. She used to buy these chewy, little sweet candies called Bit-O-Honey. I even tried one. Like bliss. Not the same kind of bliss being with her was like, but definitely sensory bliss in the form of taste. And the ice cream, she loved ice cream. She would buy pints of the best flavors and always offer to share with me. I couldn’t stand it. Better to starve, I said, and I broke up with her. Not the best decision I ever made in hindsight, but I burned through three insulin cartridges a week! I was back down to one cartridge a week in no time.
I grew a little older. I took on a job jumping through hoops for a big company.
I couldn’t get food. I had to eat every last calorie worth of food I purchased, or I would truly have withered away. I woke up in the nights with heavy shakes, and I would eat a four-gram glucose tablet, of which I was allowed three per day. My doctor kept me on an 1800 calorie a day diet even though I begged and begged for more. He would quote the law and offer me no other choice than to live in anguish with bitter lows constantly assailing my physique.
I still wore long sleeve shirts, and I found myself wandering the streets seeking out a store without equipment. I saw a strange sign in my quest. It read, ‘One-liter water, $2. M&Ms, small bag, $2.’
The sign hung next to a wooden door. I knocked.
Inside, someone shouted, “Come in!”
I stepped through the doorway.
A short, tan-skinned fellow with jet black hair and piercing brown eyes sat behind a counter. The lights were dim. Four coolers sat against walls. A rack of assorted candies leaned against one wall. They had other groceries available too, various nuts, cereals, rice, very common stuff.
The short man smiled. “Cash only.”
I nodded. I knew if they had no equipment, they’d only take cash. I stepped up to a rack of fruit and grabbed both an orange and an apple. I walked up to the candy selection and grabbed a box of Nerds, because I could make those last, and a Bit-O-Honey in homage to my first girlfriend. Oh, there had been a few others, of course.
The man took my dollars and smiled. He put everything in a thick paper bag, and I began to walk home. I went back to that store almost every day for a month. No more hunger for me. I even gained one pound.
It started across the Internet. New laws were being debated about increasing the strictness of the dietary management system they claimed was so effective and necessary. The laws passed of course. Thousands protested, but the laws passed.
I lasted for a week and a half before I found myself out of food credits and half-starved with bad shakes and a twisted stomach. I walked to the store, expecting to find equipment for scanning bracelets. I poked my head inside. The short, dark haired fellow smiled at me. The cash register was there. The food was there. I didn’t see any equipment to scan a bracelet.
I grabbed a banana, a package of beans & rice, and a chocolate bar.
The man took my cash, and I smiled. I peeled the banana as soon as I stepped out of the doorway. I started walking while enjoying the fruit.
Sirens howled. I walked casually stuffing the half-eaten banana in my paper sack. A cop car with blaring sirens and screeching tires pulled to a stop next to me. The cops approached me. “Halt!”
“Eh?” I said and stopped.
The cops had their clubs out.
“What do you have in the bag?” One asked.
The other cop said, “Show us.”
I showed them the food.
They laughed. Then they scanned my bracelet.
They arrested me. I sit now awaiting trial.