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Fiction #317
(published February 15, 2007)
Who's the Fairest?
by Errid Farland
Randy weighed four hundred and something pounds. The last time he got weighed, they figured him at four hundred fifty-seven. It'd been all downhill after he crossed the four hundred threshold. He couldn't go anywhere without having to endure all the stares and whispers and usually, at least once during any outing, an attack from some passerby who felt offended that he'd dare to bring his bulk out into the open like that.

Well, and besides, the chafing between his thighs, and the rash under the fold of his belly got uncomfortable. He powdered himself thoroughly, but always the sweat would break through the powder, and it hurt.

"Oh my gosh!" a young man said to him. Almost always it was young men who couldn't hold their tongues at the affront of his being. "Why don't you quit eating for a week or month or year or two?"

Randy just plodded on, tried to ignore him, tried to focus on the pain between his thighs, and the redness under his belly. He passed by Cinnabon, and the smell called to him, but he couldn't purchase anything like that in public. For him to do such a thing could cause a riot among those normal folk who had a right to eat such treats. He didn't have the same right. Of course he ate such things. His mother baked him cakes and breads and cookies. It was her way to soothe him after the death of his father, and after the hurtful things the kids at school would say to him, and, now, after the cruelties of strangers as he humped through the mall.

"Whomp, whomp, whomp," a young man said as he came up beside Randy and matched his gait to Randy's. With each step Randy took, the man said, "Whomp," and what could Randy do? He just faced forward and pretended the man wasn't there, until finally the abuser would receive enough titters and giggles from his crowd and move on.

Randy went out less and less often. He stayed home and did little chores for his mother, who would bring him little treats, like a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies, his favorite, as a reward. One day his mother got it in her head to clean out the attic, and Randy stood at the bottom of the pull down steps and fretted while she disappeared into the darkness above. He'd hear things thump and bump, and Randy would call to her, "Are you okay?" and she'd say, "Oh, yes, I just had to move the Christmas decorations to get to the this old trunk," or she'd say, "Why, look at that, your father's uniform from the army." She appeared at the hole and handed down stuff for Randy to see, or stuff she wanted to use, and one of the things she handed down was a curious old copper lantern. Maybe it was brass. It wasn't like the kind of lantern he'd ever seen before.

"Where'd this come from?" he asked.

"Oh, your father brought it home from the war. I don't know where he picked it up, but I never much liked it."

"Can I have it?"

"Well, sure, honey," she said.

Later that night, Randy sat on the couch polishing the lantern, watching Dr. House on T.V., when there came a knock at the door. His mother had gone to bed, so he answered it himself.

A woman, a small woman, dressed in a dark blue business suit that looked very much like the old stewardess costumes, back when flight attendants were all women in dark blue business suits, nudged past him, uninvited, into the living room. She said, "I guess this one will be easy."

"What one? Who are you? Wait," Randy said, but she didn't wait, she just made herself at home and sat down on the couch.

"Look, this is really the hardest part of the whole arrangement, right here," she said, and Randy removed the empty coconut cream pie plate, and the last of the bag of potato chips from the coffee table and hid them in the kitchen.

"What arrangement? I think you have the wrong address. I don't know what you want," Randy said.

The woman picked up the lantern and said, "I want this. You see, it's my home, and you've disturbed it."

"Your what?"

"I know it's hard to understand, but it's like another universe in there, and you've been jostling it around, and I'm the emissary sent to negotiate for you to quit rocking our boat, so to speak."

"What?" Randy said.

"So! Here's the deal. You can choose three things. Whatever you want, but in exchange, I get to take our universe and find a nice, safe, still place for it."

Randy laid his hand on the comforting softness of his belly. He blinked his eyes hard, four times, and sort of smacked himself on his poofy cheek, then shook his head.

"I know it's hard to believe. It's the stuff of legends in your world, and nobody believes it because it happens so rarely. But, can we get on with this? You see, I'm supposed to be leaving for this vacation in Prendaly, which I know doesn't mean much to you, but trust me, it's a really great place, and there's this new guy at the office who's driving me insane, and if I don't get out of there I might have to strangle him, and . . . but don't worry, I'm harmless, really. Anyway, if you could put it in fast forward, here, and just trust that it's true and start thinking about what three things you want, I'd really appreciate it."

Randy scratched his temple with his index finger and said, "Well, okay."

The lady smiled. "Thanks," she said.

"I didn't ask your name."

She held out her hand, said, "Berzon, charmed I'm sure."

He took her hand, and said, "Randy, nice to meet you."

"So, what'll it be?"

Randy thought and thought, he wanted to choose carefully.

"You want to be the President?" Berzon suggested.

Randy opened his eyes wide and said, "No!" emphatically.

"Power? Money? Fame? Fortune? Those are the standards. And, uhh, no offense, but also good looks."

"I had this shortbread once. It was homemade, warm out of the oven, with strawberries and whipped cream."

"You want a dessert?"

"It was a really good dessert," he said.

"Is that your first wish?"

"No, not yet. I'm thinking."

Berzon crossed her leg over her knee, and bounced her navy pump covered foot in impatience.

"It's just that it's a big decision," Randy said.

"I understand. But Prendaly awaits, you know, if I can get back in time for my flight."

"How can you grant me anything I want, here, but not get back in time for your flight, there?"

"I know, it sucks, huh? God's got a wacky sense of humor, I guess."

"Okay," Randy said, "I would like good looks."

"That's your first wish?"

"Yes, but, I want you to understand something. I want me to be the standard for good looks. I want people to look at me, just exactly as I am, and want to be like me."

"Okay, done," she said. "Next one?"

"Done? Can I test it?"

"Can it wait? Please? Prendaly. Trust me, it's done. If it weren't done, I wouldn't be able to take the universe with me."

"Next, I would like to be in excellent health."

"Done," she said, and Randy felt the absence of irritation between his thighs and under his belly. He took a few minutes to marvel at it.

"And the last one?" she asked.

"Well, part of me wants that shortbread. I mean, really, really wants that shortbread. But I think that would be a foolish waste of a wish, wouldn't it?"

She shrugged. "If that's what you want, it isn't so foolish."

"All the same, I think I'll take ten million dollars, and then I could hire me a chef to make me some shortbread just exactly like that kind I had before. Although, will the government think I've gotten it illegally? I know!" he said. "I'll win the next jackpot on the lottery. That's my final wish. I'd like the winning ticket to the next Mega Millions Lottery."

A ticket appeared on the table, and Berzon kissed him on the cheek and squealed, "Thank you! You're about the nicest one ever. Thank you so much! I hope it all works out the way you planned. I wish I could come back after my vacation and give you three more wishes." Then she picked up the lamp and Randy got up, without a struggle, and strode to the door as if he were Fred Astaire, and his knees didn't wobble and didn't ache, and Berzon disappeared into the night.

Randy looked in the mirror, turned this way and that, lifted his arms in a body builder's pose, and even to his own eyes, he was the fairest of them all. Without question.

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