"I'm going to hibernate." Megan didn't take her eyes from the monitor in the far corner of the sunken living room.
"Huh?" Richard lowered his magazine. Megan sat in a peachy, overstuffed chair, gazing at somebody in a suit interviewing somebody in a sweater.
Richard slid forward on the leather couch. "What did you say?" He set his U.S. News and World Report on the huge, honey colored coffee table, between the gray computer monitor and its various plastic peripherals. He kept his thumb tucked inside on the page he'd been reading.
Megan huffed. "You never listen to a thing I say."
"Eh'em. Excuse me," Richard said. "A clearing of the throat. Hey Pop, I'm going to speak now. Most people throw out those little attention-getters if they want to talk to someone who's reading."
"I'm not most people."
"You don't have to tell me."
She blinked as if it were a painful process and made circles in her bowl of wheat and skim-milk. Two t-shirts today. One teal, one not-so-teal. Her walnut hair was tucked back behind her ears allowing a good view of her bottom lip as it pushed against her top one. She was wearing the short necklace she'd made when she was 13, fashioned from a strand of optical fiber and a small silicon chip Richard had brought home.
Seeing the necklace made Richard smile. Once upon a time little trinkets pleased her. "I'm sorry, nutmeg. Now what did you say?"
She turned, putting her powerful brown eyes on him. "I'm going to hibernate. In June. When school's out."
"You've got to be kidding me."
"I am coldly serious."
"No. Simple. It's not even something I'll discuss."
"I thought you'd be rational about this."
"I'll be rational about rational things. This is too stupid to waste another syllable on." Richard popped his magazine up and open.
"Now you think I'm stupid?"
"Not you, the idea. The idea is stupid."
"Stupid ideas from stupid people."
"Not true. Lot's of brilliant people have had fairly stupid ideas. Mark Twain lost a fortune on a printing device --"
"This isn't about Twain. This is me we're supposed to be talking about." Megan flicked her spoon against the bowl. "Forget it. I knew you'd be incapable of understanding."
"I understand far too well."
"What, Dad? What do you understand? Look at me? I am so fat it's disgusting."
Richard put the World Report on the floor. He looked at his daughter. Her face was round, not packed. It could have been made from rosy powder. Her shape had always reminded him of a teddybear. Plush. He would have put her weight at no more than 130.
"You are not fat."
"I'm a hippo."
"Good God, Megan. Where is this coming from?"
"If you ever read a magazine that had pictures that weren't just bombed-out buildings and stock charts you'd know what I'm talking about."
"You want to be one of those pencils they call models? Is that what you want?" He leaned across the table, reaching.
Megan pushed herself back into the chair and crossed her arms.
"Please, nutmeg," Richard said. "You're beautiful."
"That means so little coming from you."
Richard felt tingling in both of his cheeks. He felt his temperature rise and his stomach twist as if trying to cinch itself closed. Had she learned that trick from her mother or inherited the ability?
"I don't see --"
"You never see anything, Dad." Megan's eyes were moist. "You haven't been able to for at least two years."
"I see well enough to support you."
"You ever see me with a boyfriend? You ever see me wear skimpy clothes?"
"I don't want to see those things."
"But you don't see anything. When's the last time you went to Central Park? You used to like to see the kids and the weirdoes and the jugglers. When's the last time you went up to the roof to watch the sunset, huh? You loved the colors. The one good thing about pollution, you always said. You used to have such an eye for art. We'd go to galleries, you'd tell me why things were cool and not just junk."
"That was before . . . and has nothing to do with this idea of yours."
"The old dad--the one who designed and built this room--he would never have said that."
Richard slowly clenched his empty hands. His arms were stretched across the tabletop, over cables and slips of paper and still a good yard from Megan.
"Mom would've understood." She turned towards the window at the other end of living room. The morning sun was so bright it made it difficult to see anything more than white, yellow light across the glass.
"Why not a fitness club?" Richard asked.
"So you do think I'm fat."
"Jesus, no. You do. I'm suggesting alternative solutions."
"That's what you do, isn't it?" She shot up from the chair. "Why don't you e-mail the rest of your consultant buddies? Write a plan: Alternative Solutions for Megan's Obesity. You can study it. Crunch the numbers. That would be . . ."
Arms tight around her, body leaning forward, Megan ran from the room.
* * *
Richard shifted his position on the couch again. The upholstery was the color of peanut butter with a degree of coarseness found only in offices. No one would ever allow such discomfort in his or her home. Megan sat properly at the other end. Up right, knees tightly together. Black skirt lightly draped. A little lady. So cute. Why the hell were they here?
"Once the member is asleep, the body simply uses its own fat reserves." Beth, Director of Member Association, leaning forward in her non-compliant peanut-butter chair, continued her explanation of the 'procedure'. Richard thought she looked unfinished, like the wire mold a sculptor would use to begin his rendering of a quick, blonde woman in her early thirties. The blue, ribbed sweater and tight black skirt added no form or function to her body.
"To what?" It was the first thing Richard had said in 15 minutes. He had thought of other things to ask or say, but none had made it by his personal Caustic Test and out his mouth.
"Pardon?" Beth's head clicked in his direction.
"The body uses its fat reserves to what?"
Richard glanced at Megan. She was waiting with a scowl.
"The member is monitored constantly. There are absolutely no health risks involved."
"That's funny, I thought there were no absolutes in life."
"Nature has been using the same technique for millions of years." Beth smiled and bent her head to the side. "Turtles, for instance, hibernate for --"
"My daughter is not a turtle."
Beth's smile broadened. "I'm not saying that she is."
"How do you know that the body isn't eating too much of itself?"
"Computers take 15 readings a second for the member's entire stay."
"Back-up generators. The members can be awakened in moments if necessary."
"Dad." Megan spun in place. "She has an answer for everything. Lot's a people are doing this. The government wouldn't let them if it wasn't safe."
Richard smirked. There’s something only a teenager would say. He stood, put his hands behind his back and faced the wall on his left. He stared at a large oil-on-canvas, swipes of apricot, maroon and yellow, splotches of blue and white. He thought it might have been a woman reaching for clouds. Maybe.
"I need to speak with the member," he said without turning.
"Sure," he heard Beth say. "Megan, I'll be down the hall in my office. Take as long as you like."
Richard sat down after the footfalls fell away. Megan crunched the end of her skirt in a tiny, bloodless fist.
"Survive? Did you hear her?" Richard asked. "You want to push your little body to the brink of survival?"
"It's not little and I will survive."
"Teenagers think they're immortal."
"It's only ten weeks."
"The whole summer. The summer after your senior year. You're going to miss so much."
"Please. Miss being the tag-a-long with Lynn and her new Siamese boyfriend? Miss you coming home, asking what's new, answering nothing, then watching you surf the net until your eyes dry out?"
"I build web-sites now."
"I want to go to sleep and wake up in college. New school. New life--ha--ha life period. I am going to turtle down, lose some pounds and I am not going to miss a thing."
"Opportunities," Richard said. "Chances. Once-in-a-life-time instances."
Megan reached for Richard's hand. Her touch was hot. "You don't believe that. If you did, you wouldn't be home every night, stuck in a book or plugged into your computer. So don't try to sell it to me."
Now she stood and gave her skirt two brief shakes. "I'll wake up from this. That's why it's called hibernation . . . not death."
* * *
Richard walked next to the gurney as the skinny, long-haired male-nurse pushed it towards double steel doors. Megan had her arms at her sides, in a full-body suit of milky, intertwining surgical tubes. Only her round, powdery face showed.
"This is it." She tried to smile. The tightness of the rubbery headset fought the movement of her cheeks.
"You don't have to do this. You can call it off right now."
She said nothing as they bumped through the glossy doors and into a large stainless steel room. Racks of people-sized metal and plastic canisters covered the long wall on the right. Little glass windows showed perfectly still faces inside, so lifeless and distant Richard couldn't tell whether they were males or females, girls or boys. Dim blue lights highlighted each partial profile as if the set-up were some kind of display case.
"Don't do this." Richard put his hand on Megan's forehead.
"I'll be fine."
The nurse lined the gurney up to the mouth of the cylinder. There were two distinct clicking sounds. Without a jerk, the top of the gurney, and Megan, were drawn in.
"I've changed my mind." Richard looked up at the nurse. "Stop this."
The nurse did nothing.
"Stop it. Turn it off. I'm disallowing this."
"No, you're not." Megan was calm. She was now almost halfway into her chamber.
Richard had visions of her re-entering the womb or one of those ovens they use to cremate people. Either way it was the reverse of life. He grabbed the edge of Megan's bed with both hands.
"Off! I said turn it off! Don't be a spoiled brat. This is selfish, Megan."
"I'm not doing it just for me."
Richard's eyes narrowed, his brow creased in eight places and he let go.
The cylinder sealed over Megan's head.
Richard whispered, "Don't leave me."
Through the curved window he watched Megan's breathing slow. He could only see her face, but it was enough to tell she was running down, escaping into deep, deep dreamless sleep. There was no expression. No movement. She could have been a porcelain doll.
After an hour they slid her chamber into the rack with the others. The nurse squeezed his shoulder and showed him where Megan's vital signs were displayed.
After another hour he checked the monitor screen for the 75th time and left.
* * *
"Close your eyes." Richard's face was stern.
"You don't do surprises, Dad." Megan's face was pointy and pale. Richard wasn't used to it.
They stood outside the door to their apartment. He did nothing until she squinted tightly.
"You don't have to hold me," Megan said into Richard's exceptionally close right ear. "I'm fine. Genuinely."
He pushed open the door and half-carried her into the apartment. She felt like Styrofoam, like he could sweep her up in the crux of his arm and swing her inside.
"They said it would take a while before your muscles came back. You look so --"
"-- ready to shop for new clothes?" She smiled.
The sunken living room was missing its square oak table. The computers and remotes were gone. In the right corner was a waist-high wooden pedestal spotted with smears of muddy clay. On top, the form of a man shaped like a tulip bulb balanced on one foot, his arms in the motion of throwing and catching invisible Indian clubs or balls or whatever the viewer wanted him to juggle. To the far left was an easel holding a three-by-four canvas. Oranges,
yellows, crimsons and whites were all balled up and spiraling out. A watercolor leaned on one of the easel's legs. Purples, blues, dashes of wispy fire between the layers. More painted canvases leaned against the leather couch, rows and rows of them.
Megan ran in, holding her hands to her mouth. She turned quickly, taking in the whole room. She picked up the nearest unframed canvas and touched the small date painted into the lower corner. From what she could see, every painting had a date.
"Sunsets," Richard said. "Each night you were gone. You were right, nutmeg." He walked over and kissed the top of her head. "You didn't miss a thing."
Michael J. Martineck lives on an island in upstate New York with his wife and daughter. His first novel, The Misspellers, has just been released from Our Little Secret Press.
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