Henry had put on a few pounds as he aged, but he maintained them intentionally, believing the fat storage would come in handy when The Disaster struck. He knew that soon, any moment, there could be a plague of pests, glacial flooding, and drought. He did his best in everyday life to prevent these things. He had the right light bulbs and bought recycled toilet paper and had an inflatable raft. He even composted his tea bags and recycled the wrappers. Henry took the bus and rode his bike sometimes, but he knew that his own actions were just a drop in the near-empty environmentally-minded social bucket. His fellow man’s wastefulness meant he had to conserve all the more. So, when his mother called him and told him she was concerned about his weight, he snapped.
“Mother. I’m only about fifteen pounds overweight,” he said. “Most people are a good deal fatter than I am. I have good blood pressure and cholesterol levels. I’m vegetarian. Mostly. When was the last time you exercised, Mother?”
“This morning. At the community center,” she said. “I went swimming with Gladys.”
“Fine. Anyway, when The Disaster hits, I will have a month of calories at the ready.”
“Oh, dear, Henry,” she said. “It seems to me the disaster has already hit.”
After talking to his mother, Henry went to the front hall and looked in the full length mirror. He was shocked to see the profile of his Grandma Mabel – pudgy arms, stooped shoulders and that tube of flab above the belt. His hair was starting to thin and his jaw had lost some of its definition. Henry thought maybe he should start exercising more after all. He was socially conscious, but not completely beyond vanity. Bicycling did nothing for his abs, and though his neurotic occasional lover, the woman from the café, the one with eczema, told him he was beautiful, he knew she was just being nice. He went to the bathroom and got on the scale. He was, in reality, closer to twenty-five pounds heavier than he should have been.
Henry had been mostly vegetarian for about a year, which didn’t really mean that he was healthy. He ate beans straight out of the can and too much bread and cheese. He did allow himself some meat, rarely, maybe twice a month, and only politically correct meat, if there is such a thing, and only to be certain that his intestinal biota would remember how to digest animal flesh. That way, when The Disaster struck, he would be able to eat anything that would give him nourishment, like squirrels and crows.
At the supermarket one afternoon, Henry pushed his cart through the produce section, wishing he had enough money to buy organic fruits. Or maybe he wished that all fruits were organic. He knew what organic meant, derived from carbon compounds, but that was a definition of the past. He wished that all fruits were organic, that all produce was organic, that all food was organic. He picked up a bag of green grapes. He looked them over and noticed traces of silky white powder on them. When he shopped for groceries, he could feel the cancer-causing pesticides spreading in his liver, or maybe it was his prostate. When he ate his grapes, he could name all the chemicals that he ingested, slowly twisting and corrupting his cells. During his life, his liver and his prostate would be invaded by cancer, and then his blood and his lungs and his brain. If he continued to eat Big Ag foods, and didn’t start exercising, he would surely become unrecognizable, a bloated, cancerous mass.
“The automatic mist is about to begin,” said a woman’s automatic voice.
The mist began. Henry put the grapes on the floor and began to smash them repeatedly with his sneaker, hearing the skins split and watching the plump translucent flesh slide across the tiles.
Amy Savage is a writer and translator living in the Hudson Valley. Her translation work previously appeared in phati’tude Literary Magazine. She also teaches Spanish to medical students and enjoys being able to say gall bladder en español.