Harmonic Convergence, by Daniel Cubias

SFReader 2007 Story Contest
First Place Winner

In essence, the story ‘Harmonic Convergence’ was the result of my wife and I getting picked on. Various friends and family members throughout the years have accused us of being co-dependent because we spend so much time together. So I decided to write a story about a truly co-dependent couple. Alicia and Ben are, to say the least, much more fitting of the title than we are.

Nothing on Earth could stop her.

Once Alicia started losing weight, her body toned so quickly that complete strangers were soon stopping her on the street and begging to stroke her ab muscles. It was all the more surprising because she had been such a shapeless lump previously, all sagging flesh and jiggly nuance.

But Ben liked her that way. He wasn’t in such great shape himself, and he didn’t see why either of them had to change. He thrilled to their midnight feasts and sunken afternoons on the couch and slippery, belly-flopping sex in the morning. He loved every minute of it.

Ben told Alicia that everything was perfect as it stood. He said they were so finely attuned to each other that they must be doing something right, and he reiterated his request that she knock off the low-carb, high-impact, low-calorie, high-aerobic lifestyle that she had recently adopted. However, Alicia denied him. She met his every request for downtime with a set of pull-ups or victory lap around the house, and his pleas for relaxation were subsumed in a flurry of shadowboxing high kicks or grunting stomach crunches. Whenever he broke out the chocolate-covered cherries or baked a gooey lasagna, she sneered before biting into a carrot and washing it down with a liter of Gatorade.

She was soon in flawless shape, but Ben had rightly worried about the cost of her self-improvement. His weight continued to increase, past the point of chubby toward actively fat, and then on into morbidly obese and huge, mongo-enormous man-freak. Alicia still loved him of course, but Ben was resentful.

He came right out and said what they both knew was true: her lost weight had annexed itself to him. Every pound she lost drifted to his body. Every muscle she ripped meant another fold of flesh on him. It was, as he pointed out, because they were so very much in love. They were in such harmony that any imbalance sorted itself immediately, and their combined weight never varied.

They proved it scientifically by clambering onto scales and noting the difference. When she was 1.2 pounds lighter, he was 1.2 pounds heavier. When 6.3 ounces fled Alicia, they grafted themselves to Ben. Even a barely measurable change in her size caused an incremental flutter upward on the scale when Ben stepped onto the device. It was clear. Their ying-yang was tight.

So Alicia agreed to take back some of her weight. She halved her cardio routine and phased cheesecake back into her diet. Within days, her arms lost some of their iron tone and her shoulders softened. At the same time, Ben saw his fourth chin disappear and a semblance of normal respiration return. By the time a layer of sponginess formed around Alicia’s hips, Ben could see his feet again and was no longer sweating whenever he tied his shoes.

“See?” Ben asked. “Was that so hard?”

But Alicia was frustrated with her sacrifice. She had looked fantabulous, damn it, and now she was inching toward her former pear-shaped ignominy. Confrontation remained her least favorite activity in the world, so Alicia didn’t tell Ben about her nagging regrets.

Instead, she simply lengthened her workouts and horded fresh vegetables in the crisper drawer. She shunned the elevator at work and ran the stairs. She even feigned headaches and sent Ben off by himself to the movies while she bench-pressed the nightstand.

Ben was no fool, however, and he noticed that his girth did an uptick that was unrelated to his own consumption. He came home early one day just to verify his deepest fears. To his horror, but not surprise, he caught Alicia in the act. There she was, stuffing her mouth with rice cakes while dozens of perfectly good Snickers melted in the garbage.

They had a fight, of course, one of their worst ever. After the shrieked condemnations and heated accusations had subsided, Ben snapped that two could play at Alicia’s game, and he stormed out of the house while mumbling promises of retribution. The next day, he joined a health club.

Their power struggle started in earnest after that. Both hit the gym daily and sweated until agony was a dear friend. Despite their constant workouts and lean diets, however, neither lost much weight. Once again, whatever pounds Alicia lost shifted to Ben, and whatever gain Ben banished simply returned to Alicia. They were pulling and pushing and huffing and straining with all their power, yet their fellow exercise buffs only laughed at the incremental improvements on display.

Alicia was the first to falter. She couldn’t take it anymore, so she took a day off, which turned into a week off, which turned into a series of half-assed efforts at the gym. Her fat intensified, exacerbated by Ben’s fanatical efforts to get fit. He claimed victory when she ballooned past her original weight, but Alicia only smiled at her muscular conqueror.

“Fine,” she said. “You go right on working out.”

Then she altered tactics with a cunning stealth that would have boggled the most brilliant military tactician. Instead of combating Ben head to head with squat thrusts and arm curls, she gorged herself on Krispy Kremes and potato chips. Alicia avoided all but the most rudimentary physical activities, and she patted her huge girth whenever Ben asked how she was feeling.

The effects were long in coming but devastating upon their arrival. Ben did not know that something was wrong until a colleague remarked upon his pale countenance.

“I must be coming down with something,” Ben said. “A bug.”

He still thought that when he struggled through his barbell routine. And he foolishly clung to the theory of an innocuous virus even when he had to call off his wind sprints because of exhaustion. But as he grew weaker and less coordinated, he suspected the truth.

Alicia was bulking up, and in response Ben had gone past healthful trimness into solid anorexia. His formerly corpulent physique was now gaunt and fragile. And with each Ho-Ho that Alicia put away, Ben felt his ribs protrude a little more. He stopped working out, of course, and he told Alicia that he knew what she was up to. She didn’t deny the flab-hording, but she refused a truce until he apologized for his boorish behavior. Ben would have no such thing, of course, and they continued on their stubborn ways until he was a beanpole shadow with bags under his eyes.

They shouldn’t have been surprised when Ben fainted. But it was indeed a shock to them both. Alicia, in particular, was unprepared for Ben’s medical emergency, and her awkward efforts at heroism were more comical than inspiring. It’s true that she had the best of intentions — to carry him to the car and drive him to the hospital. But her soft muscles and labored breathing made it impossible for her to drag him more than a few feet at a time. When she finally plopped him into the car, she almost passed out herself in sheer respiratory failure.

Somehow, however, she got him to a doctor, who diagnosed severe malnutrition and dehydration. He also identified a case of chronic eczema, but everyone agreed that this was a bonus diagnosis.

From his hospital bed, Ben patted Alicia’s hand as she cried big bubbly torrents of apology. He said he was sorry as well, and they made up on the spot, complete with a vow never to mess with their combined weight again. So as soon as Ben was discharged, they went out and bought a dog.

It was a big floppy-eared mutt that they showered with affection and praise. They loved the animal so much that before long, he was their proxy for weight loss or gain. Whatever pounds they added or melted affixed themselves to the dog. And he never complained. They were all so happy.

Like every panacea, however, this was short-lived. Alicia soon felt the nagging itch of self-doubt and insecurity. She recalled her brief run as ripped goddess of physical perfection, and she wanted to regain that sensation. At the very least, she wanted Ben to find her as attractive as possible. So she refocused her efforts to achieve a better her.

Naturally, the imperceptible delicateness of this latest transformation was unnoticeable during its initial stages. Even Alicia did not see that first wrinkle fade or the jowl tighten. Certainly, she was oblivious to her increased bone density or multiplying brain cells. And her increased energy was so slight that she attributed it to a random burst of adrenaline.

But it was happening. Her attempt to harness her energies was working. Alicia was willing herself to be younger.

In her previous quests to capture youth, Alicia had meditated, abstained, Botoxed, cut, and stretched. Nothing stopped the assault of free radicals and everyday stresses. Her days morphed into months, which swirled into years. Now it was different, however, because she would no longer try to look younger. Instead, she would simply be younger.

The disappearance of her crow’s feet was proof that her methods were sound. So she accelerated her plan. Before long, her knees stopped that annoying cracking and her skin tightened in all the right places.

Ben noticed the change, of course, and he complimented her on her renewed vitality and effervescence. He didn’t feel right telling her that his back had started acting up and that liver spots had recently appeared on his hands. Ben wanted to be supportive, especially after all that they had been through with the whole weight thing.

So he cheered her on and told her that she looked great, which Alicia was thrilled to hear. She took her enthusiasm out on him, as her sex drive crescendoed toward levels it had not approached in years. Ben struggled to keep up with her limber athleticism, but he required pharmaceutical assistance just to fulfill her minimum needs.

The first time Alicia was carded for beer, they both laughed. But the novelty soon became routine, and even the later requests for id when Alicia tried to get into R-rated movies failed to elicit more than a smirk from her. In truth, she was becoming more petulant, and she rebelled against Ben’s request for her to dress more conservatively and to stop snorting approval at idiotic television shows.

“You don’t want to have any fun,” Alicia snapped at him. “I’m bored.”

“Maybe if you didn’t spend all day talking to your friends on your cell phone, you’d develop more interests,” Ben said

“Whatever,” Alicia said.

It was shortly after a teenage boy asked Alicia to attend his kegger that she told Ben they had to talk about their relationship. She had declined the kid’s offer, but she wanted to know why Ben never wanted to go out and party. She also asked him if he had noticed that his thinning hair had blotchy streaks of gray in it.

Ben said that he was too tired most nights to do anything other than eat and sleep, and he added that he didn’t think it was a good idea for them to have sex anymore. Alicia was taken aback, and she looked at the aging man with a mixture of subtle confusion and abrupt realization at what was happening. She banished her whiny tone to utter a sarcastic-free sentence.

“You don’t have to do this for me,” Alicia said.

“I want you to be happy,” Ben answered.

Her plummeting maturity kept her from arguing too altruistically. So Alicia went on getting younger, and she was soon a little girl in pigtails who held on to Ben’s gnarled hand as they went from place to place. She loved nothing so much as jumping rope and splashing in puddles, and Ben shuffled along behind her to keep her out of mischief.

Ben’s spine curved, and the lines in his face set into hardened crevices that seemed to be the only things holding up his withered skin. He consumed fistfuls of pills each day to keep his dry organs pumping, and he began forgetting people’s names and the quickest routes around town and where the hell his damn glasses had gone off to.

While sitting in their living room one evening, he launched into yet more reminiscing about their years together, an action that had recently morphed into his chief hobby and only passion. But this night, he became flustered over gaps in the chronology and blurry images from the past. He asked Alicia to clarify the details, but she just kept drawing outside the lines of her coloring book and singing la-la-la songs of impish delight. He smiled at her and forgot what he was talking about.

Before long, Alicia was a wailing infant who required all of Ben’s attention. Because he no longer trusted his memory, Ben plastered their house in post-its that listed feeding times, diagramed how to change a diaper, and offered helpful tips on baby care. However, because his eyesight was fading as well, the post-its were of limited help. So he mostly just shuffled around the house on his cane, peering at the notes left in haphazard places while Alicia cried in shrieking urgency.

The din did not subside until Alicia became a fetus. At that point, Ben bundled her into a warm blanket and took her for slow walks around the neighborhood. He wondered if the fresh air were beneficial or harmful for her retro-development, but because he could not find any information on the proper care of a fetus, he relied on instinct and the frayed thinking of an advanced senior citizen. He soon became a neighborhood fixture — the old man taking tiny steps around the block while clutching a fetus in a blanket. He peaked at Alicia every now and then to admire her curled position and translucent head. He was afraid that his increasing forgetfulness would cause him to misplace her, so he made sure that she was never far from him.

Alicia as an embryo was even more adorable. Ben told her how proud he was of her for accomplishing her goal of looking younger, and he babbled on until his one-sided conversation referenced everything from how they met to the rudeness of kids today to the price of eggs when he was a boy.

His bones were practically dust and his mind was full of holes by the time Alicia turned into a zygote. He wanted to take a walk with her, however, so he bundled up to fight off the brutal summer cold and headed for the park where he and Alicia used to spend quiet Sunday afternoons. Ben wheezed the entire way there, and it took great effort just to reach the nearest bench. But he made it and caught his breath while protecting the zygote in his hand. Alicia was rapidly regressing into oogenesis, and Ben had to concentrate just to perceive the sensations whirling around him.

The enfeebled old man sat there on the bench. His obese dog snored at his side. The elderly gentleman rested one hand on his cane while he raised a set of arthritic fingers to his face. The hand wobbled as he squinted into his heavily creased palm. He stared at the pinprick-size bundle of cells in his palm.

He smiled. And then she was gone.

Daniel Cubias is a writer living in Minneapolis. His stories have appeared in Word, The Harpweaver, and Eclectica. He had the top short story in the 2000 New Century Writing Contest, and he is finishing up his first novel.

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