by Lela Tredwell
Long ago, in the days when there were still fish in the oceans and cars on the roads, there lived a woman who was not afraid of governments, but Ty, for one, was sick to the teeth of hearing about her. One more PowerPoint presentation, one more re-enactment video, one more prep poetry competition on the life of Murgid Farai, and Ty would literally tear someone a new one. As soon as she saw the letters of a name forming on the edu-screen, she stabbed at the toilet break button on her console. Making her way down the aisle of desks, she reached out for the hot spongy hand of Ams and yanked her biffle like a dog, absconding before the classroom door could swing back shut.
“What the frack, bitch?” panted Ams as she tried to match Ty’s determined march up the corridor.
“It’s ghost shit!”
“Shhhhhhhhhh.” Ams gave the impression of a rapidly deflating air mattress. She swirled around in the corridor, scanning for insects but found no sign of the mini-drones.
The underfloor heating began to reach through the thin soles of their shoes. Soon it would be burning. Ams started squeaking as if in preparation, stumbled a few steps, and launched herself forward. Ty moved to grab at her sizable midriff and stopped her from taking a dive. Soft, pliable flesh folded around Ty’s hands. Ams’ scarf began to unravel. She reached up to readjust it. The smell of melting plastic, overused electrical wires and cleaning products smothered them, making Ams start to retch.
“Let’s get out. Out, out,” Ty said.
Under the pious bust of Murgid, which glared at their descent of the stairs six times a day, Ty slammed hard against the fire exit door, forcing it to yield.
The screeching that followed drowned Ams’ protestations. There was nowhere else for them to go now. Ty let Ams descend first, following her biffle’s feet on the iron steps, watching her curvy hips assaulting the balustrades. The stench of the corridor dissipated and a breeze made fresh their escape. The welcome feel of cool iron on the soles of her feet caused Ty an involuntary shiver.
Hooking her arm though Ams’, the pair traipsed across the courtyard to the sound of the screeching. The sensors in the quad joined in with their own high pitched whine creating a ghastly operatic din. Ty held her nose with her free hand and breathed down hard filling her ears with air pockets that muffled the ruckus. She kept her head down. Weeds were trying to break through the cracks in the concrete and a lone scraggy looking bee was cresting over the sad leaves searching for flowers. Ams stopped to stare.
Ty let go of her nostrils letting the shrieking and whining flood back into her head.
“Come on!” she yelled, though she too had slowed her speed.
“But it’s a bee, right?” called Ams over the hullabaloo. “I’ve never seen one. I mean, not a real one.”
They watched the bee’s confused path over the weeds.
“We’ve got to keep going,” Ty said.
At the chain fence they followed the boundary along to the broken links. Someone had, at some time before them, tried pretty hard to get out. Ty stepped through and held open the gap wider with a stick against the wire, enough for Ams to squeeze by. She breathed in, manipulating some flesh, while turning her bulk sideways to avoid being electrocuted.
Once they’d cleared the smaller wall on the other side of the chain, with a tested leg up and pull system, they slumped down awkwardly with their backs against the brick staring at another much bigger, impassable barrier: Rekulak. The blades of dry grass stabbed their backsides and thighs through their uniform skirts. The cavity in which they now rested, overgrown with hardy foliage, stretched out as far as they could see – wall one side, Rekulak the other. They’d tried walking it once or twice but wall and cliff was all they ever found.
“Why?” said Ams.
“Why couldn’t we just have stayed in class, bitch?” she wheezed.
Ty sighed. Her biffle’s ability to devote herself to a cause she didn’t fully understand both warmed and unsettled her.
“I’ve got another eight rounds, I ain’t spending them all in there swooning with the rest of those preps.”
Ty originally chose Ams as her biffle because their numbers matched and that seemed a good enough reason to select her from any of the others, but Ams had a way of growing, and not just in size, but in affections.
Ams rubbed her trunk ankles and pulled off the thinly soled shoes to let her piggy feet get some air.
“What’s your problem with Murgid, anyway, bitch?”
“Nothing. I just don’t want to hear about her every fracking minute of the day.”
“Yeah, and the face and her staring all the time gives me the creeps. Why did she have to be so… so perfect?”
“I don’t know.”
“She was all, blah – blah – blah, birth, blah – blah – blah.”
“She wanted us to give life to the beautiful lives that are within us.”
“Will you be ready for the test?”
“Nah… I guess.”
“They’ll say I’m too fat.”
“Queen Murgid was fat. She gave birth to us all.” Ty laughed and added, “Fat people used to give birth all the time.”
“Anyway, why’d you want to? It shortens your lifespan. Look at butterflies – they give birth and after they’re necroed.”
“That’s a lie, bitch.”
“Well they’re dead anyway.”
Ams put a hand up and noticed some fuzz was peeping out from under her scarf. She unwound her blonde hair letting it coruscate with the reflected rays of the sun.
“Perhaps I’m sick.”
“You’re not sick.”
“Nope. Just fat.”
Ty liked the way Ams’ body escaped out and over things. She loved the pliability of her. Her own body was hard, angular. it revealed angles that were generously hidden in Ams’. Ty had to live just outside herself, like her body didn’t have enough room to house her, whereas Ams was buried snugly inside, protected and kept cosy. She was her biffle. A best friend for life. BFFL. Her homie since they were seven and moved to the academy. The one person who’d got her back. You don’t fuck with your biffle. Not ever. No romantic dealings. That’s not what a biffle was for. And yet, thought Ty, your biffle was very probably the greatest love you would ever know. In this world. Or the next.
“She was brave though, bitch.”
“Murgid. Standing up to everybody like that.”
“She wanted us to live better,” said Ams. She nudged Ty.
“Live brighter,” Ty said grudgingly.
“Bolder.” Ams grabbed a roll of fat lounging on her upper thighs “Bigger!” she roared and laughed.
“Birth,” the girls said in tandem, deep rumbling voices. In unison they cackled.
“If you believe that bollocks,” said Ty. “What if she never even existed? What if they made her up?”
“Who?” asked Ams. “Who would have done that?” She sounded upset.
“I don’t know,” Ty said, tired. She put her head back against the wall and closed her eyes. Somewhere was something else.
“Beyond Rakulak,” said Ams feeling Ty’s mood.
It was a game they’d played for years.
“Ghost towers, ghost homes, ghost golf parks.”
“Nah, bitch, there’s a field that stretches beyond the horizon with bees and birds and deer and buffalo chewing grass. Baby buffalo!”
“Why don’t the bees and birds ever come here?”
“That one did.”
“One. In ten years. Big whoop. Where are the others?”
“They know not to come.”
“Like with the old camps. The birds gave them a mile.”
“I’ll give you a mile if you start on about the old camps. Come up with something better than that.”
“Ok, because there’s no pollen, or bugs or anything they like to eat over here. It’s too clean.”
“No, wait, it’s the sensors. They don’t like the noises!”
“We don’t like the noises. We’re still here.”
“Anyway it’s better to be here than in your ghost town, bitch.”
“I’d rather a ghost town. You wouldn’t get bothered so much by ghosts than gadgets and gizmos and Queen Murgid.”
“In the field are flaring big flowers and harvest mice and holes where rabbits have burrowed…” Ty watched Ams’ lips move. The lightening thought of kissing them struck – wet, hot, a thick tongue touching Ty’s.
“…There’s apples and oranges around the borders and a river runs through with sparkling water and fishes. Fracking fishes!”
“You’ve been spending too long on the net. It’s a wasteland out there. And there’s no such thing as fish anymore, or rabbits. And only blind birds.”
Silent, they listened out for a clue rising over Rakulak. None was forthcoming.
“See, nothing,” said Ty in triumph.
Ams made a face like she was listening even more closely, as if she could hear something where Ty could not. She started.
“Will you help me revise?”
“Oh hell, no.”
“Go on, bitch, pleeease.”
“Why do you want to pass?”
“I don’t know. I just think I do.”
“You’ll be fracked.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“They won’t stop.”
“You’ll hate me.”
“Never. BFFL, bitch.”
They got back to the Academy in time for dinner prayers. Ty held herself down to the gym matt, still, the dank smell of sweat filling her nostrils.
“Murgid made us better,” she murmured in time with the others.
It was true that Ams was overweight by twenty pounds, but the real problem was her IQ.
“Murgid made us brighter.”
Not Ams. She wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, compared to the vast majority of the preps, she was a tool.
“Murgid made us bolder.”
Ty wasn’t sure how she could help her.
“Murgid, make us bigger.”
She was even less convinced that she wanted to.
“Murgid, make us birth. Better, brighter, bolder, bigger.”
Giving birth was something Ty’d been avoiding since her tests had started at 14. For three years she’d dodged the bullet by rigging various schemes. She’d scratched herself to cause irregular bleeding, refused to get her breathing in time to the metronome in simulated birthing classes and deliberately flunked the IQ test. She hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to how she was going to fudge it this year but her intentions were very much to continue the avoidance strategy.
“Murgid give us boys.”
Peeling herself off the matt she caught her biffle’s eye and Ams beamed back.
That night Ams rolled across her bunk with her birthing text book, her fat shifting, reforming another gorgeous figure of indulgence. Her breasts shifting against her night blouse.
“Will you help me now, bitch?”
“BFFL,” Ams said with her watery eyes.
Ty nodded and took the book. She considered jumping into the bunk with Ams, pressing up close to the warm mounds of flab. Should she wait until the lights went out and the insects had settled down? Would Ams’ hot flesh sink around Ty’s angles?
Over the next couple of months Ams stopped eating dessert and refused all but slight morsels of food. The extra pounds fell off her fast and the protective fat that had kept Ams so cosy faded. The bulbous edges started to pinch in at places they hadn’t before. Ty missed the burgeoning Ams, the one she could fantasise with. This new one was less easy to distract. One day Ty tried to tug her out of class but Ams’ hand resisted. Ty actually had to go to the toilet alone. No more a temporary refuge from Murgid’s teachings, on her own the toilets were a desperate desolate place. She tried going to the cavity once too but she realised without Ams to give her a leg up she couldn’t get over the wall. Ty missed the rolling fat, the curves she could grab every so often to save her from colliding with objects. Hugging Ams became like holding onto a broom stick.
But if losing the weight had been easy for Ams, the IQ test revision was going badly. She had been able to learn birthing biology quickly enough but was lousy at all other questions. The night before testing, Ams climbed nimbly up into Ty’s bed to revise. Their barely covered bones met under the covers as Ty aggressively whispered questions, ones that, by now she knew by heart. Ams’ pointy elbows stabbed Ty as she considered the answers. Though the angles felt wrong, she reached a hand up and stroked Ams’ brilliant blonde hair.
Ams’ face shone back at her.
“I want this more than anything in the world, bitch,” she whispered.
That night Ty slept badly on confused dreams. Her once fat biffle’s booty collided with a swarm of bees and insect drones. Blind birds crashed into ghostly shadows of buildings and Murgid’s army of activists campaigning for pro-birthing academies marched on into her now angular friends’ body. Ty woke up to the alarm for prayers feeling like she hadn’t slept at all. Her eyes were crusty and drooping, her body aching. Was she sick? She dreaded rolling over to see Ams’ hopeful face. Instead she closed her eyes firmly and pretended that Ams was curvaceous again, that she was manipulating her flesh, squishing her into safe spaces away from the light.
Ams was indeed hopeful.
“I’ve got this,” she told Ty.
Ty grimaced back.
Ams puffed and huffed in time to the monotone, she was spot on with her proportions, her bleeding was confirmed as regular, she performed the bleep test to the satisfaction of the machine and her blood and stool tests were confirmed as clear. That afternoon the IQ test was distributed.
Ty scratched at the ABCD boxes on the form and when it came to the end she wrote her biffle’s name – AM342 – at the top of her test paper. She went to turn it in, collecting Ams’ paper as she went by. Her biffle beamed a happy, hopeful smile. Before feeding the papers into the machine Ty made a small two letter amendment and the deception was done.
Ams was still grinning. She didn’t have a clue. Was it the disappointment that Ty most feared? Or was this just another act of self-preservation?
The results were published the following day.
Ams was too excited to read the list.
“You do it for me,” she begged.
“AM342 – Birthing: PASS.”
Ams squealed. “Yes, yes,YES! And you? … Do you?”
Ty moved her finger down the list, “TY342 – Birthing…”
The nauseous pain swept her down to the warm grey carpet, course and smelling of artificial fibres. She had to crouch, winded, so as not to feel the burn.
Ams wiry figure came down to find her friend and sprung around Ty like a coil.
“Birthing BFFL, bitch!”
Ty whispered back, “Birthing BFFL.