Skinny Love and the Bagel appears in the book Walden and Hyde (and Other Short Stories) available on www.xenohemlock.com/walden-and-hyde.
Cover design photography by Marco Tierro.
Copyright © by Xeno Hemlock.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any means without the express permission of the author except for brief quotations embodied in reviews and articles or by permission in writing from the author.
Gina Watson had fifteen minutes left before a fairy took away her life. After emptying her glass of water, she stood from the table and the bagel fell from her hat to the floor.
Danny grabbed his fiancée’s arm. “Where are you going? I thought we were going to relax by the pool. The weather looks perfect.”
Gina smiled and picked up the bagel from the ground, made sure none of the resort’s guests and crew were looking, and stowed it back inside her brim hat. “I want to meditate in our room,” she told him.
“Meditation after breakfast? Shouldn’t that be done before?”
She looked at her Hello Kitty watch on her wrist. She only had a few minutes left. “An Internet guru said to give it a try. My digestion problems seem to be going away, been practicing it for a week. Nothing else worked for me except this.”
He eyed her brim hat. “You’re bringing food. We just ate.”
She looked around to make sure nobody was eavesdropping. “It’s part of the technique. You eat. You meditate. Then you eat again, just a little, to put your stomach to the test right away. I need to cure my stomach problems before our wedding.”
He moved his grip from her arm and squeezed her hand. “All right. Whatever makes you happy, Bae. I’ll be there for the next hour to annoy some kids. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
“Yes. By the pool. To annoy some kids.” She gave Danny a smacking kiss on the lips and let go of his hand. “Mind their parents, okay?”
“I will.” He winked at her as she walked away.
Sometimes she couldn’t believe she and Danny were together. When he confessed his love to her years ago, she had dismissed it as a joke. A Greek god and a fat mortal didn’t belong together. Danny hadn’t given up. He pursued her with patience until she gave in. The outspoken jeers and silent snickers from random busybodies didn’t affect Danny whenever they were outdoors together. Danny loved her, despite her weight, even when he ought to be with a stick-thin female model instead.
Four minutes remained when Gina arrived at their room. She stepped out on the balcony, placed a white hanky on a circular table, and arranged the food on it: the bagel, the small cup of cream cheese, blueberries she sneaked from the breakfast buffet, and a can of orange juice stowed away in the fridge. She added a small knife and teaspoon to the altar before taking her place on the recliner next to it. She straightened her brim hat, put on a pair of sunglasses, and waited.
Less than a minute now.
A cheery voice coming from two feet away joined her on the balcony. “Hello, Miss Watson!”
He was right on time. Gina turned to her guest. “Butterbur!”
The fairy leaped from the floor to the armrest of Gina’s chair. He reeked of wet grass, disrupting the salty air of the beach by the balcony. Standing at two-feet tall, robed in red and green, balding head and long beard, he looked like Christmas spoiling summer next to her long, orange dress with patterns of sun, waves, and coconut trees.
“It’s been five years since we last happened upon each other,” said Butterbur.
Hiding behind her Guess sunglasses, Gina eyed him. “You have no problem finding me after five years.”
“Of course, Miss Watson. All I have to do is trace your scent to find you.”
Gina glanced to the food on the table next to her. “And what is my scent like?” She turned back to Butterbur.
“Cocoa.” He tapped the thick walking cane he brought with him on the armrest. “And something sweet. Not of the earth, mind you, but very sweet indeed. I call it the Miss-Watson sweet!”
“Too bad I’m ignorant of my own scent.”
“Well it’s quite simple, Miss Watson. All you have to do is open your nose and be aware of your surroundings.”
Gina took a deep breath. “The sea, that’s all I can smell, and some kind of mud, I guess. No cocoa. Not even a chocolate candy or a chocolate drink. Not even Danny’s perfume.” She let out a sigh.
“That’s nothing to be sad about, Miss Watson!” Butterbur tapped his cane again. “The scent of the sea is very powerful. It’s splendid to have that be your last whiff of this earth before you go.”
She took another deep breath, looked at the food altar, and then turned to Butterbur. “Time goes by mostly unnoticed and before you know it, it’s almost gone.”
“Indeed, Miss Watson! Time is one of the most precious gifts humans take for granted.”
“Even with all the money in the world, we can never buy time.”
“An astute observation, Miss Watson! We fairies have no use for what you call money. Even after roaming the world for more than a hundred years, I still cannot fathom humans’ need for money.”
Gina took off her brim hat and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “That’s why I want to say thank you, Butterbur. You’ve given me the gift of time.”
He took a bow. “My pleasure, Miss Watson. We have a simple creed that grants us a very long life. Eat green. Sleep well. Do good to others. Be happy. It was my privilege to do good for you.”
She took another deep breath. “Eat green. Sleep well. Do good to others. Be happy. Still, us humans like making things complicated.”
Complicated indeed, exactly what the doctor told her five years ago. He said she didn’t have very long left to live. Gina knew what to blame. All those cakes. All those biscuits. All those pastries. All those sweet, yummy, colorful and tingling mouth delights.
For her they were symbols of freedom, of emancipation from her parents, Joe Watson, the fittest physical trainer in Verona, and Melinda Watson, the nutrition expert every mother in the neighborhood sought advice from. If they found out that their only child who ran away as a skinny teenager turned out to be a carefree, pastry-loving balloon, they would dig her grave themselves.
She had left the doctor’s office and took solace in the girls’ washroom, locking herself in one of the stalls. After half an hour of bawling her eyes out, Butterbur had found her.
Butterbur proposed to her a simple offer. He’d grant her five more years of life in exchange for the greatest power in the universe. Gina had to find that power herself. At the end of her five years, Butterbur would visit her again to receive the greatest power as his rightful payment.
She found the greatest power, after more than four years of searching, thanks to the rise of computers. It was someone she knew. Herbert Novelli, her first true love from her teenage years.
But everything had changed since she was a teenager. Mustering the courage to see him again wasn’t easy. She felt complicated things. Regret. Joy. Pride. Sadness. She reached out to a friend from her skinny days, Sarah Montgomery, and with her help found the best dress to wear and the confidence to knock on Herbert’s door.
The last time Herbert saw her, she was thin. When they reunited, she was five pounds overweight. The last time he saw her, she was under the commands and wishes of her parents. When they reunited, she had become a full-fledged woman, independent and able to make decisions on her own.
And the last time he saw her, she knew he loved her. When they reunited, she feared the opposite.
Herbert had smiled at her and said time had cooled everything. She handed him her and Danny’s wedding invitation, never taking her eyes off his blue pair. The following day, she returned to him, not as his former skinny love but as a friend, to start over. She returned again the day after. Then the day after that day. They rekindled a friendship with an engagement ring on her finger from a fiancé temporarily working overseas. In her mind, she imagined Herbert taking the ring off her finger, throwing it, and replacing it with a new one. So she waited.
When Danny returned from London, one look at his jolly face triggered her tears. All those years they’d been together, he made her feel beautiful despite what the numbers on the scale said. He could’ve left her and be with any of the hundred girls who offered their hearts to him. But he didn’t. How dare she thought about leaving him months before their wedding? Walking away was easy for the thin teenage version of herself but that was many years ago and she wasn’t skinny anymore.
“I just missed you,” she said when Danny asked her what were the tears for.
On that day she’d rather not remember, the day she chose a path, Herbert said the words she longed to hear from him. She responded with bemusement, followed by a cold and stoic face. He was mistaken, she told him. He got it all wrong, she repeated. His blue eyes turned gray as he sarcastically wished her wedding luck. He accused her of being a complicated woman before he disappeared inside a cab, never to see her again. She found herself in Danny’s huge arms again as if no treachery ever happened.
Things returned to being simple.
She suggested to Danny that they go on a short vacation. All the wedding planning caused her stress. He happily obliged. During breakfast on their third day, as Danny passed her the butter, she remembered that her long due reunion with Butterbur was on that day. Five years had gone by so fast.
“There is one very important question I’ve been longing to ask you, Miss Watson,” Butterbur said. His breath smelled of dead tree trunks.
Gina felt his eyes piercing through her sunglasses. “Of course, the greatest power in the universe,” she said. She read that fairies could read the human mind and that it was next to impossible to lie to them.
Butterbur shook his fists as he bounced on the armrest. “You know it, Miss Watson! You know it!”
She also read that fairies loved being offered food, but Butterbur had paid no mind yet of the altar she made.
He ceased bouncing. “Tell me now, Miss Watson. Did you find the greatest power in the universe?”
She propped herself upright in the chair. “I found it.”
Strange words came out of Butterbur’s mouth as he resumed bouncing, higher and faster than the last time.
“I found true love, Butterbur,” she continued. “I found the greatest power in the universe.”
“Oh, Miss Watson! Fantastic! Whether true, puppy, long-distance, unconditional, or whatever you humans like to call it, love is the greatest power in the universe! Love is timeless, ephemeral, beautiful, and, best of all, powerful! Many of the greatest events in time have been because of love. I’m so happy for you, Miss Watson.”
A drifting cluster of clouds hid the sun. Gina removed her sunglasses. “I’m not going to die now, am I?”
The fairy stopped bouncing and looked at the food. “You mean leave the earth, Miss Watson? No. You’re not going to go anymore. Love is the payment for the gift I gave you.”
“Thank you!” Gina’s sunglasses fell to the floor.
Butterbur faced her. “I’m curious, Miss Watson. Can you tell me more about the love that you found? Such stories fascinate us fairies.”
Gina eyed the bagel and the blueberries. “His name is Danny Fackelmeyer. We met in one of the weddings I planned where he was the best man. After the reception he asked for my number. We haven’t been apart since then.”
Butterbur put his hands together and fluttered his eyelids. “That’s sweet, Miss Watson. Finding the greatest power in the universe in a celebration made for it, such a tale of serendipity!”
“I’m a lucky girl. Who’d have thought? In fact, he’s here with me at this resort. We had breakfast minutes ago. He’s at the pool now playing with children. He loves children. He’ll make for a great father.”
“And I can see that you’re both betrothed?” Butterbur looked at her engagement ring.
“Yes. You’re right.”
“Well then. My affairs here are done except for one more thing.” Butterbur tapped his cane and shifted toward the altar of food.
“I brought that for you,” said Gina.
“My! This is flattering, Miss Watson. The last girl I visited didn’t prepare anything. It greatly upset me.”
“She did not?”
Butterbur turned back to her. “She did not do her part. I asked her to get some bananas instead. She couldn’t find them so we settled for oranges.”
“Why you ask, Miss Watson?” Butterbur’s voice lowered. “It’s the seal of the ceremony. Without it the payment is never really accepted.”
“How does this—”
“The seal goes like this.” Butterbur turned to the food again. “We both eat the food together. It’s as simple as that!”
Gina thought of some of the food she gorged from the breakfast buffet. Bagel and cream cheese. Omelette. Jam and toast. Bacon. Rice porridge. Sausages. “I had a hearty breakfast. I’ll just have the juice, then.” Her hand went for the altar.
Butterbur stopped Gina’s hand with his cane. “Wait, Miss Watson. We must not let the rest of these go to waste. We must consume them all.”
“However,” Butterbur continued. “Our kind doesn’t eat human food. I will have all the blueberries and you will have the rest.” He dropped his cane to the floor. He walked to the edge of the table and put the lump of blueberries in his arms. “Us fairies like our food simple. We pick them from trees or from the ground and eat them right away.” He walked back to his earlier spot on the armrest.
“Okay.” Gina picked the bagel, remembering it touched the floor of the restaurant, sliced it with the breadknife, and spread cream cheese on the bottom sliced half. “What’s next?”
Butterbur smiled. “We eat.” He pushed one blueberry inside his mouth and started chewing.
She looked at him and brought the bagel to her mouth, took one small bite.
“This shall be our first and last meal together, Miss Watson...” Butterbur spoke.
Gina swallowed and took another bite.
“...for you have found the greatest power in the universe. Then we shall have no dealings with each other from here on out...”
Gina felt something move in her digestive tract. The piece of bagel she swallowed began making its way back up, as if it had sprouted legs. “But—”
“...for the greatest power is the greatest gift in the universe...”
It crawled to her trachea, hardening and growing. The second bite shook in her mouth and began to crawl to her throat, hardening and growing as well. Gina clutched her neck.
“...and only the honest, the selfless, and the good-hearted can possess it.”
The sun started to black out. Butterbur’s words descended to silence. The birds and the sea went mute. Then Butterbur’s giant face filled Gina’s vision.
“Oh, Miss Watson.” He spoke in a voice that sounded big yet far away. Gina heard a faint of sadness from him. “This is what the seal does. It verifies the greatest power in the universe. True power gives life and the opposite is death.”
The two living lumps of bagel in Gina’s body began erupting. Her legs shook. She couldn’t see Butterbur anymore but she could still hear him.
“That’s the greatest power in the universe, Miss Watson. It can never be faked. Love. It’s as simple as that.”