It was some sort of fad diet—two steps to losing weight. Lose a pound a day until your desired weight is reached, the ad claimed. Step one: eat a lemon. Step two: go to sleep.
Maya thought it sounded easy enough. “Probably too good to be true,” she muttered as she picked up the phone to order her crate of yellow citrus. She paused with her thumb hovering over the last number. It can’t be true, she thought. But it was so ridiculous that just maybe it was.
Determined to shed some pounds before her best friend’s wedding, she was willing to give it a try. “Our old friends will be there,” Dena had said. “Ones we haven’t seen since graduation.” Great! Maya had put on a few pounds in the seven years since, so shedding a few before slipping into an already-ugly bridesmaid dress sounded good, especially if it was easy. .
“Your citrus is on its way,” said the female voice on the phone. “It should be there in two weeks.”
Two weeks? Why can’t it be two days, Maya wanted to shout. She wanted start shedding the pounds right away. But she sighed and said politely, “Okay, thank you”, then ended the call.
Two Weeks Later
Maya scrunched up her face and swallowed the first bite of lemon. The instructions clearly said not for lemonade use. These lemons were to be eaten plain and raw for best results.
Anticancer, antioxidant, antibacterial and antiviral, read the paper flyer included in the crate of fruit. Weight loss and digestive aid. Contains Vitamin C, Magnesium, Calcium and Bioflavonoids, it said in bold yellow letters on a dark green background. Beneath it in tiny white letters, it read “May cause erosion of tooth enamel or anaphylactic allergies”.
“What the heck is an anaphylactic allergy?” Maya asked herself, taking another bite. “Damn, no wonder this is a weight loss aid. You’ll never want to eat again after tasting this stuff.” She looked at the lemon slices as if they could respond. “Why does lemonade taste so good?”
After she’d managed to eat nearly the entire lemon, she trundled off to bed. “Sour dreams, Maya,” she said and snuggled down under her blankets.
* * *
Yellow roses sprung up on either side of the path and towered over her head. Each one, as she walked past, bent down as if to say hello. She’d passed several before she noticed the tags tied around each stem, at the base of the flower. She took one in her fingers to read it. “Pick me” it said.
How does one pick a flower larger than herself, she wondered. She took a few more steps then read another. “Don’t pick me,” this one read.
She began reading each one as it bent to her and quickly noted that the instructions alternated. Every other rose’s tag said, “Pick me”. It dawned on her that all she needed to do was choose one. But as she stood, trying to determine how much of a difference her choice would make, a fairy appeared among the roses.
She was atypically tall for a fairy, and slender. She wore a long, mint green dress with a v-waist and a belt that looked like a rosary except instead of round beads, there were silver numbers. The belt clasped at number 5. A golden tiara nestled in thick auburn tresses and she held a sparkling, golden wand.
“Seriously?” muttered Maya. “How stereotypical.”
“Pardon me?” asked the fairy,
“Nothing.” Maya shook her head. “Is your name Tinkerbell?”
The fairy frowned. “Of course not. What an odd name. My name’s Denise.”
“Oh. So, Denise, what am I supposed to do with these roses?”
“Pick one, of course.”
Maya lifted her eyebrows and thought about calling Denise a smartass, but she seemed so serious. “Will you help me choose?”
“I can’t do that. You must listen for the one that calls to you.”
With that, Denise stalked off into a forest of miniature (to Maya) trees. Maya looked at the roses again, which had now turned pink. Putting her hands on her hips, she said, “Okay, roses, which of you is calling me?”
A single rose bent forward. Maya’s name floated on the breeze. She could both hear it and see it. On a whim, she reached out to try plucking the letters from the air. Her hand passed through them as if they were nothing but mist. Which she supposed they probably were. She stepped forward to clasp the rose, to pick it, but as she wrapped her hands around its thornless stem, the petals reached out and enveloped her. . .
Maya awoke in her own bed. “Wow, what a dream,” she murmured, stretching, yawning, and recalling the images from last night. “What are they putting in those lemons? I wonder if that’s the anaphylactic allergy? Well, let’s see if it worked.”
Not expecting to see a change in her scale reading, she was surprised to find that she had indeed lost one pound since weighing herself yesterday morning. “Lemons!” she said, laughing. “Who’da thunk it?”
Deciding to continue her normal daily diet, she set about getting ready for work. After her day was done, she came home to her crate of sour, yellow fruit.
“This is going to be a love-hate relationship,” she said, holding up a lemon. “Well, let’s do it. What are you going to show me tonight?”
* * *
The roses were taller this time, and there were more of them. Denise sat in front of them on a big, flat rock. She smiled at Maya. “Did you choose correctly?”
Since she’d lost a pound she assumed she did. She shrugged. “I guess.”
Denise smiled. “Good! Now, don’t you wish you could eat whatever you wanted and the pounds would go away instead of packing on?”
“Don’t we all?”
“No.” Denise shook her head. Again, she seemed so serious. She waved her wand at the flowers. “Find your rose, Maya.”
At first they all looked the same. But then Maya noticed a single yellow rose had a pinkish tinge. Was that her rose? At the risk of choosing wrong, she said, “Yes, I see it.”
“Go to it, Maya. Eat it, taste it, become it.”
Become it? That almost sounded sexual. Or maybe it was supposed to be some weird spiritual religion. Maya looked at Denise, but she was reclined, eyes closed, and licking her lips. Maya noticed her belt was now clasped at number 6. She went to the rose and again, it bowed to her, spreading its petals. Now what, wondered Maya. Just then a slip of paper unrolled from among the petals, ‘Eat Me’ written on it.
“Okay, Alice,” whispered Maya to herself and grabbed a yellowy-pink petal. It tasted like chocolate. But the next one she ate tasted like a cheese pizza. The next bite was crispy chicken, and the next red licorice. She tried to stop, but each time she did, the rose pushed itself towards her, as if it enjoyed being consumed. Maya ate petal after petal, until the rose was plucked bare. Stuffed, Maya felt like throwing up. The delicious petals rose up in her throat . . .
Maya awoke and leapt out of bed. Halfway to the bathroom, she realized she was neither full nor going to puke her guts out. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she continued to the bathroom to weigh herself, and found she was another pound lighter.
* * *
“Look at me, I’m a 7 now.”
Maya recognized Denise’s voice. It sounded like she was bragging, but what did it mean that she was a seven? Maya thought about the fairy’s belt and how the clasp had gone from a 5 to a 6. Was Denise putting on weight? But who would brag about that?
“That’s nothing. I’m up to a 9,” said an unknown female voice.
“I’ve got it all over both of you,” said a second unknown voice, also female. “I’m a 13.”
“You better feed your roses soon,” said Denise. “You know how hard it is to get them to eat very much at once. If you get too big, you’ll be stuck there forever.”
What on earth were they talking about wondered Maya as she walked along the path. The roses stood tall and quiet; no talking, no tags or rolled up slips of paper.
“Oh, you girls,” said a distinctly gay male voice. “Must you sit around like this? The roses are hungry and must be fed.” Someone—Maya thought probably the man—clapped their hands. “Hurry now.”
Slippered feet slapped against the path, then the three female fairies darted past her. Denise didn’t even seem to notice her. The other two looked similar. Tall and slender wearing the same style of dress, one blue and one red, with a belt of silver numbers. Both carried wands and wore tiaras in their hair as Denise did. Blue dress girl was blonde, and Red dress girl was brunette. Maya turned and saw them leave the path to dart among the roses.
“Oh, honey, what are you doing here?”
Startled, Maya whirled around to face the male. He had short black hair, thinning on top, and wore a pair of round glasses, the glass part tinted blue. His pants and suit coat were covered in black sequins, his cummerbund in red. His white shirt had no sequins but still it shone and sparkled as if it did. In his left hand he carried a shiny black cane, and on his back a tiny pair of opalescent wings fluttered.
“Really?” groaned Maya.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“No, it’s just—” Why was everything here so stereotypical, and why did she never know what to say?
“My name is Maurice, honey. Does that help?”
Maya frowned. Why on earth would that help? She shook her head, but Maurice barely noticed. He was looking at her waistline.
“I see you’ve been using our Lemon Slumber diet aid,” he said.
“Uh, yeah.” How did he know that?
“And how’s that working for you?”
“Fine. I’ve lost a couple pounds so far.”
Maurice smiled. “Wonderful! Be sure you don’t eat too many at once now.”
“Trust me, I won’t!”
“Oh, but you’ll want to, honey,” he said. “You’ll want to.”
When Maya got up in the morning, she had indeed lost another pound. Strangely though, that night, she found herself craving more lemons.
* * *
“You ate four lemons?” Denise screamed at Maya. “Are you crazy? Look at this! Look!” She put her hands on her hips, one finger jiggling her belt. Maya noticed it was noticed it was clasped at 9. “Didn’t Maurice tell you not to eat too many? Didn’t he?”
“Uh, yeah, but. . .”
“My roses won’t eat that much! Do you think I want to be a fat fairy?”
A fat fairy? For unknown reasons, Maya found this extremely funny and burst out laughing.
“You think it’s funny? Do you really think it’s funny?” Denise screamed, stamping her feet, her face turning red. “You didn’t even eat your petals last night. Now everything’s messed up!”
Maya squeezed her lips together and rubbed her nose to keep from laughing anymore. Everything was messed up long before now, she thought, but didn’t dare say it. Denise let out a long scream, and in a flash her two friends were there accompanied by Maurice.
“What’s going on?” called out Maurice as the girls tried to comfort Denise. He rushed over to Maya.
“I don’t know. She’s freaking out because I ate four lemons. I almost . . .”
“Four?” screamed Maurice. “Didn’t I tell you not to eat too many?”
“Well I thought if one took off one pound then . . .”
“Four would take off four pounds,” finished Maurice. “I know. That’s why I told you not to do it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Oh, honey, you don’t understand how it works do you?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Maurice took her hand. “We’ll explain it, but first you must eat your petals. Come now.” He led her to the roses where several of them wore “Eat Me” tags. “You have a lot of making up to do.” He smiled then walked away.
Maya looked at the roses. Did she have to eat all the ones marked? Even as she wondered how on earth she was going to do that, she remembered how good everything tasted and drooled a little. Wiping her chin, she looked around, but no one was there to see. She broke off a bit of petal. Roast chicken and potatoes. Another petal. Apple pie and cheddar cheese. Another petal. She couldn’t stop. Even when she felt full, she couldn’t stop. Only when the petals rose in her throat and spewed out of her mouth did she stop. But only for a moment. When the puking was done, she started stuffing petals in again. She couldn’t stop.
* * *
In the morning, Maya felt as though she hadn’t slept at all, and her stomach ached. Dragging herself to the bathroom, she stepped on the scales. Four more pounds gone. She rubbed her forehead. Was it really worth it?
“Well, is it?” asked Jan from work over lunch later that day.
Maya stabbed some salad with her fork and shrugged. “I dunno. I mean, it works, but I felt like hell this morning. What do I look like? Do I look like I’ve lost four pounds?”
“I guess,” said Jan. “Four pounds isn’t a lot to notice yet.” She paused a moment. “You do look tired though. How much did you want to lose?”
“Originally I thought about twenty, maybe thirty pounds. Now, I think I’ll quit at ten.”
“So you just eat the lemons before bed?”
Maya raised her eyebrows. “Well, yes, but there’s so much more to it. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
* * *
“It’s okay, baby. Maurice talked to her. She’ll just do one at a time from now on.” Denise stroked the rose that snuggled into her neck. She didn’t notice Maya standing there.
Before bed, Maya had picked a lemon from the box but had decided against eating one. Tomorrow night, she’d thought. But once in bed she’d tossed and turned, unable to sleep, unable to think of anything but lemons. So she’d given in, gotten up and gone to the kitchen. But one lemon hadn’t been enough. Strange, she’d thought, how she’d had such a hard time downing one at first but now she couldn’t seem to get enough. Having been punished enough for eating four, she stopped herself after two (even though she desired more) and went to bed. She’d fallen asleep almost immediately.
Maya cleared her throat and Denise looked up. Seeing Maya, the fairy smiled, then looked at her belt, which was now clasped at 10. She frowned a moment, but then looked at Maya and smiled again. “I guess two is okay, but I’m already up to a 10. The other fairies will be envious, but I just can’t get this guy to eat more than one at once.” She stroked the rose again. “I’m glad you want to help, but I’ll be a balloon fairy if you keep up this pace.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand how this works.”
“Didn’t Maurice tell you?”
Maya shook her head. “He said he was going to, but he never did.”
“This is my rose. He feeds off me. I feed off you. He eats one size at a time. Some roses will eat two, sometimes you can convince them to eat three, but usually just one at a time.”
Maya stared at her, trying to decipher exactly what she meant. “So, are you saying that when I eat the lemons, you, the roses. . . I’m not sure I follow.”
Denise took the rose in her hands and slid it gently away from where it nuzzled against her neck. “You had two lemons, right?” Maya nodded. “Then come with me.”
The fairy led her to her rose. “This is your rose, right?”
“Then go ahead, eat your petals.” Somehow this eating was part of it. Nothing made sense here.
“But last night I ate a bunch of petals.”
Denise rolled her eyes. “Yes,” she said, sighing. “But that was only because you cheated and ate four lemons. Now, when you’re done eating, give a shout.”
Maya slid a petal into her mouth carefully as Denise walked away. She didn’t want a repeat of last night. But although she didn’t crave the petals as much, she still couldn’t resist them. Forcing herself to stop when she felt full, she called for Denise.
“Normally you’d wake up now,” the fairy told her. “But, I’m going to keep you here. Just don’t tell Maurice. Come on.”
They went back to the roses. “I’m your fairy, and this is my rose,” explained Denise, slowly, as if talking to a child. She held her arm out. The rose bent and began snuffling along her arm. When it reached her shoulder, Denise made a graceful, dance-like move so the rose could snuffle along her other arm. Back and forth she moved like this, the rose snuffling her arms, shoulders, her head, back, chest and belly. When it was over, she patted the rose. It burped and returned to its upright position.
Denise smiled. “The Rose dance. Now watch.” She took her belt and reclasped it at 9. “See?” she said, looking up at Maya. “Until I can convince my rose to eat more than one size at once, I’ll stay between 9 and 10.” She frowned. “Unless you mess up again.”
Before Maya could respond, Maurice called out Denise’s name.
Denise grabbed Maya’s hand and pulled her into the roses. “He’ll kill me if he finds you still here,” she hissed. “I’m sorry, but I have to do this.” She pulled her fist back, then slammed Maya in the stomach.
* * *
Maya felt like she’d been run over by a truck. The thought of lemons, and most other foods, sickened her. She skipped her weigh-in, her breakfast, and even her lunch. Jan asked if everything was okay. Maya smiled and said things were fine. She had a little appetite for supper so made herself a sandwich. She intended on skipping her lemons too, but once again found her craving so strong, she was unable to sleep. She chugged two down then went for a third but forced herself to put it back.
Over the next week, no matter what she tried, no matter how hard she tried, Maya couldn’t manage her breakfast or lunch yet couldn’t resist the lemons at night. She tried to stop at one but the craving was too strong. Once, she gave in and ate three. Denise gave her hell that night, and in the morning Maya’s stomach felt like a wrung out dishrag.
The next two weeks were more of the same. Most nights she ate two lemons, sucking them down like an addict snorting coke. On the nights she ate more, she got hell. On the nights she managed to stop after one, she got praise. Yet she couldn’t stop her cravings. At work, Jan became concerned until finally the boss asked Maya if she wanted to use some of her vacation days. She agreed to a week but soon realized she couldn’t fight her battle with the lemons. She sucked down five the first day and six the next. Denise’s wrath nearly killed her, but still she craved the lemons. On day three, after sucking down two lemons for breakfast, she called Jan for help.
“I can’t stop it, Jan,” she cried. “I need help. Take them away. They’re lemons from Hell!”
Jan looked at her. “How much weight have you lost, anyway?”
“I don’t know anymore. Just take them away. I can’t deal with her anymore!” Maya broke down into sobs.
“Okay, okay,” soothed Jan. “What do you need me to do?”
“The lemons. They’re in the kitchen. Take them away.” She followed Jan into the kitchen.
Jan picked up a crate half full of lemons. “Is this it?” She looked around. “How many of these have you ordered?”
Maya shrugged. She couldn’t remember. They’d just kept showing up. She barely remembered accepting the packages at her door. “I don’t know. I just. . . you need to cancel my order. Or something. I don’t know.”
“This really has you messed up. Do they inject acid into these lemons or something?”
Maya stared. Maybe that was it. Whatever it was, she knew now it wasn’t worth it. Let her old friends see her with a few pounds packed on. It would be better than seeing her like this.
“Where’s the number to call?”
“I don’t know. I don’t. . . I think we have to go to sleep.”
Despite Jan’s confused protests, Maya finally convinced her somehow that the Lemon Slumber diet required her to sleep and that Jan could only help by sleeping too. Maya didn’t even know if it would work, but she was desperate.
* * *
“Where are we?” Jan crowded close to Maya.
“It worked!” Joy spread through Maya but was quickly replaced with dread. What was Denise going to do? What would she say? What about Maurice?
As they walked along the path, the roses bowed down to them. Seemingly repelled by Jan, they gravitated towards Maya. After all, she was the one who’d eaten the lemons.
“What’s happening?” asked Jan. “Is this Wonderland or something?”
“Yeah, on steroids,” said Maya. “Just wait, it gets better.”
Denise waddled out then, her belt clasped at 20. “What do you want now?” she snarled.
“I’m leaving this damn Lemon Slumber diet program.”
Denise’s eyes went wide. “No! I’m sorry! You can’t leave.”
“Oh she’s leaving, sweetie,” said Jan, standing in front of Maya.
“No, my roses will starve.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Jan. “All I know is my friend here has been through Hell. I’m going to see that it stops.”
“Denise, what’s going on?” called Maurice, appearing beside her, as if out of thin air.
“Oh, honey, you can’t do that. Wait, who are you?”
“She means me,” said Maya, stepping out from behind Jan.
“Ooh, she’s brought friends,” said Maurice, as if talking about a booger stuck to the bottom of his shoe.
“Make her eat her petals,” pleaded Denise.
Maurice looked at Jan as if she were the booger. “Oh, I don’t know if it will work now. Nobody’s ever brought a friend before.”
“Well try it,” demanded Denise.
Maurice looked at Maya. “Well, c’mon, honey. Let’s go eat your petals.”
Maya wanted to refuse. But the thought of the petals, the desire to eat them, was strong. The smooth texture on her tongue, all those tastes, and best of all, no weight gained. She took a step towards Maurice.
Jan grabbed her arm and yanked her back. “What are you doing? Don’t go with that jacked up, glitter-garbed fool!”
“Maurice!” whined Denise.
“But it’s so good, Jan. You have to try it. Please.”
Jan yanked on Maya, hauling her away from the fairies. “No. Remember, you asked for my help? Well, I’m giving it to you.”
“But the petals are so good.”
“Damn it, they’ve got you addicted. But to what, I don’t know.”
Maya struggled against Jan. “I want the petals, Jan. Please let me go.”
“No.” Against Maya’s struggles, Jan pulled her farther and farther away from Maurice and Denise.
“Jan, let me go! I want those petals. I need them. There’s no calories in them, Jan! You need to try them.!” Maya fought against her would be saviour.
Jan grabbed her by the shoulders. “No! You need help, Maya, and I’m it! I’m all you have right now to yank you out of this Hell. You asked me what you looked like, if you looked like you’d lost the pounds. Well, you look like shit, honey. You need a few of those pounds back!”
Suddenly Maurice and Denise were there beside them.
“She wants the petals, Jan. Let her have the petals.”
“No fucking way!” Jan positioned herself between Maya and the other two. “Come on, Maya. Wake up. How do I get us out of here?”
“The petals, Maya,” shouted Denise.
Maya moved to get past Jan and Jan slugged her. . .
* * *
Maya’s head ached, her stomach cramped and her throat was dry. She groaned and rolled over in her bed. Bright light streamed in through the window. What day was it? Had she overslept? Then she smelled something cooking. Toast. Great, she thought. I’m gonna have a seizure.
Noises from the kitchen alerted her that she wasn’t going to have a seizure, but had someone broken into her house? To cook themselves breakfast? Seriously, Maya?
Sitting up and stretching, she looked for her phone, but it wasn’t on the bedside table. So she got up and crept out toward her kitchen. Peering into the room, she saw Jan bustling around the kitchen. Why was she cooking breakfast here?
“Jan? What’s going on?”
Jan swung around. “Oh, you’re up. Good. How do you feel?”
“Feel? I—” Maya paused, scratching her belly, feeling soft flannel pajamas beneath her fingers. She looked down. They were hers, but they hung on her. “Did I—” She started, but paused again. Why were the names Denise and Maurice floating around her head. She didn’t know anyone with those names. “I feel okay, I guess. But. . . what’s going on? Why are you here?”
“You took some vacation time, and asked me over, remember?”
“To cook breakfast?”
Jan smiled. “Yeah, something like that. Tell me, how interested are you in losing weight?”
Maya frowned. “I think I’m okay the way I am.”
“Are you sure? Dena’s wedding is coming up soon.”
Why was Jan being so weird? And when had she asked her over? Everything seemed so hazy as she tried to recall. “Yeah, I . . . I think I’m good.”
“Okay. I’m glad to hear you say that. Let me just ask you one thing—how do you feel about lemons?”
Maya’s stomach clenched and rose to her throat. As she raced to the bathroom, Jan began to chuckle.
◊ ◊ ◊
Kellee Kranendonk is a Canadian writer, a wife, mom, and the editor of Youth Imagination Magazine. She’s been published most recently in such magazines as Voluted Tales, 365 Tomorrows, Aurora Wolf, The Fifth Di, 101 Words, and Flash Fiction Press. Her non-fiction has appeared on the Write Well, Write to Sell websites.