She wakes up to the sun bright red through her eyelids, unforgiving at its harsh angle and nearly blinding when she opens her eyes. Norma wakes up, tosses back the covers, and groans as she sits up. She puts on her slippers and heads out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. David is sitting at the table, staring out the window over his mug.
Norma opens the refrigerator and sees nothing that she can eat. She grabs a sports drink and opens it, drinks deeply. She hopes the sugar will wake her up. They don’t have a coffee machine.
“That stuff will kill you,” David said quietly.
Norma scoffs. She finishes half the bottle. Then she goes back to the master bedroom, pees, and weighs herself. Goal weight is 115. She is at 130. She coughs deep in her chest. But then she picks up one of the water bottles on the counter and takes a few swallows, and she’s better. Norma brushes her teeth, then pulls out her exercise outfit and walking shoes. Norma always walks to the gym. It’s only about fifteen minutes away. Some of the people in her workout group ride their bikes.
“Why do you do this?” David asks. He hasn’t moved. “Every day, you go to that gym. Why? What’s it even for?”
Norma blinks. She thought it was obvious. “To look good. To be healthy. To look good.”
“To look good,” David repeats. He shakes his head, but he says nothing. He’s always been thin. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t understand. He used to run marathons. He doesn’t anymore, but he doesn’t have to. He eats whatever he can, and he sits around all day, and he doesn’t gain an ounce. If only it were so simple for me, Norma thinks.
“I’ll see you in a few hours,” Norma says.
She heads out, the bottled water and bottled sports drink (“With Electrolytes!”) in a plastic bag. She also brings a white towel. The walk is hot, and she takes care to avoid the debris on what’s left of the streets, those broken, closed-off avenues of fender-bent cars and bodies decayed to puddles and bones.
I have a house that’s still standing. I have a man who provides. And I’ll meet my goal weight in a matter of weeks, Norma thinks to herself.
She recognizes a corpse near the gym, one of the members of her workout group, Gina. The body is relatively new. Not all of the bodies out in the streets are from the first wave, but most people had the decency not to die in the streets. Most died in their beds, the sun burning them through their windows until they bloated. But at least it was private.
Norma respected Gina, though. If Norma had any say in her death, it wouldn’t be in her bed, bloating like that, like a lazy cow.
The gym didn’t have a roof anymore, but a generator kept the machines running. No air conditioning or fan. Norma doesn’t care how much she sweats. Sweating means alive. She will shower at home. David told her not to, but how else could she make herself pretty for him after her workout?
The gym owner stares blankly out of a shattered window. He had not collected membership fees for the last month. Norma wasn’t complaining. His was the only gym running, and damned if she wasn’t going to get her exercise in.
Lorenzo, Tara, and Michaela all raise their hands in welcome, too winded to speak. Tara doesn’t look good. There’s a lesion on her face and her stomach. The one on her stomach seeps a darkish liquid through her shirt.
You go, Tara, Norma thinks, and she turns on her machine.
Every day at nine o’clock, like clockwork. This is Norma’s routine, and it has served her well for years. She’s lost sixty pounds already.
Her skin feels like it’s coming apart, but then again, no pain, no gain.
One way or another, 115 was the goal weight. She would reach it eventually.