A contemporary fable
by Sarah Seltzer
Izzy had tried fasting, the Atkins diet, the Paleo diet, veganism, lacto-ovo vegetarianism, gluten-free living, the 5/2 diet, keeping Lent, Ramadan, Hallal and Kosher. But now she told us, with a twinkling tone in her voice, she had a new recipe for a total juice cleanse. Total. She wouldn’t reveal where it came from, claiming it to be an incredible formula she had picked up from a source cloaked in mystery.
Izzy was both self-conscious and spiritual, rarely comfortable without being thoroughly engaged some sort of quest for purity, so we, her friends, assumed the cleanse was just another phase in her roving search for enlightenment by food deprivation. She was the gastronomic Buddha, the alimentary Jesus. Of course, Izzy had her neuroses, as we all did. She often could be found at home Googling things like “millions of chemicals in our digestive tract” or “millions of chemicals in store-bought food” or so on, and then passing these tidbits about toxins on to us, causing us to put our spoons down mid-slurp and roll our eyes, or sigh.
When her new regimen began, the effects were noticeable immediately. Her hair looked diaphanous, her skin glowed, her eyes were wide and conscious and honestly, we felt they bored right through us and our petty daily appetites. She seemed so much a daughter of the earth during those early days of her cleanse, her hard angles softening as she refused to let any solid food pass between her lips for meal after meal after meal.
We worried; we went over to her place under the pretext of borrowing her books on pure living. Impurely, we snuck around her kitchen, looking for a juicer, a recipe, some sign of disorder or purging but we saw nothing of the kind. We saw nothing much of note, except stark white cabinets and tall, Windexed mirrors. Here and there an engraved “om” or a “chai” or a picture of a woman standing on a beach, mid sun-salutation, added color–but sparsely. Hers was a bourgeois asceticism. We shivered.
Then when Izzy came out of the bathroom we thought we observed a bizarre change in her–could it be? Was that the outline of the sink, barely visible, behind her skin–throughher skin? Surely such a thing was was impossible. Surely that was a trick of the light.
She told us she felt more awake, alive, than she had in, like, forever. Each year since she’d turned twenty-five, she said, she had been oppressed more and more by that sleepy feeling, that not-fully-there feeling, that and now she felt so present, every fiber of her body, her mind alert and attuned.
We were a little insulted–did our company not awaken her this way? No, we didn’t understand, she said. Now that there was less of her, she felt so much more, she told us; her surface area to volume ratio had multiplied. A body was such a burden for a modern person, for a modern women. Such a bother, really. She was on her way to being free.
We looked at her in the following weeks and saw that yes, our fears were founded. Yes, she was turning translucent, her body the opaque pink of juiced peaches, her lips stained like beets, her hair endless ribbons of kale, her eyes like winking little blueberries. She smelled sweet, and slightly tangy. We were concerned, yet gravitated to her as though she could quench our thirst. A woman in trouble is so attractive you know. We sat around her iridescent feet and fed off her, and throve off her energy, and she grew clearer and clearer. She smiled and shooed us out to so she could sit and sip her cleanse in piece. Sit and sip, sit and sip.
The material reality of her fading out, her growing transparency–we ignored it but we couldn’t deny it. We saw each other through her: no bones, no organs, just our friend Izzy, the human window pane, the human glass of juice, and everything that was there before she walked into the room, still apparent right behind her. It was chilling in a way, how a person who meant so much to all of us could not even block the molecules from making an impression on our eyes.
“Who gave you the cleanse, Izzy?” we asked. “Who can we talk to?” “Please tell us.” She smiled and sealed her lips.
“Stop this, Izzy,” we demanded. “The toxins are gone. We want you back.” She shook her head. Through her hair, the beveled edge of the mirror gleamed.
One day we burst into her kitchen for an intervention. We would seize her stock; we would force food on her. But there, in that stark white kitchen we saw what she’d become. We saw the air move in the shape of Izzy, but barely any Izzy. Just a color, a shimmer, just the movement of her lips, a miniscule disturbance in the air, like a breeze on a still day. The disembodied voice said she was so happy to see us and asked could we go to the sunlight, into the grass. It was time to go out, she said. Our resolution wavered.
We didn’t know how to say no to her. So we trouped outside–four fleshy people and one ghost. We stretched our legs out and felt the grass dig into the fat deposits on our thighs, denting the surface of our skin. We leaned on our arms; the dirt seeped into the cracks that lined the pads on our palms. We groaned with the delight of this mild discomfort and raised our chests, our eyes to the sun in worship.
But poor Izzy, and there’s no other word for what happened, just began to melt. Her eyes joined the sky, her body dissolved into a fountain, then split off a series of small streams.
Our mouths open wide, we watched our friend run like a river, the little that was left of her pouring forth, trickling down the hill and feeding the roots of flowers, leaving us alone, bereft beneath the sun.
Our tears mingled with hers in the soft spring dirt–but even after we purged our sorrow for hours, we didn’t feel cleansed, at all.