This story originally appeared in our June 2014 fiction issue.
Photos by Jessica Barthel and Stephanie Pfeander
Being present isn’t easy, especially since the death of my favorite client, the handsome banker Dirk Goldfinger, whose conviction for insider trading was last fall’s big news, and since I attended his wake this spring and subsequently, at a party for health professionals, received the Happi-Fork. Dirk Goldfinger was a private person. But after his conviction, he was unable to prevent his visage from being splashed all over the papers. His high, tan forehead, once lined with a single, thoughtful wrinkle, was creased in several places, and deep bags that Botox had been unable to soften were beneath his eyes. Even though his firm had invested ruthlessly—and on hot tips—in Olestra, Frito-Lay, and Kellogg’s, Dirk Goldfinger himself had been ascetic, eating only organic meat, and never consuming corn, nightshade vegetables, or soy.
I loved him. All his health professionals did. He was quick with a joke, happy-go-lucky, ageless. When other financiers past forty grew double chins and goiters, he came into my office to replenish his iodine levels, and by taking coleus root daily, he kept his thyroid in excellent shape. I confess that the two hours when I made him lie on his back on my massage bed and hold his right arm upward, then pushed on his arm while putting pieces of treats, such as plum tomatoes, in his mouth, in order to identify his food allergies, was the most erotic experience I’d ever had. At the end, when I handed Dirk his individualized Zero-Inflammation Menu, he said, “You’re the best. Thanks.” But when I suggested (greedily) that his health would benefit if he saw me “more often,” he said, “Do you mean to re-test my supplements? Or to date?” And when I smiled and said, “Maybe to date?” he frowned and replied, “I have to be honest. When people ‘date,’ they get too comfortable with each other, get fat, and wolf their food. Therefore, I only want you as my nutritionist.”
In prison, he didn’t last long. The other inmates suffered from gas and bloating, and since he couldn’t follow his Zero-Inflammation Menu, so did he. He wrote me letters: “The guards don’t know what spelt bread is. What will happen if I eat wheat?” Because of the severity of his crimes, I was unable to bring him supplements. Soy was in his food and he grew breasts. The pictures of him at his trial showed him fat, wrinkled, triple-chinned, and his hair, once curly and dark, was gray above his ears and thin. At his wake, I saw his acupuncturist, chiropractor, masseuse, personal trainer, and Reiki master. We each lingered by his coffin. Death, or a good mortician, had magically returned him to his former glory: His generous, wide lips bore their slight, inviting curl. His Roman nose was straight and broad. His high, dark forehead was smooth, and his six-foot-tall body wore a navy linen suit and looked fit.
Afterward, I walked the dim streets of Beverly Grove, feeling glum. The Viper Room, 7969, and other clubs of my youth were gone, as were my careless days of chugging Diet Coke, snorting coke, and putting extra Sweet’N Low into my Crystal Light. I took care of myself now, running six miles a day, taking supplements with each meal, and sleeping under an omega-alpha-brain-wave-producing pyramid. My cell phone was protected by an EMF-neutralizing device. My boyfriend was a mild A-blood-type Libra who taught math to underserved third graders, brushed with Crest, and was fat and ate bagels, doughnuts, and cereal regularly. As I walked past SEE Eyewear, I reflected on life’s ephemerality and the cost of Lasik, which Dirk Goldfinger, ever the perfectionist, had had at 30. He was intuitive, I reflected, not a banker for nothing, the smartest man I’d ever met. When I explained to him that the fluoride in municipal water is a radioactive waste product of aluminum manufacturing, he immediately understood that “radioactive” meant “bad” and bought a five-stage reverse-osmosis water filter. He saw a holistic dentist and never once let another man put mercury in his teeth. Yes, he feared conventionally grown produce and marriage, but he climbed Mount Everest, swam the Arroyo Calabasas, and once jumped onto the Metro tracks at Hollywood-Vine to save a German tourist from an oncoming Red train. That he gave most of his income to charity I knew because I’d secretly read his tax statements. Yet because of the illegality of dumping Olestra stock on a nudge, he was gone.
It was sacrosanct to attend a health-care party on the eve of his wake, but I did. The party was inside Erewhon. At the event, energy workers discussed revenue-boosting techniques such as “Raising Your Spiritual Frequency” and “Overcoming Your Inner Fraud.” The tickets cost $3,000. I left early. In my goody bag were a “Smart Bracelet” that stuns the wearer with 3,000 volts of electricity if he eats 1,200 calories in twenty-four hours, some mint dental floss, and the Happi-Fork.
I was halfway to Silver Lake before I read the directions on the package: “Happi-Fork will vibrate and turn red if you do not pause long enough between each bite of dinner. Afterward, it will evaluate your performance.” A sense of doom fell upon me. I circled back to the health party, but by the time I reached the venue, the doors were dark. The organizer, a raw-food guru called the Chocolate Man, was striding out with two well-known blond actress-twins, and when I called out that I wanted to exchange my goody bag, he downed a cacao-nectar-acai shot and said, “Who the fuck are you? Go away.”
I returned home. My sweet Libra boyfriend was waiting. He’d cooked brown-rice pasta with zucchini sauce. He was the nicest boyfriend I’d ever had, who baked me dairy-free, no-sugar cake on my birthday, took me on Jurassic Park rides, and strove to satisfy me in every way. It wasn’t his fault that he got a 780 on his SATs and didn’t believe in acupuncture. He had a blood disorder that caused him to get low on vitamin D and to have poor circulation, so whenever the temperature fell below eighty degrees, he filled our studio with space heaters and did everything he did very fast, to keep warm.
During the meal, I used Happi-Fork. It rested lamely in my hand. The pasta was rubbery. My boyfriend asked me how the party had been.
I said good.
He asked me how the pasta tasted.
I said fine. I knew I was being rude. I added, “Very fine.”
He ate his pasta, spearing noodle after noodle and pushing them into his mouth.
He is a gross eater, I thought; then I thought, Who am I, also a human, to criticize him? Wretched jerk! Cease your silent castigations!
“I’m glad you’re home,” my boyfriend said. He smiled. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” I said.
Zucchini sauce leaked from his mouth.
My boyfriend asked me to pass the sauce.
I did. He poured more on his pasta. He put a noodle in his mouth, then, quickly, another.
Suddenly, Happi-Fork leaped out of my hand!
“Ow!” my boyfriend said. “OW! OW! OW!” His eyes went wide. Happi-Fork was floating in the air, vibrating wildly, jumping up and down and stabbing his hand!
I realized then that Happi-Fork was Bluetooth-enabled, with a micro-drone chip and motion detector.
“OW!” my boyfriend said. “What the hell?”
He’d continued to eat, and the Happi-Fork had continued to stab him.
Before I could warn my boyfriend to eat more slowly, the fork glowed red and a voice said, “Bad job. You suck!”
I explained, apologetically, that Happi-Fork wanted to help people eat slowly.
“Oh,” my boyfriend said. “Is that all?” He ate more slowly.
But Happi-Fork hovered above the table and, periodically, stabbed him.
“I have to say,” my boyfriend said after our meal. “I dislike your weird health gadgets.”
“I know,” I said.
“And from now on,” he added, “I want us to eat gluten.”
“Okay,” I said, meekly.
After dinner, my boyfriend rubbed my shoulders.
“Too much nutrition makes you crazy,” he said. “Let’s put this thing away, eh?”
He opened the kitchen drawer, placed Happi-Fork inside, turned its On switch to Off, and closed the drawer.
I agreed that from now on, I’d never use it.
But I didn’t tell him about the dread I’d felt when I received the fork, or the everlasting lust and sadness I’d felt when I looked upon Dirk Goldfinger’s handsome face at his funeral.
Brilliant fork! I thought secretly. Stop people from eating and, therefore, from getting fat! Because it can say to people what they can’t say to one another, it could save all relationships!
Before bed, I sat before my computer. I went to the NU-Tensils website. Happi-Fork was a NU-Iteration, the website explained, but Happi-Fork was not “NU,” because according to canonical texts, Happi-Fork had always existed. In the eleventh century, the website explained, Happi-Fork was a gold-rimmed monocle that King Henry X of Bavaria caused to be sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic, because whenever he wore it, everyone else was ugly and had warts. During the Ming Dynasty, Happi-Fork was a jade chopstick with a “false end,” inside which was a bayonet that imperial concubines used to stab their own hearts on their thirty-ninth birthdays. In Cleopatra’s court, the Happi-Fork was a sphinx who roamed the pyramids and devoured only Egyptian men with twitchy noses. In ancient Jerusalem, it was a brick in the Wailing Wall, indistinguishable from other bricks, except that, when glanced at, it caused depression, anxiety, and OCD symptoms to fall upon the gazer forever. Apparently the monks of a certain Tibetan monastery, who ate no food but subsisted by opening their mouths for two hours each afternoon and sticking their tongues out to lap up sunlight, had their backs stabbed daily by Happi-Fork, which at the time was the tusk of a pet rhinoceros they’d trained to stab them.
Despair filled me, and I reflected on the nature of forks: They are utensils. They contain no calories. They are also completely unnecessary, since some people, Indians for example, eat with their hands. Yet they symbolize the transmogrification of every bit of energy a human can consume. They are pointy, like spears, diamonds, and pencils. At the Last Supper, Jesus used a fork—and then he died! Love, money, desire, calories, emotions, oxidation, aging, death—doesn’t it all, ultimately, enter one by way of a fork? Once one had used Happi-Fork, how could one get it out of one’s mind?
The next day, I vowed, I would destroy the thing. For now, I reminded myself, it was turned off and trapped in a drawer.
I went to bed. My boyfriend was waiting. Soon we were doing that thing that my mother never referred to in her life, but which my father called a “celebration of God.”
I liked our celebration, and I tried not to mind that my boyfriend always had to move fast to keep warm.
He said, “Sorry I’m so fast.”
I said, “No problem.”
Then he whispered a thing he often whispers, something I should not reveal, because to do so would be to reveal very sordid information, which was, “See how big and hard you made my sausage?”
The first time he said this I was confused, because we don’t eat pork. But then he explained what he meant, and even though his sausage is small, I said, “Yes.” I even said it enthusiastically. But on this night, the night I received Happi-Fork, I couldn’t. I also couldn’t help imagining, for one terrible moment, that Dirk Goldfinger was alive, and in my nutrition office. I knew he had a large sausage, because once while muscle-testing him I groped him, and he said, “Hey! You groped me!” and I said, “No, I didn’t! I was just checking to see if your prostate was enlarged!”
Just as I recalled this, while trying not to recall Dirk Goldfinger, to put him out of my mind and be present, I saw the image of Happi-Fork. It was floating in the air, above my boyfriend!
“Impossible!” I shouted. “You’re in the drawer!”
“What?” my boyfriend asked.
I saw nothing: just my boyfriend’s studio, his body, and soft pink buttocks.
“Nothing,” I said.
My boyfriend started doing the thing couples do again. He moved fast. He murmured endearments. I did too. He’d just murmured a very sordid thing, “I put my swordfish in the cupboard,” when suddenly he screamed, “OW! OW! OW!” He clasped his rear.
There was Happi-Fork, hovering in the air behind him, vibrating and zooming up and down! It dove quickly and pierced my boyfriend’s buttocks.
“Happi-Fork!” I yelled. “Stop!”
“What the hell?” my boyfriend said. “How’d it get out?”
I realized Happi-Fork must have an auto-wake setting.
I explained this.
“I don’t care!” he said. “I don’t want it in my studio! It stabbed my ass!”
He grabbed at the fork, but it leaped away from his hand. Its prongs floated in the air above his head. “Bad job,” Happi-Fork said. “Not good at all.”
“You know what?” My boyfriend turned to me. “You do a bad job. I’m tired of kale smoothies. I want a normal girlfriend who eats bread!”
Happi-Fork floated down to the bed. I turned it off. My boyfriend’s butt cheeks were bleeding from nine tiny holes.
“You should leave,” he continued. “You’re a nasty girl with mean thoughts. I hear your thoughts when you criticize me, you know. Did you think I couldn’t hear your thoughts? I know you think I’m dumb because I got a 780 on my SAT. I know my Brita filter removes only 30 percent of the chlorine and 10 percent of the lead. But the water tastes good to me; I like it! You’re not perfect, either. Maybe I’m not thrilled that you henna your hair! Plus I’m not stupid. I know why you keep lysine lip gloss in your purse. I know it isn’t dentists’ finger germs, like you claimed, that gives people cold sores; I know it was you who gave me herpes!”
I felt guilt. “Sorry,” I said.
“So I’m not perfect,” my boyfriend continued. “Like that banker you go on about, Dirk Goldfinger, who got slammed for taking tips on Olestra stock. So I shop at Rite Aid. Get out, and take that fork out of here!”
I gathered my things and left. I walked to the Gerald Desmond Bridge, thinking obsessive thoughts, like Here and now, Present moment, and Fork, fork, fork. When I reached the bridge’s middle, I held the utensil out over the water.
“HALT!” a policeman said. “What’s that you dropped? Litterer!”
“Nothing,” I said. “Please excuse me! I’m just a certified nutritionist! I don’t even have a license! It was a party favor!”
The policeman looked me over. He had a dark-blue uniform with gold buttons, a double chin, and a paunch.
“I don’t believe you,” he said. “You can’t be too careful with litterers. I think you’ve been bad. Very bad.”
“Okay, officer,” I said.
I am no longer the “I” of that episode, but I am still myself enough to tell the story. Suffice to say that though the fork is at the bottom of the bay, I see the fork. It used to be that I would envision the fork’s front, and then its back. Now I see five sides at once. In the morning, I wake with punctures on my hands. The policeman does too. Who can say who did this? If only, I often think, I could live on sunlight, like the Tibetan monks; how easy it would be to be poked by a rhinoceros! Many people, my clients, for example, dream I am mad; I dream the fork. It is said in the ancient text of Nostradamus that those who receive the Happi-Fork will soon perceive the shadow of the rose, and that behind the rose lies the rending of the veil. I am no longer the same self I was when I received the Happi-Fork; I am a policeman’s girlfriend. Also, I count calories and use a tiny scale to weigh my food. Soon the fork will fill my vision completely. Perhaps behind its tines I will find God.
Rebecca Curtis is the author of Twenty Grand and Other Tales of Love and Money.