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The silver alloy feedings are controversial, but effective—largely benign and, most importantly, unvomitable. They’re also, parenthetically, beautiful. Greg keeps that reflection to himself, but they are.
       “So this is understandably not a first, second, or even a third line of treatment,” the coordinator tells them during the new-arrivals tour, “but we are not at a first or a second or a third line.” Greg watches to see if she will glance at the space between the vinyl floor and his wife’s feet, and she doesn’t, and he appreciates it. Marnie had been barely ascendant when one of the staff at the disordered eating support retreat they’d done last Labor Day Weekend asked if she could take a picture for her externs. Sometimes, when they walk, he has the desire to hold on to Marnie’s ankle, the way he would her hand back when things were more geometrically aligned, but one of the online forums recommended against tugging, and he doesn’t want to tug. The suspension itself, though almost certainly the most prominent feature of long-term self-starvation, is incidental. A somatic fact. Also, a climatic fact. Hovering rates track greenhouse gas emissions almost exactly. Greg learns to cook gravity-rich foods that go down easily. Guava. Chanterelle mushrooms. Alaska cod.
       The Silver Linings Laboratory’s payment plan is uninspiring. There’s a fellowship started by the parents of a girl who returned to zero point zero after a heartrending elevation (“I saw her outside our bedroom window as I fell asleep,” says her mother in the brochure), but you have to do an essay to qualify, and Marnie isn’t writing these days.

The doctor who runs Marnie’s pre-intake baseline does glance. “Approximate date of ground breaking mid-April?” Marnie nods. Her gravitational detachment hovers between .4 and .6 depending on the time of day— and the attending physician. Marnie bows her body for the resident and the resident uncoils the stethoscope, but she’s short an inch or two. She untucks a stepladder from behind the vitals seating.
       “Don’t mind Douglas,” she says, regarding her stethoscope, which has a smiley face painted onto it. Most residential treatment centers for friable-stage hunger cater to pediatric populations—statistically you either grow out of it, die, or travel outside altitudinously viable conditions, the coordinator says on the tour, more or less. “So I’m either very fortunate, or the opposite,” Marnie says.
       “No one is fortunate to suffer,” says the coordinator. Greg thinks that is being quick on her feet. He wouldn’t have thought to say that.
       After the consult, they have the weekend to go home and prepare themselves, whatever that means (it means they don’t have a room available yet, Greg thinks). It’s not like she’s going to eat. They spend Friday and Saturday watching Netflix.
       “I don’t want them to pour metal into your veins.” She is implanting a pair of running shoes with underwear inside her suitcase.
       “It’s very undignified, I know.”
       “I don’t want you to die.”
       She nods. She stops packing. “I hope I don’t.” She puts her hand on Greg’s back to help him breathe, and he does the panic attack sense observations. For sight, he says “suitcase.” For smell, he says, “popular deodorants,” which is a private joke about how he smells after sex. 
       “Okay?” she says.
       In May, Marnie’s cubicle mate asked to speak to Greg at a happy hour while Marnie made the rounds. “I’m concerned about the gliding,” Lorna told him. It wasn’t every day, she said, but it was most days now, especially toward close of business.
       Greg was mortified; he knew she was too thin, but he didn’t know she was gliding. He’d thought that was how she walked in heels. He thought Marnie deployed her winter comforter for snugness. He thought he’d been sleeping through her nighttime trips to the bathroom because he’d started to have a second drink before bed. 
       HR was nippy. They were not set up to accommodate Marnie’s circumstances, they said (meaning they were worried she’d escalate on their premises). They offered her two months of paid medical leave and wishes for a lifetime of health and happiness.
       For three months, Marnie saw a therapist and a nutritionist, both of whom frequented their home to partake in mealtimes, though neither ever partook in eating. The therapist didn’t even talk about food; the nutritionist only talked about food. Greg found himself cooking with increasing variety, and with harissa. In advance of meals the therapist or nutritionist attended, Greg and Marnie showered and dressed up. During dinner, they made jokes they had practiced in their heads before. Greg felt like he was in a play written by their friend, Kevin, who wrote plays about couples visiting and telling jokes that weren’t provocative in nature but made everyone uncomfortable. Marnie ate during these dinners. Then, she and their dinner guest would have a post-mortem while Greg went upstairs to watch TV. Sometimes, he imagined the nutritionist saying, as a lighthearted aside, “I can’t pretend it didn’t smell good,” and felt like a dipshit.
       Autumn made it easier for them to go on walks outside, the leaves obfuscating her gravitational status; they went hiking again. He telecommuted three days a week. She worked on a remote contract for a nonprofit aggregator—Lorna made the introduction. He logged off of his office network at five-thirty, even if Marnie was still working and whenever she finished, they would sit down to dinner together, until one day, Marnie said that her therapist said it wasn’t required anymore, and Greg couldn’t figure out the way to ask her if she was lying.
       He went back to preparing his dinner in the mornings and eating them on his own, after she’d fallen asleep, an inch above the duvet. Marnie encouraged him to keep cooking what he enjoyed. But he didn’t like to heat it up when she was in the room. He could always see it when the smell of food reached her nose and, seeing her hungry felt worse than seeing her starve.

Marnie’s brother calls to ask Greg if he and his wife and their kid should drive down from Rhode Island before intake. “Do you want me to see if she wants visitors?”
       “I’m asking you, Greg.”
       Greg takes the phone into the kitchen, his most private room. “I think this is going to be tough for her no matter what.”
       Adrian says yeah.
       “The facility looks pretty elegant.”
       “Kim thinks it might be scary for Iris to see her. But it’s my sister.” When they hang up, Greg still doesn’t know if Kim and Iris are coming, but they always stay at a hotel, so he only cleans up the downstairs. He hates having the vacuum on, in case she calls him, so after he vacuums, he goes upstairs to see if she said anything while he couldn’t hear. Though, what would she say? If she didn’t tell him about breaking with the ground, what would she say to him?
       She’s already changed into her pajamas and is standing in front of her side of the bed. Usually, he tries to give her privacy for this part, when she crosses her arms over her head, tips back her chin, and accumulates maximum concentrated mass, before falling backward onto their mattress. “Sorry,” he says. “I was just vacuuming.”
       “You’re fine.” She shifts herself over to her side of the bed.
       Adrian, Kim, and Iris get there at seven the next morning. “We all came,” says Adrian. Iris goes to find Marnie to present her with several pieces of sickness art she drew on the car ride over. One is a picture of—ostensibly—Marnie, amongst treetops and the clouds.
       “It’s like general surgery,” Adrian says to Greg. “You don’t have to say goodbye, but you want to say something.”
       It’s two hours until they’re supposed to be there to check Marnie in. Greg has a copy of her photo ID in his pocket, and his proof of payment, and some cash, he’s not sure why. No one told him to bring cash. He notices that Adrian and Kim are dressed up a little bit. On Google Images, Adrian is ninety-nine percent fungus because his law firm won a major lawsuit against a supplement company that made vitamins from mushrooms. In person, he’s very winning, but maybe Greg just thinks that because he has the same face as Marnie’s. He loves their face—Marnie’s more, but Adrian’s, too.
       “I’m glad we’re here,” says Kim. “We’re going to have dinner with you tonight.” She squeezes his shoulder.
       In the car, Iris keeps sliding her hand in and out from underneath Marnie’s body, in the space between her bottom and the polyester seat. When they hit a bump (it’s not Adrian’s fault, but Adrian is, at the same time, a terrible driver), Iris’s hand comes up and Marnie says, “Oh, I’m sorry!” and Iris says, “That’s okay.” Greg hates the feeling of hating a kid.

The clinic invites family members to stay for the first feeding (probably for liability purposes, says Adrian), but Kim doesn’t want Iris to see, so they say goodbye in the waiting room. Adrian, Greg, and Marnie sit in an interlocked loveseat-and-single cluster, but Adrian and Greg are in the loveseat.
        “You’re gonna rock this,” says Adrian.
       A woman seated next to Marnie in a loveseat of her own turns to her. “Do them a favor. Don’t call them the first morning after a feed.” She looks at Greg and Adrian. “Wait till the afternoon. Everything will be different, and you’ll feel a lot better.”
       “Your daughter in here?” asks Adrian.
       She nods.
       “I’m sorry.”
       “Don’t be sorry. She gets to leave today.” The lady gives two thumbs up. “She’s just getting cleaned up.”
       Marnie takes out her phone and texts Lorna thank you for the flowers she sent the day before. Greg feels bad for how bad Lorna feels. For Thanksgiving, she invited them both to her house, the only guests other than her mother and stepfather, and then the stepfather said, in the middle of the meal, about Marnie, “This one needs a seatbelt,” and Lorna had to take him into the kitchen to scold him, and Greg could tell she felt bad about that, too.
       Adrian tells the woman he has a daughter, too, and they talk about daughters until the woman’s phone rings and she gets up, starting her conversation with enough time to disclose to the room that she hates this place before the door closes.
       By the time the woman comes back, they are already being greeted by Marnie’s doctor’s resident. She steers them now into a room filled with cushioned scales that hang from arced metal hammocks and hands Marnie a plastic mug of water she tells her to drink very slowly. “I’m going to get Dr. Nilsson, and he’s going to administer the treatment. That should take about forty-five minutes.” She reminds them that the alloy tends to elevate patients, sometimes to greater altitudes than they’d experienced beforehand, for a couple of days after treatment, and that it can cause headache, hallucinatory migraines, and constipation.
       “When does it start?” asks Marnie.
       “Twelve hours or so? Sometimes ten. We get very busy around midnight.”
       The tween in the hammock next to Marnie’s station, strapped into her scale, is dozing, and looks slightly iridescent—it’s in all the paperwork, and is also heavily emphasized by the critics of the treatment (it’s the bismuth, mostly). A sticky note covers the numerals on the scale, except for the rightmost digit, which flickers back and forth between two and four. Adrian has started to tear up. Greg’s not sure if it’s because of Marnie, or because the girl next to them—as all daughters seem to—reminds him of his.
       “Any questions?” asks the resident.
       Adrian has a question about how they get the metal hot enough to be liquid, but cold enough to enter the body.
       “That’s a great question.”
       Adrian smiles big.
       The resident explains the powerful chilling agent in the ring around the syringe, how it instantly cools the metal upon the exact moment of entry, creating a cold outer layer that re-melts inside the body, or something like that.“This is the reason for the aches during and after treatment,” she says.
       Adrian winces.
       “It’s okay,” says Marnie.
       Screw you, Adrian, thinks Greg.
       The doctor comes in quickly, holding an IV by the neck. Marnie gets up in front of the scale. Adrian’s been staring at it from the time they entered the room until the time she crosses her arms and falls backward into it, the way she falls into bed, and then Adrian nods. You can see the moment at which he gets every single thing; it’s like watching a glass squid digest.
       The doctor loops Marnie into her shoulder straps and tells them, again, about forty-five minutes. “Then, you’ll go to the rotunda, which is next door to this laboratory, and we’ll monitor your elevation for the next fifteen hours, and then you get to go to residential and we’ll be off your back a little bit. Don’t be alarmed,” he said to Greg and Adrian. “You’ll see their feet first. It makes it worse before it makes it better; we don’t understand that part yet.” Well-esteemed MDs, Greg has learned, love saying what they don’t know. It’s like bragging about honesty.
       The doctor stays with them for a minute, chatting while he adjusts Marnie’s shoulder straps, then offers them a tablet computer with five movies programmed onto it. They had the same tablets at the clinic where Greg’s cousin did chemo. His cousin didn’t own a tablet and, his last day of chemo, convinced Greg to smuggle it out of the clinic. Then he gave it to his hospice nurse as a gift the week before he died.
       Marnie’s resident, who seems to be in charge of water, is holding another mug and bringing a patient to the back of the room, where the residential wing meets the lab. Greg wonders if the resident has ever received treatment for undue dieting. He can never tell thin versus heavy. It’s always been a matter of specialized opacity to him, like plastic surgery, or what are earth tones.
       Marnie’s eyes are closed, and Adrian is looking at Greg, and Greg is looking at Adrian, and they are asking each other to say something happy. They flunk. Adrian picks up the tablet and turns on a movie that starts with helicopter blades. Marnie opens her eyes like, This is what I opened my eyes for?
       Two nights ago, Greg had asked Marnie if she wanted to go by her father’s Alzheimer’s facility before she checked into Silver Linings, and she didn’t, she said, because she didn’t want to upset him.
       “You’re his kid, he’s never going to be upset to see you.”
       “Everyone’s upset to see me.”
       She is wrong, but people are terrible. Sometimes they say ew when they find themselves beside her in the mirror at a dressing room terminal. Sometimes, on the street, they keep their leashes slack as their doggies walk beneath her feet. And, once, on his birthday (this was before the gliding, when Marnie was just too skinny), Adrian took an unscathed piece of cake off her plate and dumped it into her lap. “Take a bite. It’s my fucking birthday,” he said, before leaving the restaurant and waiting in his crossover.
       Greg starts to feel his worst feelings. He says he needs the bathroom and instead walks a lap around the outside of Silver Linings, past the sign that says, Come down, soon, to the shuttle bus bay with the elevated rain roof, and back inside again.
       On his way to Marnie’s station, he sees them—someone opens the door to the rotunda. There are about a half a dozen, some of them with painted toenails, what look like Christmas lights hung from the ceiling, from where he’s standing. How can he not be alarmed?
       At Marnie’s station, he leans into her hammock. “Don’t wait until it feels better to call me,” he whispers. “Call me before it feels better.”

The rotunda is less terrible when you are inside, when you can see the rest of their bodies. Adrian cranes his neck upward, then down quickly. “I don’t wanna look like a pervert,” he whispers to Greg. An infrastructure of ladders and grilled walkways cross at various points, like the place where techs do their thing in the upper shadows of a sports arena. There’s a satellite nursing station at the midpoint between floor and ceiling. A port-a-John. On the ceiling are various messages. You can’t read them unless you’re up there, but Greg can make out exclamation marks and one heart. The chairs have seatbelts. Greg thinks of Lorna’s dad.
       “Let me ask you something,” Marnie says to her brother.
       “You ever dream of taking a leak fifty feet in the air?”
       “Marnie?” They all look up instead of forward, as though it’s the Port-o-John talking to them, but it’s just Marnie’s turn at intake. They give Marnie a bracelet and a copy of her signed papers. They give Greg a copy of her signed papers. They give Adrian a validated parking slip, because he keeps asking about it. Marnie looks so sad. She’s changed into her leggings and long-sleeved swim top. The center recommended tight-fitting clothing to avoid unwanted exposure in the event of elevation and billowing. Greg wants to laugh about the john in the sky again. He doesn’t want to come home to his baked chicken. He doesn’t want to leave.
       Outside, Adrian puts his hand on Greg’s back. “It’s good you don’t have kids. I know you guys wanted kids, but it’s a plus, now.” A herd of doctors carry their lunches from a food truck in the parking lot with disco lights. Adrian takes out his parking validation. “Kim and Iris already called a cab. I’ll drive you.”
       “Adrian, you drove me here. You don’t say you’re going to drive me back. It’s not an extra kindness. It’s part of the same favor.”
       Adrian puts the ticket back in his pocket. “No, I just wanted to tell you it’s just us. Not the girls.”
       He’s lying, but Greg says sorry.
       “Don’t be sorry. You’re fine. You’re absolutely fine. It’s a shitty day. You know,” he says, when they pull out of the lot. “They make you waive liability above forty feet.”
       Greg has read the papers. “I didn’t like that either.”
       “It’s so weird, right? It’s not just me, right? This is so weird. The room? What’s it called—rotunda. Can I just ask? Was it your idea or hers?”
       Greg wishes he could sit in the backseat. “It was my idea. I pushed her to do it, but it was her decision.” They hadn’t talked about this, what Greg was supposed to say to people. Whether he would tell Adrian and Kim about finding her hovering above the coffee table with a bloody nose—it had broken her fall when she’d fainted. The just-in-case workup at the ER that indicated she’d also suffered a minor heart attack. The weeklong stay at the brutalist hospital center near the state line.
       When the discharge nurse took Marnie’s last vitals, he put a Silver Linings brochure under the rest of the papers. “We’re not allowed to recommend it because we’re state funded.” They’d both heard about it—you couldn’t go through an anorexia forum without hearing about it—but they’d also heard about the muscle spasms, the double vision, the glowing girl who was found caught in a utility wires hub outside Annapolis.
       “Thank you,” said Marnie, but the nurse hung back. “If you don’t do it before you leave the hospital, you’re going to get home and think it’s crazy and you’re not going to do it. I’ll give you my cell phone number. I’ll walk you through it. Call them. You can cancel later and get a full refund.”
       Marnie called, maybe just to make the nurse happy, and signed up for a tour date. She texted him her number. They went to his house for not-dinner. He made tea and told them to sit in whatever room they wanted. They sat on the decorative storage trunk in his living room, and he talked about his brother’s children and his job.
       At their house, during murder mystery game night, Dylan, the nurse, said, “I used to have this paranoid thought that my roommate was feeding me in my sleep.”
       Marnie smiled.
       “Are you scared?” Dylan asked Greg.
       “You can say whatever’s true,” said Marnie.
       “Shitless,” said Greg.
       Marnie pretended to ponder. “No.”
       Dylan smiled. “I thought so.”
       “Why?” said Greg.
       Dylan laughed. “Because either it works, or she’s goner!”
       Before they went to bed that night, Marnie asked, “You’ve never fed me without me knowing, right?”
       “Seriously, Marnie?”
       “I have to ask.”
       “I hope you know that’s never even occurred to me,” said Greg. He didn’t know if they were fighting, or just saying sad things out loud.

Greg wishes he had Dylan’s number. Only Marnie has it, on her cell phone, which stays in the locker at Silver Linings until—not if, but when, not if, but when—she gets out.
       “Do you want to come over for a snack?” he asks Adrian in the car. “I made a baked lemon chicken.”
       Adrian smiles. “A chicken is a snack?”
       Greg shrugs. Adrian says, “I know it’s delicious chicken, cause it’s your cooking, but Kim and Iris are waiting for me.”
       “Kim and Iris can come too, of course.” She said they were going to have dinner with him tonight.
       “We wish we could,” says Adrian. Greg thinks of this as the kind of thing a lawyer would say. Whatever the social equivalent of liability is, Adrian knows how to protect himself.
       “So when can you see her again?”
       “They say it’s good to wait two weeks.”
       “Uh huh.” He turns on his CD player. “So what’s your theory about why it started? And don’t say the ozone layer.”
       Most scientists say it is the ozone layer, that change in atmospheric conditions in recent years has changed gravitational force and that an object’s oxygen-to-mass ratio, especially where weight is distributed across a greater landscape, as with very underweight adolescents and adults, led to hovering. So Greg says, “I don’t really have a theory.”
       Adrian drops him off in the alley, so he can pull straight through to the main road again. Probably, they will have a hotel dinner with cocktails and soda, a cup of crayons placed down in front of Iris. Greg waits for Marnie to call.
       When it is ten p.m., he looks up Lorna on Facebook. Have you heard from Marnie by any chance? he writes in a private message.
       He is on a website that is part-news, part-pornography, when he sees the Facebook tab going active. Hi Greg. No, I have not heard from her. Is everything okay?
       LOL. He says everything is okay.
       Lorna says, I’m so glad she is getting help.
       Does she want him to say thank you? He doesn’t want to say thank you.
       He says Marnie was so happy about the flowers. He wants to log off, but now Lorna asks how he is coping.
       I’m hanging in there. He clicks back to news-porn. Really, it’s just porn.
       That’s good, she says. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. The porn site says basically the same. He closes both sites. He logs onto his office email and says he will be taking the next day off, not just physically off, but off-off. He sets his alarm for 6 a.m.
       His car is so much smaller than Adrian’s. The roof feels annoyingly truncated. He wonders if this is what it’s like for Marnie everywhere. “I hope it’s okay that I came,” is what he’ll say to Marnie. “I just needed to know you were okay.”
       There’s a satellite location for those who have pushed up against the height parameters of the recovery space. This is the answer Greg gets when he is yelling for someone to tell him where his wife is, though, apparently, he didn’t need to yell, it wasn’t a secret, just a personnel issue. Only doctors, nurses, and orderlies are informed when a transfer is made. All the front desk staff sees is “checked out.”
       “You mean she’s already at the residences?” asked Greg, when he got this information.
       “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have additional information.”
       “Well, can I go check the rotunda?”
       “Sir, only visitors of current patients may visit.”
       And so on, and so forth. And Greg yelled. Marnie’s resident came out and led him back to the lobby and explained that Marnie had gone particularly high last night and was given the option to either remain in the laboratory proper or transfer. “She transferred by helicopter at five this morning to a facility of ours at a higher altitude.” The paperwork had alluded briefly to the structure in Appalachia, built atop a mountain. In the photograph, it looked like a building on stilts. Greg thought that was for emergencies.
       “Is she okay?”
       “She’s okay.”
       The resident looked around the lab, as though to gain inspiration. “Please understand that remaining in this facility during an elevation of this sort means residing at the top portion of the space and that it is uncomfortable. The satellite provides more leeway without opening you up to as many ozone hazards as free floating would.
       “How long does she stay there?”
       “I don’t have a perfect answer for you,” was the resident’s answer.
       “I’ll take adequate.”
       “I’ll take an adequate answer.” The resident looked wounded. Greg could see the tubing of her stethoscope bowing out of her jacket. He hoped very much that its smiley face would remain obscured.
       “What I can say is that the other patients who have been there have found it a much more accommodating setting to remain for the duration of their treatment. And some have opted to remain after their treatment, as well.”
       “You mean indefinitely?”
       “Yes.” And then the resident transferred her weight from one leg to the other, and Douglas—why did the stethoscope have a name, but she didn’t?—rematerialized and Greg had to leave.

Greg has a doctor’s appointment downtown. He does a drive-by of the office, parks nearby, and gets pizza down the street.
       In the waiting room, two other patients wait for two other doctors. Greg’s emerges first, from the outside hallway, and leads Greg to the closest office. The floor has a rug on top of a carpet, and the coffee table has coasters on top of place mats on top of a tablecloth.
       The doctor asks him about his challenges and ideas as they relate to food and eating. Greg hopes you don’t have to be a certain weight. He tells him there is a whole cooked lemon baked chicken sitting inside his fridge that he has not been able to touch, which is true. He says he feels so hungry. He says he lives alone. They talk about dinners with his family, when he was younger, his favorite meals, and his favorite body part, his least favorite body part. Greg keeps his phone on while they talk, but he’s not expecting any more calls for the day, maybe the month.
       At the end of the session, the doctor asks if he has any questions for him, or about working together.
       “Do you ever do shared mealtimes with clients?” asks Greg. He doesn’t want to eat alone anymore.
       The doctor moves the hair at the top of his head around, as though exercising it. “Are you referring to observed eating?”
       Greg nods.
       “I do,” says the doctor. “Do you think that would be helpful to you in recovery?”
       “I think it would.”
       That Thursday, he doesn’t try calling Marnie. Reception at the satellite location is spotty, they told Greg when they gave him the number, and he doesn’t want to talk to half a voice. He finishes his work day—remote, even though Marnie doesn’t need him home anymore—and packs up his home office for the day, takes a shower. Then he sets the chicken into the oven to reheat and waits for his company.

© Alicia Oltuski 2023

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