Wed’s Word Flash Fiction: Contraband

Every other Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). The goal of the exercise is to write something – an essay, poem, or flash fiction – by midnight. Past pieces can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.

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If you’ve read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, Tony Morrison’s Song of Solomon, or even the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, consider yourself a rebel.

If you’ve picked up a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, you’re really going rogue.

Those books have all been challenged this year, some even removed from libraries. It’s Banned Books Week. For a list of challenged books – and the reasons why you shouldn’t (or should) read them, click here.

And, in recognition of Banned Books, Wordsmith.org has declared this week’s theme “words related to censorship.”

Today’s word:

excommunicate. verb tr.: To formally exclude someone from a group or community, especially from a religious community.

It isn’t pretty when you defy the norm.

*****

Contraband

When Ellen descended the stairs into the basement of Northcrest Mall and opened the door to Room A, her stomach flip-flopped. Maybe it was from hunger pains; she’d been fasting since four o’clock yesterday afternoon, after she ate that double fudge brownie she bought at the fifth grade bake sale. Then again, her tumbling stomach could have been a direct result of the look Ellen got from Patsy, who stood at the podium in the front of the room.

“Come on in Ellen.” Patsy’s invitation sounded like a dare with a hint of a threat.

Ellen took her place in the seat in row three, right next to the aisle. She’d been sitting in the same chair – religiously – every Saturday for the last six months.

As I was saying, Ladies, fellow Weightloss Warriors,” Patsy began again, “there have been some rumblings of late.”

Ellen thought about the bagel she skipped at breakfast that morning. She thought about the plate of Pecan-crusted Tilapia she pushed away last night. “Upset stomach,” she’d told her date. “Stress at work,” she had lied. Then, Ellen thought about the double fudge brownie. She wondered if Patsy somehow knew.

Ellen caught Patsy’s eye just as she broke out into her weekly campaign on Weightloss Warriors’ commitment to pre-planned menus and abstinence and her caution against outside influences.

“If I remember correctly,” Patsy said, “someone in this room hit her goal weight two weeks ago.” Ellen looked down at her lap and studied her hands. “Ellen? Would you care to share?”

All eyes settled on Ellen in the third row. “Yes,” she said. She smiled apologetically. She announced her weight and the room broke out in a slurry of words: lucky, check the scale, and cheater.

“I dare say, Weightloss Warriors has done wonders for your physique and your confidence. Stand up for us, Ellen.” Patsy leaned over her podium. “Let us take a look at you.”

“Of course,” Ellen said. She stood and straightened her dress. She fidgeted with her hair. A bead of sweat trickled down the back of her neck. When Patsy gave the nod, Ellen sat down again and used her foot to push her purse further under her chair.

Patsy stepped out from behind the Podium and stood next to her seat.

“Ladies, what we have here is a real testimony to the kind of support, education and success we offer here at Weightloss Warriors. Ellen couldn’t have reached her goal without us.” Patsy put a heavy hand on Ellen’s shoulder. “Yet, despite our good services….”

Ellen shifted in her seat.

Patsy’s hand didn’t budge.

“…What we have here…is a Traitor.”

The room erupted into gasps and name-calling. Ellen sank under Patsy’s pressure.

“Martha! Hillary!” Patsy put both hands on Ellen’s shoulders. “Get her purse.”

“No!” Ellen screamed. She squirmed in her seat. “Please!”

But, it was too late. Despite their size, the women moved swiftly. Martha and Hillary were already crouched near Ellen’s feet. With their hot hands, they pulled at Ellen’s legs in an effort to grab her purse. One of the women twisted Ellen’s ankle trying to pry the purse strap out from under Ellen’s right shoe, and the other woman smashed Ellen’s toes on her left foot when she tried to lift herself off the floor.

Patsy held Ellen’s purse up high.

“What we have here, fellow Warriors, is a bag full of contraband.

Ellen’s eyes darted across the room. Some of the women she’d known for her entire six months – like Betsy who brought Ellen Warriors’ frozen dinners when Ellen fell ill with the flu and Monica who picked Ellen up for meetings when Ellen’s car broke down – glared and growled at her now.

Patsy slammed Ellen’s purse on the podium. She unzipped the main compartment, and the room fell silent. Patsy took her time.

She uncovered two bags of Kleenex, a pop-up hairbrush, some make-up. She paused before she pulled out Ellen’s brand new pack of Bubblicious. Patsy tsk-ed when she held up the half-eaten candy bar. Then, Patsy looked out into the room and shook her head.

She found it, thought Ellen, as she held on to the edge of her seat.

“A Book!” Pasty boomed. She thrust it at the audience. “The very book we’ve warned you about!” Patsy laughed in condescension. ” ‘Weightloss the Natural Way’ — this book if full of lies!” Patsy slammed her fist on the podium.

Ellen jumped out of her seat, desperate to defend herself. “Walters is a doctor.” She scanned the room for at least one sympathetic face. Her eyes landed on Hillary. “He’s done research. It’s been proven time and again. It’s chemistry and nutrients and listening to your body, not scales or pre-packaged food!”

“Enough!” At Patsy’s order, Martha and Hillary lumbered across the room and took hold of Ellen’s arms. Ellen felt her body lift and glide down the aisle and towards the door. She twisted her head around towards the women left in the room.

“Exercise and moderation!” She cried. “Pre-portioned meals are a fallacy! Chocolate is not the Devil!”

Before the door slammed she let out her last cry, “Read the book!”

Ellen fell to the floor. Martha spit at Ellen’s feet. Hillary took hold of Ellen’s hands.

“Go,” she said. “Now.” And, she closed Ellen’s fingers around a torn piece of paper.

When Ellen reached her car, she read the note.

Call me, it said, please.

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5 responses to “Wed’s Word Flash Fiction: Contraband

  1. It’s great how you tied in the “contraband” with banned books. Very clever. What a fun story. You communicated a lot of truth in an entertaining way.

  2. Excellent. Tension, misdirection, then bam.

    Yes, by all means keep the truth from the masses. They can’t handle it. 😉

  3. Thanks, Linda and Cathryn!

  4. Hi Christi – I came over to your blog via E Victoria Flynn and Lisa Rivero, and I’m so glad I did! This is a great short story. Like Cathryn said above, I really like how you combined contraband with banned books. I’ve been doing Weight Watchers for some time (sanely, with *real* food), so your story had some additional resonance for me. This group sounded like it came straight out of some kind of amalgamation of Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” plus other equally intolerant and malevolent elements of our current society. All’s I can say is “Wow.”

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