“M’am, do you need validation?”
“Alright. Please proceed down the hall to the left. The associate at the second table will assist you.”
“Have a satisfying day, M’am.”
The portly receptionist handed the woman back her identification card and pointed down the hall indicated, her smile more impatient than reassuring. Graciela hated tight smiles like that. She knew they were fake, the smilers knew they were fake, the teeth inside it probably knew too –but nobody said a lick about it. She hastily returned the tightness out of spite and made her way down the corridor to the left of the cruise ship-like reception desk. As she turned the corner she met with a line of others, some with their shoes off, others already pantsless, and most with their arms crossed, tapping a foot or sighing with every exhale.
“God, why are they always so slow?” she thought, picturing the last set of validators she’d seen –portlier even than that receptionist, all in official sweaters a bit too tight, all making no apparent effort to get through the queue quickly. Graciela settled her mouth in for a long haul of tight smiling. The man in front of her turned around, shrugged, and raised his eyebrows, silently commiserating with a complaint Graciela had thought was silent, itself. He returned the smile. She tightened hers.
Ten minutes passed; she’d considered the striated ceiling panels, developed a strong disliking of the dark blue carpeting with its pointless red and gray splotches, and had come to fully loathe the cheap vinyl wainscotting. She kicked at it with her pointed vinyl slingbacks, being as vicious as she could without making any sound, entirely blind to –or perhaps because of– the fact that her shoes were of the exact same stuff.
Thirty bucks for a ticket and they can’t even put in some tile, she thought, her voice suddenly sounding a little like her mother’s, even if she’d only said it in her head. The line moved approximately one person’s-length. Graciela was pleased until she realized she’d forgotten she was in a line, and that the line’d have to move if she was ever going to get validated and go home. She turned around to see how long the line had gotten behind her, always something to throw an “at least” at in times like these. She was still the last in line.
“Oh come on!” It was louder than she’d meant it to be, and her face was instantly warm, her toes and fingers tingling. Nobody responded. Nobody even turned around, including the shrugger in front of her. Last and loud, the worst of the worlds –or at least, the ones that pertained to lines anyway. Wait! There it was! …not really the same though, like that. At least it had been an accident! She stopped looking for an at least, thoroughly depressed at having run out of even this.
Why had she even chosen validation?
Because I need it.
There wasn’t any argument to bring against the fact; inconvenience aside, she had to get it done before she could move on. She knew it. Before she could get back into the lobby with its slightly different pointlessly splotched carpet and its Mark, her date, who apparently didn’t need to be validated, somehow. Maybe he was just insensitive. Irresponsible. If she kept seeing him, would she have to take care of all the dirty work herself? Then again, he hadn’t seemed the least bit put off that she had chosen the left hallway. She tried to picture him waiting for her, standing right outside the service exit, coat-in-arms; patient, understanding, eager to see her again. What an idiot. More likely he was pacing the lobby with a souring expression, or he’d even ducked into another theatre when no one was looking. He could probably watch anything –horror films or porn even– and be fine! For a second Graciela’s mouth betrayed a real grin.
She would probably have been fine too, if that old film hadn’t been mostly about women. Mark wasn’t affected because it just didn’t relate to him, she thought. Old women, depicted as old women. The makeup made it worse, not better. They let the actresses walk, talk, and hold themselves like they really were old. It was sad, it was horrifying, much too realistic. And why would they have done such a thing, make her prefer the evil sister and then redeem her right at the end, taking the feet out from under the character, simplifying and stupidifying her, stupidifying her? And that good sister. Unbearable. Weak, fickle, insecure, desperate for valida–. Graciela’s eyes widened and her mouth lost any and all flavors of smiling.
It was true. She needed to be validated.
The line had moved enough to let her see the intake tables. She glanced at her watch: 5:42, almost three quarters of an hour she’d been in line, but it was definitely speeding up. They work faster when they see dinnertime coming, she thought, bending over to undo her slingbacks. She picked them up and wiggled her toes in her stockings, then took out her earrings. Only a few more people to go and she’d feel all better, and maybe next week she and Mark would go see something less risky. Something about robots, or plants maybe. They could watch a nice documentary about cacti. Or one of those things where you just sit and look at a mechanical arm welding a seam.
Graciela spent the next fifteen minutes musing about plastic and paint, toupe and seafoam, boxes and empty pads of paper, until she was finally called forward, almost euphorically unstimulated. The woman at the second table had to call her three times, breathing heavily in between M’am?s. Graciela padded to the table, a cheap foldout stacked with forms and molded trays of varying sizes. The incredible bulk of the woman attending it was nearly table-like itself; perhaps the fat was courting the furniture.
“Hello M’am, please put any jewelry in the blue tray, shoes in green, dress in red, underthings in white, do you have any prosthetics today?”
“Hello. No.” Graciela stripped and put her things in the respective trays. She held out her hands for the clipboard backed form, which the woman passed her.
“Please complete this form M’am. I’ll take your bag now.”
Graciela didn’t especially want to hand over her purse, even though she knew they wouldn’t let her take it with her. It was unclean anyway, no point in getting validation if her purse was going to stay the same. Still, she couldn’t help but hesitate a little as she slid it off her shoulder and held it out for the woman. She had liked it.
The form was as busy with disclaimers, agency names, slogans, and trademarks as it always was, just as the actual fields to fill in remained straightforward. Graciela filled in her name, address, sex, race, age, occupation, level of education, amount currently in savings, health score, blood type, family and sexual relations, and presidential rating. She scrawled in the name of the film. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Just printing it conjured a rope of nausea in her throat. The theatre really ought to just let you check a box.
Entirely bare and very eager to be rid of the sickness, Graciela gave the clipboard back to the woman at the table. She had been staring at Graciela’s breasts, her mouth slightly open. Graciela pretended not to notice. The woman scanned the form.
“O-kay M’am, you’ll be getting validated in the bubble suite, with uh, who’s working bubble today.” The woman swiveled around in her chair until she spotted another sweater-clad behemoth. “Sherry! Hey Sherry! Yeah, who’s in the bubble suite today?”
“Right, you’ll be getting validated in the bubble suite today with Chuck. Do you consent? Into the recorder please.”
Graciela stepped forward until her mouth was only a few inches from the plastic device hanging from the ceiling over the table.
A moment later Chuck appeared from somewhere in the bowels of the suitery. He was nearly as wide as tall, with an unkempt moustache and short hair that was oddly compressed in places, as though he’d taken several naps with his head crammed against a wall or desk. A thick red crease ran down the side of his face, crusted here and there with what looked like drool.
“Hello Miss, I’m Chuck,” he said. “Please follow me.”
Graciela moved with him down a series of hallways until they came to a door with a cheap printout of a clip-art bubble taped at about head’s-height. Chuck opened the door.
“Welcome to the bubble suite.”
The room was small enough to look like it wouldn’t fit more than about a Chuck-and-a-half, and indeed the man had to use his hands to push his fat out of the way of the furnishings as he entered. There was a massage table, a desk and chair with a lamp, and of course, a bubble machine in the corner. It spit occasional explosions of soap bubbles into the middle of the room, making a faint pooting sound as it released them. Everything was vaguely stained, though evidently swaddled in disinfectant and air freshener.
“Please lay down on the table miss. Face up, huh.”
Graciela did as she was asked. As she was told? It wasn’t a question, even if Chuck didn’t look like he could issue any commands. Why did they always have to be so–
“So you saw a bad movie, Miss?”
Graciela nodded and closed her eyes.
“It made me worry about being older, and like maybe I can’t distinguish between good and bad, and maybe I’m stupid. The characters’ house was bigger and prettier than mine, and the cars too.”
“Oh, how horrible. What a bad, bad film, shame on–” There was a pause as Chuck glanced at a form on the desk. “–Davis and Crawford, shame on that Mister Aldrich. You know, back then they really didn’t know any better. They were very insensitive, irresponsible. But Chuck’s here to fix all of that.”
“Mhmmm.” Graciela twitched as she felt several bubbles pop over her abdomen, spraying it with tiny specks of soap.
“Your plans for today?”
“Go home with Mark. Basic sex, eat something, walk Muriel–”
“Who is Muriel?!” Chuck interrupted, his voice suddenly all annoyance and exasperation.
Graciela opened her eyes and saw Chuck frowning over her. His belt and pants were undone, a length of flaccid flesh dangling from the hole of his boxer shorts.
“…Muriel is my Weimaraner.”
“It doesn’t say you have a dog on your service entrance form!”
“Oh. I guess I forgot.”
Chuck sighed deeply, zipped up, and said he’d have to check with his supervisor. “I’ll be back shortly. Please try to prepare yourself properly, Miss.”
Graciela raised her arm to get a look at her watch before realizing it was gone. Sometimes this whole thing took so long she wished they wouldn’t even offer it. Just let people take the risk of having reactions, make them deal with it on their own. Maybe they’d even get better at it over time, if they could practice. But that, the answer came, unbidden, that is how we end up with psychopaths and serial killers. She sighed and brushed her fingertips over the tops of her thighs. A little plumper every time. It was fine to be fat, they said, but wouldn’t you have to say such things if you were Chuck’s size? She wondered how often he was validated, himself. She closed her eyes and imagined his small, floppy penis. Prepare yourself properly, he had said.
She rested her hands at either side of her on the table and shook her head rapidly as if to loosen some bind. She took deep breaths, she giggled as the soap bubbles burst against her. As she heard the unmistakable thudding of Chuck’s mass coming back down the hall, she quickly tweaked her nipples between thumb and index finger to make them stand up, and plastered on her tight smile.
Chuck entered the room gruffly, out of breath.
“My supervisor said we can continue, but your failure to provide a complete inventory of relations has been noted on your permanent record.”
“So where were we, Miss?” Zip. “Ahh.”
“…Walking my dog.”
“Yes. Any other plans?”
“And what would you like to feel?”
“Younger. Stronger…more attractive.” Chuck was getting closer to her head, a fact that betrayed itself in the increasing heat she felt there, and in the growing loudness of his breathing. “…Good, basically good, like I make the right choices and do the right things.”
His penis was no longer quite flaccid –more like an overripe banana as it landed on her forehead. It bounced lazily a few times over her face before coming to rest on her eyelid.
“You want to be good, do you?”
“Kiss it. Huh.”
Graciela kept her eyes sealed shut and pursed her lips in anticipation of the bounty she was about to receive. The bounty, such as it was, landed with a plop on her mouth. She made a show of kissing it like a good girl would, eager and enthusiastic. Her stomach churned in disgust.
“You’re very good,” Chuck began, moving slightly away from her and beginning what Graciela knew was a two-minute-maximum masturbation sequence. Thank god they introduced a maximum last year, she thought, There were so many horror stories of people being stuck in validation for several hours, days even, they could take turns, it almost ruined watching movies. Not anymore. Well before even a minute was up, Chuck ejaculated all over Graciela’s unresponsive body, and spent another twenty seconds or so rubbing it all in.
“You’re very good, and very attractive. I like you much more than I did when you came in, Miss. I think you were older then, too.” Chuck’s voice was distant, disinterested, but the words filled Graciela with a sense of calm and safety. Chuck administered the standard set of three injections, making her a little fatter, a little plainer, and a lot more apathetic. “You’re a very strong woman. Mark must be very proud.”
Graciela smiled widely, unrestrainedly. “Thank you.”
Chuck helped her up and opened the door for her, directing her to the final processing room to collect her things.
“You have a satisfying day now, Miss.”
Just before the service exit she met the elephantine attendant charged with equipping Graciela for the rest of her night. She was given a recycled pair of regulation earrings, black vinyl boots, a polyester blouse with matching trousers, and a small purse containing a pamphlet, in-ear headphones, a tiny bottle of water, and a copy of her keys.
She thanked the attendant and with her new and genuine smile stepped out the door.
“Everything set?” Mark asked as he approached her, his jacket folded neatly over his arm, his hand outstretched.
“Yep.” Graciela took it, and they walked out of the lobby.
“What a great movie.” “Really great.”