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Nancy lives a wonderfully ordinary life with her three children and dog in Clayton, NC.

The first time my brother Jack was arrested for eating, it was a sting operation. The video footage looped on the news for days. It was hard to watch. Jack was in a warehouse basement along with several others. He was seated on an old stained sofa. A chunky red substance dripped down his chin and onto his shirt. He looked completely stunned--like someone who'd been doing this so long, he'd become complacent. He received rehabilitation and community service, which wasn't too bad, except for the stigma that came along with it. After the arrest, most of his friends were suddenly too busy to hang out, and he was let go from his teaching position at the University.
This time he's failed his weigh-in and he's being deported. He's chosen Canada because it's the only English speaking country that accepts ingestion refugees. Personally, I find it impossible to understand how Canadians refuse to acknowledge the benefits of Nutripatch. It's not like they're a third-world country. Since the U.S. has adopted the mandatory use of Nutripatch, we've eradicated malnutrition, starvation, and a host of food-related diseases. It's so simple. Everyone gets the optimal amount of nutrients and calories delivered through the patch, as needed, throughout the day. The tiny implant that transmits data from your body to the patch is foolproof. We function at peak performance all day, every day. No one develops food addictions. No one goes hungry. How could they not want that for their citizens? Nevertheless, I am grateful for their refugee program. Normally I'm grateful because it eases the burden on our country's already strained prison system, but today I'm grateful because they are helping my brother. I can't bear the thought of him in prison for life.
Jack and I drive toward the Canadian border in silence. Not an uncomfortable silence. We just have a lot going on in our heads. I've volunteered to be Jack's sponsor for Probationary Canadian Citizenship. I'm responsible for him financially until he gets on his feet. We both have quite a bit of savings, so it's really just a formality. For his probationary period he'll have to follow all their laws to the letter. I'm not worried about that. He's always been responsible. Except for this food thing. Why he would start eating and continue eating is beyond me. It's not like he was just tasting something. That I could understand. Curiosity sometimes gets the better of people even when they know the risks.
As we approach the border, I break the silence. "I'm trying to understand, Jack. You're a smart, reasonable guy. How did this happen?"
He's been anticipating my question and jumps right in with an excited and conspiratorial tone. "One of my friends has been eating for a long time. He confided in me. He seemed no worse for wear and I was curious. So one night I tasted something. Chocolate. It's--"
"I know what chocolate is," I interrupt.
"It was fantastic," Jack says. "The way it felt. The way it tasted. The way I felt. And after I ate it, I was fine. Nothing changed. It's not primitive. It's natural."
"Do you know what's in that stuff?" I ask. You're ingesting bodily fluid from an animal. And plant matter. It's disgusting."
Jack dismisses my comment with a shake of his head. "You don't understand. There are so many kinds of chocolate. All with complexity and subtle differences. I can't explain it. It's like art. You should just try some." He pulls a small wrapped package from his pocket, opens it, and lays it on the console between us.
"You brought some with you?"
He smiles, amused. "What are they going to do? Deport me?"
"What about me? I don't want to get arrested!"
"Will you relax? Everything is going to be fine. You could come with me, you know. You can cross the border as my sponsor."
"That's crazy. I have no interest in eating. Smelly breath. Food in my teeth. Nope."
"You can get Nutripatch there. You don't have to eat. Come on. Don't make me do this alone. Please come. See how the other half lives."
I pull up to the gate and hand the border crossing guard our paperwork. He's not obese as I expected. He nods his head. "Welcome to Canada," he says. We exit the highway and I look for a place to stop. The first place we see is an outdoor cafe surrounded by a wrought iron fence teeming with flowering vines. People casually talk and eat at small round tables topped with red and white umbrellas to protect them from the bright sun. It's oddly alluring. Like a movie star smoking in an old movie. It reminds me of a painting. Van Gogh, I think. I pull over to the curb and park. Jack goes in to use the restroom while I wait in the car. I glance down at the open packet of chocolate, press my finger to a crumb that broke off when he snapped the squares apart, and I place it on my tongue.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Author Comments

This story is the product of an ill-fated attempt to cut sugar from my diet.

- Nancy Manchec
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