The Magic of Weight Loss

a short story about actual magic, in three parts.

The Magic Of Weight Loss

by Matthew Brian Cohen

Part 1

There were no shortcuts when it came to losing weight. Diet and exercise, diet and exercise. It wasn’t easy. It’s wasn’t glamorous. It was long, hard work. There had to be a better way! And it turns out, there was.

Wellness guru Stevie Gaffney had created a smoothie that made you lose weight instantly once you drank it. A significant amount of weight, too – around ten-ish pounds per twenty two-ounce smoothie, depending on your size, and it wouldn’t do anything once you’ve reached a healthy weight for your body. Scientists couldn’t figure out why it worked. It didn’t do anything special on the molecular or cellular level – heck, the smoothie was just bananas, cayenne pepper, and almond milk. There were no side effects or negative consequences, either. There was no rational explanation for the Miracle Smoothie, as Stevie and the media started calling it, but whenever Stevie, and only Stevie, put those ingredients in a blender, it became a Miracle Smoothie. There wasn’t even a recipe – Stevie just eyeballed the ingredients every single time. Which, as you can imagine, just frustrated nutritionists, biologists, and dieticians even further, as well as consumers, who were always thrown off by the slightly different taste.

The only thing that wasn’t magical about the Miracle Smoothie was handling the processing, shipping, and fulfillment, as demand was sky high. Luckily, Stevie Gaffney was the CEO of a moderately successful health and wellness brand, so some of the infrastructure was already there. Still, no brand is prepared for literal magic. Stevie had to step down as CEO and spend her days in the warehouse churning out smoothies. There was no time to think about strategy or marketing or anything else. Not like she needed to – the Miracle Smoothie was a product that sold itself. There was no need for commercials or sponsorships or analytics or market research. Stevie Gaffney was in the magic business, now, and her business was magic. Stevie had never liked the the word “business” because it implied she profited off of other people’s health and well being. She did, of course, but she didn’t like the implication that she didn’t care about her customers. She didn’t like the words “company” and “products” for the same reason, so she only referred to her company as a “brand” and her products as “items.” Brand and item just felt friendlier, more inviting, you know? Perhaps employees and investors had scoffed at it before, but now? The Miracle Smoothie was the brand’s hottest item. Before the Miracle Smoothie, none of Stevie’s items – the powders, the crystals, the beads – had “worked” before - in that technical, scientific, “delivers what it promises on the tin” way. The brand used to have a problem with online reviewers writing mean comments about how Stevie was a “huckster,” or a “scam artist,” or a “fraud,” and her items were “snake oil,” “worthless,” and “piles of dog shit.” They made people feel better, though, and that made Stevie feel good. Stevie knew there was more to wellness than science. The body was science, yes, but the mind was a mystical, magical thing. Yes, the mind was also science, but science was lacking in so many areas, as her Miracle Smoothie clearly proved. They may have laughed at her once, but they couldn’t laugh at results.

It was truly incredible how quickly Stevie Gaffney changed the entire diet and fitness industry. Exercise bikes, treadmills, and barbells were left out on curbs en masse. Entire Cross Fit gyms were burned to the ground. Meals became longer, portions became bigger, food was prepared with more butter and sugar. Of course, sales of bananas, cayenne, and almond milk went through the roof, as did their cost. And there were plenty of imitators peddling their own version of the Miracle Smoothie. But nobody was able to duplicate Stevie’s Miracle Smoothie, and everybody knew it. The old way, the twentieth century thinking, was dead. The twenty first century was Stevie Gaffney’s, and it was magical.

Part 2

“Please, allow me to introduce the woman who rewrote the book on fitness and dieting, the creator of the Miracle Smoothie, Stevie Gaffney!”

As Stevie walked on stage, the crowd burst in strained applause. Though everyone on the planet wanted her to stay in the warehouse creating Miracle Smoothies, Stevie insisted on taking breaks for her mental health. Sometimes she’d deliver talks, like this one, other times, she’d go off fishing with her family. No one could complain, even though they wanted to. Not only was she the Wizard of Weight Loss, as a recent NY Times profile called her, but she kept the Miracle Smoothie’s price at $29.99. Stevie did this because she truly believed that the secret to weight loss belonged to everyone, and wellness and clean living was no one person’s sole domain. Yes, by keeping the Miracle Smoothie affordable, she was a millionaire instead of a trillionaire, but Stevie had enough money. She kept things simple – a small summer house in the Hamptons, a little winter cottage in Aspen, and a cozy ranch just outside of Austin, Texas. As he husband liked to joke, Stevie was a “benevolent master.” Stevie’s husband had lost forty five pounds thanks to the Miracle Smoothie. He ate whatever he wanted and never went to the gym. He was a forty nine year old man who now looked like he was thirty and fucked like he was twenty five. He ate two Miracle Smoothies a week. Stevie had permanently changed him, and there was power in that. And that’s why Stevie never really laughed at his joke.

Stevie looked out into the audience. Her smile, as it had been for some time, was slight, forced. She knew the crowd was only there because they believed today could be the day Stevie might deviate from her standard “wellness and clean living” lecture to reveal the big secret – how does she make her smoothie? The truth was, Stevie didn’t know. One day, she could do it, like how some people can whistle, and that was all there was to it. Sometimes, Stevie wished she understood the source of it all. The burden of the Miracle Smoothie was heavier than anyone could imagine, and during the especially grueling days of blending smoothie after smoothie, with no end in sight, Stevie wished there was a way to go back. It was far easier being a guru than a magician. Anyone can dispense a handful of feel-good platitudes, but to alter the very fabric of reality? It takes a toll.

“The human body has an incredible amount of toxins,” she began, already feeling the crowd’s interest begin to wane. No matter. Stevie never liked talking about the Miracle Smoothie, anyway. What was there to talk about? The Magic Smoothie just worked, damnit, and nobody knew why. There was no dissecting the frog, because once you cut the frog open, you found out there was nothing inside. “We eat foods that put more toxins into it,” she continued, powering through the restless angst of the crowd. “Yes, we sweat out our toxins, but they are only reabsorbed through the skin. This causes wrinkles, varicose veins, and in some cases, cancer.” None of this was true, scientifically, but Stevie was above science, now. Frankly, the scientists stopped questioning anything Stevie said a few months after the Miracle Smoothie came out. The scientific community’s current consensus on Stevie Gafferty was, “Maybe she knows something we don’t?” It was dangerous, not holding Stevie accountable for anything she said, but nobody in the scientific community wanted to make her mad. What if she could blink her eyes and melt their brains, turn their legs into ducks, or put their consciousness inside someone else’s body? Frankly, those things were just as likely to happen as a smoothie that instantly made you lose a healthy amount weight. Once you do see one piece of magic, suddenly, every terrifying thing seems possible.

As Stevie kept talking about the dangers of body toxins being reabsorbed through the skin, she thought about her Super Cream. For the past few months, Stevie had tried to come up with a cream that smoothed out the wrinkles of your skin, but to no avail. After the Miracle Smoothie, there was a period where Stevie believed she could do anything she wanted – and what she wanted, to almost everyone else’s surprise except her own, was to make more incredible health and wellness items. Unfortunately, it seemed her powers were limited to weight loss. The Super Cream, while very lustrous and full of aloe, didn’t remove wrinkles in your skin. There was no incantation, no spell nor wish nor prayer, that could change it. Stevie even tried a recipe of bananas, cayenne, and almond milk, but all that did was take a few pounds off her midsection. Stevie shelved the Super Cream without telling a soul. The fact of the matter was, you can’t invent magic. The magic owns the magician, it seemed.

She prattled on and on, and she thought about a conversation she had with her husband last week. They had just gotten back from the Hamptons and were tired and jet lagged, so Stevie ordered some veggie bánh mìs from her favorite vegan Vietnamese restaurant. They opened up a bottle of a 2005 Vieux Château Certan and allowed themselves to just sink into their Bernhardt sofa and decompress from a long day of flying across the country on a Lear 45 private jet.

“I’m starving,” Stevie said. “I wish the food would get here faster.”

“Can’t you just make them appear?” he said.

Stevie shook her head. “I’m just a one trick pony,” she said.

“Well, sweetie,” he said, smiling, “it’s a hell of a trick.”

When the food came, they ate in silence, until Stevie’s husband retired to his study to play computer games. Stevie poured herself a second glass of wine and descended into her basement workshop to crank out some more orders of Miracle Smoothie before bed. He was right – it was a hell of a trick. But Stevie had one more trick up her sleeve.

Stevie’s mind snapped back to her toxins speech. “I am no longer producing Miracle Smoothies,” she said. The words hung frozen in the air. You could almost see them, their shape, their size. They were magical. They changed the world in an instant.

“Magic is wrong,” Stevie continued. “We were not meant to wield it. I wasn’t, anyway.” She paused. The crowd was beginning to stir. “I believe in health, in wellness and clean living. The Miracle Smoothie was never meant to be a miracle! It was supposed to be a way to get vitamin A without lactose!”

Stevie started to hear some boos, and the sound of fingers texting their friends and significant others to let them know to hoard whatever precious amounts of Miracle Smoothie they had left. “I don’t know the difference between myself and God,” Stevie said, her eyes beginning to well with tears, “and it scares me. So I am asking whatever higher power out there that has granted me this gift to stop. Take it away. I am thankful for the opportunity and I never could have imagined a life like this, but I’ve found the limit. Stop the ride. Just stop.”

Stevie’s last sentenced was drowned out in boos. “You cannot make me,” Stevie said, still crying, but calmer now, composed. “I am not your toy. I’m a human being. I’m like you.”

Stevie’s husband stepped on to the stage. “Honey,” he whispered, pushing her headset microphone away from her ear.

“I don’t want this,” Stevie snapped.

“I know, but, please. This is not the time.”

“I won’t. Not one more smoothie. Not one more.”

“OK, OK,” Stevie’s husband said. “It’s been a long day. We’ll sleep on it.”

“No,” she said. “Not a chance. It’s done.”

“Stevie, I- all of us need this.”

“There is more to wellness than weight,” Stevie said. Her voice was cracked. There are toxins! Lots of toxins!”

“Please, sweetie. You can work on the toxins. But the smoothie-”

“Nothing can change my mind,” Stevie said, louder. She placed her microphone in front of her face and put her hands outstretched, welcoming the heckling of the masses with open arms. She felt a thousand feet tall. “I never want to see a banana again!”

Part 3

Things fell apart pretty quickly after that. Stevie’s wellness brand tanked, naturally. The magician who refuses to perform is of no use to anyone, and the social order quickly re-established itself. Exercise bikes were repurchased. Personal trainers were rehired. Chefs took it easy on the butter again. People were heavier, more anxious, and the world was once again a meaner place. Stevie’s husband, once his gut came back, announced that he was leaving. “I was never in it for the money,” he told her, and she believed him, but she couldn’t help but get one last jab in.

“No,” she said, “you were in it for the weight loss.” Stevie’s ex-husband didn’t have a comeback for that. But that was fine with Stevie. It was all fine.

Stevie sold the ranch and the Aspen and Hamptons homes and, after she gave half to her ex (fair was fair, even if she was the magic one) she got herself a small condo in Northern California. She adopted a cat and a dog, but other than that, she was content to live alone. She spent her days cooking, doing yoga, and reading. She read everything, from non-fiction to trashy romance novels to the classics. She read Shakespeare's “The Tempest,” dozens of times, and likened herself to Prospero, naturally. “I’ll break my staff, I’ll drown my books,” she’d say to herself sometimes when she was chopping up carrots and kale, quoting a misremembered line.

Occasionally, Stevie would get calls or emails about bringing back the Miracle Smoothie, but she never seriously entertained them. If people couldn’t manage their own health and well being, they didn’t deserve the smoothie. She mostly left the calls and emails unreturned, but if she was feeling particularly saucy, she’d fire back with, “the real magic... is diet and exercise.” Which, while a little too sanctimonious, got the job done. Eventually, people stopped asking, and Stevie was left alone with her pets and her books. Things were worse overall for the majority of people, but Stevie Gaffney was content. She once held the entire world up on her shoulders, but she had gotten tired and let it go. With no one to pick it back up, the world floated on, suspended in air, almost as if by magic. Well, not magic. According to one of the books Stevie read, it was gravity.

And that was pretty much the rest of Stevie’s life, save for one outstanding incident.

It was a unreasonably warm Friday evening in the middle of September, and Stevie was in her kitchen getting some cat food. Her eyes wandered over to her blender. “I mean, it is hot out,” she thought. She opened her fridge. Almond milk, bananas. There was cayenne in her spice rack. Why the hell not?

It was like riding a bicycle. The incantation was part of her bones and she could not forget it even if she tried. It also helped that it was dead simple. First, she sliced up the bananas, then she poured the almond milk. “I’ll break my staff, I’ll drown my books,” she said, adding a sprinkle of cayenne for taste.

Thirty seconds later, the Miracle Smoothie was in a glass. Stevie took a sip. “Mmmm,” she thought. “Tasty.” She looked down at her midsection. She looked at her arms and her thighs. Nothing had happened.

Was she at her proper weight? Did she not put in enough cayenne? The Wizard of Weight Loss shook her head. “It’s not magic if it lasts,” she thought. She laughed, harder than she’d laughed in a long, long time, loud enough to scare the dog.

The next day, on the scale, Stevie discovered she had actually gained half a pound. But Stevie figured it was the several slices of cauliflower and sun-dried tomato pizza she had a few days before. And she was correct.

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