It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking 'I'm lovin' it.' Julia stepped from her car onto the moving sidewalk and took the elevator to her apartment. Once inside she deadbolted the door and leant against it with relief. Stopped twice in one day! And once, just before lunch, she was only just over. Crossing to her desk, the plasma switching on automatically as she passed, Julia pulled a thin exercise book out from the drawer where she'd hidden it under a pile of takeaway menus. For a moment she stared at the blank page, the impulse to write gone. The plasma went straight to rolling news after the usual advert (the multicoloured children with their Happy Meal, looking happy). Alfie, the Prince Regent, had been caught leaving an underground sweatshop at 4am. He had failed a weight test and had been released on bail. There was a bland statement from his lawyer.
"If there is hope," Julia wrote without thinking, "It must lie in the toffs."
Britain had been defeated by the USA in the ten days' war of '44. Insurgents had taken to the streets and resisted the conquering invaders. The loss of life, after the war had finished, was obscene. After two years the US government put the defence contract out to tender; control was handed over to McDonald's Corporation a month later. Officially, it was a public-private partnership. Unofficially, it was the first time a business had owned an entire country. New laws were drafted to keep the peace and make the population placid. Being underweight was reclassified as a treasonable offence. Spot checks were introduced; Feds and Feeders, each carrying a roll-up weighing mat. The Royal Family were kept on to boost tourism, but Parliament was disbanded and all major decisions were taken in a boardroom. Government announcements were made by Ronald McDonald, whom everyone knew and loved. It was him that sang lullabies from muted plasmas as infants slept, him that read stories in schools.
"Research by government scientists," the newsreader continued, "has revealed that many adults in McBritain are dangerously underweight. The Body Mass Index scoring which is used to determine healthy weight has been shown to be incorrect and the health of thousands could be at risk. Previously, it was thought that anyone with a Body Mass Index under twenty seven was underweight. Now government scientists are saying that anyone with a BMI under twenty eight is seriously endangering their health."
A doctor in a white coat entered the plasma. He was chubby and benign, his baby blue eyes looking directly out at the viewer. "For the record, this is not an increase," he said earnestly. "The healthy BMI has always been 28, it is just that the science used in originally calculating the BMI index is flawed and outdated. Ronald McDonald has employed an extra twenty-thousand staff at his Ministry of Fun holiday camps, and will be working with Doctors, Feds and Feeders to help those At Risk."
The next day, Julia called in sick. She couldn't risk leaving the house, let alone showing up for work at McDonald's Gourmet where she was a waitress. She stayed at home for two days and ate until she actually felt sick. On the afternoon of the third day, she went out briefly, still at 27.6, to meet Winston. He was a branch manager at McDonald's International Kitchen in McLeicester Square. They met under the famous golden arches of Marble Arch. Winston was lucky, he had a thyroid complaint and kept weight on easily.
"They've increased the bloody limits again," Julia said more cheerfully than she felt.
"What are you talking about?" Winston hissed, looking about him, "The limit is 28, the limit has always been 28. And you look... under."
"You're kidding me. Oh shit. I have to go. I can't be seen here with you. This is career suicide. You're so selfish."
Winston disappeared into the crowds. Julia stood there shocked.
A red van screeched around the corner, scattering gormless fat tourists. Five enormous meatheads jumped out of the back as it screeched to a halt. They were not dressed in the standard Fed getup, or even the sombre suits of Feeders. They were dressed, to a man, as Hamburglars. Julia had never seen the Hamburglars before, although she had known of their existence.
They surrounded her. "GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN," one of them spat. She complied.
It was a painful journey on terrible roads. There were only 5 seats, and she was pushed onto the floor with the Hamburglars towering over her. At first she was too stunned to react, but as the horror sank in she began to scream and bite and kick out at the five men surrounding her. They kicked back gleefully. Eventually she drifted, mercifully, into unconsciousness.
She awoke in a brightly coloured room, with bright plastic chairs and bright murals on the wall. She hurt everywhere. It felt like one of her ribs was broken, and her nose. Her lip was split and she had lost two of her front teeth. Her left eye was swollen so she could not see out of it. The grinning face of Ronald McDonald danced into vision in her good eye, wearing a white coat. She felt a needle prick in her arm, and felt suddenly ravenous.
It was eight months later. The other guests at the Ministry of Fun Holiday Camp were throwing a leaving party for Julia. There were balloons everywhere, and piles of burgers and chips and cakes. There were fountains of milkshake in three different flavours. Julia sat serene, surrounded by food. She was hugely obese, distended. Her eyes lit up as an attendant heaped another burger on her already mountainous plate. Ronald McDonald himself came to wave her off, and she realised, suddenly, that she would miss him terribly. As the specially adapted minibus rolled her away from the Camp, Julia shed tears. She had learned to love Ronald McDonald.