Linda had been beautiful once. Now she was middle-aged, now she was grey-haired, now she was growing wrinkles shaped by the sneers and frowns she had worn all her life. But she was beautiful once, ice-blue eyes and black hair and slim body and most of all a face that lied. It was a face that looked sweet, and warm, and kind, even though she had none of these qualities. The truth emerged in the end, though, and her face grew to match what she was inside. It was ugly, and Linda was alone.
When she was young, she had dated men, slept with them, and accepted gifts from them until she grew tired of them, and then she found new ones to replace the worn out models. Her rages were legendary, but they hadn't thinned the crowd of men who had sought after her. She married eventually and raised her two children adequately but indifferently, and they rarely called or visited. Their father, despairing at spending his life with her, had left after five years, and now that the children had grown up, Linda's house was usually empty. She didn't have any pets, or even any houseplants — every potted plant she had ever bought or been given as a gift had withered soon after because she couldn't remember to water it.
Linda had not abandoned vanity. Every morning, she went running, desperate to maintain her figure. She liked to imagine that the residents of her neighborhood ogled her through the windows as she passed in shorts and tight tank-top. After that, she went to work. She had worked as a receptionist at a law firm for twenty-odd years now, a job that she had gotten because she was sleeping with one of the partners and kept because her looks seemed to draw clients in. Now she was kept on out of pity, though she believed otherwise; her constant flirting with every male employee made her the target of jokes behind her back. And when she came home every evening, it was to the television and a low-fat frozen dinner.
She came home one evening and stepped out of her shoes and onto the bathroom scale as she always did. She was a pound heavier. That evening she didn't eat the square of apple crisp in her TV dinner. She used only half the packet of dressing on her fast food salad at lunch the next day. After a week of her new diet, though, she hadn't lost any weight. And by a week after that, she had gained another pound.
Linda added another half mile to her morning run and switched to sugar substitute in her coffee. She began weighing herself naked, first thing in the morning every day, to make sure the measurement was accurate. The bowl of candy on her desk disappeared. She checked diet books out of the library and started drinking twelve glasses of water a day on the recommendation of one of them. But the weight still accumulated, inexorably, resisting her attempts on it. It got harder and harder to run. She could barely stand to do it, but she did, forcing herself every morning, trying to go a little further than she had the day before.
By the time she had gained twenty pounds, Linda was desperate. She was running four miles every morning, now; even in storms she would run and then come back soaked to the skin. She would gulp down a bran muffin that tasted like cardboard but had only 150 calories; on the advice of another diet book she had started drinking her coffee without any sweetener at all. She drank it by the pot, now, trying to hold off the crushing lethargy that she had fallen into. She was drinking far more than twelve glasses of water, too — she felt tremendously thirsty all day long. At lunch, she would eat half her salad and throw the rest out. She stopped flirting with the men at work, and she bought looser clothes. One of the partners at the firm gave her a compliment on her improved professionalism. Privately he thought to himself that she looked better than she had in years, her severe face softened a little and her bosom and hips more ample.
She gained two pounds a day for the next week. She began eating nothing but grapefruit on the advice of one diet book, but still found herself fatter. Next she tried eating nothing but vegetable broth with cayenne pepper. Sometime that week, she stopped feeling hungry. Just thirsty. All day long, she would refill her water bottle, drinking continuously. She started alternating between the bathroom and the kitchenette, afraid that someone would notice her unending thirst. Another diet book led to a week-long fast with nothing but lemon juice and water and more cayenne, sweetened with a little organic honey, and it left her twenty pounds heavier.
Her skin grew taut; the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth seemed to disappear as her skin bulged over her new bulk. She could no longer run; it was too much effort, and she found herself spending her evenings in her easy chair in front of the television as if she was rooted there. She had begun arriving to work late, too tired in the mornings to get out of bed on time. Once there, she forgot things, lost messages, didn't recognize clients' faces. Perhaps she was light-headed from hunger, this week eating nothing but a dry bagel half at lunch, and that much only to make sure no one at work knew she was starving herself.
When she reached three hundred pounds, she stopped eating anything, stopped taking in anything but water. She couldn't drag herself into work that day and called in sick instead. She spent the day in her easy chair on the sofa and watched television, half-asleep, unable to remember what she was watching from moment to moment. She didn't move from the chair that night, staying there, napping on and off, moving only to walk into the kitchen to refill her new water jug, an empty gallon carton. The sun streamed in the windows, and she felt it shine on her, warm, and felt herself grow larger.
That evening she found something growing on her left ankle. She bent to examine it, smelled an earthy smell, and realized it was moss. She heaved her enormous mass out of the chair and into the shower, where she scraped it off and then sat in the warm water for hours, drinking it and feeling it flow over her body. She then sat back in her chair, nude. None of her clothes fit anymore. When she awoke the next morning, the moss had returned, on both legs, enveloping her calves. Mushrooms were growing between her toes. She didn't move all day, and only dimly noticed when the telephone rang. She heard her answering machine; it was her office, wondering where she was. She didn't move that evening either, when the phone rang again, this time her son, apologizing for not having talked to her lately and asking how she was.
She awoke with the sun the next morning, shining in the windows. Vines were encircling her legs and arms, climbing the furniture. They had surrounded the television, still glowing, giving her the weather report. Sunny today, warm spring weather, a chance of showers in the afternoon. She watched the vines, and as she watched they grew longer, moment by moment, until they punched through the screen. First there were sparks, and then silence. The room smelled of earth, it smelled like growth. Moss covered the walls to waist height.
She shifted her enormous body, pushed herself out of her chair. She made her way, step by step, into the bathroom, leaning against the wall to rest every few steps. She sat in the shower, with the bathroom window open, sunlight streaming onto her gigantic, round body. She opened her mouth and swallowed the warm water as fast as it came, drinking, feeling it fill her like life itself. She saw her footprints, saw grass already growing where she had stepped. She stayed for days; dimly she was aware that her office had called again, and she was fired for failing to attend work. Her son called again as well at some point, wondering if something had happened to her. She sat there, and watched as the vines covered the ceiling, watched the floor crack as a tree grew there right in the middle of the bathroom, watched the ceiling come apart and then the roof, sunlight washing over her, filling her with a joy she had never felt before.
Her son came to see her one morning; Linda had lost count of the days that she spent sitting in the shower with vegetation growing around her. The bathroom was hot and steaming. Orchids were growing out of her armpits. Birds had flown in the holes in the walls and built nests. The bathroom walls were now completely covered and she saw an orange tree in the living room where the end table had sat. She smelled its new blossoms. She saw her son enter from her vantage in the shower, the crumbling walls leaving it open to the rest of the house, and he came in, and gaped at the forest surrounding him. He walked up to the bathroom floor and saw her, saw her unfathomably enormous body, her face just visible amidst the ferns. Grape vines covered the toilet, pregnant with magnificent fruit, huge clusters of purple in the sun.
Linda felt it; she felt the sun on her body and the water flowing over her and she felt herself growing, larger, larger, unstoppable, enormous, hungry for sunlight, aching to open up. And then she did. She opened. Her hands burst apart, vines emerging from her fingertips. The skin of her legs split, starting from the toes, and out came shrubs, unfurling instantly, blossoming, brilliant orange birds of paradise. And then her stomach, swollen, larger and larger until it exploded and within moments an enormous oak grew, casting off the remains of the roof as it grew into the sunlight.
Her son could never explain it to his sister. He told her that it was like walking into a primeval jungle when he stepped through the door. He was hardly able to believe it himself, even when he brought his sister back to see the rainforest that had once been their mother's home and told her what had happened: "She was sitting there, and she smiled at me, and then she just burst forth, green and beautiful."