I had to be able to say that I’d been to the camp.
I explained to the interviewers that I was addicted to many things, to everything, though not always at the same time.
“You really want to go to the public detoxifying camp, right?” said the woman in khaki uniform, an old scout or a scout volunteer. The firm, unyielding skin of her forehead and around her eyes held them in a frown despite her attempt to break a forgiving smile. I imagined her massaging paralyzing cream into her previously wrinkled skin until it transformed into that mask.
I was thirty and cruel.
“I love a luau as much as anyone, and day trips, and all the other social activities on the camp, but what drives me is bettering myself,” I said.
“Only you can tell us about the root of your suffering, because you know it better than anyone else,” said the blond man in the blue uniform in a trained persuasive way. I imagined him younger, with a thick wave of hair thrown over a healthy-red round face. But now he looked tired, shrunken like a turtle.
Obviously, they were not camp participants or graduates but people who lived without addictions, except the addiction to doing whatever they were doing.
“It must be a gene. I am addicted to food, internet, alcohol, sex, pot, cell phone — “
“You don’t look anorectic,” the woman sideswiped.
“I said I liked food,” I said, swaying and feeling the fold of my belly without even having to touch it.
“Illegal substances?” she asked, ready to mark her paper.
“Have you hit bottom? It’s possible to rise from there. How much do you hate your life? Yourself?” he asked with a professionally compassionate expression.
Others probably disliked me more than I disliked myself, but I wasn’t in love with myself either. “I hate everything,” I said.
The camp was known to transform lives, and it belonged to the government. You couldn’t doubt the government, not that government. You couldn’t doubt their God reigning over sixty-three phases of self-discovery and transformation. After the camp you were clean, no matter what you did.
“I need it,” I said.
“She needs it,” he told the woman.
She twisted her mouth as much as the skin around it allowed her, considering me.
I saw paradise.
It’s still here at the bottom of the bottle, see?
Avital Gad-Cykman is the author of the flash collection Life In, Life Out, published by Matter Press (here). Her stories have been published in Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, Ambit, CALYX Journal, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, Prism International, Michigan Quarterly Review and elsewhere. They have also been featured in anthologies such as W.W. Norton’s International Flash Fiction Anthology and The Best of Gigantic. Her work won the Margaret Atwood Society Magazine Prize, was placed first in The Hawthorne Citation Short Story Contest, and was a finalist for Iowa Fiction Award for story collections twice. She lives in Brazil.
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