Disclaimathon: Aaron Sorkin owns Donna, her insecurities, and anyone else she may implicate. Me making any money from this is as likely as the Sahara hosting the next Winter Olympics.
Etc: Has it's J/D moments, but not necessarily the usual J/D moments. If you want girly fluffiness stop reading now. Hate-mail from angered J/D shippers will be placed on my website under the heading 'Praise'.
She is still on the diet. Each morning as she brushes her teeth she stands on the scales in the bathroom and reads the number the arrow comes to rest at. Each morning she swears through a mouthful of spearmint and steps back onto the cool white tiles to admonish her own reflection for a lack of will-power. You always give in, you always fail.
She knows from reading a glossy lifestyle prospectus that a woman of her age and build needs to eat around two thousand calories a day. If she can find the determination stick to fifteen hundred, her body will run low on fuel and start burning fat reserves. It whispered in small letters at the bottom of a column on the benefits of this course of action that obviously readers should consult medical professionals before trying anything like this. Look how good these women look. See how successful they are, see the money and the men and the motherhood and the mystery.
Donna knows that she is a success by most standards. With a fraction of a college education she now works as the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the leader of the country with the most guns. She could probably class herself as a self-made woman (if the phrase were used more). She is more of a PA than a secretary, and they really should be paying her more. She knows how much she could make in the private sector, because she sometimes reads the employment ads in the sorts of newspapers she feels she ought to read. The first time she looked for the missing decimal point. She reminded herself that her work helped two hundred and fifty million people and that most corporate employers can't get you a .gov email address.
Occasionally Donna tells herself that the reason she stays is that she is weak. She's too weak to leave her friends, too weak to try something new, too weak to live on fifteen hundred calories a day. They probably wouldn't miss her if she went; she is replacable. The building is full of confident secretaries who can eat less and type more. They'd be good at Donna's job.
After the bathroom regimen she tries to skip breakfast. But she knows that if she does she will eat more at lunchtime and probably sneak a chocolate bar when she does the morning schedule. Donna knows that she is not strong enough for vending machines to exist. She is weak, she is frail, she feels her stomach acid begging for something to play with. Each time she tells herself that she should have more control, and each time she carefully feeds coins into the machine as her pancreas complains about impending hypoglycemia.
So she burns some bread into toast and decorates it with a low-fat fat-substitute. It doesn't taste like it's ever been on the same continent as a cow, but it's low in animal fats and vegetable oils, which is what matters. Her freezer and her fridge are packed with mircowaveable low-fat meals because she doesn't trust herself to make anything healthy from fresh fruit and vegetables. With beep-and-eat food she doesn't have to navigate through proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, sugars, fats, additives and preservatives. How is anyone supposed to remember which ones are good and in what combinations? The magazines sometimes give you little charts that you can cut out and keep, but they never agree with each other and they just make everything worse.
Sometimes she stops eating because she can feel her arteries clogging up and her heart giving out. She can feel herself getting heavier with every grudging mouthful. She really has to eat less.
As she waits for the kettle to boil she measures her life in terms of haste. Caffeine rush, sugar rush, rush-hour, too late, too slow, running down the steps to catch the Metro, clock passing the hour as she passes Security, her typing speed, waiting in line to get another caffeine rush.
It's all good. The faster you move the more fat you burn.
Donna worries that since she falls a few calories short of being a self-made woman she might be burning morality reserves. She might be considered man-made. These days there's a fourteen-page policy on sexual harassment, but these days they don't talk about it, these days they are friends again. She had known the sexual politics she was getting into, knew perfectly well that she was doing the sort of thing the generation before her had written books about. Not complicated, even a drop-out like Donna could understand it.
She can remember the last time it was almost a conversation. Two years ago, because her hair was a little shorter; Autumn, because the leaves were getting ready to colonise the sidewalk.
She walks in, habitually neglecting to knock. She's decided to go for eye contact to prove to herself that she remains in control, that with least to lose she has the firm advantage. That she won't always be weak.
She drops the document onto his desk, watches the panic face kick in as he reads the title. She shocks herself by actually maintaining the eye contact she promised herself. He is, for once, speechless. How could she be doing this?
She doesn't enjoy the silence as much as she thought she would.
"Leo wants you to update that. He thinks they've invented new kinds of sex since it was written."
She's read it since, she could probably sue under the new policy. That was probably brave of him. Probably strong. He doesn't put either sugar or milk in his caffeine rush, because one makes you sweet and the other makes you weak. Actually, it's Donna that doesn't put them in, because she doesn't have more important things to do. She can't make herself take it to him though, he has to at least leave the desk to get it. But she can hand it to him when he isn't manipulating the inner workings of democracy because that way she's starving him for a moment. That way he has to go without his fuel and for a moment he comes a little bit closer to being Donna. He doesn't know this though, and that gives her something like power.
She wishes she was stronger. She hero-worships CJ, who can go into battle with the press and come out without a scratch and holding their unconditional surrender in a flawlessly manicured hand. CJ, who only ever misses lunch because she's been too busy saving a president from himself. That would be a good reason to go hungry. Yesterday Donna had bustled past CJ on her way to get lunch. Donna apologised when she bumped into her, helped her gather up the folders from the floor. CJ hadn't eaten, said Donna's special dietary radar. So the part of Donna that worked language asked the question and CJ said that no, she hadn't eaten, she'd been too busy.
"I can get you something. I'm just going out. Do you want something?"
She got the smile that said thank you my bright young protegee and got words that said worship me.
"Calories. Lots of calories. The most calories they can fit into food."
Stronger woman can keep to their diets. But the strongest of all don't care.
A calorie is a unit of heat, say scientists. It tells you how much energy is in the food you're eating. Energy over time equals power. Or is it power over time equals energy? She can't quite remember, it's been too long since the three weeks in which she majored in biology.
These days she knows popular biology, the little snippets of almost-science magazines print to reassure or scare impressionable women. Her own absorption rate is tempered by lingering memories of osmosis and base pairs, flashes of seeing her own blood cells through a microscope. But she still learns, still picks things up.
Donna knows about starvation.
First of all your body uses stored fat to keep itself going, burning itself away at two thousand calories a day. Two thousand five hundred in a man - they die more easily, because their bodies don't know how to plan ahead.
Once the fat runs out, your body starts to burn muscle. The weight loss is no longer healthy, the self-denial courts death. Eating yourself; you are what you eat.
This is quite some time away and quite some time ago. She now believes in moderation. She believes in Donna a little more these days.
But there is still that smallest part of her, the most insecure, the part that says things she shouldn't really listen to. She does though. She listens; I should probably drop out of college, I should lose more weight, I shouldn't speak up, It probably isn't harassment if he isn't actually paying me. But she thinks that the voice is getting quieter these days, she feels like it talks a little less.
She stops on the way home to pick up a magazine to read on the metro. Something light, something that distracts and relaxes. She buys a chocolate bar, and lets herself eat it. She deserves a treat.