Did you read the Clan of the Cave Bear series? I did in the 1980s, borrowing the books from my mom, who got really into them. Well, really into the first one, at least – she didn’t care for the later ones that devolved more into romance novels (can you guess why I loved them?). I remember loving it (and in fact I ought to reread it) – apparently so much that I spoofed it in this short story that I must have written sometime during my college years.
The Clan of the Carb-Bores
“Aaii! Why am I so ugly, Mother?” the girl wailed, looking at herself in the mirror.
Her foster-mother, I-Shape, sighed in sympathy, the same sympathy that had led her to take in this deformed, orphan girl-child in the first place. I-Shape had been so sure that she could turn this pitiful creature into a proper woman (one who weighed about as much as a house cat).
As medicine woman for her followers, I-Shape dictated the diet of each member within her franchise area. She had been so successful that her customers were forever extolling the advantages of her diet, which was based on drastic carbohydrate reduction. For this reason, they were widely known as the Carb-Bores.
I-Shape’s named was an apt description of her figure, which formed one straight line from head to toe. But this strange foster daughter of hers was different. No matter how low I-Shape dropped the carbohydrate ratio, the unfortunate girl’s cheeks still blossomed out in cushions of pink, just as her body curved in and out in the most embarrassing places. Being so big and ugly, she naturally carried the cruel name of A-Line.
The same name was used to describe the garments she had to wear to conceal her dreadful body—shapeless draperies of black and brown. Only proper women, like I-Shape, could wear the bold prints, bright colors and clinging fabrics that emphasized their contours—or, rather, their lack of them.
I-Shape sighed again. If only A-Line were a man she might still win respect, like Carb the mighty More-girth. He was badly deformed like A-Line, although his hideous roundness was centered around his middle. Of course no women would have him, but he was still allowed to remain in the community, giving diet advice to others. He had simply admitted that he could not stay on his diet long enough to lose weight, since, for some mysterious reason, he had to diet harder and longer than other people to lose the same amount.
No woman could have made the same admission, though. No woman could ever be forgiven for failing to stay on her diet, no matter how long it lasted and how hard it was. Naturally most women were always hungry.
To forget the pangs that tortured them constantly, the women threw themselves into a frenzy of aerobic exercises. They assured each other that they were having fun while burning off the extra energy—but since they didn’t have any energy to start with, they were usually limp and exhausted after the first few minutes.
They could not conceal their envy of A-Line, who really did enjoy all the jumping and dancing around, since she had lots of energy to burn. It was, I-Shape realized, just one more thing that set her poor daughter apart from the community. That and the far worse secret even I-Shape didn’t know about: A-Line loved to cook.
This horrible vice had to be hidden in daylight, but A-Line simply could not resist getting up in the middle of the night to perform the forbidden acts of ingredient-gathering, oven-heating and perhaps even batter-mixing if her culinary efforts were leading to the most forbidden activity of all: cake-baking.
She had tried her best to hide her secret from the others, sneaking downstairs when she was sure everyone else was asleep and keeping the kitchen in darkness. Inevitably, though, the aroma had alerted the keen and half-starved sense of other dieters nearby.
Carb the More-girth had finally decreed that despite all tradition, A-Line seemed to have some inborn need to cook. He allowed her to continue doing so only if she remained satisfied with taking a small sliver of cake for herself while cutting huge hunks for the men (who were allowed to follow their diets less strictly). In fact, he had begun to refer to her as Woman Who Bakes.
Her culinary talents won her some small, grudging acceptance from some of the men. But alas, they only increased the contempt of Board, the mighty dieter. He had already despised her bitterly enough, constantly admonishing her that she could easily lose weight if she used a little willpower and boasting that he had never eaten more than one diet cracker per day, ever since his pediatrician had pronounced him to be dangerously overweight at the age of three months. As a result, he had earned the name that described his shape.
It was a cake—actually, Board’s secret craving for cake—that finally proved to be A-Line’s undoing. Having proudly refused, for months, his allotted hunk, Board decided one night to try a mere morsel. However, as his taste buds all but burst, Board lost control and threw himself onto the cake. Later he sobbed, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”
Naturally, Board blamed A-Line for tempting him. Subconsciously, he hated her even more bitterly for another reason: She’d always been able to eat cake in moderation while he had totally lost it in one try. He knew that because of this awful incident, he stood a good chance of becoming renamed Man Who Pigs.
Board was all for sending A-Line to the diet camp right then. But More-girth spoke up for her (as soon as he swallowed his own cake), asking what other woman of the clan would subject herself to the terrible danger of baking for the man.
But he couldn’t continue to protect her, though, after the horrible sin she committed on the night of the men’s diet meeting.
Even I-Shape was forbidden to come downstairs on the nights when the men met to discuss their dieting problems. (It was not seemly that women should know that men had any problems at all.) A-Line had not meant to eavesdrop, either. She simply forgot that this was the night, of all nights, when she was to stay upstairs and forgo the foray into the kitchen.
But downstairs she was, reading a new recipe, and she could not avoid overhearing Board, the mighty dieter, speaking these forbidden and abominable words: “One large with sausage only, and one large with everything but anchovies.”
It could not be! But it was! Their carbohydrate-starved bodies had driven these men to commit the most contemptible crime of all—sending out for pizza!
Hearing her gasp of horror, they discovered her. More-girth gasped with horror, too, knowing that not even he could save her now. She must be sent to the diet camp.
Blind with terror, A-Line raced into the night, and her excellent health and stamina soon put her far ahead of her pursuers. Suddenly she found herself gasping again, only this time from amazement. A young man was coming towards her, openly eating something that looked perfectly delicious! He was obviously not someone from the area because he seemed to have no fear of someone grabbing his treat away for his own good and flogging him unmercifully with carrot sticks.
The she remembered. Long ago she had heard of a people called the Jellidonutii who actually ate three meals a day. Some, like this daring young man, had even been seen eating verboten delicacies like jelly donuts—hence their name. The young man grinned.
“Greetings,” he said merrily. “I am called Jocular. You look healthy. Are you one of us?”
“No!” A-Line wailed. “I am not normal. I can’t keep ‘the weight’ off no matter how much I diet.”
“Well, then,” he said, giving her the once-over, “this must be your normal size, kiddo. So stop hiding under those yucky clothes and come with me.”
A-Line wasn’t sure what came over her, but she not only fell into step at Jocular’s side, but toyed with the ties of her bulky cloak until it slipped from her shoulders. As the cool night air caressed her bare arms, she suddenly felt empowered even if it was about a zillion more centuries before someone came up with a word for it.
Whatever the feeling was or wasn’t called, it felt GOOD. Just as it felt good to know that she soon would share her secret with Jocular, admitting she was the Woman Who Bakes and offering to whip him up a torte any old time he was in the mood. She had the feeling there were many Women Who Baked among his people, and Men Who Baked, too. And even more beings like the handsome Jocular: People Who Were Happy. She could not wait to get to know them…and him.
The curvaceous A-Line soon was immediately renamed A-Plus by the well-fed Jellidonutii (who varied in size from skinny to regular to big and beautiful—go figure). Not long after, she and Jocular were married atop an impressive wedding cake of the bride’s own creation. Since Jocular turned out to be not only a Man Who Bakes, but also a Man Who Sautes, the twosome happily joined forces to open the first restaurant in recorded history: The Filet Magnon. They later had a child named Julia who got into sauces and whose descendants have not exactly gone unnoticed in culinary circles.
Author’s Note: In Jean Auel’s book The Clan of the Cave-Bear, we learned of the primitive customs and superstitions of the Neanderthals–of Broud the brutal hunter, Iza the medicine woman and even Creb the priestly Mog-Ur of the Clan. We admired the superior advancement of the Cro-Magnons, also called the Zeladonii and the Mamutoi, when they appeared in the three (thus far) sequels: The Valley of the Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, and The Plains of Passage.
The heroine of all four is Ayla, a Cro-Magnon orphan who breaks the Neanderthals’ sexist taboos and becomes Woman Who Hunts. Fearful of her great wisdom and strength, they eventually banish her via the Dreaded Death Curse. Luckily, her wanderings soon lead her to Jondular, a very eligible Cro-Magnon bachelor who makes all those Neanderthal males look like a bunch of, well, Neanderthals.
We musn’t be too hard on those primitive cavemen, though. Just think of how primitive we will seem to chroniclers of the future, when they try to describe our customs and superstitions. Among other things, they will surely wonder about the strange sacrifices made in the name of weight loss, by members of such strange clans as Metrocali, the Optifasti, the Nutrasweeti, the Calorie-Counteri and, worse of all…
THE CLAN OF THE CARB BORES