The Big Pants (part one)
“Someone has got a watch.”
They all knew it. In point of fact, two watches, for green light as well as blue bumped from the floor, modest hemispheres glowing where the exercise demanded pitch dark. The lights rose, converged, shed themselves on Toby’s face; apologetic voices came murmuring from the whiteboard area, where Toby could be made out, sitting on his stool.
“No, no,” he said. “Well”—louder, he was addressing them all—“that spoils things. But that’s all right.”
He got rid of the watches, and it was then very dark. Tom touched knees with someone to his right. He was hating this. There was something weird to him about touching people. He’d spent most of his life never doing it. Soon Toby was going to say, “Everyone hold hands.” Toby was rustling out there.
Yesterday, Tom had been commanded to his feet in front of twenty people. 283—he’d squeaked the number onto the whiteboard, and put his name next to it. That was not so bad. Perry was 508. Well, he really, manifestly was. “No judgment, no judgment.” Toby kept saying it. Tom was not judging. Maybe Perry, held back by his oxygen tank, would have the easier time.
He’d been a little concerned, coming to the cafeteria from the morning hike, to find breakfast a buffet. Tom had gone on a diet once that was all portion control, little packages of pretzels and cookies. Stuff you could stand to eat, but no discipline. Here were boiled eggs, fruit salad, almond milk smoothies…but seconds, thirds…couldn’t you overdo eggs? Wouldn’t four pieces of toast with organic fruit puree still be a lot?
“That would be,” he told Jackie, who’d sat opposite, and spilled his orange juice, knocking her tray against his, “four hundred calories, maybe more like five.”
“What?” She was splitting her egg with a fork. “No, why should it? Maybe I won’t have the egg then.”
“And what have they got against coffee, I wanna know? No, I’m talking about, if you had five pieces of toast. You could.”
“But you know, it’s the set point. You’re supposed to find it.”
They had got this far along. He would not normally have lit into conversation with a woman. In a bar, he couldn’t have done it. Toby Messerman, who charged four thousand eight hundred sixty-three dollars for a seven-day retreat, might yet offer a bargain.
They were—although right away Tom had learned the rules, sincere in trying (because he would like to make friends) to keep his language use in accord with Toby’s directives—fat, every one of them. He was fairly certain, thus, to judge…no, to gauge, by the sound of breathing, that he was holding hands with two men. Toby would have language for this occasion too…but Tom could coach himself.
“Grow up,” he said, under his breath—that, and his words, as he hoped, not audible.
“Can we truly feel ourselves equal to all beings, faceless, disembodied, communicating via mind alone, all our worth measured in spirit and intellect? I can’t see your faces. I suspect you are somewhat abashed.”
Toby asked them why this was so.
“Because…” Tom found complete darkness had tampered, for one thing, with that saving self-consciousness that would have kept him from thinking aloud.
“Um…intellect.” He meant nothing by this. But Toby, with enthusiasm, said again, “Yes, yes.”
“Um. That’s all I got.”
He heard Jackie’s voice. “Well, I mean…I guess, you would feel sort of okay, just being stupid…or being rude to other people, even. Because, I mean, when you’re fat, everyone is rude to you. They treat you like you’re stupid. But…intellect…”
“I want to thank you for that,” Toby took her up briskly. “This is all very productive. You’ve got to the point at once. It’s difficult, isn’t it? Having no shell to scuttle back into? You find it challenging, this idea of being anyone’s—everyone’s—intellectual equal?”
Toby’s next act was to make certain of their faces—however hidden from scrutiny—coming over abashed. “I will tap one of you to begin. Envision yourself wholly empowered, no longer the prisoner of other people’s opinions. Become that physical ideal you seek, the you that you have joined our fellowship to find. As of this moment, you are empowered to achieve your life’s passion.”
Tom saw where this was going. He groaned, mutely, hunched his shoulders and bowed his head; and hoped, that if he must be tapped, he would be tapped last…after braver subjects had given him the trend of things.
Fingers came to rest for an instant on the back of Tom’s neck.
He’d been tapped second. How, he wondered, could Toby get around in the dark without kicking anyone…maybe he would take secret pleasure in kicking them…
“And why not?” Toby finished his dialogue with John, whose passion was “helping kids”. Yes, a youth camp. John would have to buy a piece of land somewhere. He had run out of steam, mumbling about crowd sourcing.
“Please?” Toby said.
“Um…” Tom answered. “I kinda wanna have one of those pictures…you know. Like when I can get into a thirty-two waist…you know, put on the jeans I’m wearing now…like on my Facebook page. A big pants picture.”
“Yes. Tom, is it? We do, in fact, post our success stories on our own website.”
This was dismissal. Toby rustled. He found Luisa.
“Toby, I want a good place to live. You know, I live in a trailer right now. I mean, the kind that pops up to a tent. With five of us, my husband and my daughter and my two grandchildren…even though…we only have to sleep there. Most of the time I’m at my job.”
“Well. Luisa. I think we have gone a bit astray.” Toby fell silent. The silence went on. Tom, feeling this suspension to be what it seemed, a penance, and the fault considered his, asked himself if he had a passion.
“My family,” Luisa said. “They are my passion.”
Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster