The Big Pants (part three)

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It made sense. Even at about the time he’d had his third ear infection, there’d been stuff out there, some public debate, as Perry recalled, about overtreatment. He’d been a fat kid by the sixth grade—not chubby, but to his own mind, gross—struggling on stairs, goggled at with exasperation by adults, who seemed to think he could work harder.  At something.

Maybe it was the amoxicillin. Maybe he starved for trace elements ground into pepperoni sausage, some mineral in a cow’s fodder that could find its way into a bacon cheeseburger.

But that was being hard on himself, which his sister had told him to stop doing. He’d been eating a lot of oatmeal, trying to fill up on it, this latest endeavor coming just before the Sunday he’d called her and told her the was going to swallow a bottle of ibuprofen. Perry could laugh about this now, a little. He had a lot of medications to choose from. He’d researched it on the internet; then began to wonder if a bottle would be enough for a man of his weight. And whether he had not been taking way too much to begin with. Ironic.

But the misery was real. Depression was the reason he hadn’t thought it through well enough, that Jason might get hurt too. His nephew’s telling him had been a real act of heroism. Perry figured his family found him an embarrassment, and if there’d been a temptation to join in with a peer group, to laugh and keep secrets, he couldn’t have blamed the kid. Jason’s embarrassment had indeed been evident. Face red, half turned away, he’d said it.

“There’s some people, who are like, stalking you. They take vids…um…you know, like when they see you out someplace. So like, they send an alert, and they invite people to watch you…getting in the van, or something.”

The impact hadn’t landed all at once. For a few days, he hadn’t needed to go anyplace, and Perry from long habit did his shopping at the earliest hour. The Wal-Mart parking lot was at seven a.m. sparsely filled; he could get his van into a handicapped space, and clamber out—which was the tough part, exiting on the passenger side without holding up traffic…and yielded not-always-predictable results. He’d had the van modified with a bench seat, set back from the steering wheel. He had a rubber-footed step and a cane he used, because it was hard otherwise to get leverage.

He had learned that of the two evils, there was no lesser choice—he could buy a few things, and turn up shopping often, imagine someone’s saying (it was not much to imagine a thing he’d heard in reality): “Fat dude’s back.” Or he could buy two or three weeks’ worth all at once. “Check out that shit load of pizzas”—there was a laugh, a snigger, that went with these comments, and Perry had come to know this, too.

So he was familiar with this particular devil.

But he’d never had such a sense of himself, as seen through a camera lens…he’d felt anonymous, going about his business, absorbed in the job at hand. He had sometimes, in dry, cool weather, gone out to the car port, through the special door, down the concrete ramp, and if he hadn’t felt his asthma likely to kick up, walked without the tank to the end of the block and back, exercise being good for you; thinking, since he never saw anyone in these early morning hours, that no one saw him. He’d prided himself, even, on the bullying’s being a lesson, that he’d been gifted with a better understanding of what a person could suffer in this world…and that if he had not known these things, what would he be, after all? A lout. Maybe also a bully.

But then, he’d always had his home as a haven, and could choose to shut the door when he preferred being alone.

His nephew’s information had given Perry a sense of being under the eyeball at all times, and had raised a scary possibility. For these people, cruelty wasn’t mere opportunism—it was activism, obsession. A thing they sought when they weren’t getting any. And of course, if there were people like that, Perry knew himself vulnerable, horribly vulnerable.

But the phone call hadn’t been, as the armchair psychologist would have it, a cry for help. He’d asked Debbie to help him make a decision. That, in its way, was asking for intervention—as you’d want to with any decision that might have consequences you couldn’t think of for yourself. If his sister had told him, “Never mind ibuprofen. I’ve got something better…”

Paul Messerman, sharing Perry’s bench and busy with his Chromebook, seemed to take his smile as an invitation.

“Hey, Perry, you okay for a while?”

“Listen, if you got stuff to do…” Perry turned up the palm of one hand.

No, he could’ve gone either direction. Debbie had started coming by daily. Jason had not come by once…and this was easier, no doubt, on both of them. At the end of the month, she’d told him about Toby Messerman. She’d been emailing back and forth with Gerda.

“You have to look at their website. They have so much good stuff. And you don’t have to fly, Perry…it’s a few miles from Sonoma.”

Yeah, life…it’s all stuff, Perry told himself. The Messermans had bagged a big one. They were charitable; out of a five hundred pounder’s before and afters, they would get great publicity value. He felt cynical about it—what was seven days? But he would be the soul of loyalty if they succeeded; happy, at length having dropped three hundred pounds by the Messerman Method, to let them “use his image”.

***

Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster

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