The Big Pants (part five)

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“Now, what you think about dating?”

“I guess…” Absent-minded, Jackie had been on the verge of giving Tom a considered answer. There wasn’t a reason she could think of not to. Date. She hadn’t been divorced before…maybe people really did get shocked. And then it occurred to her he was feeling her out. Or asking her out. She might have just managed a lukewarm acceptance.

“Well, yeah,” he said. “Maybe it’s not much of a thing for you.”

Or an unintended insult. “No, Tom…”

“My problem is,” he went on, “I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a skinny girl. Not like that, I mean. At a bar, say. Or, you know, you get invited to a wedding.”

They had a free period, three to five, just before returning to the cafeteria kitchen to fix dinner (afterwards to wash dishes). There was nothing to do at this time of day but walk the grounds; and being exercise, the activity didn’t count as free, exactly. The compound had no television. The computers were in the classroom. They ate no supper, because a long fast at the end of the day accelerated weight loss, and reset, by Gerda’s estimation, the hormonal cycle. Lights out was the time darkness fell. Reveille, the crack of dawn.

They took a morning lecture at attention, accomplishing, Toby said, two tasks at once. “Time is precious. One ought always to think in these terms.”

“Yes, to stand properly correctly positions the hips and shoulders, straightens the spine, allows the abdominal organs to un-compress. You will breathe more deeply, and your liver and kidneys will clear toxins from your body with more efficiency. This is an exercise you can do for ten minutes every day.”

They did…and Gerda’s notion had persuaded Jackie. Her neck had stopped hurting. Paul Messerman also made them align in two squadrons, as he liked to call these, and had taught them to obey a simple command, to pivot to the right at the sound of a whistle, in columns making for the cafeteria and breakfast.

Belinda had by now decamped. She had done so with a threat of legal action—unwarranted, Jackie thought. Toby hadn’t said he wouldn’t refund a portion of her money. Maybe the inmates (she caught herself using the word) had been doing the Messermans’ farm and household labor for them, but Jackie found the week had done for her what Toby and Gerda claimed to offer: broken her routines, taught her what to eat and how to cook it. How, in most cases, to lay it out on the plate raw.

As to insults, this came over her slowly, while Tom talked on, about a friend who’d baited him with a promised hook-up, and then…

“Lamed out, you know? He was like, c’mon, ask one of the bridesmaids. Yeah, that’s funny, fat guy dancing.”

He’d thought this colleague, not so much a pal, had only wanted his fifty bucks in the honeymoon pool…

Jackie began to think Tom was asking her opinion—if she understood him—on what he ought to say to the sort of girl he’d like to date. The skinny sort. It was their last day, and she’d come back to socializing with Tom.

She was not on the moral high ground.

Her lawyer, she recalled, with a funny look on his face, and taking a kind of sideways approach to it, had let her know he was disappointed.

“Well, there are other ways of getting that information, but if you’d happened to back up those files…”

“I don’t know what you mean, backing up files.” Jackie had faced him down, when of course, he was her ally, not her enemy. And she did know what it meant. Anyway, she knew how to google. She wouldn’t call Brendan the enemy, either…but her lawyer would have liked it, if she’d consider their relationship adversarial.

She had come to Toby Messerman with the thought that a thirty-six-year-old fat woman who’d never had a job outside her husband’s home office, needed to get sleek. Not that Jackie didn’t like seeing people of size sass back; she believed in attitude…but thought that in real life the competition wouldn’t bear it. Brendan as sole authority on Jackie’s skills might tell a caller, “Sure, why not give Jackie a try?” Or he might dig a littler deeper in the mine of faint praise and say, “Oh, yeah, Jackie’ll try hard for you.” She needed to make contacts of her own.

And then she’d found out, poking her nose into other people’s business, that with a few exceptions (and Belinda notably had not approved of her, or any of the others here), they were all…well, not poor, but struggling. Most seemed to have scrounged to pay for their stay. It seemed unlikely to her now that the Messermans would, out of pity, discount the fee, return part of her money in cash…though this would have come in almost heartbreakingly handy. She’d used three cards to charge the cost of this week—months ago a done deal, and too bad for Brendan’s opinion of her.

How long did it really take to lose sixty pounds? It was Jackie’s settle-for-it, size ten, ambition. Eighty pounds, getting to a six? But Gerda said be slow, concentrate on habits, not calories; the life you lead, not the clothes you wear.

“Because the only way evolution understands fat, is as a mechanism to perpetuate survival. You have so many more of these cells in your body than a slim person does, and the cells, by design, hormonally control your behavior. And so you see, to win, you have to starve them without their suspecting.”

The Messermans were good, but carrying on with their program…maybe it wouldn’t be possible. Jackie wasn’t in charge of her life right now. She’d had to beg a spare bedroom from her sister, who resented (the conversation needn’t take place, Jen already had an incredulous way with everyday remarks: “Jackie, I hate to bother you…”; “Jackie, do you mind if I ask you…”) that rent could be only a promise.

She had to find a job. Her scheme, her justification to Jen, had depended on her meeting the sort of people who could give her one, gaining their empathy, having a common experience to reference, making herself liked by them.

Tom seemed to like her. But Tom lived in his parents’ house in Pasadena. He said he was a debt collector…and had told her he wanted to get out of it.

***

Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster

 

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