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|By Kathie Giorgio||
When the Fat Girl turned forty-eight, she began seeing Death on every corner. She knew that most people saw Death on her corner for years, that everyone assumed she would someday drop dead of a heart attack because she hadnt taken good care of herself. What else could account for the undulating roll upon roll upon roll, gravity pulling down, skin falling in waves from her abdomen to her thighs, from her thighs to her knees, from her knees to her calves, and finally her ankles cresting over her shoes? People never thought about all the trys and all the failures, the diets, the pills, the exercise routines, which always knocked off a few pounds and then stalled out. It could be glands, the Fat Girl supposed, though the doctor said no. It could be genes. But no matter what it was, no matter what she ate, the Fat Girl was still the Fat Girl. And if that was to be the case, then why not eat good, if eating well and eating good were going to bring about the same results anyway?
But at forty-eight, the Fat Girl felt a shift. A co-worker died of breast cancer. The Fat Girl had worked with her at the Large & Luscious womens clothing store for over twenty years; theyd started the same day. Daily life in a mall was like living in a small town. Inside the store was the Fat Girls family, and outside the store were the other families and they all knew each other in the vaguest sort of way, like neighbors across the street or down the block. Whenever there was a crisis at any store or any kiosk, everyone knew about it. When the Fat Girl was a new employee, even after shed worked there for ten years, all the tragedies seemed to happen to the older folks. But now, they didnt seem so old. There was the Large & Luscious co-worker. A guy in a shoe store had a stroke. A woman at Sears turned up with ALS. Shoe store man was fifty-two, Sears lady, fifty-five, co-worker, forty-nine. And that was maybe the most disturbing thing of all it wasnt like Large & Luscious was Heart Attack Central even with all the fat girls; thered only been the breast cancer. The women of Large & Luscious ranged in size from 18 to off the charts, but fat didnt seem to be the death factor at the mall. Death happened to everyone, whether or not they were fat, whether they worked in the food court or in a sports store. The issue was age. And now the Fat Girl was forty-eight.
Forty-eight and The Fat Girl. And while fat didnt necessarily seem like a factor, it still didnt seem like a good combination with age. The Fat Girl tried to console herself with images of her manager, and the other Large & Luscious Women who were even larger than the Fat Girl. If her manager, who far outweighed the Fat Girl, could still be kicking at sixty-three, why wouldnt the Fat Girl?
But still. Death loomed.
So the Fat Girl tried. Again. She ate fruit for breakfast and salads at lunch (though supper was still up for grabs). She showed up to work early to walk one laborious lap around the mall, her thighs swishing, her joints aching, her lungs turning inside out by the time she dragged herself across the threshold of the store. She took low-dose aspirin and researched vitamins. But she just couldnt shake the thought of the inevitability of her death. It had never been so close before. Death always seemed like a shadowed feather bed, a place she would want to go to rest someday, to close her eyes and sleep a sleep that left her fully free. A place she would want to go, at the end of a very, very, very long life.
But right now, it was a place she didnt want to go at all. And the Fat Girl didnt want to start down any of Deaths curvy paths either. The things that happened to bodies as they grew older, the things that were done to them! Strange lumps. Chemo. Age spots. Wrinkles and amputations. Drugs, drugs, and more drugs. Support hose and braces, walkers and wheelchairs. The Fat Girl didnt want to do what she would desperately do in order to stay alive, and she didnt want to die either. It was as simple as that.
Then one day, as the Fat Girl lumbered around her lap of the mall, she saw Death sitting at a table in Starbucks. He had a latte and one of their great cheese danish, which she hadnt had in weeks. There was no scythe in sight, but the trademark hooded long black coat covered Deaths face and fell to the floor, making him stand out among the other pastel and white summer-clad caffeine junkies. Making him stand out anywhere. The Fat Girl crossed to the other side of the aisle, even though it meant going against traffic. She wanted as much space between her and Death as possible. As she passed, the hood moved, just a bit, in her direction. Death reached for his danish. He brandished it. The Fat Girl moved quickly away, arriving at Large & Luscious out of breath.
Over the next several weeks, Death appeared at the bus stop at the mall entry, then at the Happy Belly Deli across from the Fat Girls apartment, and at the produce section of her grocery store, right by the spinach. Every morning, he sat at Starbucks. Each time, the hood insinuated in her direction, and each time, the Fat Girl walked away in what was, for her, a trot. She never saw his face. His hands were covered by his sleeves.
One night, before bed, the Fat Girl stood in front of the full-length mirror shed bought, thinking that if she looked at herself naked every night, it would motivate her to lose weight. It hadnt, but it provided marvelous motivation for self-deprecation and hatred instead. The Fat Girl stood there and stared. She only had the light on in the hallway, so the air was gray, and shed hoped to soften her own impact. But nothing would soften it. Her breasts hung so low, the nipples seemed like forgotten thumbtacks about to disappear into flabby balloons. Her navel was forever lost in a crease. Her joints were all covered by hanging dimpled flesh, and the Fat Girl wondered for a moment what the sharp poke of an elbow would feel like, the fluid bend of a knee. The only way she could see her pubic area was to scoop up her stomach in both arms and lift, and then she could just barely glimpse the curly hairs twining out from between her thighs.
Youre disgusting, she said, and for a second, in the upper left hand corner of the mirror, she saw the movement of a hood, reflected from the second-story window behind her. The Fat Girl had chosen this second story walk-up very deliberately over twenty years ago, thinking the steps would create for her everyday exercise and she would lose weight just by coming home or going out. When she turned from the mirror that night, the real window was empty. The Fat Girl turned off the hallway light and looked outside. She thought she saw Death leaning against the lamppost, his hood turned up toward her.
The next morning, though, he was back at Starbucks, and this time, he beckoned to her. The Fat Girl wished she could avoid him, avoid Starbucks, but the mall was laid out as most malls are, in a big rolling rectangle, and the only way to do the lap was to go all the way around. Even if she didnt do the lap, she had to walk past Starbucks to get to work. When Death beckoned her, one of his fingers stuck out of the end of his sleeve, and he crooked it. She was amazed it didnt appear white and bony. His skin was dark, and even from the distance, and even from only a finger, she got the impression of weight. She ignored him.
He beckoned every day. She ignored him every day. And then, at the end of the week, he not only beckoned, but he had a second cup on the table with him. The Fat Girl knew that it had to be a grande cinnamon dolce latte, her favorite, graced with a small mountain of whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Death had even rejected the paper cup and presented her drink in a ceramic in-house mug, which meant it was actually more like a venti than a grande. There was a brown paper bag next to it, and the Fat Girl knew it must contain a cheese danish. She hesitated, then walked over.
When she reached the table, Death kicked out her chair, and it slid back just the right amount to let her lower her bulk across from him without bumping into the table and dislodging their drinks. She breathed in the steam, peeked in the bag. She was right.
Youve been missing those, Death said.
The Fat Girl balanced just a bit of whipped cream on her finger and popped it in her mouth, as was her habit. And then she picked up the cup and sipped and felt the warmth rush through her like a cyclone. The coffee, the cinnamon, the cream, it all whirled into her system and for the first time in weeks, the Fat Girl felt her pulse.
Ive been wanting to talk to you, Death said.
She looked at him over the rim of her cup. Through the hood, she could see a face that looked like it belonged on Easter Island, with features that were long and chiseled and a nose that was flat and out of proportion. But also out of proportion were the cheeks, which were more appropriate for a Buddha. As the Fat Girl swallowed her drink and looked into the heavy eyes, she felt fear bloom in her heart. It fanned out across her breasts and melted down her rolls in streaks of heat.
Standing up, she nearly knocked over her chair, and Death quickly pushed himself back. The Fat Girl deserted her danish, but grabbed her mug and moved as fast as she could down the mall, vowing to bring the mug back to the store later. Wait! called Death. But while he could have easily chased the Fat Girl down, he didnt move.
When the Fat Girl arrived at Large & Luscious, she sat down heavily behind the cash register and gulped her drink. What happened to you? asked her manager. But the Fat Girl only shook her head. Despite the warm and very real mug between her palms, the Fat Girl still just wasnt sure if Death was real at all. And if he was real, and only she could see him, what did that mean?
Beyond the obvious, which caused her fear to flow again, and puddle at her ankles.
Later that afternoon, as the Fat Girl walked on her break to Starbucks to return the mug, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in a store window. Despite the salads and the fruit, despite the daily morning plod around the mall, she looked exactly the same. Youre disgusting, she said to herself.
At Starbucks, Deaths table was empty. The Fat Girl took the mug up to the counter and handed it to the barista. Im sorry, she said, I took this by accident. I was late for work this morning, and I just left without thinking.
The barista smiled. Its okay, really, he said. The guy who bought your latte for you paid for the mug. You can keep it. Oh, and here, you left your danish behind. He told us to give it to you.
So The Fat Girl decided to have her mug refilled. She would need something, after all, to wash down her danish. On her way back to the store, she thought about what the barista said. Apparently, she wasnt the only one who could see Death.
But he just kept seeking her out.
Over the next few weeks, the Fat Girl grew increasingly bolder around Death. Every morning, at the end of her lap, he was waiting for her at Starbucks with her latte and her danish. For a while, he had her drink served in paper cups and she just swooped down on him, scooped up her treats, and left. Then he switched back to the ceramic mug, and she sat long enough to sip it down, but still took the danish with her. Finally, one morning she found not only a ceramic mug, but a matching ceramic plate for her danish. Sighing, still breathing a bit heavily from her exertion, she sank down and decided to stay.
She was halfway through her treat when Death spoke. So can I talk to you now? he asked.
Her mouth full, she nodded.
Okay, look, he said. Leaning forward, his hands emerged from his sleeves and his fingers twined. His nails were finely manicured and she wondered for a moment if they bore a clear polish. I know what youve been thinking about lately.
The Fat Girl swallowed.
Youve been thinking about well me. He nodded and his hood slid back just a bit and she saw his nose again, the round cheeks. His eyes were deep. And I just wanted to tell you that you dont have to be afraid.
But Death telling her to not be afraid brought the fear over the Fat Girl again in a sheet. Shoving the rest of the danish in her mouth and snatching her ceramic mug (she would return it later; she doubted hed pay for another one), she hurried down the mall. Death didnt call after her this time, but when she looked over her shoulder, he was standing by their table, watching her go. His hands were back in his sleeves, and they joined together at his waist, giving him a black angel appearance.
At the store, the Fat Girl wondered why Death seemed so friendly. She worried about it. If he wasnt after her, wouldnt he not pay her any attention at all? Why was he here? He couldnt possibly visit everyone who was afraid of Death; hed pretty much have to visit the whole world then. Except for those few who called out to him willingly, who wanted release or relief or revenge. But, the Fat Girl mused as she dressed a mannequin in a black and pink tunic, even those few were probably afraid at the last minute. If fear was the issue, then Death would have to see everyone, which just wasnt practical.
So why was he visiting her? Spending so much time?
The Fat Girl placed the pads between the tunic and the mannequin and turned the mannequin into someone who could work in Large & Luscious. For a moment, the Fat Girl wished for the flatness of the plastic skin hiding beneath the tunic; she wished for the smoothness and the hard surface. After tying the sash into a loose bow above the mannequins newly augmented rear end, which fell off to nothing, just a thin silver pole, the Fat Girl placed her hand on her own chest and felt the steadiness of her heart. The Fat Girl just wasnt ready to go yet.
But then Death showed up at her door. It was late, almost midnight, and the Fat Girl was just getting ready for bed. She was brushing her teeth when she heard the doorbell. Quickly, she covered herself with her robe (she slept in the nude night sweats made any kind of pajama too hot) and went out to the door. Peeking through the peephole, she saw the hood. She knew it would be Death anyway; no one ever came to visit her, particularly this late at night. Briefly, she thought about just leaving him out there, but then her peephole blurred as he stepped back. Lifting his arms, Death showed her what he was carrying: an extra-large tub of movie popcorn and a blue raspberry slushy. Tucked under his arm was a red and pink bouquet.
The Fat Girl couldnt help it; she smiled. And then she let him in.
Death deposited the snack on the coffee table and the flowers into a vase from the Fat Girls kitchenette. Then he shucked his coat. Underneath, he wore black jeans and a really nice green and black swirly tie-dyed t-shirt. It reminded the Fat Girl of a hurricane. His arms and legs were full and a soft gut hung gently over his beltline. Despite this, and despite the Easter Island Buddha face, Death was just not unattractive. When he nodded at her and sat down, the Fat Girl sat down next to him. They shared the popcorn, the bucket braced between their thighs, and began passing the slushy back and forth. Their lips and tongues and teeth turned an electric blue.
I wish you would quit running away, Death said. Im not here to hurt you. Or to take you anywhere.
The Fat Girl swallowed. Then what are you here for?
Death took up the slushy. Because I know youre afraid. And I dont want you to be. I dont want anyone to be. See, its really not a bad thing. Some people even think its an improvement.
Yeah, right, she said. Thats why we all work so hard to stay alive.
He shook his head and his tight curls trembled like bed springs. Thats just fear talking, he said and reached out to stroke her cheek.
His touch wasnt cold, as expected. In fact, it was quite warm, slippery with movie popcorn butter and pleasantly scratchy with movie popcorn salt, and the Fat Girl found herself tucking her face into his palm. There was comfort here, and something more. Death graced her face with both hands, not pushing her away, but urging her forward. The Fat Girl leaned in. Her robe gapped open and she scrambled to close it, but his elbows blocked her.
Youre not disgusting, Death whispered, right before he kissed her. His breath mixed with hers and the Fat Girl felt herself sink into a swirl. Instead of moving forward, she moved back, and somehow, they were both impossibly prone on her couch. Deaths mouth never left hers, his tongue never stopped its probing slink, as his hands found every curve and crevice that was the Fat Girl. Her robe was gone, his clothes were gone, melted away by the heat of their skins.
The Fat Girl gasped as Deaths fingers entered her and she felt herself open in a way she never had before. Instead of turning away, instead of lowering her eyes, she opened them and looked right at him, and saw him looking back. Instead of covering herself with layers, she flung herself exposed and Death offered only his admiration and appreciation. The Fat Girls body became lithe and slick against Deaths, and when he made love to her, it was as if shed done this before. Many times. Been taken from. Been given to. In between his kisses, Death kept whispering, Youre not disgusting. Youre not. And the Fat Girl felt her own body moving in an ancient rhythm and she believed him. She opened her mouth and new sounds came out, so beautiful and agonizing, so full and strangled, and hung in the air like something that had always been there, but was also always missing in her life.
Death stayed the night, and though they moved to the bed, they didnt sleep. As the morning arrived, Death kissed the Fat Girl one final time and said, See? Death isnt so bad. Imagine what it will be like when youre with me for the long haul. Without seeming to move at all, Death left, his lips leaving behind a warm and moist tattoo circling her left nipple. The Fat Girl looked at his mark, the lip prints slightly open and dark against her skin, and she hoped it wouldnt disappear. She hoped she would see it every time she stood before her full-length mirror.
Before she sunk into sleep, the Fat Girl had the presence of mind to call in sick to work. She wasnt sick at all, and she wanted to call in relaxed her body had never felt like this before, and yet it felt like it always should have.
The Fat Girl continued to walk the mall, but she also continued to conclude that walk with a treat at Starbucks, sitting at the table she once shared with Death. She dressed with abandon, with bright colors and clingier fabrics, and when men stopped to take in her ample cleavage and curves, she smiled. When she was alone, she enjoyed. When she was with others, she enjoyed. At forty-eight, the Fat Girl decided it was time to join life like jumping off a cliff. Headfirst. Eyes open. Mouth shrieked wide and sucking in air like elixir.
There were no risks. Only Death was waiting. The Fat Girl shimmered with anticipation.
Kathie Giorgio's writing credits include stories in Fiction International, Dos Passos Review, Ars Medica, The Pedestal, Bayou, Eclipse, Potomac Review, Arabesques Review, Hurricane Review, Oyez Review, Jabberwock Review, Karamu Review, Reed Magazine, The Binnacle, Zuzus Petals Quarterly, Licking River Review, Thema, Bellowing Ark, Hiss Quarterly, Midway Journal, The Externalist, in the premier issue of SLAB and in the premier issue of Broken Bridge Review and in an online and audio anthology by Susurrus Press titled, I Am This Meat. In the near future, stories will appear in Main St. Rags anthology on small town settings, and in an upcoming still-untitled anthology of stories about mothers and sons. Two stories published in 2007 were nominated for the Million Writer Award. In 2008, the short story, Chain of Events, was nominated for the Best of the Net anthology. She is the director and founder of AllWriters Workplace & Workshop, a creative writing studio, and editor/owner/publisher of Quality Fiction magazine (formerly Quality Womens Fiction). She also teaches for Writers Digest and serves on their advisory board.
Kathies website: www.kathiegiorgio.org