know what she's dreaming about: chocolate cakes and strawberry pies, french fries and ice cream, whipped cream, custard cream, Devonshire cream and buttered toast. I know what turns her on. It makes me jealous sometimes.
I'm sitting in the ladderback chair next to our bed and I'm, say, tipsy, and I'm watching her body rise and fall with her breathing. The light is coming through the open window from the yard, light blue. I'm listening to the crickets. It's the end of summer, still too hot to have the house opened up, but Deb doesn't like to be cooped up in the AC. She sleeps with just a sheet on under the big fan, nothing on but a pair of white panties that make her look even more tan than she is, and the sheet is twisted around and rumpled so it doesn't cover much. It's better than Playboy.
The trouble starts when she wakes up. She pulls the sheet up over her and says: What are you looking at?
I'm looking at you.
Don't, she says. Cut it out. I was sleeping.
Go back to sleep. I didn't mean to wake you.
You go on, she says -- and then a minute later, when I'm still around, she says it again. Go on! I don't like it.
When you look at me like that.
She doesn't say anything, just stares at me with her arms folded tight against her ribs, holding that sheet against her, tight. There's nothing for me here. There's nothing for me in the living room, either, which is how I got here in the first place. But it's either that or go to bed and lie there in the dark next to her while she's sleeping and think about what it would be like to touch her with my hands, which ends up with me doing exactly that and Deb waking up pissed. Sleep is sacred business in our house. Sometimes I think her dream life, that other life of pies and ice cream, is more important than the one she lives with me. But this isn't an askable question. It isn't Englishable.
So I get a beer and then -- because I'm sad, because my wife has just turned me out, because tomorrow is Sunday and besides I-don't-give-a-shit is descending, whatever, anything's enough -- I fish the Jim Beam out of the back of the cupboard, ice cubes, pour myself a dose. I don't like to see you like that, Deb says. That's part of the reason she's in bed early on Saturday night. On the other hand, the fact that she's in bed early on a Saturday night and not up late with me, having fun or watching satellite TV, is a big part of why I'm into the Jim Beam right now. It's a vicious circle.
She doesn't like to be looked at because she used to weigh over 300 pounds and I guess over 350 at one point in high school. The pictures from her first wedding are something. It's hard to tell what's the bride and what's the cake.
We don't have a lot of pictures around the house compared to most people. I mean, we've got her sister's kids on the refrigerator, but the big elaborate frames with the ski trips and family Christmases are out. It's like she didn't exist until four or five years ago, like a full-grown 120 pound baby born out of that 350 pounder. People turn their lives around, it's true. I tell people about what she used to weigh and they just stare at her, just out-and-out stare, looking for evidence of the fat girl. I know why she doesn't like to be looked at.
There isn't any sign, though, not till you touch her. Then you can sometimes feel these little lines or ridges under the surface of her skin, from where it stretched out and then stretched back again, a crazy thing, like the birth of a child. I mean, how could a thing like that happen? The same exact skin that once held three of her. She had a couple of operations, one to get her boobs hitched up again -- the ligament or whatever -- and then I guess the underside of her chin. But you can't see the scars, you can't see anything, especially not when she's got a tan, which is always. I offered to buy her a tanning bed of her own for Christmas the other year; she's already got a Stairmaster and a Schwinn exercise bike down in the basement. But she said no, she likes going in to the Tanfastic. She doesn't like being cooped up in the house all the time, she says. Which is what? I don't know.
I think about the touch of her skin and I get lonely for her. Turn on channel 21, the skin channel, and I get even lonelier. What's worse than watching other people fucking? Not even fucking, just pretending. And then the bodies that the girls have, not even touched, not even used. That's one of my theories: people just want to see them get messed up a little, want to see them get used the way the rest of us have been used. I've got a lot of little theories. That's the thing about working with your hands, it gives you more time to think than it gives you things to think about. You realize after a while that the brain isn't always king. For instance I'm sitting here watching the skin channel because I'm lonely and this is the one thing that makes me even more lonely. I could be watching a documentary on ancient Persia or a midget-sprint-car race. For another example, I get up and get another dose of Jim Beam. This particular decision goes like this: I'm fucked anyway so I might as well.
It isn't even 2 yet.
I don't know how great we're doing.
Debbie didn't lose all that weight just to find me. She lives on fizzy water and carrot sticks and boneless skinless chickens; she suffers. I'd be disappointed if she didn't have hopes and dreams beyond this: a horse, I know she wants a horse, and some new stuff for the living room that doesn't come from Sears this time. That isn't even the start of it though. There's something driving her. I see her down on the Stairmaster climbing up to nowhere with a towel around her neck to catch the sweat and she's got this look on her face. She's not even seeing me. I used to think this was funny, there's a place next to the Winn-Dixie that's got about 15 of the stair machines in the window next to each other and you'd see the secretaries and the girls from the community college walking up the ladder to nowhere. We made jokes about wiring those suckers up to run the lights. With Debbie, though, that stairway is going somewhere. She's only 28. I get another drink to celebrate her success.
I move a porch chair out into the middle of the lawn and light a cigar. I'm having all kinds of good ideas.
The chair is the springy-metal kind with the shell back and it makes a noise when I run into the porch rail, and again when I move it out of the harmful radiation of the yard light and into the shadow of the house. That yellow light cannot be good for you. In the dark, though, I can't see the twirls and curves of the cigar smoke, only the red bumblebee of the coal. They say that blind people don't smoke because they don't get the pleasure of seeing it. And out beyond that circle of light is the whole country. One little slip and you could end up in Grand Rapids, Tampa, anywhere -- you could just come loose, dislocated. I could, anyway. I didn't grow up here. I've got an ex-wife and a daughter named Tiffany, a day's drive away from here. Tell me how I ended up going along with the name Tiffany and you'll have the key. Along with many other things, it's a mystery to me. Like this: Debbie's face when we end up in the girl's section of Penney's or Sears, looking for a birthday treat for my daughter, she gets a hungry look on her face when she walks among all that pink and lace. There's no other word for it: a hunger. She wants these things. A big pink cake, waiting for her, I see her fingers when she was fat, sneaking frosting when she thought nobody was looking. The hands of really fat people, there's something about them: the way big drooping arms end up in tiny hands.
Somewhere in here I decide that I might justaswell just bring the fifth of Jim Beam out onto the lawn with me and I light another cigar besides. What? It's like running a car into a bridge abutment and surviving. Sunday morning is never coming. Debbie's going somewhere. She didn't lose 225 pounds just to find me, I know that much, anyway, and the certainty makes me tremble and sweat. All those highways, FM country the same in every town, a McDonalds on every highway corner, it makes me want to throw up. My great-grandfathers would be ashamed of me, and rightly so. You know what pisses me off? Everything pisses me off. What? Every time she passes the refrigerator, she's not eating something. I just think of what's going on in her imagination, in her dreams of T-bone steaks with a half-inch ring of fat, hot off the barbecue, bread and butter and more butter on the corn, moon pies and RC cola, chopped pork BBQ on a bun, bear claws and cream horns, pepperoni pizza, all you can eat. I take a drink straight out of the whiskey bottle and I see that I am living the dream. The words make me laugh but it's the truth: all the whiskey I can stand to drink, just keep going, follow the thing through: greedy, grasping, like Debbie lost in a supermarket bakery after hours, the pink icing all to herself, living the dream, down on her knees behind the cooler cases of pies and cookies, buttercream braids, French twists, raspberry-swirl cheesecake, I take a drink of Jim Beam straight out of the bottle and I'm laughing hard enough to spill a little down onto my shirt but it's no big deal, I'm living the dream, there's plenty left to kill me.
Jim, she says. Come to bed. It's time for you to come to bed.
She's out on the lawn in her t-shirt and panties. I could explain to her -- living the dream, how we're the same -- but then I see that this is not the case. I have been doing something dirty and she has caught me at it.
Sorry, I tell her. The word comes out of my mouth blurry.
You fucker, she says. Put the cigar out and come to bed.
I have been forgiven, I can tell by the way she talks.
I ask her, Come here for a second.
It's bedtime, Jim. It was bedtime a long time ago.
Come here for a second.
I can't see her face in the dark but I know that dirty look. I have sinned and I have been forgiven and I am suddenly light. She comes over and sits down in my lap (this is extra, more than I could hope for) and she doesn't weigh anything, this is the flying dream where we don't have any gravity anymore and everything is possible. We look up into the stars and they are spinning in front of our eyes, drunk. Our little story goes forward one more day.
Copyright © 1998 by Kevin Canty. Used by permission of the author.
Photo credit © Lucy Capehart