The Big Pants: part three
She was rhetorical this time. Gerda narrowed her eyes, and nodded. Her audience murmured among themselves.
“Two thirds of my food is raw. This takes great energy to digest. So that my metabolism will not lose power, I eat four ounces of protein, and have a shake each day made from avocado, almond butter, frozen tea cubes, crushed. I will teach it to you, when we’re in the kitchen this afternoon. But you see, that if you needed potassium, or if you needed selenium, and could only gain a very small dose at a time, your body would crave—like a thirst—all the food it could take in, until you had got enough.”
“However,” Toby said, strolling along to stand next to his wife, “for the supermarket shopper, or the restaurant diner, getting enough may be impossible. Jackie…you had asked about the cages. Yes, the plant kingdom is most susceptible, more so even than we ourselves, to microwave sickness. The air around us, even as we stand here, teems with radio transmissions, coming from across the spectrum of frequencies, and from every direction…and this, of course, is radiation. It is terribly unhealthy.”
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 just chubby, as his Mom said, 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 he 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 begun 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 it seemed tempting to join in with a peer group, to laugh and keep secrets, he couldn’t have blamed the kid. Jason’s embarrassment, face red, half turned away, had been evident.
“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 anywhere, and Perry from long habit did his shopping at the earliest hour. The Wal-Mart parking lot at seven a.m. was 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 viewed 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…”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)