The Big Pants: part two
“Um…” Tom answered. “I kinda wanna have one of those pictures…you know. Like when I can get into a thirty-two waist…you know, put on the jeans I’m wearing now… Like on my Facebook page. A big pants picture.”
“Yes. Tom, is it? We do, in fact, post our success stories on our own website.”
This was dismissal. Toby rustled. He found Luisa.
“Toby, I want a good place to live. You know, I live in a trailer right now. I mean, the kind that pops up to a tent. With five of us, my husband and my daughter and my two grandchildren…even though…we only have to sleep there. Most of the time I’m at my job…”
“Well. Luisa. I think we have gone a bit astray.” Toby fell silent. The silence went on. Tom, feeling this suspension to be what it seemed, a penance, and the fault considered his, asked himself if he had a passion.
“My family,” Luisa said. “They are my passion.”
Jackie was having a number of unworthy feelings. She’d caught herself, a moment ago, standing by, waiting for Luisa, realizing she’d expected Luisa to take the lead. She didn’t know what Luisa did for a living.
“Now, I suppose,” Luisa asked her, “we each pick from one of the cages?”
Latch hooks were holding the lids tight.
“Do you get deer?” Jackie had asked this of Toby, when, sparing a minute, he’d trotted down to direct them.
“Ah. Why the cage? Well, I’ll tell you.”
But saying so, he’d gone off, seeing Perry come through the double doors, supported by the arms of Gerda Messerman and one of the Messerman sons, equally tall and muscular. Jackie found herself bending over lettuces.
Of all things, lettuces made a puzzle. Tomatoes, peppers…carrots or beans…those you could pick only one way.
“Leaves? Or should I root out the whole head?”
“I can’t do it.”
Luisa straightened from her own cage. This was planted in beets, on the greens of which she’d tried an exploratory tug. She rubbed her fingertips against her tee shirt. “I don’t have gloves.”
They were far down the slope of Toby’s garden…the Community’s garden. Toby, helping his wife settle Perry on a cushioned bench, stood at the hilltop, under corrugated shadow thrown by the roof tiles of the compound’s teaching center.
His words, now the women had paused all movement, came to them from on high.
“Within a year’s time, what had been our woodland grove would sprout again. Nature is very efficient in that way…but you would see no more of the orchids, the trilliums, the maidenhair ferns…”
Gerda mowed across the ferns.
“So it’s the same with antibiotics. You have killed off everything that ought to be there…and something else will grow in its place. Junk.”
“Most people,” Toby said, “have it backwards. As you see. You have to restore your health before you will ever lose weight, rather than lose weight to restore your health.”
Luisa shaded her eyes and stared up at Toby. Tom, trug over his arm, came to stand with them, third in line. Sixteen other conscripted laborers downed tools and rose, drawn onto the grid of crushed stone.
(Local stone, these paths were. Some irresponsible people put down pine straw or bark mulch, Toby had told them. “Burns like tinder. Which, of course, it is.”)
“You hear?” Luisa whispered.
Tom cleared his throat, and Jackie, looking over her shoulder, saw something eager light his eye. He was going to make a wisecrack.
“He’s wonderful, isn’t he” She moved to block, making her voice quiet, if perhaps not awed. Jackie had an indiscreet question for Luisa. Whether or not she liked Tom…by and large she did…she didn’t want to laugh along with him. Not at Toby’s expense.
Toby could be heard above taking leave of Perry. Gerda was already coming down the terraced steps. She spoke, in her ringing exercise instructor’s voice, many paces before coming close enough to join them.
“I’m going to surprise you. I think you see that I am lean and fit?”
“How many calories do I eat every day? Let me tell you. Three thousand. Yes, three thousand! That is five hundred above what is meant to be the limit. So the experts would say I will gain a pound every week. Now. I have something to say to you about the body. Why does the body make fat?”
John answered, from six feet away, on the other side of the double row of cages. “So we don’t starve to death. I think…maybe it regulates temperature, too.”
“Now,” Gerda said, “if you were thirsty, and you drank a teaspoon of water, that would not help your thirst. If you had another teaspoon of water, it would not help. Suppose you could not drink at all, for hydration, but could only eat. There is water in bread, for example. How much bread would you eat, if all your water had to be got that way?”
The Big Pants
(2017, Stephanie Foster)