The Big Pants (part three)
John answered, from the other side of the cages. “So we don’t starve to death. And 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?”
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 milk, frozen tea cubes. 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 you could gain only a very minute 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 strolled 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 ourselves, to microwave sickness. The air around us, even as we stand here, teems with radio transmissions, from across the spectrum of frequencies, and from every direction. And these, of course, are radiation. The invisible assault is terribly unhealthy.”
It made sense. Even about the time he’d had his third ear infection, stuff was out there, some public debate about overtreatment. Perry had been a fat kid by the sixth grade, not just chubby, like 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 had been 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. Maybe he was stuffing his face when the answer was just a pill.
But that was being hard on himself, which his sister had told him to stop doing. He had been eating a lot of oatmeal, trying to fill up on it; this latest endeavor just before the Sunday he’d called her and told her he was going to swallow a bottle of ibuprofen. Perry could laugh about it now, a little. He had a lot of medications to choose from.
He had researched it on the internet, begun to wonder if a bottle would be enough for a man of his weight. Or whether he hadn’t been taking way too much to begin with. Ironic. But the misery was real, the reason he hadn’t thought it through. His nephew, he figured, found him an embarrassment, and if it seemed tempting to join in with a peer group, to laugh and keep secrets, he couldn’t blame the kid.
Telling Uncle Perry had been an act of heroism, not deserving of punishment.
Face red and half turned away, Jason got the words out. “There’s some people, who are like, stalking you. They take vids…um…you know, like when they see you out someplace, and… So like, they send an alert, they invite people to watch you…getting out of the van, or whatever.”
The impact hadn’t landed all at once. For a few days, he hadn’t needed to go anyplace, and Perry from long habit did his shopping at the earliest hour. The Walmart parking lot at seven a.m. was sparsely filled; he could get his van into a handicapped space, and taking the time it took, clamber out. Which was the tough part, to exit on the passenger side without holding up traffic—and yielded not-always-predictable results. The van was modified with a bench seat, well back from the steering wheel, pedal extensions. He had a stepstool with rubber grips, and a cane he used, because it was hard otherwise to get leverage.
Of the two evils, there was no lesser. He could buy a few items, turn up shopping twice a week, imagine someone’s saying (it wasn’t much to imagine a thing often heard): “Fat dude’s back!”
Or buy two or three weeks’ worth at once. “Check out that shitload 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 had never had such a sense of himself, as viewed through a camera lens…he had felt anonymous, going about his business, absorbed in the job at hand. Sometimes in dry, cool weather, he might leave by the carport, through the special door, down the concrete ramp, and if he didn’t feel his asthma likely to kick up, walk without the tank to the end of the block and home…exercise being good for you…
Thinking, since he never saw anyone in these early morning hours, that no one saw him. He had prided himself, even, on the bullying’s being a lesson, that had gifted him with a better understanding of what a person could suffer in this world—and that if he hadn’t known these things, what would he be, after all?
Maybe also a bully.
But he had always had his house as a haven, and could shut the door when he preferred being alone.
His nephew’s information had given Perry a sense of being under the eyeball, and 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 if there were people like that, Perry knew himself vulnerable, horribly vulnerable.
The Big Pants
(2017, Stephanie Foster)