COLLATERAL ORANGE DAMAGE: flash fiction & art by author Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Posted February 4, 2016

© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
© Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

COLLATERAL ORANGE DAMAGE

            “Farewell, Rob.” I laid my battered dog tags on his grave.

            Prostate cancer took him. Doctors say I’m next.

            Please try to understand. We were soldiers following orders.

            “A little defoliating agent to clear the jungle and expose the enemy.” Our commanding officers assured us. “Nothing that will harm a human.”

            I had to go back and see for myself.

            Last night I visited a children’s hospital in Ho Chi Minh City where the fruits of our labors languish with twisted or missing limbs and eyes that bulge from enlarged skulls.     

            We have exposed the enemy, and he is us.

 

BIO:

Wall crop 2015Kansas City native Rochelle Wisoff-Fields is married to a veteran of the Viet Nam Era and the Gulf War. A woman of Jewish descent, Rochelle is the granddaughter of Eastern European immigrants whose close personal connection to Jewish history is a recurring theme throughout much of her writing. Growing up, she was heavily influenced by the Sholom Aleichem stories as well as Fiddler on the Roof.

 

Psk Cover IIHer novels Please Say Kaddish for Me and From Silt and Ashes were born of her desire to share the darker side of these beloved tales; the history that can be difficult to view, much less embrace.         

Before becoming an author, Rochelle attended the Kansas City Art Institute, where she studied painting and lithography. Her preferred media are pen and ink, pencil, and watercolor, which she uses in her book covers, character studies and will be used in her upcoming companion coffee table book for the series, A Stone for the Journey (Argus fall 2016).


FSAA Front Cover
Rochelle’s short story “Savant” was published in Voices, Vol. III; “The Swimming Lesson,” in Echoes of the Ozarks, Vol. VI; and “Reap the Whirlwind” in Voices, Volume IV. Two of these are included in her own short story collection, with original artwork, This, That and Sometimes the Other (High Hill Press). She is currently working on the third in the series, As One Must, One Can (Argus, 2016.

 

Stories In Uniform: One Editor’s Perspective on Military Short Fiction

Editor Jeffery Hess
Editor Jeffery Hess

I had the pleasure of meeting Jeffery Hess in 2009 at the annual Military Writers Society of America conference in Orlando, FL. Jeff was there to receive a Gold Medal for his anthology of short fiction  Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform published by Press 53. That same year he appeared on The Dennis Miller Show. In 2013, Press 53 released Jeff’s second book Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand. An excerpt from my latest novel Johnnie Come Lately appears in this edition. In the following article, Jeff explains his criteria for selecting the stories that appear in both anthologies. 

 

By Jeffery Hess

cg56 moored bowThe proudest moment of my Navy enlistment came on the morning of December 7, 1989 as I stood in my dress blues on the bow of the USS San Jacinto, looking at the row of other ships pier-side at Norfolk Naval Station. Our ship had only been back a few days from a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean and Black Seas. I was due to receive my Honorable Discharge the following week and my task that morning was to raise the Union Jack, which I did, as the sailors aboard the other ships did at the same time. All these years later, I’ve never forgotten that moment. It was a routine, daily task, but one that I’d never been assigned until that day. Even then, I knew it was a way of honoring my service while also honoring every sailor at Pearl Harbor forty-eight years earlier.

As I write this, it is June 6, 2014 and I have a similar honor, because as you may know, today happens to be the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. Instead of raising the Union Jack, I’ve been asked to write a few words about how I came to select the stories included in a pair of military-related anthologies. It’s a fitting occasion to discuss all things military, which I’m always happy to do, in a humble effort to honor and remember everyone who has worn a uniform, as well as anyone who has been affected by someone who has.

press 53 logoThat was my hope in publishing the two Home of the Brave anthologies of military short fiction with Press 53.

As a reader, writer, editor, and teacher, some of the most fulfilling work I’ve been lucky enough to have done involves assembling and editing stories for these two anthologies.

Over the years, people have asked why I enjoy sticking to the military theme. For me, it seems the stakes tend to be higher in stories of this sort. Hemingway said, “War is the best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all kinds of stuff you have to wait a lifetime to get.”

 

2009 Gold Medal Winner from MWSA
2009 Gold Medal Winner from MWSA

I don’t read military journals exclusively, but I do enjoy finding military stories in regular journals and collections. I’m always amazed by the way in which writers interpret the topic.

Writing military fiction, myself, I learned from the stories I read. My stories focus on the Navy, Cold War era, mostly, but as an editor, I was given insight into a world of military experiences I had no way of knowing about first hand. This is another reason people read.

In addition to securing reprint rights to well-known stories by Kurt Vonnegut, Tim O’Brien, James Salter, and Tobias Wolf, I sought out other great stories from writers who aren’t as well known, but should be—writers like Pinckney Benedict, Benjamin Percy, Fred Leebron, Amber Dermont, Tracy Crow, and Court Merrigan, to name a few. But I also worked with up-and-coming writers, some I’ve known for years, many others I’ve never met. For both volumes, I received submissions from all over the country. Not all of them were perfect. Many had potential, but needed polishing. A number of stories I chose needed a lot of work, sometimes, more than I bargained for, but there’s just something magical about the excitement of finding a character in a situation that people need to read, no matter the shape the manuscript might be in, and helping the writer achieve his or her vision and then sharing it with the world.

 

Spring 2014 MWSA Recommended Reading List
Spring 2014 Recommended Reading List from Military Writers Society of America

I put together the second anthology in the aftermath of Seal Team 6’s killing of Osama Bin Laden. There was a lot of “heat of battle” stories flooding in. It seemed battle-front stories were everywhere during this time. But, violence is only one segment of the equation. I’m also curious about the other portions of the conflicts.

Tolstoy famously wrote, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Everyone in uniform has a family and friends and neighbors. I’m interested in a mother’s reaction. In how the wives feel. How new fathers fear what might become of their sons.

During my selection of stories, I recalled favorites I’d read in the past and I contacted the authors to get permission to include their stories, often this involved contacting publishers. I sent emails to every writer I know telling them what I was looking for. Some offered me stories. Others sent people my way. Some did both.

Narrowing the search quickly became an issue. So much material was being generated on this topic, I could pick and choose. My main criteria was based on Interest and Impact.

To gain my Interest, the stories have to convey a sense of authenticity. Whether stories about direct military action or a civilian’s reaction to what they see on the news, I need evidence to prove (or, at least, provide the illusion) that these people and these worlds are absolutely real.

Aristotle said, “For the purposes of story, a convincing impossibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility.”

 

HOTB:SITS launch party in WInston-Salem, NC. Pictured are: Jeffery Hess, Jim Walke, Paul Strobel, Robert Wallace, Tracy Crow, and Joseph Mills.
Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand launch party in WInston-Salem, NC. Pictured are: Jeffery Hess, Jim Walke, Paul Strobel, Robert Wallace, Tracy Crow, and Joseph Mills.

To make an Impact on me, I have to care about the characters. I look for the stakes Hemingway mentioned, as well as how each character deals with their situations. As this is fiction, I willingly grant creative license, because it’s the emotional truth that we’re after. This requires a connection to the characters, their physical, emotional, and intellectual selves.

The stories that received an automatic rejection were the ones that were faked or half-assed.

Ultimately, I looked at how each story made me feel when I finished—if it made me say, Wow, Damn, or Oh no, or if it just left me shrugging and reaching for another one. And, most importantly, did the story make me think about it after I put it down?

The one element I found in common with all the stories I selected is passion. Whether about a wounded warrior or a worried widow, or about a mother or children, or overcoming enemies on either side of the wire, or any of the other scenarios that appear in these stories, each of them separated themselves from a number of stories that lost out due to the writers having a good idea, but not a true passion for the topic. During the process of finding these stories, I came to learn that the passion for the characters and their situations is contagious.

Tell us something, we’ll forget it. Show us something, we’ll see it. Makes us feel something and we’ll remember it.

This approach isn’t limited to stories about military events. The notions of authenticity and specificity make characters memorable no matter if they’re war heroes, gangsters, housewives, siblings, psychopaths, depressed boomers, or a Harry Potter wizard or whatever he is. My goal, with the forty-six stories selected for inclusion in these two volumes, is that they become memorable to readers for years to come, because, as Calvin Coolidge said, “The nation which forgets its heroes will itself be forgotten.” That won’t happen on my watch.

About Jeffery Hess

Jeffery Hess is the editor of the award-winning anthology Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform, and the recent follow-up, Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand (both from Press 53). Prior to earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of South Florida, he served in the U.S. Navy aboard the fleet’s oldest and then newest ships. He’s published a number of short stories that recall this period of his life in print and online journals. He’s held writing positions at a daily newspaper, a Fortune 500 company, and a university-based research center. He lives in Florida, where he’s completing a novel and has, for the past six years, led the DD-214 Writers’ Workshop for military veterans.

Helpful links:

-Home of the Brave anthologies website:

http://www.press53.com/HomeoftheBrave.html

-Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/HomeOfTheBraveStoriesInUniform

-Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/HomeOfTheBraveSomewhereInTheSand

-Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform – Amazon page:

http://www.amazon.com/Home-Brave-Stories-Jeffery-Hess/dp/0982441606

-Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand – Amazon page:

http://www.amazon.com/Home-Brave-Somewhere-Jeffrey-Hess/dp/1935708856/ref=la_B00DIEBKMM_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401910392&sr=1-1

-DD-214 Writers’ Workshop website:

http://www.dd214writers.org/

 

Jeff appeared on The Dennis Miller show June 10, 2009 and again on June 4, 2013.
Jeff appeared on The Dennis Miller show June 10, 2009 and again on June 4, 2013.

-Dennis Miller Interview – June 10, 2009

https://www.dennismillerradio.com/b/Jeffery-Hess-Interview/6373.html

-Dennis Miller Interview – June 4, 2013

https://www.dennismillerradio.om/blog?action=blogArchive&blogTag=Jeffery%20Hess

-Tampa Tribune article about Anthologies and Workshop:

http://tbo.com/list/military-news/out-of-navy-veterans-labor-of-love-new-anthology-is-born-20130624/

-Interview with Jeffery Hess

http://rkvryquarterly.com/interview-with-jeffery-hess/

Kathleen's author bio as it appears in Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand
Kathleen’s author bio as it appears in Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand

Mama’s Last Church Service

From Kathy Rhodes, editor Muscadine Lines (Southern Literary Review)

Young_Elsa
A young Elsa

“A few weeks ago I accepted a story for Muscadine Lines from Joy Ross Davis of Bessemer, Alabama, who writes a bi-weekly column for her local newspaper titled “Mother, Can You Hear Me?” The column chronicles her experiences on retiring as a college English professor to become a full-time caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. On April 29, I got a brief e-mail from Joy letting me know her mother had just passed away unexpectedly and then a few days ago, she sent me her column about her mother’s actions at Palm Sunday service and said to pass it along to anyone facing this weekend without their mom, that it might bring a smile. I asked to use her story as a guest blog on Mother’s Day, in honor of our mothers and for all of us — my sister and my friends and Joy and me — who join hands and hearts this Sunday and remember those strong, beautiful, remarkable women who will always be with us in spirit, but no longer live where we can reach out and touch them or laugh with them or call them just to shoot the breeze. “

Mama’s Last Church Service

By Joy Ross Davis

Palm Sunday was a landmark day for my mother. After a year’s absence, she attended church. Now, going to church is not usually something that will fill a person with dread. But remember, I’ve been going to church with my mother for years, and I can tell you that what happens once she steps in the door is always unpredictable.

Since she can’t hear well, her voice is unusually loud, and she gets distracted easily. Peggy, our friend and helper, agreed to bring Mother in her car so that my son Clint and I could go a little early.

Palm Sunday services begin outside at Trinity Episcopal with the reading of the Passion, but on this Sunday, a heavy downpour forced us inside. I wondered if the worsening weather would make Mother change her mind about coming.

The small congregation gathered in the entry way of the narthex to begin. As is our tradition, each of us received a small hand-fashioned cross and palm branch. Our new priest, Father Bush, began with a prayer. Then, the rest of us joined in with a gospel reading.

Mom
Elsa Frawley passed away April 29, 2010

We had said only a few phrases when the large wooden door flew open. Rain spattered inside. My mother appeared and announced in a loud voice, “Hey there, y’all. I’m Elsa Frawley, Joy’s mother. I’m not gonna stand here, though. I’m gonna go sit down while y’all do your thing.”

I glanced at Clint then at our dear friend, Jay Howton. Both were stifling laughs. But Father Bush seemed unaffected. He gently tried to pin a cross on my mother’s blouse. She brushed his hand away.

“Move so I can go sit down!” she said.

He complied and waited for Peggy and Mother to take their seats before he began again. About halfway through the gospel reading, my mother’s voice rose above that of Father Bush’s and drifted all the way to the narthex.

“Isn’t this a pretty church, Peggy? It’s been here for a hunderd years.”

The priest continued. I’m sure I saw him smile as he read.

He finished the gospel. Then, he led the processional down the centre aisle of the sanctuary. Behind him, Jay carried the ornate gospel book. Clint carried the large golden cross on a staff behind Jay.

As Clint walked by, my mother shouted, “Hey honey! You look like a doll!”

I’m absolutely certain that he cringed as he made his way to his seat near the altar.
During the homily, my mother got restless. Just as we began the Lord’s Prayer, she said loud enough for all to hear.

“Hey, Peggy, you got any gum?”

Mother_and_me_in_Mexico
Elsa and daughter Joy in Mexico

Peggy whispered something to Mother. Clint’s shoulders shook as he tried not to laugh out loud.

About midway through the service, I was certain that Mother would want to leave, just as she’d done years ago in a rather infamous event. After listening to a sermon for a little over twenty minutes, my mother got up, glared at the priest, and stuck out her arm. With her index finger, she tapped several times on her watch, turned around, and walked out.

But this Sunday, she sat through the whole service, and I thought we were home free until it came time for Holy Eucharist. When Mother saw the altar being prepared, she nudged Peggy.
“Come on,” she said in a voice that rang throughout the sanctuary. “It’s just Communion. I’m hungry. Let’s go get a hamburger.”

So, as Father Bush was reciting the Holy Eucharist prayer, my mother and Peggy walked down the aisle and out the door. It banged behind them.

At the service’s end, I shook hands with Father Bush.

“Joy, how’s your mother getting along these days?” he asked.

Before I could answer, he laughed out loud and added, “She’s quite a character!”

Amen.

Author’s note:
In memory of our mother, Elsa Frawley, who passed away on April 29, 2010. The Palm Sunday service was her last church service.
Hans Christian Andersen said, “A life is a story told by God.”
When He told yours, he created quite a character! You stepped on toes, made waves, rocked boats…but you were my mother, and I love you. May God hold you in His arms and delight in all your antics.

Bio

me_Mileybright
Author Joy Ross Davis on the steps of the Mileybright Inn

Joy Ross Davis lives in Bessemer, Alabama. A student of the lore and magic of the back hills of Tennessee, she writes imaginative fiction. She has a Ph.D in Creative Writing and for many years, she taught English at a local community college. She retired to become a caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. She documented her experiences with her mother in a series of articles for a local newspaper. The articles titled, “Mother, Can You Hear Me?” have also been featured in Muscadine Lines, a Southern literary magazine. For several months in 2007, she lived in Ireland and worked as a travel writer and photographer for Tourism Ireland. She is currently teaching English online for the University of Phoenix. She lives with her son and three rescue dogs.

Joy is the author of the novel, Countenance. Her other works include:
Emalyn’s Treasure (Helping Hands Press 2013)
The Transformation of Bitty Brown (Helping Hands Press 2014)
The Sutler of Petersburg (Helping Hands Press 2014)

Please visit the author at: http://joyrossdavis.com

All are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble:

“Fatty Mattie” by Joyce Faulkner

FATTY MATTIE

A short story by Joyce Faulkner

(From her book “Losing Patience”)Losing Patience

“Two hundred and forty-eight pounds.” The nurse peered through the lower lenses of her bifocals. Mattie glanced over her shoulder. Perhaps no one heard the nurse’s pronouncement.

She stepped off the scale and slipped back into her sandals. “These are very heavy shoes.”

The nurse scowled.

“Guess you’ve heard that one before.” Mattie disguised her blush with a grin.

“Ten times a day.”

“I’m healthy though.” She followed the nurse down the hallway to a small room and crawled up on the examination table. “Healthy as a horse.”

The woman wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Mattie’s arm.

Mattie forced herself to relax. “I get nervous when you do that.”

“One ninety over one ten.”

Mattie cringed.

“Give me your finger.” The nurse unzipped a black case.

“What’s that?”

“Glucometer. The doctor wants to check your blood sugar.”

Mattie jumped as the nurse pricked her finger and milked a blood drop onto a test strip. The glucometer beeped. “One sixty-five,” she read. “Are you sure you didn’t eat anything this morning?”

“Nothing.” Mattie gave up trying to be merry and dangled her legs over the edge of the examination table, fighting back tears. It was all beginning again.

“The doctor will see you in a moment. By the way, Happy Birthday, Mattie.”

“Thanks, Lois.”Windshift

•••••

“Happy Birthday dear Mattie, Happy Birthday to you.” The kids gathered around the table as Mattie blew out ten candles.

“Here, sweetheart. Let me cut the cake for you.” Her mother whisked the round pink confection into the kitchen.

“Are we having ice cream too?” Ronnie bounced in his seat.

“You bet,” Mattie’s dad patted her little brother on the back.

“Cherry Chunk?”

“You got it, buddy.”

The little boy clapped his hands. “With Chocolate sauce?”

“Here ya go, Mattie. Happy Birthday, darling.” Her mother sat a plate with a miniscule slice of the cherry cake in front of her.

“Can’t I have ice cream too?” Mattie eyed the syrupy dessert the other kids were eating.

“You’re getting a little hefty, kiddo.” Her father spooned chocolate drenched ice cream into his mouth. “Wouldn’t want anyone to call you Fatty Mattie, would you?”

“Fatty Mattie!” Ronnie laughed with his mouth full.

“Fatty Mattie, Fatty Mattie!” The other kids chanted.

Mattie scowled. “Stop it, Ronnie. Make them stop, Mama.”

“Shush! Stop it or I’ll take away YOUR ice cream.” Her mother called from the kitchen. “I swear, Paul. You act like a kid yourself.”

“Well, she IS a little tub of lard. Whose fault is that?” Her father belched and wandered into the den with a second dish of Mattie’s birthday cake and ice cream.

Mattie eyed the cake in front of her. It wasn’t much more than a bite. “Come on, Mattie. Don’t be like that.” Her mother sat down with a tiny slice of her own.

“I want what they got.” Mattie stuck out her lower lip.

“You know how he is.” Her mother whispered. “Don’t get him going.”In the Shadow

•••••

“Hello, Mattie. How have things been?” Doctor Reece shook her hand before sitting down at his desk with her file.

“I’m fine, sir.”

He shuffled through the papers in her file. “Things are getting out of hand with your blood pressure, Mattie.” He took off his glasses and turned to face her. “Did you ever consider losing weight?”

•••••

“You are beautiful.”

Mattie stood at the foot of the bed, caressing his foot. “Aw, you are sweet.”

He reached out for her. “So slim and trim.”

She crawled into bed beside him, covering them both with the sheets. “I love you, Eddie.”

“Promise me you’ll not get fat like your Mama. Promise me you’ll always be beautiful like you are today.”

She rolled away from him. “My mother is beautiful.”

“Your mother is FAT.” He snuggled up behind her.

“That doesn’t make her any less beautiful.”

He kissed the back of her neck. “No, I suppose it doesn’t. I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Yes, you did.” She wiped her eyes with the corner of the sheet. It hadn’t been an easy transition from chubby little girl to tall, lithesome young woman.

“I was an insensitive clod, Mattie. I didn’t mean to criticize your mom. She’s a lovely lady. I was trying to make you feel good. I screwed up.”

She bit her knuckle and closed her eyes.

•••••

“What do you mean, consider?”

“I mean your numbers are lousy. You are fifty-eight years old and a hundred and twenty pounds overweight. Your blood pressure is out of sight and so is your sugar. When’s the last time you got any exercise?”

“Today. I climbed the escalator two steps at a time.”

“Mattie, this is no laughing matter.”

The smile faded from her face. “You think I’m heavy on purpose? Is that what you think?”

“All you have to do is push yourself back from the table.”

“Oh? Is that all I have to do?” Her eyes flashed. “You think it’s as simple as that?”

“Use more calories than you take in and you will lose weight.” The doctor’s sigh was long and wheezy. “You lose even a little bit of weight and your sugar will be easier to control. So will your blood pressure.”

“Right.”

•••••

She took the potato chips off of her plate and stashed them in her napkin as soon as the waitress walked away. “I’ll be right back,” she whispered.

“Are you feeling sick again?”

“You know how pregnant women are, Eddie. We have to pee all the time.” She squeezed out of the booth and waddled to the bathroom, holding her napkin against her chest.

Someone was in the handicapped stall. Mattie danced from one foot to the other. “Please, please, please.” The door swung open and an old woman shuffled to the sinks, using an aluminum walker. Mattie turned sideways to allow her to pass before hurrying into the stall.

Standing over the toilet, Mattie crushed the potato chips inside her napkin. Her nostrils flared at the smell of stale oil. Holding the bundle over the bowl, she dusted the tiny pieces into the water. Relieved to be rid of them, she pressed the chrome handle and watched the water swirl around. “Thank God!” She murmured to herself as she ripped the paper into tiny shreds and flushed them as well.

“I was about to send in the Cavalry to see if you fell in.” Eddie bit into his half-eaten burger.

“I needed to get rid of some things.” She examined the tuna sandwich trying to decide how much she dared eat.

“You’ve been throwing up for weeks. You have to eat something.” He dunked a fry into a puddle of Heinz Catsup.

“The doctor says I’m gaining too much too fast.”

“That doctor is nuts. You can lose it after the baby is born. Besides, you aren’t eating enough to keep a Chihuahua alive.”

“I know, but look at me. I’m puffed up like a beached whale.”

“You worry too much. Eat. Eat!” He gestured toward her sandwich.

She picked up a butter knife. “Maybe half.”

The flavor exploded in her mouth. She gulped down the triangle of bread and tuna, in spite of her determination to savor it. Still hungry, she drank a glass of water with a slice of lemon in it. The other half of her sandwich beckoned. Before she lost control, she peeled off the bread and poured a small mound of salt on the tuna.

Eddie rolled his eyes. “How many calories, Mattie?”

It was hard to think. A boiled egg early in the day. Some celery around noon. A glass of milk mid-afternoon. The sandwich. She added up the calories. “Around five hundred.”

“You can’t live on that.”

“I have to. I’ve gained forty pounds and I’m only five months along.”

“Oh come on, no one gains that much weight on what you eat. You must be sneaking food.”

Sneaking food? The thought was riveting, but she didn’t dare. Once she started eating, it was like sliding down an endless mud bank. She couldn’t stop.

•••••

“I recommend you see our nutritionist. She’ll get you on the straight and narrow. The appropriate number of calories. The right mix of exercise. You stick to it and you’ll see a marked improvement in a short time.” The doctor busied himself writing something in her file.

“How many calories?”

“Two thousand.”

Mattie snorted. “You have to be kidding! I don’t eat that much now.”

The doctor raised one eyebrow. “Perhaps you are miscalculating your caloric intake.”

She shook her head. “I’m a pro at this, doctor. I’ve lost a thousand pounds in my lifetime.”

He backed down. “Fifteen hundred calories?”

Her laugh was sarcastic. “Get real.”

•••••

“How much do you normally weigh?” The secretary held a Bic over the form.

“Do you mean what am I supposed to weigh? Or what do I usually weigh?”

The woman didn’t smile.

Mattie gave up. “One twenty-five.”

“How long since you weighed one twenty-five?”

“Never.”

The woman wrote something on the paper. “How much weight do you want to lose?”

Mattie thought for a moment. “If I could get down to one hundred and fifty, I’d be happy.”

“Let’s see, that’s sixty pounds.”

Her shoulders sagged. “Yes.”

“Let’s see, with drugs and daily visits — four hundred dollars plus food.”

“What kind of drugs?”

“A stimulant to keep you going — and a vitamin shot once a week. You’ll need to be monitored every day while you’re eating less than one thousand calories.”

“How low will I go?”

“Six hundred calories.”

“Ha! No sweat.”

•••••

Doctor Reece leaned back in his chair. “How many times have you tried, Mattie?”

“I started out with Weight Watchers in the early seventies. Lost twenty-four pounds after our first baby and kept it off ten months. Then I got pregnant again.”

“Gained too much?”

“Lost too much. Ended up in the hospital. Gained too much while nursing. Then I went to a Bariatric Center and lost forty-two pounds.”Username

•••••

“You look GOOD!” The man kissed her lips so quickly that she stepped back in surprise.

“Don’t.” She looked around for Eddie who was filling his plate at the buffet table.

He crowded her into the corner. “Something’s different about you. I’m not sure what. New make-up? No, not that. New perfume?”

“Stop it.” She stamped her foot and wriggled away giggling, embarrassed and flattered at the same time.

“Oh, I have it now.” He held up one finger. “You are the one who used to be so fat.”

•••••

“If you go to such trouble to lose it, why do you gain it back?”

“I have to focus on it all the time.”

“What?”

“It takes all my energy to lose weight. One time, I lost seventy pounds eating little packets of designer foods and exercising three times a day. It took almost two years. It’s all I thought about. It took all of my attention not to gain — and so, when shit happened, I lost my focus and it crept back.”

“What kind of shit?”

“My mother died.”

•••••

The heart monitor danced, wide sweeping peaks crashing into deep troughs. The beeping increased. Mattie touched her mother’s hand. It felt like cold butter, the fingernails turning blue.

“Oh Mama,” Mattie sobbed.

Her mother relaxed into the hospital bed, her mouth dropping open and her eyes staring upwards. Mattie backed away as her father and brother crowded around the body. Not sure if it was terror or grief that impelled her, she ran down the hall and into the courtyard — taking deep breaths, not yet ready to cry.

She found her way through the gate and jogged down the street to the park. Finding the track, she ran — her ponytail swinging behind her, her tennis shoes making soft plopping sounds on the pavement. She breathed through her mouth, pumping her arms.

Then she heard it — her own heart beating — bubump, bubump. She visualized the jagged lines marching across her mother’s monitor. Bubump, bubump. Her pulse quickened. She rounded the corner and stopped, leaning over to put her hands on her knees.

•••••

“So you stopped exercising?”

“Not all at once. I worked out until I felt my heart beating. Then I’d get scared and stop. Sometimes I’d hear it beating while I was still in bed in the morning.”

The doctor assumed an authoritarian tone. “You treat it like a project. It’s a lifestyle change. Fruits, vegetables. Small portions. Not a diet.” He made check marks in her file. “If you gain a little one week, work on losing it the next.”

“My record is twelve pounds gained in one week — that would take six weeks to lose.” Mattie laughed. “Not even Doctor Atkins can lose it any faster.”

“You can’t give up.”

His arrogant naiveté amused her. “No? Why can’t I? Why can’t I be like everyone else and eat when I’m hungry?”

•••••

Her stomach rumbled. Eddie snorted and rolled onto his side. Slipping into an XX Large fleece robe, she crept down the stairs. She’d been fasting for a week. The first two days she drank pineapple juice — then just distilled water. Her head pounded. The roast she’d made Eddie and the boys for dinner sat in the fridge. The light came on when she opened the door.

She reached for it, her hands quivering in the air. She put them in her pockets and squatted. The meat was lovely — pink at the center. She imagined how it would feel in her mouth. She closed the refrigerator door. Her longing was intense. She took a loaf of Roman Meal out of the pantry, coated the heel with strawberry jelly and sprinkled brown sugar over it. She made the second one while she was cramming the first into her mouth.

The nausea was instantaneous. She threw up into the sink, running water to hide her retching.

“Don’t think you are hiding anything from me.” Eddie was sitting at the kitchen table when she turned around, wiping her mouth on her sleeve.

She sank into a chair and laid her head on the table. “You must be so disappointed in me.”

“Mattie, look at me.”

“I’m listening.” She was too ashamed to look up.

“This has to stop. You are driving me crazy.”

“I know.” She studied her hands. Her wedding rings no longer fit.

“One of these days, I’m going to find you stretched out across the floor with x’s on your eyes.”

“Maybe that would be the best thing.”

“Mattie!”

“I know I disgust you. I disgust myself. I’m not the slim woman you wanted.”

“Did I ever say that?”

“Sort of.” She pulled a tissue out of her robe pocket and blew her nose.

He reached across the table to take her hand. “Why do you think I’m still here?”

“I’ve always wondered that. All my life, wherever we went, I was with the sexiest man in the room. How awful it must be for you to have only me.”

“Look at me, Mattie. Really look at me. I’m middle aged with my own paunch. I’m balding and my jowls sag. Hell, I even got hair growing in my ears. I’m no Kevin Costner.”

She raised her eyes. “That’s not true, Eddie. You are the most beautiful man I’ve ever known.”

“And you are still that beautiful girl I married so long ago.” He squeezed her hand. “Enough of this, Mattie. Relax. Enjoy your life.”

•••••

She wrung her hands. “I finally made peace with myself, doctor. I accepted my lot — learned to appreciate who I am. Now you are making it all matter again.”

The doctor cleared his throat. “This isn’t about how you look. It’s about your health. I can treat your blood pressure and the diabetes with medications, but I can’t help you lose weight. You have to do that yourself.”

The fear she’d known all her life knotted her muscles once again.

He wrote several prescriptions. “I don’t know why you were burdened with this condition, Mattie. You may have fought the good battle, but the war goes ever on.”

Her nails cut into her palm. “What if I don’t lose weight?”

“It makes it that much harder to control other things — more serious things. I urge you to consider it.” He handed her several prescriptions. “You’ll feel better.”

Her sandals popped against her heels as she walked down the hall. Maybe she’d try one more time. The thought of being hungry depressed her. Maybe she’d start next week after Eddie’s birthday.

He stood up as she came into the waiting room. “What did he say?”

She stuffed the prescriptions into her purse. “He says I’m fine.”

“Good.” He took her hand.

She took a deep breath. “Let’s go get a pizza.”

He kissed her fingers. “Pepperoni?”

She smiled. “That would be nice.”Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 11.38.42 AM

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