"Honey, you could go forty pounds, you got twenty pounds in either direction you could go, and you'd still be beautiful."
She didn't really expect much else — she was in front of the mirror appraising herself and there he was, and he chimed in.
It could happen when she was all dolled up, all dressed- and made-up, hair full and lustrous, excited about the evening. Or it could happen first thing in the morning, in her ripped flannel nightgown, no makeup, last night's gin still on her breath.
Honey you're looking good to me, he'd say.
It used to be wonderful in the way that everything used to be wonderful. Expansiveness is attractive she thought. It wired her in, made her feel safe.
Those other times, though, when he said nothing. While she raged and screamed and threw things, threw the phone he was on the other end of. So, okay, I'm leaving now, be home in a little while. Or, see ya when I see ya, haha. I might be late. I'll be on my cell.
She'd gone beyond thinking that there was someone else, first passing through the part where she hoped he was. Then there would be an excuse at least, a reason for the absence of emotion, of speech, of recognition.
But she was always beautiful.
Lately, it had become so annoying she'd taken to dressing in the bathroom. Forced to creativity, he rose to the challenge. The sweats, the running clothes, the big old bathrobe. All these outfits, none were more attractive than the one she had on at the moment, and he gave her to understand that none would be more attractive than nothing at all. She was getting tired.
And disgusted. She was putting on weight, and more all the time. All of her clothes were tight, and she was down to one pair of jeans, and wouldn't buy another pair. Going out involved wearing something else, so she didn't.
One day she ordered extra breakfast, sausage and home fries. Ate most of it. Another time she ate two containers of chili, and though she wasn't hungry for a few hours and thought she would never eat again, she did.
Her waist bulged over her pants. She stopped running. Nothing felt good about it anymore, not even stopping. She grew little knobs of fat under her shoulder blades, sticking out from the bra which got tighter and tighter. Her breasts, of course, got bigger too, and seemed compensation enough.
You look like all those pictures, those classical pictures. This is what beautiful was to Rubens, and it's beautiful to me. Honey.
To be sure, he got bigger too. So much so that his belly bulged out from under his t-shirt when he was lying down. Right out there. She would sit up in bed and put her hand on her own belly, a new thing under there, puffy and in the way. He always wanted her.
One quiet afternoon, she began choking on a piece of chocolate. She couldn't breathe, it felt like sucking air through a pinhole, thinking, this is choking, I am choking. A burning weight, her chest would not move, could not exhale the air. Gulping, she managed to swallow, then breathe, first in little hiccups, then a long draught of oxygen. The whole episode took seconds. A deep breath. She finished the chocolate.
The second episode was more subtle. Milk Duds at the movies. She knew this time, knew what was going to happen if she could just breathe. Deciding then to pretend it was a stitch instead, she knew what to do with those, breathe out more than in. She pushed air slowly through pursed lips as her eyes watered and her throat burned. She swallowed, breathed in. Chocolate was beginning to be a problem.
It took a full six months to lose the first ten pounds. It was only the chocolate deprivation that did it. After the first month it wasn't really a problem. She didn't miss it. Looked at it as if it were filth, inedible, unpalatable, the roily brown substance oozing over her tongue. Ugh.
Honey, you sure are looking good, I can't think of anything but you, I think about you all the time. Like what, she wanted to know. Like all of you, he said. You're not thinking of the all of me or of anything. You don't even know the all of me.
Then it happened again, this time with bread. Bread. Bread felt like a tree shoved down her larynx, every branch reaching through, plugging alveoli. Fibrous and matted, she could no longer swallow it, and couldn't bear to swill anything to flush it down. This time, it took only six weeks to lose the next ten pounds.
Why don't you come to bed, Honey, I sure do like the way you been looking lately. Mmmmm mmmmm, looking so good.
Running began to seem like a good idea again, somehow.
Stopping felt good again, and then starting up again, and then stopping. She ran up hills, sometimes both ways.
Eating cheese was no longer an option. Five more pounds gone in a fortnight. Even the clothes at the back of the closet fit now. The pants she wore before she only wore black pants, they fit her now.
Honey, you know you always look so good, I love you no matter what, you can gain a little weight here, it's okay. It doesn't matter to me how you look, I'm always wanting you, Babe you know it's true. Uh huh.
She began to feel like her own shadow, down to two dimensions, and time was not one of them. She was back underwater, and she couldn't hear him when he talked. Her ears began to bleed, a little at first, then more. Her periods stopped. She began wondering about amino acid production, hoped she was still able to synthesize the essential ones, even without the chocolate and the cheese and the bread. She used to be able to do it in her sleep, but now she wasn't so sure. She kept running.
He began bringing home food. Hot dogs from Gray's Papaya, pizza from Johnny's, steak from the Hilltop. He shipped her lobster from Maine and a fried turkey from Alaska. Nothing doing. Aw, Honey, you know it doesn't matter to me, I love you no matter what, but you are starting to hurt. I didn't know women had bones there, and there, and there. You are still beautiful to me, but I can't sleep with you anymore, you have to let me know when you need me, I can't roll over onto you in the middle of the night and think I fell into a bag of bones.
I'll let you know, she said.
He looked hopeful as he brought in the groceries. Chocolate covered breadsticks, cheese filled pretzels. Nothing doing. But Honey, he would whine, his eyes brimming with tears and desire. No can do, she said.
The shadow feeling crept away, and in its place grew peace.
One quiet afternoon, he choked on a Goldenberg's Peanut Chew. She knew what was coming. He kept looking at her, eyes wild, what is this, am I choking, is this choking, I'm choking! His face reddened, then purpled. He flailed and sweat. That is what choking feels like, she said, but Honey, I love you no matter what. You sure are looking good to me.