Read Big Mouth Online

Authors: Deborah Halverson

Tags: #Fiction

Big Mouth

BOOK: Big Mouth
10.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For my sweet men
Bus Driver, Tom the Trash Truck Driver, and Tractor Man,
whose amazing napping skills made writing this book possible

Do not try speed-eating at home.
The author and Random House do not advocate speed-eating except for people eighteen or older, and then only in a controlled environment with appropriate rules and with an emergency medical technician present. The author and Random House are against at-home training of any kind and strongly discourage younger individuals from eating for speed or quantity under any circumstances.

because sometimes you feel like a nut


My eyeballs bulged. Tears blasted like water rockets. Blood flooded every cell in my face—a good thing, because the blood-bloated sockets were the only things holding in my eyeballs.


Another brutal barf. This time, puke spewed through my mouth
nose. My guts blasted into my head.

Panting, I slumped to the floor and rested my throbbing head against the toilet seat. One more heave like that and my skull would explode, I just knew it. My throat and nostrils burned from the acidy vomit, my ribs ached as each sour breath filled the room with the nasty, unmistakable smell of—


Aw, man, what is that? My spleen?
I sagged to the floor again. This wasn’t right. Food was supposed to go down your throat, not up. I should know, I’d just wolfed down ten hot dogs and buns in twelve minutes flat.


Now those dogs were coming
in twelve

I stayed on my knees, hugging the bowl. My puffy, leaky head drooped forward. The view was disgusting. Yellow corn from last night’s dinner dotted the beefy muck, and bits of ketchup-pinked bun bobbed on the tide. My toilet looked like a salsa bowl.

I lurched forward, nearly losing it again.

I swear, from now on, I fast the day before I gorge.
The key to effective training was strategy, and I had to learn from my mistakes—



Wait, Shermie, wait….

Still nothing.
Oh, thank you, dear God of Regurgitation: my first dry heave.
The worst was over. A few more dry heaves, then I stood, wobbly but upright, and flushed.

Next time,
hot dogs in twelve minutes, I just knew it.

Puking made me late for my shift at Grampy’s shop. Located at the edge of the food court on level seven, Scoops-a-Million was the only ice cream shop in the whole mall. There were three Mexican restaurants, two smoothie counters, and five different pizza joints, but only one of us. Grampy scored this sweet deal because he was the last holdout from the crumbling strip mall they demolished to build Mid-Cal County Fair Mall. The mall management even threw in a giant neon sign with exhaust ports in the middle of each
So from ten to ten each day, the Scoops-a-Million
’s burped out mouthwatering wisps of sugared cream, rich clouds of chocolate, and the sweet vanilla of waffle cones baked to a golden brown. The aroma worked on shoppers like a watch swinging on a chain. I swear, my Grampy could talk a goldfish out of his bowl.

Wheezing and sweaty from pedaling through the park like a crazed psycho, I finally stumbled through the Scoops doorway and found Arthur pacing behind the sherbet counter. His rheumy eyes zeroed in on me. Hissing like a cornered cat, the old guy started hucking things my way. I ducked the fudge-dipped waffle cone, but a juicy maraschino cherry plunked me in the left eyelid.

Great, the shrunken geezer had seventy years to my fourteen, but even he could throw better than I could. Not that I was a small target.

“It’s three-twenty-two,” Arthur crabbed. He was standing in front of the huge smiling sun mural on the back wall. He wasn’t smiling, though, and he certainly wasn’t sunny. “Goldanged kids. No respect for anybody but yourselves. I got me a life, too, Sherman Thuff. You think being fourteen makes you the big enchilada? I got things to do, too. Places to go, people to see. If I had my way, every crummy one of you…”

I tuned him out. There weren’t any customers in the ice cream shop to be offended by his cranking, and I’d stopped paying attention to him months ago. Arthur was a nasty old prune. I knew that anything I said would only rile him up more. If only he’d quit. Why he was slaving in an ice cream shop when he could be hucking bingo chips at attendants in a cozy nursing home was beyond me.

I wiped red syrup out of my eyebrow with my Windbreaker sleeve, then reached out to lift the hatch in the metal countertop—


I yanked my hand back and shook it. That was the third time I’d been shocked today. Stupid dry wind. This weird weather front was supposed to last through Halloween, maybe longer, but I didn’t know if I’d survive that long. I had more charge in my fingertips than Darth Vader had stormtroopers.

Ever…so…carefully…I reached out a second time and—

“Ow!” A cherry had thumped my right earlobe. “Dang it, Arthur!”

I wiped my other sleeve across my ear then checked my reflection in the raised hatch to see if any red gloop had splooged into my hair. Nope, no gloop. But, man, those were some electrified blond needles. I was Woodstock from Peanuts.

I spit into my palms and patted down the frizz. Globby spit hair was better than frizzy static hair. People would just think I moussed.

Sucking in my stomach, I squeezed through the opening, pulled my bike through to stash behind the counter, then
lowered the metal slab back down. Arthur liked to let it slam down. He knew the tinny sound it made worked on me like a rake dragged across concrete. I’d rather chew aluminum foil than hear either one of those noises.

Next to me, Arthur was still mouthing off. “…shoulda been off twenty-two minutes ago. Twenty-two! Where have you been? It’s like Grand Central Station around here. Kid after kid after kid. It’s a Friday, don’t you slackers go to school?”

He didn’t know that today was a half day for all the schools. Some special school board meeting or something. Not that I’d waste my breath telling him about it. I just flipped him the finger when he turned to shove his pink smock under the counter.

“Now, don’t go eating all the gummy bears.” He ducked through the hatch. “We only got one box left.” Then he rushed out of Scoops like the world would end if he wasn’t sitting on his peeling barstool at the Broken Yolk Diner in the next thirty seconds.

“Oh, hey, Arthur, thanks, you have a good day yourself,” I said to the air. “Jerk.”

The rest of my shift didn’t get any better. Right off, I discovered that Arthur had taken or hidden the only XL-sized smock. His idea of getting even with me for being late, probably. Funny guy, that Arthur. I would’ve just “borrowed” his smock if I could, but it was an S. I couldn’t borrow Grampy’s either. It was an L, which was close, but it had
stitched on it. Having no choice, I squeezed myself into an old M. I had to cinch it too tight around my waist just to tie it closed. My still-queasy gut wasn’t thrilled about that. And then the stupid pink smock kept pulling open when I stretched, so each time I stepped on the footstool and leaned into the display case to hack a scoop of ice cream out of a frozen tub, my fly got slathered with the flavor of the moment. The poo-brown Rocky Road smudge was downright embarrassing.

It didn’t take long to see that Arthur wasn’t just blowing smoke. Except for a few lulls, Scoops really was hopping. I guess Grampy didn’t know today was a half day, either. I was on my own as every elementary, junior, and high school student in the Mid-Cal area came in for ice cream. Scoops was always their first stop in the mall, especially now, with our California October being as warm and sunny as any June. As customers stepped into my hallowed realm, they took deep, sugary breaths, they dipped their fingers into the leaky water fountain to slick down their own frizzed hair, and then they turned to me for salvation. Wide-eyed and reverent, they pressed their noses against the glass display case and invoked the sacred words:
Bing Cherry…Cookie Dough…Fudge Ripple…
Picking out flavors to sample before committing to a scoop was a very serious ritual. Once they made their selections, they lifted their faces up to me, where I stood in front of the smiling sun mural with my scooper at the ready, sunrays shooting outward behind me. It was a total power trip. I could live with being worshipped.

My right forearm ached from gouging, gouging, gouging the hard-packed ice cream. But being busy kept my mind off the afternoon I’d just spent praying to the porcelain god, so it wasn’t until Grampy finally arrived to break me that I noticed my stomach felt fine. Empty and normal. Hungry, even. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, after all, if you took into account that I puked up lunch.

The instant Grampy plodded through the doorway, he froze in his tracks and gawked at all the kids in the shop. Then he crunkled up his nose and squinted his black-olive eyes nearly closed, making his face look all cheeks.

“Oh, jeez,” I muttered.
I’m on to you, Grampy.
That same expression washed over all us Thuffs when we were plotting something. I braced myself even before he flashed his fake grin and let fly with the family motto.

“Sherman T. Thuff,” he declared, now striding across the shop, “this crowd looks tough, and you know what that means.” He waved a knuckly fist in the air. “When the going gets tough, the Thuffs get Thuffer! C’mon, young Thuff, man your post. Make your family proud. All for one and one for all!”

I would have acted like I didn’t hear him, but he knew darn well I could hear a gnat sneeze in the next county. “Can’t, Grampy. It’s five-twenty-seven. I’ll be late.”

“Late? For what? Wait…no…Shermie…”

Wrestling his arm from behind his back, I pried open his stubborn fingers and forced the scoop and my latest work permit into his palm. Not only had Mr. Smooth Talker convinced my folks that child labor was character building, he’d also charmed my counselor at Del Heiny Junior High #13 into making it legal. Now she got her ice cream here for free.

Grampy eyed the kids who were jockeying for position around the display case. “Shermie, wait, listen to me…”

I paused, vaguely curious which compliment he’d try this time.

He saw the hesitation and pounced. “You can’t go, Sherminator, your fans
you. Just look at them, you’re their star. Scoops is nothing without you.
You’re the backbone of this entire operation.”

Ah, the backbone…
I made a move toward the counter hatch, but he blocked me.

“Wait! Wait. You’re the muscle, too, haven’t I told you that? Look at that gun of yours—” He tried to squeeze my biceps but I dodged around him. “C’mon, Shermie, give your old Grampy a break.”

“Can’t, Grampy. Lucy’s waiting.” I ditched the ice cream–smudged size M under the counter.

“But Shermie—”

“You’re the one who says never make a girl wait.” I lifted the counter and squeezed through quickly.

“But…but…oh, fine!” His pouty voice chased me as I stepped into the busy promenade. “But don’t be late coming back!”

“I won’t!”

It took more fancy footwork to dodge the shopping masses, but I managed to reach the center table of the food court right on time. Part of the deal in “agreeing” to slave for Grampy was that I could time my breaks to match Lucy’s. She worked one level down for her own slave-driving relative at the Chocolat du Monde cart, where she sold gourmet chocolate to stuck-up ladies at several bucks a chunk.

When I dropped into the seat across from Lucy, she flipped open a brand-new yellow binder. It had to be an inch thick with graph paper, all tabbed and labeled in cotton candy colors.

She poised her pen over the paper. “How many did you eat?”

“What, no hi?”

“Hi. Now how many did you eat?”

I held up ten fingers. “I ate ten—count ’em,
—whole hot dogs
and buns
in twelve minutes flat.”
Hey, she didn’t ask if they stayed down.

“Ten, huh? Not bad…” She gnawed the tip of her pen. “You know, your horoscope did say that betting on a long shot today would change your life. Hot dogs are long. And ten is the number of rebirth.” She gnawed the pen a little more, then nodded her head. “Yep. I’m sure of it. Ten is a sign.”

Whipping the pen from her mouth, she attacked the graph paper. “Okay, our base number is ten. Now that we know where we’re starting and where we’re going, we just need to strategize the best way to close the gap. Let’s see, that’s 0.83 dogs per minute…and you’ve got forty-seven months to match Tsunami’s record of fifty-three and three-quarters dogs in twelve minutes, which means increasing your intake by .08 wieners per month…”

And we’re off!
I leaned back in my chair and relaxed. It was a stroke of brilliance to recruit my oldest friend as my eating coach. She’d lead me to victory on the competitive eating circuit for sure.

I’d called Lucy with my plan to become an eater two nights ago, right after watching an old TV special called
The Glutton Bowl.
What I saw on the screen amazed and inspired me: men and women eating hamburger after hamburger (bun and all!), oyster after oyster, sushi roll after sushi roll, egg after egg. They were incredible! Racing the clock and each other, they chowed down
amounts of food…and got paid for it! There was one guy named Gaseous Maximus who wore a gladiator suit and ate gobs of mayo. And this other guy, Big Rig, ate a mondo pile of butter sticks. The coolest guy, though, had to be this skinny little Japanese dude they called Tsunami, who wolfed down thirty-two hot dogs in twelve minutes flat. I’d never seen anything like it. As it turned out, that record was only the beginning. Tsunami’s most recent record was fifty-three and three-quarters hot dogs in twelve minutes. Fifty-three and three-quarters! And as for prize money—wow. For the Glutton Bowl win alone he scored twenty-five thousand bucks. Now, I loved to eat—and, frankly, I was good at it—but who would’ve guessed
could make you rich? By the time the Glutton Bowl was over, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to be the fastest, richest, most famous competitive eater in the world.

BOOK: Big Mouth
10.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Plant by Stephen King
Bound by Honor by Diana Palmer
Primitive People by Francine Prose
La canción de Troya by Colleen McCullough
El clan de la loba by Maite Carranza
The Body in the Ivy by Katherine Hall Page
The Good Wife by Elizabeth Buchan