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Authors: Consuelo Saah Baehr

Nothing To Lose (A fat girl novel) (7 page)

BOOK: Nothing To Lose (A fat girl novel)
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“But you said you had to go.”

“That salesman kept staring at me. I didn’t want to stay.” Whatever he had thought of her before, now he thought something worse.

“Of course. Want to stop somewhere and have a drink?”

“All right.”

He turned left on 48th Street and found a small restaurant with a bar. “Maybe you’d like lunch,” he said.

“No. A drink, wine will be fine.” They sat at the bar. “You on your lunch hour?”

“So to speak. I don’t have a lunch hour per se.”

“The boss, eh?” she said, surprising herself with this sudden gaiety.

“Yes. De Boss.” He chuckled. She chuckled back. The bartender asked for their order. “Two wines. White.”

They concentrated on sipping their wine, holding the glasses between their hands. It was noisy at the bar and difficult to hear. When they were halfway through he asked if she wanted another.

“Oh, no. This is fine.”

“Well, then maybe we should think about leaving. Too bad. I’ve enjoyed the company. I’ll give you a lift home in a cab. He gulped down the rest of his wine.

“If he was having such a good time, why did he finish half his wine in one gulp? “That would be fine.” Now she was furious with herself. She didn’t want a lift from him.

The cab was cozy and she became less furious. There was something reassuring about driving through the streets with somebody by her side who felt kindly toward her and who could afford drinks and a cab. He dismissed the cab at her door and walked in with her. Inside the door, he kissed her on the mouth. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m not going to attack you, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s just very pleasant, following an instinct like this. Just letting things take their own course without squelching every urge. It’s very nice. I get a nice feeling from you.” His hands had strayed under her raincoat, around her back and then to the front. “Why were you prowling around the men’s department though?”

There it was. He did think she was a pick-up. “The sun was hurting my eyes so I went in to rest and waste some time, too. But not to pick up anyone.” She walked away from him and went into the bathroom to see what she looked like. It wasn’t good. Her eyes had dark circles around them. Her hair was showing signs of the greasies. She brushed her teeth. He must be a pervert to want her when she looked like this. He looked so clean himself.

When he came out he was sitting on the couch with his legs crossed. He looked up at her and smiled. She sat down beside him.

“Well…”

“Well…” His hand strayed toward her arm and traced one of her veins from the crease of her elbow to her wrist. Then he traced the palm of her hand, around and around. She felt both sexy and fearful. Maybe it was just fearful and not sexy, it was difficult to tell. He came closer and outlined her breast in the same silent way. He took off his jacket and half reclined on the couch. Then he pulled her on top of him and kissed her and kneaded her breasts very hard. He was wild about her thighs when he saw them. “Oh, lordy,” he said.

He came before he entered her but he made sure she came, too. “Was it okay?” She nodded. “Listen,” he said, “I’ve really got to go. It was wonderful. Spontaneous and wonderful.” As he walked out the door, he handed her a hundred dollar bill. “Buy yourself a great pair of shoes or something. Please. And let’s see a smile before I leave.”

She widened her lips and he touched two fingers to his as if he were blowing a kiss and left.

Ten minutes later, she couldn’t believe what she had done. She was so upset by it she wrote it all out on a piece of paper. Today, April Taylor went into Saks Fifth Avenue and was enticed by a kind, rich man to have sex with him.

Today, April Taylor went into Saks Fifth Avenue, looking god-awful. Her hair was greasy, her dress too short, her raincoat dirty, no stockings on her feet (not even the queen size fit anymore). Today April Taylor stood in Saks staring at men’s pajamas like a mental defective until she enticed an old man – old enough to be her father – to buy her a drink and screw her. Today April Taylor picked up an old man and let him screw her for money.

She burned all three papers. Someone on a talk show had offered this as an effective way of getting rid of something that was really bothering you. Still, it was several days before she could get the picture of that man and his stupid watch out of her mind.

A few days later, she awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and feeling sick to her stomach. There was an acrid smell in the room, something was fermenting inside her. The blood was rushing to and from her tingling skin; her head was starved for oxygen. She realized she hadn’t really tasted anything in days. The craving for particular tastes and textures was gone. The desire for chocolate or Fritos or meat or ice cream or peanut butter, bread and butter, things frosty or succulent or mealy or crusty was gone. She had a vision of fat skimming along her bloodstream like soup gone cold. Her body was struggling to carry its burden of food. The food was fermenting along the way.

She knew that it would be impossible to continue in the way she had been living. She had to change her life. She had to find a job. A real job. Someplace to go besides this dark apartment.

Even with this firm resolve, her mind and will moved so slowly, it took her two weeks more to mobilize herself for the ten block trip to the Top of the Line Employment Agency.

* * * *

Part II

Luis

* * * *

Chapter Seven

As a child, Luis was the only one in his family who spoke without an accent. His father, Robert O’Neil, seldom in residence, spoke with a Brooklyn accent but Luis spoke like Beaver in “Leave it to Beaver,” whom he sometimes pretended to be. At every opportunity he said Gee whiz, Awh, Mom, Cut it out, and Oh, boy, exasperating the women in the household. From their apartment on the eleventh floor, they could see bits of the Hudson River and the France and the United States when in port. “See the chips?” said his mother. It was such a clear advantage to be able to gaze on those splendid hopeful liners, he took it as a sign that he was different and singled out for luck.

His eyes were blue and when he played, two red moons appeared on his cheeks making him look feverish. His looks didn’t help him much inside or out of the West Side projects unimaginatively designated on maps of Manhattan as Penn Sta. Housing South.

His mother was from Puerto Rico. She liked to freeze grapes and suck on them while watching television. She especially liked two shows:
Mi Vida
, a Spanish soap opera and English for Aliens with Conchita Riva. ‘Your wallet…
su cartera
. Your wallet…
su cartera. Mucho quidado con su cartera en la calle
. Watch your wallet in the street.
Hay muggers. Sabe que es esto muggers? Bonk en la cabeza
. In the head. Bonk. Bonk. Bonk’


Ay que loca
,” said his grandmother who also lived with them. “Crazy woman.”

When he was seven, he begged his mother to make or purchase a Batman costume for Halloween. “I want to dress up,” he said.

“What jew want to be?”

“Batman.”

“I dun know nothing about Batmans.”

“I’ll show you,” he said eagerly. “There’s a little black bat on his chest with yellow around it, a long cape, a black tight hat.”


Que es esto Bhat
?” His grandmother opened one eye.


Murciélago
,” said his mother. “
El quiere ser un hombre murciélago
.”

“For what?” his grandmother squinted as if looking for evidence to convict him.

“To go in the street,” said his mother.

“Trick or treat,” he interjected.


Como
?”


Engaño o convite
,” said his mother.


Ay, que loco
. Crazy.
Completamente crazy and tambien no me puede llamar abuelita.”

He was an American and wanted to do what Americans did. Mrs. Anderson on “Father Knows Best” was well groomed and energetic while his mother spent her days going to clinics for vague illnesses. Even “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” an offbeat one-parent situation loosely similar to his own, was a rebuke. Did Eddie, for instance, have a huge white FUCK painted on the walk to his front door?

The dissimilarities between himself and the rest of America weren’t all harmless. On a sunny spring day when he was looking out his window, straining to see the smokestacks of the United States, he saw a ball of colored clothing falling past him from above. When he went downstairs, he heard a woman say a baby had fallen out of 14F. He saw the mother howling. She took off all her clothes and the police had to take her inside.

For weeks, a big splotchy reddish stain remained on the walk. Fredo Montenegro who was nine and still embarrassingly unable to read told him that was where the Orlando kid’s guts and brains had spilled out and where Luis’, too, would spill if he didn’t watch out. He knew that Fredo’s ambitious plans for his brains had to do with the fact that Luis read very well.

When he was eight a man came from a government agency and told Luis’ mother she must enroll him in Project Discovery, a pilot school for disadvantaged children who were thought to be gifted, instead of at P.S. 11.

“The school? Ees no good?” the mother asked incredulously.

“Project Discovery is better,” said the man.

He didn’t want to be discovered, but his mother put him in the program anyway. The first week, she took him every day, but the second week, she made him walk the ten blocks by himself.

Project Discovery was hardly what the man from the agency had promised. Some children still soiled their pants. Others hummed continuously, stopping only to throw paint or food. Classes were constantly disrupted by a stream of visitors, for the school was a pet of the media. Rich, well-dressed women came to help the children read.

Mrs. Anita Schwartz, who came to help Luis read, told him that because he was poor and foreign, the world was eager to cheat him. “When a neighborhood is poor and the mother can’t speak English, the shopkeepers do bad things,” she said. “They sell dishonest hamburger meat with too much fat…perhaps not from cows at all. They charge more for vegetables. Tell your mother to be careful.” She handed him a booklet to take home: The Thief in Your Food Basket.

Another time, she told him it would be difficult for him all his life. “You see, Luis,” she explained as if waking him from some foolish daydream,” you’re not the typical American. You’re worse off than the Jew, who can at least laugh at himself. You’re neither here nor there. You’re the bottom layer.” He considered Mrs. Schwartz crazy, but he liked her.

The following year, the school had a scandal it didn’t survive. The free lunch program was found to be nutritionally unsound. “Protein is a phantom guest at the Project Discovery lunch table,” was the quote of the day in The New York Times.

Luis returned to P.S. 11 and Mrs. Schwartz returned with him. He was her special project and she came regularly to his apartment. His mother was tolerant but impassive. “Jew wan a cupa coffee? she would ask.

One day, his mother surprised him by saying to Mrs. Schwartz, “I always thought that America was really heaven country. Everybody drives car. If I come to America, I can drive. I can watch TV. I thought I was really heading to heaven.”

It was a shock to Luis to realize that his mother was someone who had once had hopes and dreams similar to his own and that she had been disappointed. Yet she didn’t seem unhappy.

In the fifth grade, part of Luis’ social studies class was devoted to a short history of Puerto Rico. As the teacher described the country in the 1930’s and 1940’s, she painted a picture of indescribable poverty. Shoes were rarely worn and the ground was infested with sewage and parasites. Grinding poverty, she had called it. He pictured his mother as a small girl being ground down, twisted this way and that. On the other hand, there was a love of dancing and singing, an idea that appalled him. Too often, he’d seen his mother shuffling around the linoleum dancing. He wanted her to be serious and ambitious. At least ambitious for him.

When the semester was ending, the class wrote a composition on what it meant to be a Puerto Rican in New York and Luis was asked to read his to the class. “In Puerto Rico,” he began, “it was important for men to be macho, but here macho doesn’t go. You need brains. You need to use your head, not your strength. You need to know how to operate a machine. In Puerto Rico, people like to sing and dance but here in America, singing and dancing aren’t important. Making money is important. In Puerto Rico, there are all shades of skin. Some are a little tan, some dark and some very white. Nobody cares. In New York, we don’t know where we stand. If New York is a three-layer cake, man, we are the bottom layer.”

After school, Fredo Montenegro took him behind the school and smashed his thumb with a rock. “Let’s not hear anymore about the bottom layer,” he said, and walked away. Still, Luis didn’t feel sorry for himself. He felt sorry for Fredo whose life would probably include tattoos, life behind a counter in a luncheonette where they sold dishonest hamburgers, no satisfactory girlfriend.

One day, Mrs. Schwartz, well versed on the bad luck that befell the poor, brought him a small, blue, soft-covered book. “According to the census,” she read, “unskilled Puerto Ricans showed three great categories of occupation – porters, kitchen workers and elevator operators.” She left him with a brochure from an organization called
Aspira
. “A helping hand can turn the tide,” was the message. He felt as much Irish as Puerto Rican but he knew he needed help

BOOK: Nothing To Lose (A fat girl novel)
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