Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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I’m not fat enough for Big Beautiful Girls dating sites. The guys who promise to adore a woman’s righteous curves are not talking to me. Neither are the ones who end their posts with “No Fat Girls ☺” A site for me would say: “I’m looking for something, but I’m not sure what. What’s your name again?”

When Em at reception asks if anyone wants to join her for drinks after work, she is not asking me. The sign-up sheet for the Adopt-a-Highway cleanup weekend rarely gets to my desk. After the Fourth of July party, I stop by Neil’s cube and compliment him on his home run that saved the game for us, fifth floor always playing against fourth floor.

“Were you there?” he says.

At the end of the day, I go home and brush my sister’s hair until it spills down her back in a glassy sheet. We both like this. I haven’t told her about Jordan. He’s new, and he stopped at my desk before his first week was out. “It’s Sherry, right?”

“Sherry-from-HR. Distinct from Sherry-from-Accounting.”

“I’ll never keep everybody straight.” His smile is rueful, blinding, straight out of Hollywood.

“You’ll forget there was ever a time you didn’t know,” I assure him.

“Good to meet you, Sherry-from-HR.”

You didn’t have to be the fat girl to hear the flirt.

Because I eat lunch at my desk where people can see, a typical meal looks like a poster from a nutritionist’s classroom: one pear, one cup of greens with lemon juice, three ounces of poached chicken breast. Often I can’t do more than pick at it, since I’m stuffed from the cheesecake I ate in the car on my way to work. It isn’t hunger, exactly. Hunger is a friend, a presence I understand. This other thing, this compulsion, has no name. Often it’s the opposite of hunger—I eat through indigestion, through fullness, through the rich self-disgust that accompanies me like a choir while I, the fat girl, sing at the front of the stage.

“Get over yourself,” says my sister, wincing while I work a knot from her fine hair. Her body slopes out from her neck in a lazy succession of folds. She hasn’t been able to fit into a desk chair in years, but she can type from her bed or armchair. She blogs about disability and fat as a political issue, and has posted one photograph of herself, looking tragic and almost boneless, a head floating on top of pools of flesh. Beside her, I look stout, capable, and forgettable. My sister’s hair looks terrific.

I am not about to tell her about Jordan. She tells me about patriarchy and commodification - and I pay the pizza guy. I may not eat as much as she does, but I eat my share. Before I go to bed, I’ll join her for cake. The difference between us is that after I close my bedroom door, I’ll do 100 stomach crunches because I’m still trying.

I know I won’t see Jordan the next day, but I still dress with extra care, my heart rapping out a quick beat that is the rhythm track to every happy love song in the world. For the rest of the week I keep dressing with extra care, and I don’t eat anything on the drive to work, so I attack that chicken breast with zeal when lunchtime rolls around. I try not to look too enthusiastic. If there’s one thing people notice about the fat girl, it’s what she’s eating.

At home, my sister has caught on, and is watching every morsel that slips into my mouth. “I don’t want to have to take you to the hospital again.”

“You never took me to a hospital.”

“You were passing out.”

“I was fourteen and stupid.” I had gone for nine days on nothing but black coffee and sugarless gum. I wouldn’t mind having a little of that self-control back again. Now, under my sister’s rigid eye, I eat a full serving of mac and cheese.

My sister eats: the second half of a bag of potato chips. Mac and cheese. Milk. Broccoli gratin that I microwave. Cake, and then ice cream. I hide the idea of Jordan like a locket between my breasts, which I keep strapped in a brassiere as sturdy as a saddle. My sister’s breasts spread and puddle like pudding, like heavy gravy. It is so hard to look at her and not think of food.

At work, while Em is asking who wants to go out for drinks at five o’clock, I pore over staff birthdays, because parties are my responsibility. The next birthday is Mike in Sales, two weeks away. I order the cake and one balloon bouquet. Then, from a different site, I order a skirt to have sent to me at work. I know what lines are slimming, and I can change in the bathroom. I’ve done it before.

Jordan’s birthday is six months from now—Leo, a fire sign that would go well with my airy Libra. I know better than to think like this. If I don’t stop myself, soon there will be pills in my purse and phone calls to numbers from HR files that I have access to. Twice I’ve had to change jobs. My sister says she will stay with me until I understand what I’m doing. I understand perfectly.

This afternoon Jordan waves to me in the parking lot. “Sherry-from-HR!” he calls. “I’m coming to see you soon.”

“Jordan-from-New-Accounts! Why are you coming to see me?”

He walks toward me, and the smile makes my eyes fill. He says, “Everybody should have a friend in HR. HR knows the dark secrets.”

“Your birthday is in August, and you were at Nicholson and Nicholson before you joined us. Pretty tame secrets, really.” He brings home $5,007.43 a month, and hasn’t yet started up a 401(k). His marital status is left blank.

“I’ll have to up my game. Who gets to judge your secrets?” he says.

“No one in HR has secrets. Company policy.”

His hand on my wrist is slightly sunburned and roughened. I have the clear sense that my beating heart is working its way up my throat. “Can we be friends?” he says.

He’s been fired three times in five years. Twice there were questions about bookkeeping and billing, once a complaint. But no accusations ever filed!

“You’ll have to fill out some paperwork,” I say, the standard HR joke. His squeeze on my wrist is so light I almost don’t feel it over my crashing pulse.

I collapse into the driver’s seat and need ten minutes before I can start the car. Once home, I’ll order Indian for dinner; my sister and I have every delivery service on speed dial. I’ll brush her hair. She’ll talk, and if she thinks I’m not listening, she’ll tip something over. “Poor motor control,” she says as if it’s an accomplishment, and then she’ll wait until I come back with the paper towels and bucket before she starts to talk again. This time I’ll make her wait.  end  

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