Suddenly the room got cold and I felt a chill come over me. I turned to the aisle in time to see her walk by, giving me a disdainful look, as if I had no right to be breathing the same air as she.
“Who the hell . . . excuse me. What the hell was that?” I asked Lori.
“Oh, that's right, you were mercifully excused from being in her presence the last two years. That, dear boy, is Penny and she's a royal pain in the ass”.
“That much I gathered” I replied.
Why I was excused from her presence was do to some creative gerrymandering by the city fathers. Due to my residence in the heart of the suburban town of Santa Carla, I had the privilege of attending grammar school in Santa Carla, junior high in Pinewood, and then high school back in Santa Carla. During my sojourn, Lori explained, Penny had arrived like a horde of locusts, taking over anything worth taking like it was her god given right.
Despite the chill I felt I told Lori that it couldn't be that bad, no one was just plain evil, as she was painting Penny to be. Little did I know.
Penny wasn't anything special, I thought. Average, period. She wasn't good looking or anything, kind of plain if truth be told; I mean, look up average in the dictionary and there was her picture. Five foot five – average. Weight – average; not skinny, but not fat either. Hair – mousy brown and straight, cut to shoulder length – average.
But, there was something. Something that my freshmen mind couldn't figure out. She had the power. And it took me all of freshman, sophomore, and most of junior year to figure it out.
Of course it wasn't like she was on my mind all the time. I had too much else going on just being a high school boy to dwell on little miss average. Except she kept being a thorn in my side.
Freshman year was nothing major, just the haughty looks in English and the occasional chill I felt whenever she walked by. But nothing to really get my radar working. In fact I hardly noticed her. It was just when she kept getting in my way sophomore year that I remembered my feelings from the year before.
Sophomore year she was in my advanced Spanish class; a fact that I only took notice of after she managed to dictate the whole curriculum to suit her – to the detriment of the rest of the class.
She managed to convince the teacher that, since this was an “advanced” class, then the students should be allowed to work at their own pace.
All fine and well in theory, however the way it shook out was quite different.
The teacher decided that we could work at our own pace and individual testing on each chapter would be done on an appointment basis. Penny of course monopolized the whole process by signing up for the first four weeks of appointments. The teacher, for some unfathomable reason, thought that this was just peachy, probably thinking to himself 'gee what initiative the girl has'. Of course what he hadn't figured was that everyone else was frozen out of the process. The rest of us had a choice: learn four weeks worth of material and then hope that you could regurgitate the first chapter you read four weeks ago; or, memorize the first chapter and then wait. Either way it was lose, lose, and some promising students became disillusioned and gave up on the process (myself included).
Now I'm not saying that Penny was wrong to make the class her own little fiefdom, and I must admit that the teacher was just as culpable in allowing it to happen. However, it brought Penny back into my sights, and the more I saw of her the more I began to see what was going on.
I took Journalism and there she was, worming her way into becoming student editor. I took singing and there she was again, weaseling her way in good with the teacher so she became conductor assistant; which meant she was the one, in both cases, to tell the rest of us peons what to do.
Needless to say I shortly dropped out of both programs. I mean, I could have handled being handled, but with her everything was just so arbitrary. There was no apparent reason for her decisions other than that they suited her.
I began to see what she was up to, building up a support base, promoting some unworthy just so she could buy their support. In effect, playing the political game at its basest level. Fine, but she could play those games without me, thank you very much. Of course what I initially thought was harmless was just the tip of the Titanic killing iceberg. It was one thing to be self declared dictator of Choral and Journalism, but as junior year rolled around it became painfully obvious that she had much bigger plans for herself and the rest of us poor misguided fools.
Junior year began with her running for class president. Who cared I thought, in what was a typical apathetic gesture that was rampant throughout the school – which was probably why she was able to win so easily – nobody cared. In truth it really didn't effect the rest of us. I mean somebody had to be class president, and really what did the class president do anyway? Nothing that had much to do with our day to day pursuits to be sure.
Then she decided that, since she was editor of the newspaper, she should also, perforce, be editor of the school's bi-yearly poetry and essay journal.
Again, OK, so what, someone had to do it. Except she used this platform to form some more networking and bonding. Getting her “friends” published in exchange for future favors. This meant, of course, that the artistic quality of the journal went down (for many of her network had no ability whatsoever), and the space taken up by their drivel should have gone to more deserving work.
It was this incident that brought her conniving into focus for a whole group of us. What began as random bitching was turning into a round table bitch session every Friday at lunch. It started as just Lori and I chewing the fat, but as more people overheard us they pitched in their comments as well, and it soon became obvious that she was promoting her cronies and building up support for herself and her nefarious plans.
What really made it blatantly obvious that Penny was stretching her political muscle was when she decided to try out for cheerleader. I mean PLEASE.
As I said she wasn't what you'd call good looking, and she was about as sexy as dry paint. Just the thought of her in a short skirt going “rah – rah” . . . the other schools would just laugh their asses off to think that she was the best we could offer. But, we of the round table all knew that she would scheme and connive her way to getting what she wanted. Janet, who was a newcomer to the roundtable just shook her head and told us it was only going to get worse.
“She's in my poly-sci class, and let me tell you, the girl's got big plans. She idolizes Hillary and thinks that she just might have what it takes to become the first female Pres”.
“Jesus” I muttered. “Just what the country needs. We've got to derail this train, boys and girls”.
“Yeah, how?” asked Lori.
“Everyone's got an Achilles heal, even her” I replied. “We've just got to find it and exploit it”.
“Well, if you think of something, let us know” Jeff chimed in. We all shrugged. It was all too depressing.
But providence intervened in our cause. I was talking to my girlfriend Elise about Penny. At first she didn't believe me either, coming from another school and all, but after I showed her all the evidence supporting my claim she shook her head in assent.
“How long have we known each other?” Elise asked me.
“Almost a year. Why?”
“And you trust me don't you?”
“Sure, why . . .”
“Shush, and I'll tell you.”
She paused for a moment, as if collecting her thoughts, then sighed and began “I guess you'll find this all out eventually anyway, so here goes. You know my background right?”
“You're Spanish right? So?”
“Not just that, my love. My father is Spanish, but my mother is an interesting combination. Her family originally came from England, but when they arrived in America a long time ago, there was some mixing with the locals”.
“So you're part Indian” I interrupted.
“Yes, and as such I know some things of a spiritual nature”.
“Uh huh” I said cautiously, not quiet knowing where this was leading.
“And more. You see, you know the story how the pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution? Well they weren't the only ones. My mother's ancestors were also hounded by the English church, but for a different reason than the pilgrims and puritans. What do you know about Wicca?”
“You mean like witches and stuff”.
“Yes, dear, the followers of the Wiccan belief are called witches, but it's not like Halloween”.
“I know, it's more of a nature thing right?”
“Right. But we do know things and some of us can even channel into the energy flow of nature and to some small extent alter the way of things”.
“So you can turn me into a goat, 'cause I'm always so horny?”
“No silly. This is serious. No one can morph you into something you're not. Just as no one can force you to become something that is against your makeup. But, what we can do, is help along something that you're predisposed to do anyway.”
“OK, so how does that help?”
“You said it yourself, everyone has an Achilles heal, some skeleton in the closet, or dark secret about themselves that they don't want to see the light of day. If you can discover what that is, then perhaps I can persuade whatever that little worm is to make itself shown.”
“Now, it seems to me” she continued, “that, from all you've told me, this girl is extremely confident about herself and her abilities. What we need to find is a way to undermine that confidence, make her feel less sure of herself. If we can do that, just plant the seeds of doubt, then I can feed those doubts until they haunt her like the Greek furies.”
“You're scaring me, cara mia. You know all about me. You could send those furies after me, no problem”.
“Don't worry, my love, I care about you too much to even think about such a thing”.
“Yeah, but if I ever piss you off”. Elise grabbed my hand and held it close to her breast. “Don't you see, I am only offering you this because I love you. It will be no easy task, and could cause me some pain, but for you I'd do it”.
“I can't ask you to, especially if it may hurt you”.
“No love. There's more to it than that. You've demonstrated to me that she is truly evil. Wiccans are soldiers of the good. So I am honor bound to fight her anyway. And as far as ever hurting you; no good came come from it so it is against all I believe to attempt it. Do you understand?”
“Good. Then find me the chink in her armor “.
As fate would have it Janet provided me with the necessary information without even knowing how important that information was.
It seemed that Janet had something that Penny wanted so she was weaseling her way into Janet's confidence, pretending to be friendly and caring.
It was during an attempt at camaraderie when Penny let slip a little secret. They were doing Phys-Ed and Penny was pretending to be caring about something beside herself. Pointing out one of the more rotund girls Penny shook her head and told Janet “Poor girl. I really feel sorry for her. I think it's the worse curse in the world to be fat. You know I really have to watch my figure like a hawk. I gain real easy and I just love almond roca. I mean, I could just sit there and eat a whole box if I don't catch myself. Well, it's a good thing I've got a little more self control than Sally, poor thing”.
So, Penny had a fat phobia. Not so hard to believe, bitch that she was, but that she was that vain about herself – like I said, she was no great looker. Hmm. Maybe in her eyes she though she was just perfect. I wonder how she'd feel about herself if she were to put on forty or fifty pounds. Maybe, just maybe this was the chink we needed. I couldn't wait to tell my little witch all about it.
Elise seemed to think that her self-image might be just the thing to destroy her confidence, so the next weekend she told me that she was going into the mountains to see if the spirits were willing.
She returned on Monday with dark circles under her eyes, looking completely worn out. “The winds are blowing” she said with a whisper, “I hope it's enough”.
There was only a month left of junior year at that point. Penny got the cheerleader position she coveted (thank god it was for next year's football season) and then announced that she expected to be class valedictorian at graduation. Sure, and next it would be a virgin birth or something.
In the next couple of weeks I tried to keep an eye on Penny, to see if Elise's efforts were to have any effect. At first, nothing, but then about a week into my observing I noticed that the skirt she was wearing that day seemed a little tight around the middle. Was it just wishful thinking?
Then I became aware that, here it was the middle of May and, while all the other girls were wearing shorts, and tiny skirts to beat the heat, Penny was wearing trousers and bloussey shirts. I asked Janet to take a peek in the shower for me, and she said, funny thing, Penny was definitely getting a belly and her hips and rear were widening. She told me that she went by her locker and saw a can of almond roca in it, and that she had seen Penny dipping into her “secret stash” several times.
I told Elise that it looked as if Penny had gained three or four pounds in the last couple of weeks. Elise just smiled and said “as the wind blows”.
The last two weeks of school came and went. Penny may have gained another pound or two; it was hard to tell. And I began to wonder if five or six pounds were going to make any difference in the long run. I'd just have to wait to senior year.
It was a cooler summer than most, with what seemed to be an inordinate number of windy days; and all too soon September came upon us. During the summer some of the round table managed to keep in touch, and all reported that they hadn't seen Penny at all. Not that they had expected to really, but in a mid sized suburban town it was more likely than not to run into just about anyone from school either at the mall, or the swim center, or the grocery store. Maybe she had gone to Europe for the summer or something.
So, the first day back I was extremely anxious. I didn't see Penny before school, she wasn't in my first three classes, and just as I was beginning to wonder if she was still away, I thought I saw her as I was walking to my locker between third and fourth. It was just a glimpse through a knot of people, and I couldn't really be sure. I tried for a better look, but she was gone around a corner, and I didn't have time to mess around before my next class; not that I could concentrate on anything other than what I thought I saw.
Finally, after lunch I was rewarded. I was sitting at my desk in Physics when Penny walked through the doorway and I could finally get a good look at her.
Her eyes seemed small and beady framed by her chubby cheeks. Her weak chin dominated by her new second one. She was wearing a sundress that had to be a size 16 or so and her belly had stretched that to the point of distress. As she walked past me to the back of the room I could see how wide she had become, her rear following her like a massive caboose. Her fat jiggled like Jell-O and as she bent to sit down I could see her belly rolls and watched as her hips widened as she sat. She must have gained close to fifty pounds over the summer. Penny just sat there at the back of the room and said not a word. After class I raced out to find Janet and Lori to see if they too had seen her. I caught up with Janet just after school and she was smiling ear to ear. “Can you believe it” she cried.
“Tell me about it” I laughed. “She's as big as a house”.
“I know” Janet exclaimed. “I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw her in Phys-ed. God, I can't wait until tomorrow when we have our first workout. Wait until I see that belly hanging out in the shower. What a hoot. And her butt! Did you see! She can barely get it through the doorway. And you know, we had weigh-ins today. The other girls aren't supposed to get too close to the scales but I was able to sneak a peek. Take a guess”.
“I don't know, 175-180” I ventured.
“Not even close” Janet exclaimed breathlessly. 'Try 192!”
“Wow, almost 200 pounds, Jesus! Do you think she'll fit in her cheerleader costume?” I laughed.
“Man, I doubt if even she has the guts to try that one. I don't see how she'll be able to do any cheers in her shape. She's lucky if she can get her lard off the ground. You should have seen the look on Ms. Quinns face when Penny stepped onto that scale. Ms. Quinn had to keep moving more weights over to get the scale to balance, it was almost like she was adding with an abacus.”
“Did Penny seem embarrassed?” I asked.
“No kidding” Janet replied. “The look on Penny's face said she'd probably rather be anywhere than standing on that scale, there in front of the whole class. You should have heard the whispers after she left the room. I still can't believe the way she jiggles. I mean she's even got arm wattle”.
Over the next several days I noticed Penny several times. She waddled slowly from class to class, seemingly in a daze, her chubby hand reaching into the box of almond roca that was never far from her side. Janet told me that Penny had only dressed for phys-ed once and then copped a medical for the rest of the first month.
“You should see the cellulite on her thighs” she told me. “And the stretch marks on her big saggy belly”.
“Thanks, but no thanks” I replied. “Have you seen her walking around between classes?”
“Yeah, she must be going through two cans of roca a day”.
“Looks like our growing girls' going to keep on growing”
Gee, what a rocket scientist. By the time graduation came around Penny must have put on another sixty or seventy pounds, easily winning the award for fattest girl in school. Her efforts in class were non-existent, so her grades tumbled and she was no longer allowed to speak at graduation. I also expect that the scholarships she was expecting dried up and blew away on the breeze.
We had saved the world from her evil. I sometimes feel a little remorse that Penny had to fall so far, so hard, but then I figured that that was mostly her own doing. As Elise told me, she could only encourage what was already in her nature, and it was Penny's failing that she couldn't accept herself. Maybe if she had been a nicer person. But of course then there wouldn't have been any need to talk to the wind, now would there.
“Penny wise and pound foolish” Elise laughed heartily and I knew that she spoke the truth of it. Penny just couldn't accept herself as fat. She saw in others and in herself a great failing. Some warped sense of the natural order; buying into the western wasp ideal. Too bad for her and all the fashion mucky mucks who impose their stamp on what a woman should or should not be. Heck, most of those fashion moguls are gay anyway, so what do they know of a woman's beauty.
As I looked at all 250 pounds plus of my wonderful Spanish witch I just smiled. Too each his own.