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Old 10-25-2016, 02:31 PM   #8
Madeline Maple
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 32
Madeline Maple can now be the recipient of "two cans" jokesMadeline Maple can now be the recipient of "two cans" jokes
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CHAPTER 4
Zoe
June 17, 2003


"American Airlines welcomes you to Iowa City where the local time is approximately 1:25."

Zoe adjusted the time on her watch. She patted her hair and smoothed her clothes, thinking that she couldn't remember the last time she had such a rough landing. She flipped open her cell phone, and saw that she had no messages. After pressing a few buttons she held it up to her ear.

"Hi Mom. I just landed. I'll call you later after I meet up with Franny. Just wanted to let you know I made it okay." Zoe closed her phone and put it back in her purse, exchanging it for a raw carrot.

As the plane pulled into the gate she crunched down hard on her snack, mashing her teeth together in a robotic motion. She hadn't seen Franny since her college graduation two years ago, and she wasn't sure what to expect. Their phone conversations often grew tense, and Zoe found Franny capable of being so defensive at the tiniest little comment.

She finished her carrot as she stepped off the plane. I wonder if he'll be with her to pick me up. What's his name again? Barney? No. Stanley! It's Stanley, she decided to herself. Zoe knew that Franny and Stan had been seeing each other for the past year. At first Zoe took it as a good sign that Franny might have dropped some of the weight she packed on during college. But in recent phone calls Franny had suggested otherwise. And besides, she works at a bakery. That's not the best place for a diet, Zoe thought. I just hope she hasn't gotten any bigger.

She spotted Franny right away. Zoe saw her sister's broad hips squeezed into a knee-length jeans skirt above thick calves that tapered to tiny feet. She watched as Franny's upper arms jiggled as she waved. Oh, dear, she said to herself. She's as big as a house!

Zoe put on her best smile and ran to her sister's outstretched arms. As the two embraced it was all Zoe could do to keep from crying as she noticed that her arms barely made it around the folds of fat on Franny's sides. Zoe guessed that her sister was at least fifty pounds heavier than she saw her last.

"Happy birthday, little sister!" Zoe managed to say as she did her best not to show surprise at Franny's size.

Franny took her sister's hand and gave it a little squeeze, and in a tender voice she said, "It's good to see you, Zoe."

"So what's up for tonight, birthday girl? Are we having a rager?"

"You know it," Franny replied. "My friend Susie is throwing a party for me at a restaurant downtown."

The two women headed toward the baggage claim, but Zoe saw immediately that her sister was struggling to keep up. Franny had to swing her arms in wide arcs to heave her fat-laden hips and legs forward. Witnessing this, Zoe felt a sudden surge of anxiety, and her thoughts wandered.

It was as if she were walking the halls of her old high school. She remembered huffing and puffing to get to class, recalling the shame she felt at letting her body get so out of control. As if for the first time, she felt the deep pain of humiliation knowing that she outweighed everyone in her school by 100 pounds, and that included the teachers.

Zoe pushed all those memories deep down, out of her way as she focused on the present to retrieve her suitcase from the baggage claim. She turned to Franny and assumed what she hoped was a friendly, curious tone. "When will I get to meet this Stanley I keep hearing about?"

"Oh...he'll be there...tonight," Franny managed in-between breaths as they made their way to the car.

They passed a vending machine, and without realizing it, Zoe's eyes lingered on the candy bars and potato chips. Her mouth watered as she steeled herself against her relentless appetite. Her free hand went to her purse where she clutched an extra carrot. She squeezed it such that her knuckles turned white.

---

The so-called restaurant was more of a pub with a back room reserved for Franny's birthday party. Balloons and streamers framed two large tables overfilled with food and presents, but it was the cake that caught Zoe off guard. She asked herself, What normal person has a three-tiered birthday cake?

Just then Franny appeared alongside an older woman sporting a retro hairstyle and a patterned blouse that clashed with her striped skirt.

"Hey, Zoe, I want you to meet my boss, Mrs. Dalloway."

The older woman caught Zoe by surprise when she pulled her in for a big hug.

Mrs. Dalloway, noticing Zoe's rigid response to the embrace, flashed a bright smile and said, "Sorry, kid, but I come from a long line of huggers."

Franny, pretending not to notice Zoe's disdain, said "Mrs. Dalloway here is responsible for my beautiful birthday cake!" And then, turning to her boss, "Really, it's amazing. Thank you."

Mrs. Dalloway just patted Franny on the shoulder and launched into a detailed explanation about the importance of having the right butter to sugar ratio in the frosting. Meanwhile, Zoe noticed that many guests had arrived. Glancing back to her sister's boss, she noted that while Mrs. Dalloway might be a bit pudgy around the middle, she was much smaller than most of the other partygoers. Zoe found it ironic that the person who brought the biggest dessert was one of the few people there who wasn't morbidly obese.

Across the room, Zoe identified her sister's friend Susie, a tall, big-bellied woman with black hair whom she remembered meeting at Franny's graduation. Jesus Christ, thought Zoe, does that woman always wear skintight revealing clothes? Wondering what childhood trauma could have led to deluded behavior for such a fat woman, Zoe noticed that Susie was talking with a tall, skinny man and both were looking in her direction.

Zoe tried to look interested in Mrs. Dalloway's baking explanations as she saw the skinny man approach out of the corner of her eye.

"You must be Zoe," he said upon arrival. "I recognized you from Franny's photos. I'm Stan."

Zoe did her best to smile as she shook Stan's outstretched hand. So this is the guy, she thought. Zoe saw his big nose and long face, and she joked to herself that his tucked in t-shirt wasn't going to win any fashion awards.

She saw her sister reach up to tussle Stan's combed hair as Franny explained that she had been waiting "forever" to have Zoe and Stan meet.

"So, Stan, Franny tells me that you two met at a barbecue?"

"Well, yeah...I mean...that's where we met for the first time...in person, that is."

"Oh," Zoe, now looking confused, asked "You had met somehow before?"

Stan's face had an awkward expression as he searched for the right words.

"What Stan means," Franny interjected, "is that we exchanged a couple of emails to get directions to the barbecue where we met for the first time."

Zoe noticed Stan's face relax when Franny spoke for him. Wow, Zoe thought to herself, he's insecure. He must want such a fat girlfriend because he feels like he can't do any better.

Mrs. Dalloway gestured to the giant cake and asked, "Should we slice into this or what?"

"Definitely!" Franny replied.

Franny's mouth was practically watering, and Zoe could hardly believe it because she had been monitoring her sister's food intake ever since she arrived and decided that Franny couldn't possibly still be hungry. She had already eaten two hot dogs, a basket of French fries, a small bag of Funyons, several handfuls of peanuts, a granola bar, and she washed it all down with a 20 ounce bottle of regular Coke. Zoe, on the other hand, had only eaten the extra carrot she brought with her on the plane.

As Susie corralled the guests and led a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You," Mrs. Dalloway placed candles in the shape of "2" and "4" on the cake's top tier.

Franny made her wish and blew out the candles while Mrs. Dalloway moved towards the cake with a knife. But to Zoe's horror, she didn't even cut a piece for her sister. Instead, she placed the entire top tier on a large plate and presented it to Franny.

The crowd actually cheered, as if eating an entire small cake by yourself was something to be encouraged. Zoe felt herself start to tremble as she watched her sister dig in with a big smile on her face.

Mrs. Dalloway served giant slices of cake to each guest and looked disappointed when Zoe declined. Everyone seemed to be smiling and laughing while they ate. Zoe, however, was feeling lightheaded. She focused on the partygoers, and all she saw were their fleshy arms as they crammed forkfuls of cake into their fat faces. She saw some obese woman chortling with her mouth full of frosting, and Zoe felt her stomach turn.

Without a word of explanation she rushed out of the party, through the pub and out onto the street. The fresh air filled her lungs and Zoe's eyes focused on the busy sidewalk. She saw college kids walking arm in arm on the way to their Saturday night destinations. Across the street she saw a dimly lit diner. As rain began to fall she jaywalked toward the front door.

Zoe sat alone in a corner booth. She ordered a salad and a diet coke. When it came she ate quickly with the dressing on the side untouched.
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