by Ellen Marcantano
I walk to the rear of Weller’s grocery store, stand online, and get weighed. My palms are wet even though I’m skinny. My neighbor, Doris, cries. She tipped the scale. An officer slaps a red plastic wrist band above her right hand and drags Doris towards the Weight Control Camp truck behind the store. Mandatory government weight checks once a month, keep track of every citizen, and excess body fat is now a crime. The smiling officer rewards me with a bag of McIntosh apples for weight compliance. Doris is screaming. I rush home and tell my husband, Jeff, who scoffs. “We’re Americans; they can’t do this.”
He works at Home Depot and wears an American flag on his shirt. Button- holes stretch over his piggy pink belly. “They can Jeff, and they are. ”He grabs the vinegar and salt chip bag and crunches his anger with chipmunk cheek defiance. “Sara, if I step on their scale there’s no bag of apples for me.”
“If you cooperate and promise to lose weight, they might give you a second chance.” Doris’ screams wail in my brain.
“I’ll hide in the basement, and you can tell them you haven’t seen me. If I stay out of sight, they won’t find me.”
“Jeff, that’s not a good plan. I’ll get taken away too.” I hold myself.
“Got a better one? Screw' em, Sara, they can’t do this. I have rights. Not your problem, you’re skinny.”
“I can’t live without you after thirty years of marriage. They’ll take you away.” I wipe wet eyes with the back of my hand. Jeff doesn’t come to bed and shuffles up and down the basement stairs. He’s building a bunker.
It’s early morning. I leave the window shades drawn. Closed eyelids protect me from the world. Jeff is in the basement sprawled out on the plaid sofa that once held a proud place in our living room. Black garbage bags filled with cookies, Twinkies, fruit roll ups and other sweet pantry goodies spill out onto the floor. Candy wrappers crunch under my feet. A pickax glares at me from behind the couch. He watches me stare. “I need to protect myself if they come for me. Go upstairs and shut the door.
The phone rings. “Mrs. Lawson, I’m Mr. Bloss with the Weight Control Camp, and we’re looking for Mr. Lawson.” The phone slips in my hand.
“He’s not here.”
“Listen up Mrs. Lawson, if we find out you’re lying, we’ll take you in his place, and charge you with lying, a character defect, until he complies with the weigh in rule.”
I open the basement door and bolt two steps at a time, my eyes as big as yellow yokes at Sunday breakfast. His shirt’s wet with stinky sweat from physical exercise, something he hasn’t done in thirty years. There’s dirt on the axe and cement crumbles create a scattered pattern on the floor in front of the bookcase. “Jeff, go to the supermarket today and get on their scale, and if you don’t, they are coming for me, and will charge me with character defects.”
“Stop ranting, Sara, don’t get your bloomers in a bunch. They can’t take you anywhere without a search warrant, and they have no reason to call for one. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Oh, yes, I have; I lied to protect you.” I sway as my knees buckle and I grab a chair back.
“I’ll fight for you Sara, I’m not an army veteran for nothing. He pulls the brim of his Vietnam baseball cap towards his nose and puffs out his chest. “I’m the best tunnel man they had over there. I crawled through those little gook tunnels like a slippery hog. I’m craving meatballs and pasta. Forget those salads you’ve been trying to force feed me. Yeah, cook meatballs and pasta.”
After lunch, the doorbell chimes. My body shudders. I pull my sweater around me and step aside as a skinny Mr. Bloss enters, followed by two police officers. “We are here to escort Mr. Lawson to a weigh in center. If you don’t cooperate, Mrs. Lawson, we’ll search your house.”
“Go ahead,” I say with a hint of defiance.
He writes something on his tablet. My feet follow them as they head to the basement door in the kitchen. My bag of apples sits on the counter.
A scowling officer turns the knob and sprints two steps at a time down the stairs. My heart slams inside my chest and I wait for them to drag Jeff up and out of the house. Silence. No scuffling. No screaming. The officer bellows, “No one here.” Mr. Bloss walks towards me. “Mrs. Lawson, you need to come with us in your husband’s place.”
Whisper words pop out of my mouth before I can stuff them back in my throat. “He’s in the basement.”
“No, he isn’t.” He slaps a tight red plastic band on my wrist. The bag of McIntosh snickers.
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