Sam Wendall is fat.
This is not a new observation. It doesn’t come as some kind of shock to him. No. It never did. Sam has been big - Mom always says big instead of fat - his whole life. This morning he stands in front of the mirror behind his bedroom door and looks at the reflection with a familiar feeling of revulsion and curiosity. Mom always tries to be optimistic, reassuring. You’re sixteen, honey. You’ll grow into your body and your face will clear up. I bet you’ll be a whole new person next year. You will be running from all the girls. Just you wait.
Good old Mom. Always looking on the bright side of things.
He continues to stare at himself in the mirror, transfixed. He can’t help it. Sometimes the sheer ugliness of his body just fascinates him. Sam looks at his reflection in the same detached way he looks at the dissected frogs in Mr. Harrison’s Biology class, intrigued and yet nauseated. His face is an eruption of blackheads and red pimples and dry scabs. He thinks his glasses make him look like a retard. At least he doesn’t wear braces. That is one fate he has avoided. So far. Sam smiles a pathetic smile at his reflection. Grandma Ruth always tells him that he has a nice smile.
Sam tries not to dwell for long on anything below his neck. Gross. Baggy jeans. Worn sneakers. T-shirt. And his stomach, his disgusting stomach that hangs over the waistline of his blue jeans. Nasty. He grabs the sweatshirt off the back of a chair – Mom probably wouldn’t say anything about the sweatshirt because it is March and still somewhat chilly outside – and throws it on.
There. That looks better. A little bit anyway.
Mom calls from downstairs. “Honey, are you ready yet?”
He exhales deeply. He grabs the books sitting on his cluttered desk and stuffs them into his backpack.
You can do this, he tells himself as he heads downstairs. His footfalls are very heavy on the creaking steps. Just tell her...and don’t fucking cave in!
Christine has finally unpacked the last of the dishes that were left over from the move. She’s still not used to having all this counter space. Her and Sammy have gone from the small walk up apartment back in Boston to this two-story house in a matter of a few months. It has been an adjustment for both of them. Actually, it feels more like a readjustment for her after all these years of being away. Greenfield! The place where nothing ever happens.
She hears the familiar sounds of her son’s footsteps coming down the stairs as she puts the last of the serving plates up in the cupboard. It’s strange being back here after all this time, Christine tells herself.
“Are you working tonight?” Ruth Jennings asks her daughter from her place at the breakfast table.
“Yes, Mom. I work every night this week. Manny is short on cashiers since Lisa took her vacation. We talked about this last night. Remember?”
“Oh. I must have forgotten.” Ruth turns a page in the newspaper. “Did you see that new antique shop is opening in Warwick? We should go some weekend.”
Christine is thankful for this place, even though moving back in with her mother had really been the last thing that she had wanted to do. Harlan’s life insurance had been enough to keep her and Sammy afloat for a little while, but the city was just too expensive for a widowed woman and her young son to live in. Money was constantly tight and the apartment was shrinking. It had never seemed that small while Harlan was alive. So, when Mom called from her hospital room to tell Christine that she had taken a spill at home, her daughter had reluctantly seized upon the moment to talk about something that had been dwelling in the back of her mind ever since her husband’s sudden death. This conversation took place shortly after Christmas. Snow fell outside the apartment window and piled up in the empty streets. Mom, why don’t you let me come up and take care of you for a while? You’re not getting any younger, hot-stuff. What if you got really hurt? Sammy would like Greenfield and I haven’t been back in ages. You should see him now. He’s growing up. Right before my eyes. It will be good for you. For us.
Christine has to admit that the presence of her mother is comforting. Things have been so strange this last year and a half. She feels like a crack could open up in the earth at any moment and swallow the very people that give her life meaning. It has happened once already. Christine – in some deep, unknown part of her mind – is preparing for the next blow. She knows it could come at any time, when you least expect it. Could you ever truly be ready for something like that?
Sam comes into the kitchen.
Christine pours coffee into a Thermos at the counter. “Ready to roll?”
Sam takes a package of Pop-Tarts from the cupboard. “Yeah. I’m ready.”
Christine begins to look through her purse. “You should really have something better for breakfast, pal. Those things aren’t good for you.”
“My keys were in here just last night.”
Christine pulls out her car keys after a few minutes of frantic searching. “There they are. Thank God. I really got to clean out this thing one o...