All Stories, General Fiction

Food Cowboy by Leah Sackett

Maisie wished Goodwill had an anonymous nighttime drop-off. She didn’t want to be judged for her donations or the frequency with which she gave them. In all things, Maisie preferred to be anonymous. She didn’t like to be seen. She was 262lbs and 5’2″. Most of her life, Maisie was petite, her adolescent frame offered her two options: one to keep shopping in the children’s department or two to find a good tailor. Thankfully, her grandma could sew. Grandma Betty made a lot of Maisie’s clothes. Eventually, Maisie hit 100 lbs. Now, the only thing she was lacking was much in the way of boobs. Push-up bras now had something, a little something, to work with even if the ballooned bras were problematic with spontaneous combustion while dancing or laughing. 

Today, Maisie was morbidly obese with watermelon-sized tits that hung down on her turgid stomach. Her appendicitis surgery left a scar that was a minor mar while skinny. In her heavier weight class, it created a crenel in her abdomen. Maisie couldn’t see all of her when naked in the mirror. There was fat covering fat. There were orifices that existed in theory. She obsessed with smelling like shit because she couldn’t clean herself properly. She couldn’t reach. Every bowel movement ended in a shower. Maisie wasn’t sure of the exact poundage. She couldn’t see around her gut to read the digital display. One of her feeble attempts to read her weight ended in her cracking the glass scale. She put it in the recycling and sat down to a box of Twinkies.

In case it passed you by, Maisie was fat. Only her generous spirit could outpace her appetite; Maisie worked as an advisor for a non-profit, Manna.  She heeded the call to round-up unwanted, edible food and redistribute to a food bank or soup kitchen. This volunteer job was Maisie’s most guilt-ridden and exciting time of any given day. The good deed feeling wasn’t enough compensation to assuage the sense of guilt for every bite that crossed her lips. Guilt that compounded every day. The good deed magnified her feelings of hunger and humility.

A generous member of the donations committee, Marcus Riley, was building the non-profit a website. This would give them much needed advertisement and infrastructure to track who was giving what to whom. Surplus food was easy to disappear, and on a time clock for “good.” This wasn’t Goodwill; people couldn’t just drop off the food in a receptacle. Maisie was eager for the new website to streamline the process, so there would be less waste and fewer empty tummies.  The hitch came off Tuesday afternoon; Marcus sent out an email stating he would need to post a photo of each senior staff member. This was, in essence, her problem. How does a morbidly obese person slap her face on a non-profit for food waste? She ate her carrots dipped in hummus out of nerves, and a conciliatory act to eat healthily. If she used an old photo, everyone would know. Both those who knew her, as well as strangers, imagine people looking at the picture of a skinny woman with Mall bangs wearing a turtleneck and cardigan. It was a boomerang from the 80s.

“Ma’m, Here’s your 2 o’clock milkshake,” Lindsey said.

“Thank you,” Maisie said. She could feel the guilt rising up the back of her throat like vomit. A daily milkshake is the least of her problems. The boxes of twinkies and Ho-Hos as an after-work snack before she ate a pot of pasta in a cream sauce with a loaf of garlic bread. The fact that she still did her own cooking and had not succumbed to Grub Hub was a little token of pride. If she made enough money, she knew this fall from grace would happen faster than she could get that paycheck bump in direct deposit.

Her thighs spread out under her layers of belly fat. She tried to lift her flesh skirt when she sat on the toilet. She wanted to see her thighs. How big had they gotten? Were they gone forever? She reached around and under her stomach to apply a medicated lotion to these stalwart logs. She followed the itch in her application, and then she wandered about her house pantiless. There were greasy spots scattered about the recliner and her bedsheets. It had to be her thighs. Maisie was mortified. When Maisie was 12, her Dad, Rev. Turner, was excommunicated from their church. Dad had been cheating, both of them married, with Meredith Sachs. It was a widely spread fact that Dad’s head was between her thighs. Maisie didn’t see it. But the image was vivid in her mind. Mom just buried her head as well, and we moved to Sweetgum County. But you can’t move from something like that. Dad got a job as a line cook in Paddy’s Bar-B-Que restaurant. Mom got a job at the cosmetics counter in JC Penney. At an age where revealing your body was the natural inclination in small steps of short shorts and cropped tops, Maisie was concerned about thighs’ sinful nature. Her brother, Robert, spent as much time at the pool as possible. There was nowhere he could get in that would have such a spread. He became a lifeguard. When he had to find more gainful employment as an adult, he started spinning records as the DJ of  PT’s (Prick Tease) strip joint.

Maisie eats to distraction with her little apple laptop on a table that tucks around the recliner; she has a big screen TV on one of the plethoras of Netflix channels about true crime. As she eats, Maisie orders cute, trendy clothes in size 4,2, XXS. She has stacks of small-sized clothing still in the box. When the piles of garments get too high and start to tip, she takes the items to Goodwill. The process begins all over again. She eats until she becomes ill, vows to change, or is vomiting in an Arby’s again. She can hear a mother and child in the next stall. When she exits her stall, the child is at the sink with her mother; she looks at Maisie with leeriness and fear. This beached whale with vomit on her dress lapel, a grotesque stranger that frightens small children, is what Maisie sees in the mirror. Maisie stands in the way of the paper roll and the door. She considers the little girl could fit in her butt crack.  This is a turning point. She tries to just stop eating, failure. She hits diet after diet to try and reduce. She uses an old prom photo for the website, citing it’s kitsch. Then she flies out to a dude ranch to make a serious tackle at the weight loss. The daily dust is making a mud patty between her thighs. According to their scale, she lost 7 pounds in two weeks. She feels like crap. And in the scheme of things, 7 pounds is nothing. She could eat that back in one bad afternoon. Maisie can’t live at the ranch, and her ass is so sore. She went home.

Three months later, with many comments about the cute, kitschy photo Maisie has entered a new phase in her weight loss journey. Maisie sees a doctor about Gastric Bypass. She is a little relieved when he says she is definitely a good candidate. This is the closest thing to a miracle that Maisie has ever experienced. As the day of the surgery nears, she begins to hallucinate food is talking to her. Her lunchtime Chimichanga taunts her to eat it. She pushes it away. Dinner’s pot of pasta coerces her into leaving no leftovers. Her food phantasms get louder as the day of surgery approaches. The night before her surgery, it is her turn to pick up the leftover food from Raggiano’s. It is full of pasta and white bread. She helps the restaurant staff load the food into the back of her SUV. She drives the food across town to St. Patrick’s center. The delicious smells mingle in the air and clog her nostrils. Maisie is torn between nausea and hunger. When she arrives at the shelter, she gives a call that she is outback. There is a delay.  Some rolls and red pasta are packed in the suicide seat. Maisie unwraps two rolls and a box of red sauce. She dips and eats. My God, it feels like the first she has eaten all day. There is a face pressed into the window. Tom peers in at her.

“What the hell are you doing, Maisie?”

There is a knot of bread clogged in her airway. She grabs at her throat. She can feel her eyes start to bug.

“Maisie, unlock the door. Unlock the door,” Tom hollers.

Maisie reaches for the master lock. A simple flick. But could he get his arms around her to do the Heimlich maneuver?

A finger dripping with red sauce, she traces it down the window, making a decision. It’s been a lousy way to live, but it wasn’t such a bad way to die. The half-eaten roll tumbles from her lap and rolls under the break. Her throat is dry. The glow of the dashboard starts to blur with the squint in her eyes. God works in unexpected and welcome ways.

Leah Sackett

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

2 thoughts on “Food Cowboy by Leah Sackett”

  1. Hi Leah,
    I do like the pace of this.
    …It’s weird but her revulsion of herself wasn’t quite there. It was more the physical than the guilt that this addressed. But again, the guilt wasn’t that unliveable.
    To me, that was all very interesting. When we read stories like this, it’s normally at the beginning when the eating kicks in or at the other side when the person has all sorts of problems that actually stop them functioning. So for this to be somewhere in between, (Even though it was the end for the MC) it was interesting to read.
    You have came at this from a very different angle which has worked brilliantly.


  2. The unrelenting description challenges the reader to care more about Maisie than they are revolted by her. I found her disgusting, but I kept rooting for her to turn it around. Guess there’s something mean hardwired in the human mind–I kept thinking about Python’s “one leetle wafer.” Guess there’s something self destructive hardwired in the human heart–the acceptance and approbation we crave from others is outweighed by hate and scorn we have for ourselves.


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