A Baker’s Dozen of Revenge

AUTHOR’S NOTE; The following is a work of horor.  Have you ever seen or heard about someone losing a ton of weight and then getting divorced?  Here’s what could happen via my disturbed mind.  Enjoy!

           Mark and Barbara Parker were fat.  Not the kind of twenty extra pounds sort of American semi-obese but the mountains of flesh, rolling like a herd of cattle sort of fat. Their wedding picture, proudly displayed on a bob on Barbara’s purse showed a shadow of their current size.  But even back then, during their heyday they were large people.  It wasn’t a sin.  Genetically they couldn’t help it and no fad diet, exercise machine or any combination thereof would alter this fact.  Like a man with a limp or a lady with a lazy eye they just got used to it.  It was as much a part of them as breathing.  No big deal.

            Doctor Gillespie on the other hand wasn’t as understanding about it.  The pinched face the physician knew he was wearing during every visit to his office by the Parkers deepened into the ultimate frown.  He had been their doctor for the same amount of time they had been married.  No longer was he using any form of bedside manner during their visits.  He had moved past the point where he felt veiled suggestions and dire warnings of impending demise would cause a drastic change in their dining habits.  Mark and Barbie (she no longer used her full name) guffawed and tittered (he the later, she the former) at his heartfelt pleas.  But today was greatly different.

            This visit found Mark red faced and sweating.  His breathing was labored like the sound of a dying engine which had not received preventive maintenance.  Pudgy hands kneaded the flesh of his right man-tit while his spouse looked on ashen faced with worry.  The Parkers couldn’t have been in a more terrible pickle.  One of them was close to the grave and to put it bluntly the gravy was the problem.

            “I warned you about this for years,” He grumbled.  “How long have I been saying you need to cut down your intake of food?”

            Neither Jennings responded.  Between the guilt and the nearly visible shadow of the Grim Reaper standing behind Mark permitted them to speak.

            “What am I to do with you, Mark?” he asked.  “I could send you to the ER for a battery of tests but even if we manage to get this under control you’re going to have to change.”

            The massive man tried to speak but what came out was more of a mouse’s squeak than an elephant’s trumpeting. 

            “Okay here is what is going to happen,” he firmly stated.  “You’re going to the hospital.  After they get you heart rate, blood pressure and other problems under control I want you back in this office pronto.  I have some options you are going to not just listen to but chose from.  This can’t go on.  People aren’t supposed to weigh over three hundred pounds it just isn’t healthy!  And I swear, if either of you give me that line about being big boned I’m going to scream.  You couldn’t conceive children due to your weight, not because you couldn’t get pregnant but it would almost certainly been fatal.  I can’t believe you let it come to this.”

            Both of them looked chastised like children caught sneaking into the kitchen for a double handful of cookies.  Nodding in unison they surrendered their fate to him.

            “Look this is fixable,” he reassured them.  “I don’t expect you to end up looking like movie stars eating only twigs and berries but I would like to get you down to something manageable.”

            “Okay Doc,” Mark wheezed.

            “Good,” he sighed.

            “What hospital?” Barbie questioned in a whisper.

            Doctor Gillespie smiled because he already knew the best choice for the affliction which ailed them both.  In fact he had his secretary all ready calling it.  He knew Barbie would try to make some sort of fuss about the place her husband would be heading.  She’d pulled this stunt on him before.  Her irrational rationalizations of the various hospitals in the region could be quoted by both the physician and his staff.  It was a litany well known to all by heart.

            “Don’t worry which one it is,” he admonished her, “just be ready to go when the ambulance arrives.”

****

            A month, two hospital visits and a hundred treatments later they rolled into the doctor’s office like two humpback whales migrating to better fishing spots.  For the first time since he came to accept his size Mark winced when the plastic chair squealed in pain-like agony when he sat on it.  Years of denial and shrugging his weight off evaporated.  Shame darkened his all ready ruddy cheeks to a pallor only seen on dye-infested meat at the butcher’s.  Whispered comments, disgusted looks and tittering laughter at jokes he couldn’t hear erupted around him in the waiting room.  He put his hands on his knees.  Trying to find a place his eyes could rest without adding more misery he caught himself staring at his hands.  Like two bloated spiders with sausage-like appendages they lay upon the straining fabric of his sweat pants.  In shock he noted for the first time in years the ring put on his finger by his then blushing (and skinnier) bride was nearly hidden in folds of fat.  He shifted in his seat and it let out a groan of epic proportions protesting the very reality of his heftiness. 

            There is no word in the English language which can describe the shame and humiliation I now feel, he thought.

            Had he been a weaker man (his only weakness being food) Mark would’ve wept like a lost child in some supermarket.  But he was made of sterner stuff, fluffy but sterner.  A ham-sized palm clomped onto his shoulder causing him to look to his left.  The hand belonged to his wife Barbie. 

            I remember the day we met.  How it seemed we were meant for one another and how easily she accepted me.  Now she wears an expression of impending doom like some oracle who sees the tragedy to come and cannot bear the truth of it.

            Mark was buoyed by the fact the hospital’s prognosis was favorable.  There would be some tough days ahead, miles and miles before the light would even be visible at the end of the tunnel.  However it wasn’t as if he’d been given a death sentence.  But radical was the treatment.  There didn’t seem to be time to take the slow and easy approach to weight loss.  The specialist he had been sent to told Mark he needed to drop one hundred pounds or die in a month. 

            Your choice, the female physician stated.

            The decision wasn’t even close to being in question.

            Hell it wasn’t even in the same zip code, Mark thought.

            The nurse, a lovely young woman half his age named Debbie called his name.  Rising like leviathans from the depths of the sea he and his wife stood up and waddled towards the open door.  Fear rose up in him.  He knew what she would ask next.

            “Step on the scale for me please,” she uttered by rote.

            Mark did as he was told.  The number appearing on the LED screen made him feel even more horrible.  He hadn’t lost weight, he had gained two pounds.

            “Follow me,” Debbie implored.

            Lurching in a shifting manner, his thighs rubbing against one another Mark trailed and eventually lost ground to the slender nurse.  He felt his thighs chafe against one another, the heat and sweat building.  Behind him, equally fading in the distance was Barbie.  Every single piece of evidence regarding his size loomed larger in his brain.  It was as if life had decided to admonish him at every turn about his weight.  Thankfully the trip was short.  The small examination room seemed too tiny for their combined numbers like a fish take straining to hold bread-fattened carp instead of minnows.

            “The doctor will be in shortly,” she said.

            Mark heard the distain in Debbie’s voice.  It was a terrible tone not just suggestion she couldn’t wait to be out of his presence, but confirming his worst fears.  He was fat, disgustingly heavy and the woman couldn’t bear being around him.  He fought back tears while his wife plodded over and fell into a chair.  He did the same to the examination couch.

            How long has it been since I sat down? He asked himself.  For years I’ve let gravity do the work for me.  I don’t take a set I collapse into it like a side of beef dropping off a meat hook.

            “You okay babe?” his wife queried.

            “No,” he answered.

            “I’m worried too.”

            He didn’t have a response.  Humiliation coursed over his body and Mark felt the prickling heat on his skin which quickly reminded him of how big he was.  Before he could succumb to weeping over this latest development Doctor Gillespie strolled in.

            “How are we doing today?” he asked.

            “His blood pressure’s down and he’s feeling better,” Barbie answered for him.

            “I see you’ve gained two pounds.”

            “He’s been bedridden!  It’s not like he can even walk due to the strain on his heart.”

            Despite this being true Mark still heard the rationalization in his spouse’s words.  He leaned forward with a groan.

            “I’ve made up my mind,” he gustily groaned.

            “Oh?” the physician commented.

            “I’m having that stomach belt procedure done.  The specialist suggested it and told me it would be the best and safest way for me to lose the weight.”

            “That’s good Mark.”

            “I’m going to schedule the first set of exams.  With luck I should be undergoing the treatment in a month.”

            “I won’t lie to you Mark it’s going to be very tough.”

            “I want to do this.  Not just for my own sake but for Barbie’s as well.  I’ve put this off for too long and like you’ve been saying it well past high time to do something about it.”

            “I applaud your dedication.  What about you Barbie?  Are you going to have the same surgery?”

            “No she can’t.  The specialist told us she could lose the weight naturally and it’d be better for her.  Both of us are going to enter a twelve step program for obese people as well.”

            Barbie grunted in agreement.

            “Well I expect to be kept in the loop,” Doc Gillespie reminded him.  “I’m available anytime you need me.”

****

            The seasons turn and time stands still for no one.  Mark looked at his iPhone’s calendar and came to the sudden, happy conclusion it was a year to the date of his near death experience.  The chair he sat it was silent.  No creaks, groans or complaints issued out of the stressed materials he sat on.  The people didn’t gawk at him.  He felt wonderful, energized and in control for the first time in his life.  His six-feet, two inch frame still wore a bit more weight than he cared for but all in all he was a slimmer, happier man.  Each memory of improvement flapped in his mind like banners snapping in a strong breeze.  And like those flags he pictured them atop towers of a sturdy, secure and staunch castle. 

            He heard a creak beside him.

            Turning to his left he spied his wife squatting on a chair and looking like some mythical troll laboring to gain entrance into the keep he now envisioned his body to be.  Despite the fact she’d labored as hard as he had, Barbie still wore enough excess fat to boil down and create enough soap to bathe everyone in Argentina.  She was thinner, losing a massive one hundred pounds.  Laughing she had come down one day to show Mark she now fit back into her wedding dress with ease.  Even though he found himself cheering her accomplishments, taking great pride in her progress something was simmering just under the surface of his mind. 

            It was an irrational, stupid and prickling concept which had become more and more irritating over the course of the past twelve months.   At first it was just a whisper, a ghost of a comment.  Usually it reared it’s minute head up during bouts of their lovemaking.  Naked it was almost impossible to ignore the differences in their sizes.  Her breasts, ponderous and heavy still resided upon an out thrust stomach in direct disagreement with her diminished weight.   Barbie’s hips, padded like the cushions of some overly stuffed couch gave him pause.  He admired the fact the meat curtain, that hanging pouch of flab once dipping past her loins had vanished.  But a remnant remained, threatening to once more return to its flabby glory.  HeHer

Her  Sex was becoming difficult to think about let alone engage in.  The problem was obvious, hugely so.  He thought of Karen, his mentor in Overeaters Anonymous who continually preached against this particular sin.

            There’s a tendency for those who lose a lot of weight in a rapid manner to begin to look upon their spouse with disgust.  You have to stay on guard against this since she’s doing the best she can to drop the pounds, the once hefty woman preached.

            But try as he might Mark found he couldn’t silence this voice inside of him. 

            Things have changed, he muttered to himself.

            It was true.  People at work (women mostly) had begun to show interest in him despite years of casual, but forced conversations.  Instead of them shunning him they now sought Mark out for talks.  Several of the girls at work had never bothered to speak to him.  The weight loss had changed him drastically.  He now worked out with weights instead of falling into his old habit of eating comfort foods.  A spot on the bowling league had opened up and he’d been invited to join.  Now every Thursday he found himself at the alleys laughing, joking and bowling with his once-distant co-workers.  Barbie had come a few times but soon began begging off for one reason or another.  He tried to keep her involved in his life like before the surgery but she was shrinking away from him. 

            Every pound I lose seems to be equaled to Barbie taking another step away from me, Mark thought darkly.  I try to encourage her but she won’t go along with it.

            They had begun to have fights.  The first one was over an extra slice of Key Lime pie and the latest over her ceasing to go to Overeaters Anonymous.  Her mentor, Barry had called and let the cat out of the bag.  It wasn’t t that she quit it was more of the fact she hadn’t bothered to tell him.  Mark felt betrayed by Barbie’s lying about going to OA.  Then he found the sales receipt to a donut shop hidden almost insultingly in between their wedding photo album.  The heated row had lasted several hours and caused nearly a week of painful silence to crop up between them.  Too often she’d be found engrossed in photographs of them before the surgery.  Vacations, family outings and holiday pictures would be spread out on the table to be fondly stared at.  Lately a box of tissue (along with wads of snot-filled remains) would frame these photos.  Barbie was quiet, morose and becoming increasingly hard to talk to.  No matter how hard he tried she kept backing away.

            I know where this is headed.  I wish I could change the course we’re on but I don’t know how to do it, he mumbled inwardly.

            D-I-V-O-R-C-E, just like Country & Western song went would be the final outcome of their eleven year marriage.  It was something he dreaded, hated but had come to accept.  Barbie wasn’t committed to change.  She wanted their old life back and had said as much during the last argument.

            He waited for Doctor Gillespie to walk in the examination room.  He felt dread.  An all-encompassing, heart-chilling fear which iced over his soul like the pavement on a wind swept bridge in winter.  It wasn’t for himself he worried.  The pit-stop at the scale showed he’d lost another two pounds.  Mark thought how funny it was that he could no longer despise the LED readout but actually looked forward to it.  No he wasn’t concerned with his progress. 

            Barbie was another matter.

            She jerked when Debbie the nurse asked her to step on the electronic scale.  A quick expression of fear crossed her face like a rabbit darting into a busy street.  Mark didn’t really hear her gulp but it wasn’t too difficult for his imagination to make the sound in his head when she stepped up.  He remembered praying silently.

            She’s lost weight, she’s lost weight, he chanted, like the Little Engine that Could.

            But it was all in vain.  No amount of praying, braying or wishing could alter the numbers displayed upon the small screen.  Barbie had gained ten pounds.  He wanted to cuss.  Not at his wife but at the world in general.  Even though he’d caught her red handed lying and eating things she shouldn’t have Mark didn’t have it in him to scold his wife.  He still loved her. 

            I’d do anything for her but she has to want to do this for herself! He cried in the emptiness of his mind.

            Now he sat on the examine couch and she had taken up her defensive position on the chair in the corner of the room.  Barbie clutched her purse in front of her.  It sat precariously on the limited space of her lap like some battered shield.  She wouldn’t meet his gaze.  Shame dotted her cheeks in ruddy spots like some drunken clown’s makeup.  He sighed.

            “It’s all right babe,” he semi-lied.  “You had a setback that’s all.”

            She didn’t dignify his attempt at mollifying her with comment.  She sniffed in an indignant air, like some blue-blooded royal being addressed by a peasant.  He fought the urge to get angry.

            “Look you really need to talk to me,” he implored, “why have you decided to quit?  What is possessing you to give up when you’ve made such great progress?”

            “You wouldn’t understand,” she grumbled.

            “Yes I would.  Try me.”

            “Not here, not now.”

            “Okay how about when we get home?”

            “Will that be before or after you use the treadmill and drink a protein shake?”

            The sarcasm of her words transfixed him like a hurled javelin.  There was an edgy, irate and pointy sharpness to each and ever syllable exiting her lips and lancing into his ears. 

            “We can do it right away,” he said in his best understanding husband’s tone.

            “We’ll see,” she grunted.

            We’ll see was Barbie-talk for “I’ll fucking tell you when I’m damned good and ready and not one second sooner”.  It was ten years of marriage to her giving him the insight to the real meaning of this short, deadly phrase.  He started to open his mouth, to beg her to cool her jets but Doc Gillespie came in.  He physically flinched when the door opened.

            “Well how are you two doing?” the man asked.

            “Not bad,” Mark lied.

            “I see you’re down two pounds…”

              No, no don’t say it please God in Heaven above make him shut up about Barbie’s weight gain! He begged.

            “… and Barbie, well let’s just say we need to talk,” the physician finished.

            “I’d like that,” she replied.

            Mark was stunned.  The only thing right now which could’ve topped this three word response was if the doctor suggested he go out and eat a box of donuts in celebration of his victory.  Wordlessly he allowed the man to take his vital signs and ask a few more questions.  But the feeling of the doctor just giving him the once-over didn’t fade.  Their family physician was more interested in getting to Barbie’s apparent lack of motivation than Mark’s body.

            “Mark if you’ll excuse us,” Gillespie asked politely.

            “Sure Doc,” he surrendered.

            Stepping out of the room he meandered down the hall.  Listless and lost he really didn’t know where he was headed.  His feet just seemed to carry him along like a paper boat succumbing to the unfathomable twists and turns of a fast running stream.  Down the corridor he went, past the door to the waiting room with its TV noise and the sounds of sick kids coughing.  He stopped.  There was nowhere else to go and Mark found himself at the entrance to the office.  He stood there confused and unsure of what to do.  How long did the doctor need?  Should he go into the waiting room?  Perhaps he ought to go back in and offer comfort and aid since he knew Barbie would be in tears soon?  All these thoughts rampaged through his head like Godzilla through Tokyo.  He looked back down the hall to the room he had just exited.

            “Can I help you?” a female voice interrupted.

            He turned to face the speaker.

            It was Marlene one of the older nurses who had been with Gillespie for many years.  She was Mark’s age as approximate as he could guess.  Her dark raven hair was caught up behind her in a loose arrangement held by a very expensive looking device.  The freckles under her eyes, topping her elegant cheeks moved of their own accord.  She was smiling at him.  It wasn’t just a “how can I help you” sort of grin but more of a “how can I help myself to you” type of expression.  If the shock of the doctor’s insistence to speak with Barbie wasn’t enough to sunder his reason, Marlene’s open and obvious interest was.

            “Oh,” he coughed out, “I’m just waiting for my wife.”

            That’s it.  Remind her you’re married and happy before she gets any ideas, he congratulated himself.

            “I see you dropped another two pounds, good for you Mark,” she countered his attack.

            Shit!

            “Yeah I’m rather pleased with it myself,” he replied.

            That’s it keep it short and sweet…

            “I have to tell you I’m impressed with all the work you’ve put in,” Marlene warbled, side stepping his brush-off.  “Me and the girls in the office where just talking about it.”

            “Thank you, it’s been very difficult,” he remarked.

            “It’s a shame though…”

            Oh crap here it comes.  This will be the part in the conversation where she says it’s a shame Barbie isn’t doing as well.

            “… we’d hoped your wife would take your success and use it to motivate herself,” the brunette finished.

            “There’s still time for her.  It’s just a setback really,” he answered.  The tone was the same as good husband one he’d used in the examination room.  Mark prayed, silent and honest she’d get the message and back the hell off.  Instead she did the unthinkable.  Taking a step towards him she closed to a conspirator’s distance before speaking again.

            “Look it’s not that I dislike Barbie,” she whispered, “but I’ve seen this time after time.  A couple starts to diet and one doesn’t make as good a showing as the other.  Usually they come around after a few months and all is well.  But not in her case.  I’ve witnessed married folk begin to drift apart because one of them doesn’t buy into the program.”

            “What are you saying?” he demanded.

            “I’m trying to be as delicate as I can but in reality she’s not going along with it.  In fact she’s gained back half the weight she’s lost the past three months.”

            “She’s my wife and I’m going to help see her through this.  I don’t think I like where this conversation is headed.”

            “I wasn’t trying to make you angry.  But I know this is the same speech she’s getting from the doctor.  He’s warning her she better shape up or your marriage could suffer a premature and fatal illness.”

            “You think you’re so sure of yourself.  Well let me tell you I know my wife and she’ll come out of this with flying colors, you just watch her!”

            “If you say so.  But when I’m proved right I hope you don’t hold it against me.”

            She raised her hand, her left hand up to brush away something out of her hair, a figment of her imagination in fact.  However her true message came rushing into his brain when he noticed she didn’t wear a wedding ring.  The gesture was so painfully obvious it belonged in some bad porn movie.  Marlene was informing Mark of her interest in him.  She wasn’t just hinting at it but doing everything short of shouting it at the top of her lungs.   A momentary interest flashed through him like the snap-crack of a bottle rocket’s explosion just over his head.  The imagined stinging pain was a reminder of the brief betrayal of his wedding vows.  Snapping his mouth shut so hard his teeth clicked audibly he twisted angrily away from the nurse.  But the damage was done.  In the hall, by the door was Barbie with a stricken look on her face.  Hurt, shock and jealousy all mixed together to from a mask of disbelief to be worn by his wife.  Her shoulders slumped.  He instantly regretted not going back into the waiting room, examination room or pretending he was hurtling towards some other planet.  His wife’s face grew cold like the frost on the inside of a car’s windshield.  And like the difficulty in scraping away that clinging ice on the outwardly curved surface Mark knew she’d resist anything he said to the contrary.  In her mind she’d caught him trying to cut another filly from the herd.  Nothing he could say would alter this and like all true misunderstandings the only way to prove his point would be to yank out the encounter from his memory and shove it into a DVD player.  But until such technology was developed his only recourse were words honestly chosen and the hopes she’d not cast them back into his teeth.

            Barbie began stomping towards him.  Her body language and the set of her shoulders in particular shouted volumes about how she was feeling.  Maybe she be willing to talk about this?  Perhaps she wasn’t as angry as he thought and this would blow over.  But as she stalked towards him with all the grace of a charging rhino he felt the truth like her approaching footsteps. 

            No she’s not going to listen, Mark thought glumly.

****

            Mark sat in his three room apartment still wearing the suit and tie he had wore at the divorce hearing.  Depression had bitten into his bones like the fangs of some uncanny and terrible beast.  No radio or television was playing distracting sounds to interrupt his thoughts.  Moody and sullen he merely sat there as unmoving as a stone. 

            “Ten years wasted,” he mumbled thickly.

            Since the loud and terrible argument of six months ago over what he had dubbed the Marlene Incident the distance between him and Barbie had grown into a bottomless chasm.  There was no way to circumvent, leap or bridge it.  Despite hours of fruitless counseling, a brief separation and long talks into the wee hours of the morning all had come to naught.  Barbie filed for divorce just like he knew she would.  All the memories of their good times seemed to mockingly haunt Mark crowding around the small apartment like unwanted guests.  They showed no signs of departing in the near future.  He wanted to talk to his wife (ex-wife his brain reminded him).  For the past sixty days they hadn’t spoken a word to one another.  All demands, queries and answers had passed between them and their lawyers.  He knew if he could just sit down with her one last time he could make her see reason.  But the opportunity, like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy was just a happy mythical creature unfit for reality.  There would be no governor’s reprieve for their marriage.  The switch was thrown and it died with a whispered agreement in a cold courtroom.  It was over and done, that was that.  Only the picking up of the pieces and moving on was left to do.

            He had given her the house, the car and all the rest.  Not because he wanted to start over but because he felt perhaps she’d see how much he cared.  But no gesture, no matter how great and sacrificial was enough to soothe the unbridled hatred seething in Barbie’s soul.  In the end she just wanted more.  His pension, his part of their savings and every drop of blood out of the ounce of flesh she was owed.  Never had he seen her so vindictive, irate and stubborn.  Friends and family remarked how completely un-Barbie-like her behavior had sunk to.  His in-laws, now a legally removed part of his life had taken Mark’s side in the matter.  But despite this Greek chorus shouting, chanting and imploring in her ears his ex-wife refused to see how destructive she had become.  In the end she got everything she wanted.  Everything she could have and hold but one thing… him. 

            “What a mess,” he groaned.  “Who would’ve thought losing two hundred pounds and starting an exercise regiment would cause this much grief?”

            He had been shocked to see her at court.  She had ballooned back up to her former size in the time away from him.  Six months after he moved out she’d taken solace in cakes, donuts and pies.  Tears had blurred his eyes when she waddled into the courtroom like some vexed circus elephant irate at being lead around her paces.  But she refused to meet his eyes.  In the end it was with a broken voice he answered the judge when he asked if Mark wanted the marriage dissolved.  Henry, his lawyer patted him on the shoulder while Barbie’s mother wailed like some grief stricken mourner in the back of the chamber.  It wasn’t just that he’d failed but the unfair circumstances which led to such a monumental catastrophe.  The numbers added up this way; one innocent conversation, two hundred pounds lost and one woman who wouldn’t see reason.  It was a formula for disaster.  No matter how he added, subtracted, multiplied or divided them they still came to the same result.  Divorce.

            “What a goddamn mess,” he groused louder this time.

            He didn’t know what was worse.  The way he felt at this moment or the fact there were at least five women waiting with baited breath for him to come within arm’s reach of them.  Four at the office who had been jockeying for position for a half-year or the smug-faced nurse at Doctor Gillespie’s who had gone as far as hand him her unlisted phone number.  If he heard the veiled question about how if he needed anything to just ask Mark was afraid he’d explode into jagged shrapnel killing people as far away as two counties.  Their soft pleading eyes, sensually posed bodies and constantly wetted lips put him off all females.  Faced with going back into the dating scene was the last thing on Mark’s mind.  In fact he was so disinterested in it and women in general he wanted to run off to a religious retreat and become a monk. 

            “What a rotten, goddamn mess!” he bellowed.

            With a jerk he leaped off the chair and began to pace around the apartment like some rabid dog ready to bite and chew his way out of being put to sleep.  Each step was accompanied with another repetition of the same sentence.  His loss for words permitted him with saying the same thing over and over.  No matter how he said it, the sentence fit his mood.  But like a sudden break in stormy skies he began to vent the frustration he felt for many months now.

            “I tried and tried and what did I get?” he snarled, “I’ll tell you what I got, nothing!  I begged, pleaded and crawled on my knees in the hopes we could put this all behind us and move on.  But would she listen?  Did she give any thought to my words?  Oh hell no!  She martyred herself and cast me in the role of a cheating husband despite any evidence to the contrary.  It was my fault, all my fault.  Her weight gain, her sneaking out to eat sweets and the fact she quit Overeaters Anon was all laid at my feet whether it belonged there or not!  Damn her!  Damn her to Hell and back!”

            The fury welled up in him from this underwater detonation and the tsunami it caused rose up to epic proportions.  It slammed into the shores of his consciousness with all the subtly of an atomic bomb.  The resulting flood of anger began destroying the years of happiness and once receded showed how it creating a muck-filled landscape of nightmarish images.  The next wave, no less monumental struck and washed away the wreckage as he spewed out more venomous words.

            “Well I’m not going to take the blame,” Mark roared like the tidal wave in his mind, “nor am I going to sit here and wallow in misery.  I’m going to live my life and damned be the consequences!  But I’ll make myself this solemn vow—no more marriage!  I don’t give a good goddamn who comes into my life I’m never going to trust another woman as long as I live.  Petty, vain and greedy the whole lot of them!  Emotional creatures who don’t care for truth, dedication or love but only to see what they can lay their hands on!  Never, fucking never again will I stroll down a church’s aisle and put myself at risk again!”

            As an act of making a point he spotted the slip of paper on the table with the ten digits printed in a feminine handwriting.  With a battle cry, wordless yet profound he pounced on it like a hunting cat.  Furiously he tore up Marlene’s number into the tiniest fragments his fingers could manage.  Then in a bizarre and primitive ritual he danced some nameless jig on the scraps.  This crazy inspired dance lasted until he rose to the tops of his toes in a flourish, his arms reaching towards the heavens.  He paused there momentarily, his heart thundering against his rib cage.  Then it all came to an abrupt end.

            Mark sank back down to the flats of his feet and treaded in defeat towards the tiny bedroom to get undressed.  Yanking clothes off and tossing them randomly away from him he cared not where they fell.  He tugged on a pair of comfortable jeans, a tee shirt and a pair of white tube socks.  Re-entering the living/dining room of his flat he plopped into the chair once more and reached for the remote control.  The TV burst to life and he began to skip through the channels without real interest.  A vague concept kept him going.  Somewhere in the three hundred channels there was something on which would take his mind off his troubles if only for awhile.  Amid all the talk shows there was some sit-com salve to ease the pain of his failed marriage or perhaps some R-rated film in which he could lose himself for a few hours.  Like a bear ready for hibernation he settled in for a long winter’s nap since today was Friday, he didn’t have to work and the weekend was coming.  Mark sighed in resignation.

****

            Two months, five pounds and ten sexual encounters later Mark felt like a new man.  Life was starting to show signs of emerging from a cold winter and like blossoming spring flowers it had become semi-sweet.  It was a Saturday, another weekend which held the promise of another night out on the town with a woman on his arm.  This time, however with the dreaded Marlene (who begged him for a date) with the usual antics to follow.  He was looking forward not to the date itself but to extract some measure of revenge on the woman who’d caused his divorce.  They had all become this.  Just puppets to play with and discarded as quickly as he became bored with them.  Not people, just a set of willing orifices with a life-support system to be employed temporarily.  His new opinion of women being as callous and cruel as fate had been to him.  Mark was comforted in the notion they were getting what they wanted, even deserved.  Patty, Tina, Wendi and Lisa from work had all had their day in the saddle.  One by one they found him unwilling to maintain any figment or fantasy of a steady relationship.  By the wayside they hopped off to stand there confused and angry by his reaction to their questions about “taking it to the next level” and “date only” or whatever it was called in the current vernacular.  He couldn’t be bothered.  His heart, like his wedding vows were as dead as fall leaves.  As soon as one began to get too possessive or express the idea they were a match made in heaven he reacted instinctively.  Out the door they went with a reminder ringing in their ears he didn’t want anything serious.  This was just for pleasurable company; he wasn’t looking for the next Mrs. Parker.  Sobbing voicemail messages, tear stained notes and all other forms of emotional communications would be deleted, torn up or ignored.  Lisa in particular had been almost impossible to shake.  She refused to give up on the idea he had dumped her.  It took several months and a retraining order to persuade her to stop stalking him.  But Mark was a rock, a stone statue of a man who wanted brief female companionship without strings, rings or permanent things attached.  He made these intentions well know from the get-go.  It wasn’t his fault they entertained other fantasies.

            “Women always say how this didn’t come with any consequence,” he mused out loud, “but they really don’t mean it.  They say these things just so they can squirm into your life and then once embedded there pick at the chink in your armor to get inside.   Well I’m not playing that game.”

            The men at the office crowded around him like awestruck boys meeting their favorite sports hero.  They sat at the water cooler and listened in rapt attention to his modest and agonizingly thin details of the weekend past.  Most wanted to be like him and cursed their own lives to be too mundane and unexciting.  He often wondered how many would end up divorced.  Not setting out to start a trend Mark continuously reminded them of how he’d give it all up to be back married to Barbie. 

            “Barbie,” he muttered, “I wonder what she’s doing?”

            His former in-laws had come over last week.  Brian and Marge looked like survivors of some hideous war crime who limped around dead-faced and confused.  The visit wasn’t a good one.  Tales of Barbie’s continued regression and retreating from life cast a gloomy atmosphere in his apartment which had taken days to fumigate.  Tears were shed, good times revisited until they departed in a mental state which was worse than when they arrived.  Mark wished he could help but all lines of communication with his ex-wife had dried up like some mummy’s flesh.  He could no more raise that dead, arid corpse than talk to Barbie.

            “I don’t have time for this I have to grocery shop,” he reminded himself.

            Shaking himself free of these things he snagged the keys to his new car (a present to himself) and went out the door.  Spinning them in around his finger he let the jingle of the keys fill up his mind pushing out the depressing thoughts.  He paused to check his mailbox, it was empty.  Going through the outer door to the apartment complex he spotted his 2010 Chevy Cruze sitting in the morning sunshine of the early summer day.  The gleam of the ice-blue vehicle seemed to call him to the open road.  With lightness to his steps he unlocked the door, climbed inside and started it up.  Pulling out of the parking lot he felt good.

****

            The supermarket section of the chain store was packed with Saturday morning customers doing the same ritual he was.  Mark cruised nonchalantly down the aisles plucking things he needed, had to have or just wanted to try off the shelves.  But since entering the big store he found himself glancing to the rear without a reason to do so.  A prickling sensation had grown on the back of his neck forcing him to occasionally stop and turn around.  But each time he did so there seemed to be nothing behind him worth noticing.  But in that primordial part of his mind, the section honed since Man walked upright, he felt something dangerous was tracking him.  Mark felt exposed and vulnerable to some nameless horror.  Like a man walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night he could almost taste the danger in the air. 

A half-hour into his shopping it became so intense he fled to the checkout just to return home and feel safe.  Bags were hastily tossed into his trunk while he looked over his shoulder.  He felt the need to check his car for sabotage even going so far as to spy into the back seat for hidden assassins.  On the road back he kept checking his mirrors for people following him home.  The forgotten habits he developed during Lisa’s time stalking him came back sharply.  He thought about how the police told him these kinds of women would halt their activities for a while only to take them up again.  Was she back?  Had the blonde from the office decided in some fit of deranged passion she couldn’t live without him?  Was he just being paranoid or was the threat real?  Mark found himself driving faster than the speed limit and forced himself to slow down.  Home and safety was nearby.  More importantly was the Glock pistol he’d bought during the height of Lisa’s terror.   

            “It’s probably my imagination but I really think the better part of valor is the smart move,” he thought, pulling into a parking space.

            He got out of the car, popped the trunk open and began gathering up his purchases.  Even now, in well known environs he kept up his vigil.  Darting glances, identifying cars and deliberating the most secure path to the door Mark noticed everything possible.  Was that car he when he left?  Who was standing there by the bushes with the dog on the leash?  An army of questions stood at attention in his brain.  With an armful he dodged a vehicle moving down the narrow drive and made his way to the front door.  He had to juggle the plastic sacks in order to jab the key into the lock.  Moving down the hall he unlocked his apartment, set down his burdens and went back outside.  He loaded up once more and made the trip again.  The final lap was about to begin and Mark paused at the threshold of his place.  The sudden urge to go into the bedroom and fetch his pistol made him hesitate. 

            “This is silly,” he thought, “there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.”

            He moved out the door, his attention sharp and his senses keenly alert.  The last group of plastic sacks were hefted out of the trunk, the lid was closed and he darted back towards the door.  He felt both silly and embarrassed.  There was no sign of Lisa, her car or anything other possible danger.  Going down the steps he began to smile, the feeling of dread peeling off of him like sunburned skin.  The pain was emotional but no less stinging.  Chagrined he started to shut the door when someone stepped in the way.   

            It was Lisa.

            Her blonde hair hung in tatters around the ruin of her face.  The smeared remains of her ruined mascara gave her a ghostly appearance, deepening her eye sockets.  From amid those blackened smudges her blue eyes peered out.  Agony and angry chased each other in those watery orbs neither one of them holding dominance.  Her slumped shoulders seemed to admit defeat.  Lisa, the ghost of lovers past stared at him.

            “Lisa,” he grunted nervously, “you’re in violation of a restraining order.”

            “I have to ask one last time,” she choked out.  “Will you reconsider your decision to stop seeing me?”

            “We’ve been over this and it’s now a matter for the police.  I’m giving you three minutes to clear out of here before I call the cops.  It’s your choice—take it or leave it.”

            “You won’t change your mind?”

            “No.”

            “I’m sorry—I truly am.”

            She turned around like some shipwreck being drawn away from him by an unforgiving tide.  Listlessly she ascended the stairs and went out the door.  Somehow he knew she’d do something dramatic and final to herself.  It wasn’t his concern.  Relief flooded through Mark making him feel as giddy as Ebenezer Scrooge after the visits from the three spirits.  He shut the door and sucked in a deep sigh. 

            “I should trust my instincts more often,” he told himself.

            “I agree,” a voice behind him stated.

            Something hard slammed into the back of his head.  The apartment’s door spun wildly to the right and then he hit the carpeted floor.  A sickening dizziness came over Mark and he felt his stomach revolt from the atrocity perpetrated on the back of his skull.   He heard footsteps approaching before he passed out.  Heavy ponderous footsteps.

****

            Mark slowly awoke.  He tried to groan but it came out a mere whisper of pain.  He could feel something extremely sore and matted on the back of his head.  But beyond that was something soft, pillow-like.  His stomach protested his first attempt to move his head and before he could stop it he vomited.  The hot greasy trail of intestinal slime ran down the middle of his tongue and dribbled over his trembling lips.  It landed unceremoniously into his lap.  He opened his eyes.  Light stabbed into them forcing his guts to rebel once more and emit another hideous trickle of puke up, out of his mouth and onto his legs. 

            “Oh God what happened?” he groaned.

            Looking around his apartment he saw he was sitting in as much darkness as could be had on a summer’s day.  The blinds were drawn, the lights left off and the shadow of false night encompassing him.  It was enough illumination to confirm his fears of being unable to move.  He was handcuffed ankles and wrists to one of the chairs to his new dining set.  He struggled but the combination of a sick gut and the metallic tightness halted him.  Someone or something moved off to his right.

            “W-who’s there?” he queried.

            “So you’re awake,” a woman answered. “That’s good I was afraid I hit you too hard.”

            The voice was familiar, ten years worth of familiar.  Icy terror crystallized his spine and froze his brain.  He tried to move his head and suddenly realized it was secured in place.

            “Barbie?” he said hesitantly.

            “Well I guess I didn’t rattle your brains with that blow like I thought,” his ex-wife commented.  “If you can recognize my voice then I guess it’s time to start.”

            “What are you talking about?”

            Out of his line of vision she laughed. It was a high-pitched titter of someone less than sane.  The sleet on his backbone thickened.

            “W-what are you doing?” he demanded.

            He felt her walking around to face him.  It was the slow and steady tread of a great weight of doom which shook the floor like a stampede.  The figure of his ex came into view and he sucked in a harsh, quick breath.

            She was huge!

            Not in the “this is what she looked like when I had my surgery” size but an incredible and unbelievable parody of herself.  Her eyes barely peeked out between her fat cheeks and heavy lids.  Like the stare of an overly plumped up pig they speared him in their porcine gaze.  Her jowls had multiplied and then had more offspring.  Her neck was a series of folds upon folds until they reached her collarbone.  Her breasts, even more massive than before stretched and pulled at the upper portions of the Muumuu dress she wore.  The disastrous rioting colors of the exotic flowers painted on the fabric were distorted as grotesquely as her body.  Beyond the too short hem her dimped thighs protruded like the World’s Biggest Sausages.  Her knees looked weak and ineffectual and her ankles were the epitome of the slang term kankles.  Her ratty footwear was a pair of comical and stereotypical Old Lady Slippers usually worn by an extreme cat-fancier with no husband or life to speak of.  She also smelled of cheese, old cheese at that.

            “W-what happened to you?” he sobbed out.

            “What happened?  Exactly what you wanted to occur,” she snickered.  “After all those dirty looks at my body and your obvious disgust with me I became exactly what you envisioned.  I’m a fat, ugly pig—just as you wanted.”

            “I never said that!  Nor did I ever want you to become like… like… this!”

            “Oh you didn’t have to say it—it was written all over your face!  First was all that talk about your OA mentor.  The marvelous and skinny Karen, remember her?  Oh then it was the girls at the office who slid up to you like they were ready to test drive a new car.  Oh and the capper, the absolute and utter capper was that slut Marlene.  No you didn’t say it.  Not in so many words but your actions, your actions Mark spoke volumes.  Eloquent, hurtful and terrible volumes telling me how much I didn’t deserve you!”

            “No you’re wrong!”

            “It was Lisa this and Mary that and blah, blah, blah,” she mocked him.  “Every woman’s name cut like a razor into my flesh.  You never considered how it made me feel, did you?”

            “I told you how disgusted I was with them,” he tried to remind her.

            “Did you?  Did you or where you just trying to point out in some unconscious way how I wasn’t measuring up to them?”

            “You’re twisting the facts!”

            “No I’m not.  It doesn’t matter anyway for after today it won’t make a hill of difference to anybody.”

            “What are you going to do?”

            She smiled.  It was an evil sneer that snaked across her lips like the one he imagined Eve saw on the serpent in the Garden of Eden after she took that first fateful bite of apple.  Moving out of his sight she kept tittering with unholy mirth.  His strength came back slightly enough for him to rattle the bindings on his wrists and ankles.  He knew the white paint was being stripped away with every violent jerk and tug.  The sharp pain jabbing into his flesh let him know his secured joints were bleeding.

            “Stop this right now!” he demanded fearfully.  “This doesn’t have to be this way.”

            “Oh but it does,” she dissented.  “The problems started when you lost all that weight so I think we can solve it.  Don’t worry you’ll enjoy it—I promise.”

            Her words layered the thick coating of icy terror with even more depth.  She was breathing in great heaves as she toiled with something behind him.  The thump and groaning noises she was making was enough for him to hope she’d have a massive coronary.  Self-perseveration thoughts, even one so sinful as this were born in his brain.  Suddenly she lurched into view.

            She was yanking a wet/dry vacuum behind her.

            There was a lull in the horror he was experiencing.  The object she was pulling seemed to make little sense to him no matter how he tried to understand its role in this.  In fact he had to stifle a laugh since it was one he refused to take with him when they got divorced. 

            “I had a helluva time getting this into the apartment before you came back with your second load of groceries,” Barbie admitted.  “I thought for sure you’d see me trying to hide behind your bedroom door.”

            He looked at her in confusion

            “Anyway,” she continued, “I have that woman to thank for having the time to get ready before you noticed.  Who was she?”

            “Someone I used to date,” he said softly.

            “I take it she wanted something you didn’t want to give?”

            “Yes.”

            “Well we all want things.  Right now I want my husband back.”

            She ripped the top off the wet/dry vac and began to grin at him.

            “I’m right here Barbie,” he told her.

            “No I want my real husband.  My roly-poly, chubby happy husband who loved me no matter what I looked like,” she informed him.

            “I still love you.”

            She rumbled into the back room and came back with four large boxes each one labeled on the side from a popular donut shop. 

            “You’d say anything at this point.  But after we’re done today you’ll have no choice but to come back to me.  All those skinny bitches won’t want anything to do with you after I’m done.”

“W-what are you… Oh my God!”
It dawned on him what she was going to do.

“We can do this one of two ways,” Barbie stated.  “You can eat of your own accord or…”

She pointed to the wet/dry vacuum.

“You can’t be serious!” he shouted.

“I am,” she tittered. 

Reaching into the vac she pulled out a silver roll of duct tape, a hose and a nozzle.  Brandishing the items at him his ex-wife let out another eerie giggle.

“Don’t do this,” he pleaded, tears beginning to run down his face.  “I’ve worked so hard…”

“Too hard and look at the cost,” she informed him.

She moved towards him.  He clamped his mouth shut tight and refused to let her insert the nozzle into his lips.  Cruelly she pinched his nose.  He fought for air but eventually he had little choice but to open his mouth to breathe.  In went the air and then the plastic-tasting attachment.  It was quickly secured to his face with several long strips of duct tape.

“Now we’re set,” she said with a heaving sigh.  “Oh I managed to buy all your old favorites.  Unfortunately you’ll be eating them in one big mashed up mess since you won’t play nice.”

She went into his kitchen, found his blender and brought it out.  Plugging it into the wall she began the laborious process of liquefying four dozen pastries into a thick sludge of mixed color but similar thickness.  Each batch was dumped into the wet/dry vacuum without fanfare.

“Just about ready,” Barbie announced.  “Now remember to swallow as fast as you can.  I don’t want you to choke to death, honey.  Oh and we’ll be taking several breaks because even I couldn’t down this many donuts in one sitting.  But I know we have time.  In fact we have all weekend.”

He thought about his date with Marlene.  Surely she’d call the apartment or even come over when he broke their date. 

“Oh I texted your date for tonight and told her you had the flu,” his ex stated with a smirk.  “I found the note of who and when on your calendar in the kitchen and just used your cell while you were napping.  I knew you’d been ogling Marlene and I’m not too happy to see I was right.  Anyway it won’t matter after we get done.”

She put the large lid back on the shop vacuum and pulled it in.  Mark frantically tried to yell and holler past the nozzle but only a terrified squeak made its way painfully out his nose. 

“Okay honey,” Barbie smiled, “here’s the first course.  They’re Boston Crèmes and I know how you love them.  I’ll save your bestest most favorite—those Bismarcks you loved so much—for last, okay?”

She threw the switch, the hose began to undulate snake-like and Mark began to swallow as fast as he could.  The sugary sludge poured into his mouth, down his gullet and threatened to explode out of his nose.

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