Love and a Three-Layer Cake
Globe Soup 7-Day Short Story Challenge #5: finalist (April 25, 2022)
Theme: A Twist of Fate
They’d met at an Overeaters Anonymous weekly meeting held in a defunct Sears and Roebuck Catalog Center, ironically on the corner of Fifth and Main right next door to a Church’s Fried Chicken. It was unfortunate placement and proof that the gods really did have a twisted sense of humor. The mouth-watering aroma of chicken, expertly battered and fried to a delicate golden brown, made it nearly impossible to think of anything other than eating fried chicken.
Bob thought about chicken a lot. He also thought about pizza and three-layer cakes. He’d spent many-a-night telling the big fat three-layer cake in his refrigerator to SHUT UP, but the cake’s pull was strong, and he would find himself tucked away inside a partially open refrigerator door whittling away at the icing.
Bob had a problem. Overeaters Anonymous might be the answer. Once upon a time, he thought it would, but he’d been attending regularly for nearly two years and was frustrated. And bored. He arrived late, as usual, so he wouldn’t have to make idle chit-chat with the knuckle-heads who arrived early specifically to chit chat.
He crept in and lowered himself into the one empty loveseat. They were a small group of large folks seated on a grouping of loveseats arranged in a wide horseshoe pattern (one fluffy overeater per loveseat). The group leader, the recently-svelte Janice, was perched smugly (being thin had certainly changed her) upon a weak-framed metal folding chair bridging the gap. Bob mentally cursed Janice’s flagrant insensitivity in the choosing of a chair rated for a maximum weight of 150-pounds. Didn’t they despise themselves enough already without her adding insult to injury week after week?
Deep in thought on all the ways Janice might fall back into the trap of binge-eating, thus switching back to her plush floral loveseat—currently shoved in a corner alongside a bunch of junk, momentarily filled Bob with glee. Then he zoned out, like he always did. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another uneventful day at a meeting. Bob stared at the floor. When staring at the floor, he typically focused on a ceramic tile that had cracked in such a way that if he squinted his eyes just so, he saw a surprisingly accurate depiction of the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote’s nemesis in the cartoons he’d watched until he was in high school.
On that day, the day that changed his life, while staring at Road Runner, he heard a musical laugh and a voice very close to his left ear whisper, “meep-meep.” He looked left into the amused eyes of a woman he’d not seen before. She was new to the group. For Bob, it was love at first sight. Something about the way her chins cascaded downward like a tumultuous waterfall ending—oh too soon—at the suprasternal notch situated just between her clavicles set him on fire. They stared deeply into each other’s eyes. Her’s were the exact chocolate brown of a Nestlé Crunch Bar.
He thought about candy bars as the meeting progressed with typical TMI monologues by the avid sharers of the group. Tales of three-layer cakes calling out to be eaten and discoveries of fad diets involving the eating of only dill pickles thrice a day and other such nonsense. Janice intervened when necessary, thwarting the use of black-market Fen-Phen capsules—spouting off facts of the dangerous side-effects, the worst being death caused by a massive heart attack. Then she went on to tsk-tsk a member of the group who for the second time in a half-hour, brought up gastric band surgery and a 20%-off coupon offer for the first fifty customers to schedule an appointment. “Good God!” Janice scolded. Had they learned nothing from the recent documentary, The Belly King: When Lap-Bands Go Awry?
Bob listened with one ear, all the while working up an opening line in which to use on the enchantress with the chocolate brown eyes. The one who, like him, recognized the Road Runner in the cracked ceramic floor tile. He thought of Wile E. Coyote careening off into the Grand Canyon while wearing a pair of Acme Rocket-Powered Roller Skates, hoping his advances would not take a similar plunge, as he tucked away a list of smooth pick-up lines in the back of his mind. He reckoned impressing her with his sweet skills and prowess would be the way to go—to get her to say YES to a date. At the moment, the most promising contender was, “I once ate an entire smoked ham,” and he knew it would behoove him to order an Acme Parachute. A plummet was coming.
As the hour was winding down and just before Janice sent the overeaters on their merry way, she gave them their assignment for the week. They were to challenge their fortitude-against-indulgent-food and use their newfound will-power by dining out with a friend, still remembering to stay within the boundary of the daily caloric intake. Then they rose, in a most ungraceful fashion, to lock hands with their neighbors to recite the OA Pledge. Upon locking hands with the enchantress, Bob’s mind went haywire and a little “meep-meep” popped out of his pursed lips. The beauty on his left squeezed his hand and a laugh that sounded like the tinkle of cutlery being laid out just before a celebratory meal, made him hungry. Bob let out a whopper of a cough to cover the sound of his growling stomach until Janice loudly annunciated, “On my honor…” and everyone joined in: “I will no longer allow food to control my life.”
Then the fun part. They released hands and began to clap, starting low and slowly building to an ear-deafening crescendo, before they all stopped abruptly, raising flabby arms and shouting, “Gooooooooooo Team!”
Pledge over, he turned to gaze at brown eyes’ lovely face, prepared with his sweet opening line, but when he opened his mouth to speak, all that would come out was, “Erm, I’m Bob and I eat too much.”
She smiled, responding, “Hmm, I’m Peggy and I eat too much too.”
It was a match made in heaven. They decided to take on the weekly challenge together—immediately. Bob crooked his elbow and Peggy squeezed her arm through, as arm in arm they shuffled the short distance from the former Sears and Roebuck Catalog Center to Church’s Fried Chicken. They unlocked arms and Bob, always a gentleman, stepped ahead to open the door to allow Peggy to enter first. They were met with the usual double-takes and whispers that accompanied an overweight person (or couple) entering a fast-food establishment, but this time, the looks and whispers didn’t hurt so much. They shared an extra-large diet soda—looking deep into each other’s eyes while drinking from two straws sticking out of the clear plastic lid at odd angles—and in adhering to the guidelines of the daily caloric intake, they each peeled the crispy skin from their original two-piece chicken combos and did not butter the corn on the cob. A travesty!
They talked about a lot of things and Bob tried not to stare too long at Peggy’s sexy chins. Women didn’t like to be objectified, so he lowered his eyes to her breasts. He’d never really been much of a breast man. Well hell, his own breasts were larger than those of most women, so where was the fun in that? When the meal ended and they bumped knuckles while tossing away fast-food bags, shiny with the grease of uneaten chicken skins, Bob thought, aah, this is what love feels like. They made plans to meet later in the week to take a stroll through a nearby park; and suddenly, exercise didn’t feel so daunting with a partner by his side.
He wanted to shout it high and low. To share with the entire world his good fortune in meeting the woman with whom he planned to spend the rest of his life, so he did the next best thing, he rang up his mom. News had a way of circulating with the speed of light around their community, whether he wanted it to or not once she got hold of a juicy titbit. It would be out of his hands.
He dialed and the phone rang. “Hey honey, I was just thinking about you. How was OA?”
“Mom, I’m in love.”
“Oh my! This is sudden. Tell me everything,” and so, he did. Bob told her all the gory details and then as an afterthought he added, “I almost forgot the best part. You’re not going to believe this one. Her name is Peggy. Peggy Sue McGoo from Kalamazoo. Can you freaking believe it? Her parents must really hate her.” Mom grew quiet.
“Oh honey. I have some bad news. When you were three, well actually almost four—before your father skipped out—we took a road trip and stopped to visit some of his relatives in Michigan. You were probably too young to remember how you spent all weekend watching cartoons with your cousins. You and the girl your age, little Peg, really hit it off, yukking it up at the antics of that crazy coyote always setting up traps to catch that slick road runner. It’s been ages since I’ve heard you genuinely laugh like you did back then.
“Son, Peggy Sue McGoo from Kalamazoo is your first cousin.”
Bob gently set down the phone, opened the refrigerator and pulled out the remains of the three-layer cake that was begging to be eaten.
Lisa H. Owens
Globe Soup 7-Day Short Story Challenge #5 finalist
Theme: A twist of fate
[Actual Partial "Contest Finals" PDF]
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