Thursday, August 25, 2016

August 25, 2016--Down At the End of Mary's Lunch Counter

"Those are my parents," he said, nodding in the direction of the couple sitting at right angles to him down at the end of Mary's lunch counter. "My mother and father. I'm six-two but she's only four-nine and he's just an inch taller. I can't explain me. My two brother are both under five feet."

He didn't look at her but was sitting next to Rona with me on her other side. We were sharing a turkey salad sandwich.

"Genetics," she said. "There's no other explanation."

"'S'pose so," he said. "Makes for a lot of confusion. I thought they weren't my folks when I shot right by them. Made them feel good though. To have a normal son. Me? I was fully grown at 12 and was the tallest person in the school. Including the teachers. The kids thought I was a freak of nature. Not a lot of fun there. So I never did get much education. Or much luck for that matter."

"Sorry to hear that," Rona said. "You look fine to me."

"Bag-a-bones, that's me. Can't hardly eat no more." Mindlessly, he stirred his hash and eggs together, making a desultory mess of them.

He was painfully underweight but Rona said, "Better to be thin than the alternative."

"You got that right." For the first time he perked up and scooped a forkful of the mix he had made. "Haven't been able to eat a thing for more than a year now." Deflated again, he lowered his fork.

"Sorry to hear that," Rona repeated herself.

"Since my wife was diagnosed."

"Sorry to . . ."

"Was as rough as anything you could imagine. It was rapid spreading. Took her in less than six months. That was about half a year ago."

"You're so young. She must have been . . ."

"Thirty-six. Just getting started. One good thing, we didn't have kids. Must have been related to her condition. I was quite an eater before that. When the doctor told us what was going to happen, I stopped cold turkey. Pardon the pun. Juice and soup kept me going. Not that I wanted to. But for Sally . . ."

"Really rough," Rona said.

"You don't know the half of it. What it did to her. And me." He resumed staring at his food. His mother gestured for him to eat.

"Now they want me to eat. Twenty years earlier, I was living with them. I was just a kid. They hid food from me. Had a chain with a lock 'round the fridge. Some life. If you can call it that."

So his parents couldn't hear, Rona whispered, "A lock on the refrigerator? I never . . . " She caught herself now that what had been happening with him was becoming apparent.

"Yes, that's right." Rona hadn't said anything. "From the look of me now you'd never guess. Right?"

"I don't. I mean. It could be." Rona didn't know what to say.

"Six-fifty." For the first time he looked at her and smiled. "That was me. Six-two with parents who were almost midgets weighing six-fifty."

"Well, I . . . "

"Nothing to be upset about or feel badly about. That was me then and this is me now."

He picked up his T-shirt to let the hanging flaps of his now emaciated stomach come into view. "That's the last of that me," he said, pointing, "I may need surgery. But to tell you the truth, what with . . ."

He broke off and returned to playing with his food.

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