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Igms issue 3, p.13

IGMS Issue 3, page 13

 

IGMS Issue 3
 


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  "Do you mean these?" Herb asked. He walked over to the cookies. Mrs. Lenheart cried louder.

  "No problem," Herb said. He picked them up and took them to the kitchen. The kitchen cabinets already had plates in them. He considered taking a bite out of one of the cookies before putting them on the plate. But there was something about biting a cookie that looked like a person. It was the same as biting the ears off a chocolate bunny. It wasn't his style.

  He put the two cookies on a plate. Those were some detailed cookies. They were practically works of art. The man had shorts on and a t-shirt. The man cookie was even wearing a watch on his left hand. The lady cookie had a dress with flowers, and a necklace, in the shape of a heart. He'd never guessed they could put that much detail on a cookie.

  When he walked back, Mrs. Lenheart was still sobbing. "How does she expect me to do this? I knew the Thompsons."

  She pulled a Kleenex from her purse and blew her nose. Then she stood up and, holding Mom's hand, walked with her over to the dining room with the folders of papers. There were a lot of papers for Mom to sign. When they were done Mrs. Lenheart said goodbye and walked out of the house. Before the door closed, she said, "I forgot the most important thing." Mrs. Lenheart reached into the trunk of her car and pulled out two large bags. They were the biggest candy bags Herb had ever seen. Each looked like a transparent pillowcase, filled with all kinds of hard candies, candy canes, and chocolates.

  "Endora's Sweet Creations. Courtesy of Mrs. Endora Blair herself. She's the mayor…And the judge…And the school principal." She handed the bags to Herb. "Don't forget about Friday," was the last thing she said as her car pulled out of the driveway.

  Friday came. There was a town picnic that afternoon in a big park within walking distance. His mom always said things were walking distance now matter how far they were to try to get him to exercise.

  "Try not to embarrass me," Fran said in her pajamas on the way to the bathroom. "Mom, should I wear my black mini-skirt or my pink shorts?"

  His room was nearly put together. His poster of John Candy, his dad's favorite comedian, had survived. Only a couple of his assembled Lego creations had gotten broken. He put them back together and put them on top of various pieces of furniture. From his bedroom window he could see the equivalent of his bedroom in the neighbors' house. If there was someone there, watching him, he didn't know -- it was too dark to see. All he had left to put away were his winter clothes.

  "You can take the winter clothes to the attic," he heard his mom say on her way to her bedroom.

  He heard a loud thump coming from the bathroom, followed by yelling. "Mom!" Fran shouted. Mom rushed to the bathroom door.

  "What's wrong, sweetie?" Mom said.

  Herb set the box of winter clothes down and listened.

  "Stupid scale!" Fran shouted. Followed by another thump. Herb now recognized the thump as the sound a scale would make when it came into sudden contact with the floor. "Stupid scale!"

  "Let me see," Mom said. The door to the bathroom opened and Mom went inside. "What's the problem?" The door closed behind Mom. Herb walked closer to it.

  "Go ahead, let me see…" he heard his mom say, followed by, "Wow. That much?"

  "See. See, what I mean." Fran said.

  "Let me try it," his mom said. "You're right. It's broken. There's no way we've both gained five pounds in two days."

  But Herb knew there was a way. He'd been watching them since they got here. The bags of candy were gone before he or Beck could have a single one. The only sweets they had not eaten were the gingerbread cookies, which was surprising considering the rate at which they had consumed the rest.

  The door opened and Herb picked his box back up. His mom came out of the bathroom, carrying the scale with her. His sister followed. She glared at him. He ignored her and walked over to the attic. Beck had apparently heard Mom say where the winter clothes went. She was dragging a box bigger than her by the flaps, full of her winter things.

  "Do you want me to put those up there too?" Herb asked.

  Beck nodded and smiled.

  "I might need help," Herb said. He didn't really, but he wanted the company.

  Beck shook her head. "Spiders," she said.

  "I understand." He picked up the boxes and went up.

  It was cleaner than he'd expected but there were a few spider webs, which he cleared off by using the smaller box as a shield and waving it in front of him. As he made his way around the beams he noticed a shoebox wedged between one of the beams and the roof. He set the boxes down and reached for the shoebox. The top read, Pictures. Herb opened the box. There was a single picture inside it. It was the picture of a dad and a mom and two little girls. The girls were riding piggyback on each parent. It looked like a nice summer day. There was water from a sprinkler in the background. But there was something else. It was hard to see with the little bit of sunlight in the attic. Herb walked over to the light. Behind the family, a few houses back, he could saw two other grownups. It was their expressions that caught his eye. It was as if they were glaring at the family whose picture was being taken. Did they know they were going to be in the picture? They looked so angry. They almost ruined the picture.

  He put the picture back in the box and climbed downstairs.

  "I thought you were going to wear a mini-skirt or shorts?" Herb said.

  "Try not to embarrass me," Fran said and walked downstairs, wearing a pair of sweats instead.

  Before leaving for the park, Herb grabbed his mom's cell phone to try to call his dad. But there was no reception. Dead. The regular phones had not been installed yet, either. And even though the cable company had come already, internet was not a service they provided.

  They walked over to the picnic.

  "I can't wait to meet some guys," Fran said. "Mom, you should meet someone too."

  "It's too soon," Mom said, and Herb felt relieved. He didn't think they'd get back together any time soon, but the thought of his mom running around this soon trying to find someone, and what was his sister doing suggesting it? Didn't she care at all about their dad? What had he done to them except not go along with their stupid plans for conformity?

  "I'm just saying, how could they not fall for you?" she said.

  When they reached the park, Herb felt like he was going to die from all the walking. He was breathing so hard, if he shut his mouth he'd explode. He was really out of shape. But dying before seeing what he saw next would have been a shame because he would have missed the expression on his sister's face. Everyone, from child age to the elderly here, was overweight. Sunken Valley was fat capital of the world.

  Herb walked around with Beck in hand. None of the food was the typical picnic food and yet, it all was the typical picnic food. There were burgers, but they were not made out of meat. They were chocolate burgers and the buns were honey buns. The hot dogs were actually gummy worms shaped like hot dogs. And on every table there were treasure boxes filled with chocolate coins with the picture of that lady he'd seen on the sign, Endora Blair, the mayor, and principal, and whatever else Mrs. Lenheart had said.

  "Help yourselves," a woman said as she walked past him. "Don't be shy."

  He grabbed a plate and started loading it with everything he saw. The best part was that no one was watching him. No one was looking at him as if he were some type of wanted criminal. As if he were single-handedly responsible for the kids on TV not getting enough to eat. He put everything he could fit. Then he grabbed a large glass of fruit punch and sat down. Before taking a bite he noticed that his sister, Fran, and his mom were doing the same.

  Beck stood in front of him. "I'm not hungry," she said. "Can we go play now?"

  "Just a sec, Beck, I'm hungry."

  "I'm going to go play in the sandbox," she said.

  Herb nodded. The sandbox wasn't too far and he could still keep an eye on her. He grabbed the honey bun - chocolate burger and held it. Honey dripped down his fingers. He lifted it up to his lips. It looked so good and i
t smelled even better. Before taking a bite of it, he looked over at his sister. She was sitting next to a group of high-schoolers. She was eating away and smiling. How did she do that? How did she always manage to become the center of attention? And these people looked different than her. Of course, at the rate she was eating, that was bound to change soon.

  His mom was doing the same. Looking happy. Smiling. Eating candy, after candy. She was talking to a group of grownups, each twice her size. Didn't she notice them? Weren't they as unattractive as his dad? How could she say all those things about him and then do this?

  Just before driving away, his dad had said, "Just don't say you're doing what's best for all of us."

  He set his burger down without taking a single bite.

  "Psst."

  A girl who looked his age sat next to him and set her plate down too.

  "You've got to make it look like you're eating," she said. She was talking from the side of her mouth as if half of it had been glued together. He guessed she was trying to be inconspicuous. "And you can't look unhappy while you're pretending to eat. That's how they know you're resistant."

  "What are you talking about?" Herb said without any pretense of being quiet.

  Two parents waved at the girl next to him.

  "I took them out of the house before the cleaning crew came, and then I put them back so that you'd find them," she said. "And the picture too." Then she shouted to her parents, "Just a minute." She took his hand in hers. Herb felt goose bumps cover his arms. "Here," she said. She handed him something. "Don't eat the candy." And with that she ran back to her parents.

  Without looking at it, Herb knew what she had handed him from the texture. His mom had tried handing him a lot of these. It was a carrot. He stuffed it in his pocket as best he could and went to fetch Beck.

  Don't eat the candy? The picture. Who was that girl? Her hand had felt nice and cool and soft against his. She didn't look as big as the rest of them.

  Over at the sandbox, Mrs. Lenheart, the realtor, was offering a slice of cake to Beck. Beck was shaking her head. Herb rushed over.

  "Your sister doesn't like cake?" Mrs. Lenheart said. She turned to Beck, "Becky, you don't like cakey? It's good cake."

  Beck reached for Herb's hand and Herb grabbed it. "I think she's tired. Thanks, anyway," Herb said and walked over to his mom. His mom didn't want to go home yet. Neither did Fran. His mom was starting a game of cards and Fran was showing her friends her new cheer.

  Herb walked Beck home.

  "I miss Dad," Beck said.

  "I do too."

  "I'm hungry, but I want real food," Beck said.

  His stomach was growling. He pulled out the carrot in his front pocket and gave it to her.

  "Beck, don't eat the candy, okay. Not yet. Not until I figure it out."

  That night he went to bed hungry. The light in the room next door was on and this time the blinds were open. The same girl that had sat with him at the picnic was there. She was his next-door neighbor.

  He tried to wave at her but she quickly turned off the lights.

  He was going to have to do something about food. His stomach was growling something fierce. There was the food they had brought with them from Michigan -- non-perishables. That's what he had been eating all week, he and Beck. His mom and sister had gone through the bags of candy the first two days and now, there were two new bags of candy on the table. They had brought those back from the picnic, along with other leftovers. When he mentioned grocery shopping to his mom she just waved him away and flopped on the couch to watch TV. She was looking, like…Well, she was starting to look like her old self. The self before she'd turned forty and the crazy diets had started. So was Fran. She was sitting on the other couch, reading one of her teen magazines, eating chocolate. He poured a bowl of Cheerios for Beck and sat down next to her.

  "Something's wrong, Beck," Herb said.

  Beck nodded.

  "Promise you won't eat the candy, okay?" he said.

  She nodded again.

  "I'm going to go find some food. But first, I've got to see something," Herb said. He put his empty bowl in the sink. His pants were falling down. He had a suspicion that for every pound his mom and sister were gaining, he was losing one. He walked upstairs to the attic.

  "While you're up there, can you see if you can find my box with my old clothes?" Fran said.

  "You mean, your fat clothes?" Herb asked.

  "Whatever," she said. "What's the matter with you anyway?" She sat up, probably to start an argument. "You don't look like your usual self. Something's different."

  She'd noticed too -- he was losing weight. Herb shrugged. Fran lay back down, popped some more candy in her mouth, and turned the page of her magazine.

  He went to the attic and pulled out the picture box he had found. His girl neighbor had said something about the picture. I put them back. And the picture too. Them, who was them? And what did that have to do with the picture? If them referred to one of the sets of people in the picture, how do you put them back?

  He put the picture in his front pocket and walked back downstairs. Back in the kitchen, his little sister was watching cartoons.

  "I'll be right back. I've gotta go next door," he said.

  He'd leave after he did one more thing. He opened the closet where the garbage was hidden. The bathroom scale was sitting there next to the wastebasket.

  He dropped it on the floor and stepped on it. He had lost five pounds in the last few days.

  His mom and older sister were both asleep in front of the TV. He slipped by them without having to explain where he was going. He wanted to see if he could talk to his neighbor -- ask her what in the world she was talking about. Why not just tell him straight out? Obviously she was afraid, but of whom, and what was wrong with the candy, other than Mom and Fran not being able to stop eating it?

  There was a knock on the door. A policeman stood on the other side of the screen door. He was overweight, and had a black thick mustache, and was wearing dark sunglasses that covered half his face. Behind him, parked in the driveway was a police car with another policeman inside -- a taller one. The policeman looked Herb over.

  "Is your mom around?" he said.

  "She's sleeping."

  The policeman pressed his face to the screen and cupped his hands around his eyes. Was he in some kind of trouble? He couldn't see how. Had they seen him talking to the girl at the picnic?

  "Mayor Blair likes for us to visit everyone new and make sure everything's okay with their transition here."

  Herb didn't know what to say. "Thanks."

  "How do you like the candy?" he asked.

  "Good. It's very good," Herb answered. That might have come out fake.

  "If you need more, we can give you more," the policeman said. "Hey, little girl, how are you doing?"

  Herb turned to see Beck standing behind him.

  "How about you? How do you like the candy?" he said. Herb put his arm around her.

  "I'll tell my mom you came," Herb said.

  The policeman adjusted his hat. What were his eyes saying behind the sunglasses?

  "Try to stay out of trouble," he said. "Have a nice day." And with that he walked back to the police car. "Tell your mom we'll come back later to welcome her to the neighborhood."

  The police car drove away.

  "Keep the door locked," Herb told Beck. "I have a weird feeling," he said. His stomach was feeling worse than ever. Lately, it seemed right on the fence of holding steady, or sending him running to the bathroom, and it was that state of stomach indecision he hated more than actually getting sick.

  He stepped outside and walked over to his neighbor's house.

  "Psst," he heard again. He was hoping for this. The girl came up behind him and grabbed his hand. Bad candy or not, this was worth it. A girl was holding his hand. His stomach was doing something different now. It was doing the butterfly thing instead of the getting sick thing.

  He'd followed her ha
nd-in-hand to the park. Once there, she led him to a bench near some trees. He knew they were there just to talk but being led to the edge of the woods by a girl was making his heart race more than if he'd had to do a whole lap around track in gym.

  "Why can't we eat the candy?" he asked.

  "I don't know everything, and we can't talk much. Too many policemen. I think they're already watching you. You're losing too much weight. You have to drink a lot of sugar soda. That's what I do. You can't get skinny. You're going to have to do something about your sister too."

  "She doesn't drink soda," Herb said.

  "Do you believe in magic?" she asked and looked into his eyes.

  "Do you mean like the McDonald's song?" he said. But he knew he'd said the wrong thing the second it came out of his lips.

  She shook her head. "Look. I know you'll probably think I'm a nut job, but I don't care. I've seen kids taken away and given to other parents. And I've seen kids disappear. Right before they turn sixteen, the police come and take them away."

  "I don't think you're nuts. I know something's weird about this town."

  She lowered her voice. "We moved here last year. I looked pretty much the same. My parents were very skinny. Always bugging me about my weight. As soon as I came, the lady who lived where you live, sat down next to me, the way that I sat down next to you at the picnic. She told me not to eat the candy. I had just gotten a plate full like yours. But I wouldn't have eaten it anyway. Even if she hadn't told me not to. My parents had said a lot of junk about my weight, and there they were, eating like pigs. I hated that. And you know what? When I first saw everyone, I was so happy. I thought I'd fit in."

  Herb knew what she meant. He'd felt the same thing when he saw that everyone was his size. He tried to ask a question but she stopped him. "Then she showed me the picture."

 
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