“One eighty-two,” Beth yelled out the partially opened bathroom door. There was no response. She heard Dillon talking to someone. She was naked, just out of the bath. She closed the door and locked it and then yelled louder, “Dillon, did you hear me? One eighty-two.”
Dillon didn’t answer. Beth wrapped a towel around her big naked body and one around her hair. She plucked her eyebrows while waiting three more minutes for her teeth whitening strips to do their job. Her green eyes glowed through her fake tanned face and black eyebrows.
“I officially weigh less than you,” Beth said. She walked out of the bathroom in her towel. She looked around carefully to make sure whoever Dillon was talking to was nowhere near. There was nobody in the hallway. She walked to her bedroom to put her pajamas on, straightening a crooked picture of her mother as she passed Franklin’s room. She heard him singing to himself in his bedroom. “Show me the way to go home…”
“Go to sleep, Frank.”
He stopped singing and put his thumb in his mouth. Beth closed his bedroom door and went to her own room. Dillon walked in from the upstairs deck. He smelled like cigarette smoke.
“There you are. Did you hear me? One-eighty-two. Two weeks, eight pounds. After five years your wife is finally smaller than you again,” Beth said.
“Frank’s almost four. Plus the pregnancy.”
“I weighed myself this morning, One-eighty,” Dillon said. He didn’t look at Beth. His boots were covered in snow. He walked past her, leaving trails of snow on the carpet. Beth took off her towel and laid it over the boot marks. She had just shampooed the carpets that weekend. She stood on the towel and rubbed her body down with lotion she ordered from Victoria’s Secret, and then put on the new black thong and matching knee length nightgown. She left the room, and hesitated outside Franklin’s door. She’d forgotten, again, to kiss him goodnight, but she didn’t want to get him riled up so she walked away, down the stairs.
“Who were you talking to?” she asked Dillon.
He was in the kitchen, rummaging through the junk drawer. “I wasn’t talking to anyone,” he said.
“Oh, I thought I heard you talking to someone when I was in the bathroom. What are you looking for?”
“I was on the phone. This guy from work has a Subaru, and it does the same shit with the lights that yours does. Where’d you put those fuses I just bought?” he said. He didn’t wait for Beth to respond. He walked away from the open junk drawer, leaving out the screws and scissors and then went to the fridge. He stood looking in the fridge, then took out two gallons of one percent, a pot of leftover stew, and a growler of stout.
“How long has this been in here?” Dillon asked, holding the growler. He closed the refrigerator door, leaving the milk and stew on the floor.
“Two or three days,” Beth said. She was putting the junk back in the drawer. When she finished she returned the stew and milk to their spots in the fridge.
Dillon took a swig out of the growler. “It’s flat.” He poured the beer into the sink and rinsed out the growler. “I need to go to Walmart to get fuses. I’ll stop by Silver Gulch to get this filled. You want the stout again? Actually they have a new porter that I want to try.”
“Can’t you fix the fuses tomorrow?”
“No, I already told you. I have too much shit going on tomorrow.” Dillon walked the growler to the entryway and put on his coat. “It won’t take me that long.”
“I thought we were going to watch that movie you wanted me to rent?” Beth followed Dillon to the entryway.
“Start it. I’ll watch the last half when I get back.” He pulled on his already tied boots. “I really need to get this shit fixed. I’m tired of getting pulled over.”
“That’s what I mean. It’s already dark. You’ll probably get pulled over when you leave the brewery.” Beth took her coat off the rack and checked the pockets. “Where are my cigarettes?”
Dillon pulled Beth’s pack of cigarettes out of his coat pocket, took two out, and handed over the pack. Then from the back of his jeans, he pulled out his wallet and looked inside. Beth spotted a twenty. He reached into her purse and grabbed a fifty from her wallet.
“You need seventy bucks for fuses and a growler?”
“Jesus Christ, Beth.”
“Sorry. I’m sorry.” Beth put her down coat on and picked her boots up off the rug. “Well, do you want to smoke a cigarette with me before you leave?”
“I just smoked.” Dillon opened the front door. A white cloud of cold burst into the heated entryway. The Subaru was running. He walked out quickly, pulling the door hard behind him.
Beth carried her boots up the fifteen stairs, slowly, so she wouldn’t be out of breath when she got to the top. She stopped in Franklin’s room. He was sideways on his bed, asleep with his feet hanging out of the quilt. She didn’t put her boots down, using one hand to rearrange and cover him. He was sweaty. She didn’t kiss him.
She walked back into her bedroom where she sat on the bed to put her boots on because it was difficult for her to bend over while standing. She pulled her hat and gloves out of her coat pockets then went outside onto the deck. She reached under the snow covered picnic table for her weed stash, unscrewed the Mason jar, rolled a joint, and got high. Then she lit a cigarette. It was twenty-five below zero and the ice fog surrounded her house. Without the fog she could see for three or four blocks down the road, all the way to the third stop light across from St. Matthew’s, but now she couldn’t even see the parking lot belonging to the insurance company next door. It had been dark for four hours already. It was eight P.M. Her legs were going numb, so she only took a few puffs and then flicked the cherry into an empty wine bottle leaving the partially smoked cigarette lying in the crack of the picnic table next to four others she had forgotten about. When she returned to the bedroom, she took off her nightgown and put on a pair of sweats and one of Dillon’s old t-shirts.
Beth had no interest in watching the movie Dillon told her to rent. He liked slow, depressing movies. This one, The Wrestler, didn’t even make it to the Fairbanks’ theater. He put his name on the Blockbuster waiting list. He called Beth at work and asked her to pick it up after her shift. She didn’t mind. She brought home a pizza too, even though she couldn’t eat it.
She knew she should have gotten another movie. She was in the mood for something funny, especially now that she was stoned, but she didn’t have anything, so she turned off all the lights and turned on The Wrestler. It was slow and depressing, and she was tired and hungry. She fell asleep twenty minutes into it. When she woke up, the TV was on the menu page. The same song played over and over. There were no clocks in the living room, but she figured it couldn’t be later than twelve. She got off the couch, turned off the TV, and went into the bathroom to brush her teeth. The streetlights glowed through the ice fog. When she walked into her and Dillon’s room she expected to see him in bed naked on his stomach with his arms tucked under his pillow like usual, but the bed was still made. The clock on her nightstand said 7:45. She’d slept through the night. Dillon had to be to work at nine. She thought about calling him, but he stopped answering months ago. One of his buddies, whichever one he closed the bar down with, would wake him up. He was probably already on his way home. Beth went back downstairs to start a pot of coffee.
“One-sixty-eight,” Beth yelled from the bathroom. Her skin was saggy, especially her stomach. She had developed gestational diabetes and gained seventy pounds during her pregnancy, and only nine and a half of those were a baby. Beth had figured breast-feeding would suck the fat out of her, but there was too much of it. She started smoking pot and watching too much TV and ended up gaining back Franklin’s birth weight. By the time Frank was walking, she weighed ten pounds more than she did when she was nine months pregnant. She couldn’t breathe. In bed she sat up to sleep. They lived across the street from Alaska Land, the biggest park in town. From the deck Frank watched kids pile out of the their parents’ cars with Frisbees and baseball bats. He begged Beth to take him, but she didn’t have the energy to walk over there and thought it would be too ridiculous to drive. When Dillon was home, he took him. She started to starve herself the day after her thirtieth birthday, when some lady at Fred Meyer’s asked when she was due.
“That’s twenty-two pounds in fifty-eight days,” Beth yelled. The bathroom door was open; she could hear Dillon in the bedroom slamming drawers.
“Why the fuck don’t I have any clean socks?” he said. He walked into the hallway where Beth stood naked in the bathroom, putting on mascara. “Maybe you could do a load of laundry today if you aren’t too busy. Jesus Christ.”
In the mirror, Beth saw his eyes look to the floor. She grabbed her wet towel and wrapped it back around herself, and finished putting on her make-up. Then she went to the bedroom to get dressed.
The bedroom was a wreck. Dillon had thrown every item from his dresser onto the floor and the bed in his search for socks. After squeezing into her size fourteen jeans, a task she hadn’t been able to do in four and a half years, and a thin sweater, large, but not XXL, she picked up the mess. She needed a smoke break before she woke Frank. She went downstairs to get her coat and a cup of coffee. She heard Dillon in Frank’s room.
“Hey, little man,” he said. He sat on the edge of Frank’s bed rubbing his back. Frank didn’t move. “You have school today. It’s Friday. Don’t you have show-and-tell on Friday? Wake up, buddy.”
Dillon stopped rubbing his back, picked out a Jets jersey and a pair of jeans from Frank’s dresser and set them on top of him. “C’mon Franky. If you get up now I can drive you to school.”
Frank sat up. He smiled at Dillon. Dillon pulled his pajama shirt off and put the jersey on. Frank got out of bed and put his jeans and socks on without saying a word, then he walked over to the bed where Dillon sat watching him, and hugged him hard around the neck. Beth went downstairs. Dillon had already drunk all the coffee.
“One-fifty-one,” Beth said. It was Sunday. Normally she worked the brunch shift at the bar, especially during football season, but she took this one off because she and Dillon and Franklin were supposed to go ice fishing. It was noon, and Dillon still hadn’t come home from his night out. Beth was dressed and ready to go to Fred Meyer’s. Franklin was on the toilet, still in his pajamas.
“What did you say, Mom?”
“I lost weight.” She pointed to the scale.
“Thanks, Frank.” She wet a washcloth and used it to clean the jelly off his mouth. He grunted and moved his head around.
“Nothing else is coming out. Get off the toilet,” Beth said. “We’re going to Fred Meyer’s.”
“Awesome,” Franklin said.
When she got to the store Beth checked him into Play-Land, the free one hour daycare where Franklin colored and watched cartoons.
Judy, the Play-Land babysitter, seemed genuinely happy to see Franklin. He was a good boy, better than all the other ones, at least that’s what she always told Beth when she returned to pick him up. When he was two, Beth never got her full hour of shopping in before the grocery store music was interrupted with “Beth Deichert please return to Play-Land.” Franklin would be crying telling Judy he wanted to go home, or he would poop. Poop was not allowed in Play-land. But now, Franklin pooped in a toilet and was used to Judy. He hugged her after Beth showed her driver’s license, and she and Franklin got their matching bracelets strapped around their wrists. Beth didn’t say goodbye.
She hadn’t had breakfast. Shopping hungry was a mistake, so she went to the salad bar and made herself a big salad with no cheese, egg, or meat and drenched it in olive oil and vinegar. She paid for the salad, regretting that she didn’t put the olive oil and vinegar on after they weighed it. Then she got herself a huge Styrofoam cup of water and went up the stairs to the eating area. Fred Meyer’s cafe was her favorite place to have lunch. The walls were glass. She could stare at the people filling their carts below her without them noticing. She sat closest to the deli and the health food aisles. It was mostly women in the health food and men at the deli. Arguments between couples happened often over the organics and the vitamins. Today’s husband was really annoyed. He was scrolling through his phone, and shrugging his shoulders. Beth could hear him say, “Just get one.” The wife was reading the lists of ingredients on the backs of a handful of different energy bars. She scrunched up her face and threw them all into the cart.
Beth ate her salad slowly, like the book said to do. When the couple was out of her sight, she turned to the deli where an old man was taking his time ordering. The woman behind him fidgeted with her coat zipper, and then pulled her cart out of the line so abruptly she ran into an opened cooler door in the health food section. The door hit the tall, blonde man on the other side of it. Beth laughed until she saw the man come out from behind the cooler door. She had been married to Dillon for eight years, dated him for two before that, and had never until this very moment seen him in a grocery store.
He had a cart with him, half full. He pulled a gallon of two percent out of the cooler, put it in his cart, and then said something to a woman standing near him. The woman was not wearing a navy blue Fred Meyer’s polo T-shirt or an apron or a name-tag. She wore skinny jeans tucked into tall expensive looking black boots, and her winter coat was unzipped, revealing a tight white t-shirt covering a tight white stomach. She had sunglasses on top of her platinum blonde bangs. She said something to Dillon and then put a bag of gluten free chips into his cart.
“One-fifty-five,” Beth said to herself. It was Sunday morning. Franklin and Dillon were in the living room watching the Giants play the Raiders in the playoffs. It was an early game, which meant when she got to work there would be a line of football fans waiting outside the doors for Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict. She wasn’t looking forward to being busy. She had been up all night, picturing what Dillon was doing with that woman, thinking about how to leave him, but mostly she was worried that he wouldn’t be home in time for her nine A.M. shift. Beth was looking at herself in the hallway mirror when Dillon came in the door at 8:30. He went straight to Franklin’s room, carried him down the stairs, and turned on the TV.
Beth’s jeans were new ones she’d bought before she’d started gaining weight again. They still fit, but barely. She had stopped dying her hair and cutting bangs to cover her forehead wrinkles. It was gray at the roots. She looked forty. She was thirty.
“I’m leaving,” Beth said. She filled a to-go mug of coffee adding too much cream and sugar. She took a piece of banana bread for the drive to work.
“What’s for dinner?” Dillon asked. Franklin was on his lap, sucking his thumb and rubbing Dillon’s beard.
“I won’t be home until seven,” Beth said. “Take salmon out. Salmon’s easy.”
“I’ll just order a pizza.” He lifted Franklin off of his lap and set him down on the couch until he found the remote. Then he picked him up and set him back down on his lap. “Do we have any beer?”
“I thought that’s what you went to get last night.” Beth took lip gloss-out of her purse and put it on while staring at Dillon.
“Don’t start. It’s nine in the fucking morning.” He set Franklin to the side and got off the couch, walking past her to the bathroom. “Aren’t those jeans a little tight?” He closed the bathroom door.
“Bye, Frank,” Beth said.
“Get your thumb out of your mouth.”
Frank looked away from the TV and at Beth. He kept his thumb in his mouth and looked back at the football game. Beth’s car had been running for a half hour. She patted her coat pockets for her cigarettes and walked out the door.
“One-sixty. Fuck,” Beth said. She stepped off the scale and stripped down naked, even dropping her underwear to the floor. She stepped back on the scale. One-sixty. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
“Don’t say that, Mom,” Franklin said. He was in the bath rubbing a bar of soap over a plastic dinosaur. It was his fourth birthday.
“Sorry, Frank.” She redressed and left the bathroom. She put on her coat and walked up the stairs to go out for a smoke. She leaned over to pull her Nordic slippers on and heard Dillon yell, “Don’t be ridiculous.” He was outside, smoking, and talking on the phone. Beth moved closer and put her ear to the door.
“No, she doesn’t. Fuck, maybe she does. Jesus, you’re starting to sound just like her. I told you, it’s my son’s fucking birthday.”
Beth opened the door. Dillon stopped talking. She sat down across from him on the other side of the picnic table and rolled a joint. Dillon looked at her, shook his head, and looked away.
“Sounds good.” He pushed a button and put his phone in his coat pocket.
“Smoking a little weed before your four-year-old’s birthday party, huh?”
“Are you going to put the bunk bed together?” Beth finished rolling and took out her lighter. She lit the joint and inhaled.
“You’ll probably have to do it if you want it done before the party. Jim wants me to come into work for a few hours.”
Beth exhaled. “Oh, yeah? On a Saturday?”
“Yeah, Beth, on a fucking Saturday.”
“Did you tell him it’s your son’s birthday?” She flicked and sucked.
“Do you really think Jim gives a fuck about Franklin’s birthday?” Dillon stood up.
Beth shrugged her shoulders. Coughing, she tapped the end of the joint with her finger, and put it back into the Mason jar. She pulled a cigarette out of her coat pocket. Dillon stood in front of her, glaring.
“What time does this thing start?”
“People will be here in two hours.” Beth puffed on the cigarette, not looking at Dillon.
“I’ll be back in an hour and a half, that’s enough time for me to put the bed together.” Dillon opened the door. “You might want to lay off the dope.”
Franklin was waiting on the other side of the door in a towel. His hair still had soap in it. He shivered. “Dad, I’m done taking a bath.”
“I’m going to work for a little bit, Buddy, then I’ll come home, and you can help me put your new bed together.” Dillon kissed Franklin on the top of his wet head and walked away.
“Go get dressed. Your birthday clothes are on the bunk bed box,” Beth said.
“Can you help me?” Franklin asked.
“No, I can’t. You can help yourself. You are four years old, for Christ’s sake.”
“One-fucking-seventy. Naked,” Beth said.
Franklin was at school. Dillon was somewhere else. The house was a disaster and had been for months. The fridge was empty. Everyone’s clothes were dirty, and Franklin’s bunk bed was still in the box. Beth looked around her bedroom floor for the one pair of jeans she could still button. She backed down onto the bed, pulled them up onto her legs and butt, and buttoned them while her belly was flattened. When she stood up, a roll of fat pushed over the top of the jeans. She put on her bra, a tank top, a short-sleeved t-shirt and a sweater. Then she went outside to finish the joint she’d rolled earlier that morning. Water dripped from the overhanging snow onto the deck. Below her, cars swerved through the slush. The first of the tourist motorhomes had showed up at the park across the street. An older couple in winter jackets and hiking boots sat in lawn chairs laughing at their Chihuahua who barked and rolled around in the dirty snow. When the dog got too cold or too tired, it jumped up on the woman’s lap. The woman brushed the snow off the dog’s silky fur and the man brushed the snow off the woman’s lap. When a drip slid down Beth’s cheek onto her neck, she looked up to see where she was sitting. She wasn’t under the melting snow. She was crying. She flicked the joint butt over the railing and went back inside.
She was starving. She wiped the smeared mascara out from under her eyes and thought about salty chocolate and chips and salsa. There wasn’t any of that, not in her house, she’d already eaten it all. There was a banana and leftover moose stew. So she turned around and went back outside. It was warm, forty, fifty degrees even. She smoked a cigarette and watched a teenager spin doughnuts in the Allstate Insurance parking lot. Funny, she thought. Idiot. Funny idiot, all by himself, doing what he wants to do for nobody but himself. It was getting close to time for her to pick up Franklin from school. She thought maybe she’d stop by Taco Bell on her way. She hadn’t had a steak Chalupa in over a year. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes for a while.
When she opened them, she stood up suddenly and walked back into the house, leaving snow from her boots on the carpet, on the stairs, on the linoleum. She stopped in the bathroom to brush her teeth. She stared at her face. Her nose was red from the cold, and the skin around and in between her eyes was wrinkly. An inch of greasy gray and black roots stuck out of the top of her head. She reached into her coat pocket and pushed the auto-start button on her keychain, then took the scissors out of Dillon’s shaving kit and cut off most of the blonde, leaving the strands in the sink and on the floor. Her face looked thinner somehow. She smiled at herself and walked to the entryway, gathering a pile of reusable grocery bags from the coat closet before leaving.
Beth was ten minutes early picking Franklin up from preschool. He was still working on an art project at his table when she got there. He looked up when she walked in, but, without recognition, went back to his project.
“Hey, Frank. You ready?”
Franklin looked back up at Beth. He didn’t smile and walked toward her staring.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
“I cut my hair. Do you like it?”
“Get your coat on. We’re going to Fred Meyer’s.” She gathered his backpack and lunch pail out of his little locker and handed him his coat and rubber boots. Franklin kept his eyes on Beth’s hair while he got dressed.
“Why did you do that, Mom?”
“Why did I do what?”
“Why did you cut your hair like a man?”
“My neck was hot,” Beth said. She zipped his coat. “Do you want to sit in front?”
“Yeah,” Franklin said. He had never sat in the front before.
They didn’t talk on the way to Fred Meyer’s. Beth turned up the radio and put one hand on the back of Franklin’s neck. She felt good. The drive through Fairbanks was refreshing—like it was her first time in a new town or her last time in an old one.
When they got to Fred Meyer’s, Franklin walked straight to Play-Land while Beth got a cart. Judy already had the wristbands ready by the time Beth got there. Franklin had his arm on the counter top waiting for his band to be latched around his wrist. He looked at Beth’s wrist. She put it on the counter top. Judy snapped the bracelets on both of them and told Beth to have a good time. Beth said she would.
“Bye, Frank. Make sure you listen to Judy,” she said. Franklin didn’t answer, he was already sitting in front of the TV. Beth walked away.
She was so hungry she skipped the produce and started in the aisles. Aisle one, chips. Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos. And crackers, full of saturated fat. She opened a can of sea salt and vinegar Pringles, eating them as she strolled around the store. She saw a customer from the bar. The woman smiled at her. She was a bad tipper and in seven years never learned Beth’s name. She always ordered her food minutes before the kitchen closed. Beth flipped her off. The woman made a huffing noise and hurried out of the chip aisle.
Aisle two, breakfast food. She threw three boxes of pop tarts in the cart and a bottle of instant pancakes and real syrup, not caring about the thirty bucks.
Aisle three…organic. She skipped it.
Aisle four was her favorite. For over a year she had walked past it. Chocolate, the expensive kind. Sea salt and pecans. Dark. Milk. Cadbury’s. She threw a bar of each in her cart and a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Aisle five, toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, plastic forks. Sure.
Aisle six, frozen boxed food and ice cream. Mrs. Smith’s homemade apple pie, Swanson’s beef and chicken pot pies, four of each. Raviolis, filled with feta and sun dried tomatoes drenched in vegetable oil. Tillamook peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. Klondike mint flavored ice cream bars with semi-sweet chocolate chips and a dark flavor coating. Ben and Jerry’s. Tillamook. Kroger’s, No, no Kroger’s, too cheap, she put it back.
Aisle seven, cheese. Oh God, the cheese. All of it. Extra sharp. Bleu. Mild. Medium. A pound of each, two pounds, three.
Aisle eight, hair dye, make-up, fingernail polish remover. What for?
Aisle nine, clothes. She was squeezing into a size ten. Who was she kidding, size ten? Please. She couldn’t even button them. Size fourteen fit right now. Size sixteen would be more comfortable next week. She threw in four pairs of size fourteen Levi’s boot cut low-rises and headed for the check-out line.
“Will Beth Deichert please return to Play-Land? Beth Deichert, please return to Play-Land,” came over the loudspeaker. Beth stood in line behind an older woman with coupons. The checkout line was close enough for her to see Play-Land but far enough away for Judy and Franklin not to see her. She watched Judy pick up the phone again and announce, “Will Beth Deichert please return to Play-Land?”
Beth remained in line, leafing through a Time, looking at pictures of Michelle Obama gardening with big children. Beth laughed, “Michelle and the fat kids.”
The lady checking her out looked up from the scanner. Beth pointed at the picture of the first lady, winked and gave her the thumbs up sign.
“Will Beth Deichert please report to Play-Land?”
Beth emptied her cart, her recyclable bags were on the bottom so she didn’t bother to hand them to the check-out woman. The woman kept her eyes on the merchandise, not asking Beth how her day was going.
“This is the last day I’ll be able to wear these jeans,” Beth said to the woman. The woman didn’t respond.
“Good-bye size fourteen. I can’t believe this weather. Forty-five degrees in April, unbelievable. You guys are having a great deal on those pot pies. Goddamn those things are delicious, haven’t had one in a year. I think I’ll eat all eight tonight. Michelle Obama, gardening. How the fuck do you garden in D.C.? Rooftop gardens I suppose. I’ve heard of them. I tried putting a garden in last summer, didn’t take. I guess I don’t have much of a green thumb. More like a brown thumb,” Beth pointed at the chocolate bars and laughed too loud and too long.
“Fred Meyer’s rewards card?”
“You don’t have a Fred Meyer’s rewards card?”
“I do. Yes, yes I do, but I don’t think I’ll use it today.”
“But then you won’t be able to get the discounts.”
“Yeah, not today, no discounts for me.”
“Two hundred and twenty-three ninety-six.”
Beth swiped her credit card.
“Will Beth Deichert please return to Play-Land immediately?” came on the intercom. From where she stood, Beth could see Franklin and Judy. Judy was on the phone, making the announcement. Franklin stood next to her, with his back to Beth, staring at the TV.
Beth took her receipt from the checkout lady. She put it in her purse and glanced at Franklin watching cartoons as she pushed her cart to the right of Play-Land and out the main entrance door just as a huge pile of snow slid off Fred Meyer’s roof and landed on someone’s parked Subaru.