by Michael Yaworsky
“Very good, sir. And would you be looking for a suit or a jacket?”
“Just a jacket. I don’t have many places to wear a suit anymore. But I do need a jacket.” The man checks out the item the sales clerk has brought him. He wants to look good for his upcoming occasion.
“And you said the size would be fifty large?”
“Yep. I wish it wasn’t, but you know how it is. Good intentions, but I just can’t seem to keep the weight off.”
“You and everyone else, sir. It’s not the easiest thing. But you’re tall, so that helps. Can I show you something in a navy? Or perhaps a gray?”
“I think I’d like to try a nice deep gray if you’ve got one.”
* * *
“‘Fifty large.’ That’s how he says it. ‘Fifty large.’ Like they’re big mobsters and he’s wearing a fedora and running numbers for Two Fingers Tony Scarface or something. He acts like he’s Mister Important. Like everybody knows who he is and they come to pay him respect.” She makes a dry spitting sound, turning away so she won’t get any on Maria.
“But he’s just a collector. What he really is is a bully. Just because he’s six–six and lifts he thinks he’s tough. But nobody respects him. He dresses like a slob and he thinks it makes him look hip, like a rapper or something. But it doesn’t. They pay him enough to afford a nice car but he drives around in one of those stupid dorkmobile muscle cars like a 16–year–old dork in a dork town. But he says ‘fifty large.’ They all talk that way. It makes me laugh. But only so I don’t cry. They’re so pathetic.”
“But can’t you tell them? To leave you alone?”
“What I’d like is to get out altogether. But it’s hard. Maybe impossible. They think they have some kind of hold on me. Although Mike and Zane are pretty nice. Or can be.”
“But they can hurt you.”
“They never would.”
“Are you sure?”
“Zane wouldn’t. Mike neither,” she says. “At least, I think not. Do they say ‘one large’ too?” she continues. “Or ‘half a large’? How little does it have to be before it’s not ‘large’ anymore? These guys just make me sick. Playing their games. Using their stupid slang. Like that makes them important. They’re just bullies.”
They both stare at their coffees.
“Don’t let them hurt you, Krissy. You can’t let ’em hurt you.”
* * *
“Fifty large quadrupeds,” Dr. Steenhoemer says. “That’s the largest number we’ve tagged in the zone since, well, since the barriers were relocated.”
“Fifty! What was the previous tally?”
“Eric, that’s amazing! The Foundation’s going to be really pleased.”
“Let’s hope it translates into euros.”
“It has to. When you announce the results– when do you announce the results? Are you going to tell them before the directors’ meeting?”
“We have to. They expect reports at least monthly.”
“Well dress it up nice and blow ’em away. Fifty large quadrupeds! Eric, you’re a rock star!”
* * *
“Fifty? Large bucket, drinks, two sides. Number fifty?”
Janet checks her receipt. Her number is 50. “Right here,” she calls out, approaching the cashier.
Janet takes the large bucket of chicken crisps, three Diet Cokes, one side of fries, and two onion rings back to the little faux–wood table where Kayleigh and Nicole are busily pecking on their phones. Then goes back for napkins. Lots of napkins. Coated chicken, greasy fries, slick fingers – not a good mix with touch screens. A great need of napkins.
“Fifty–one. Fifty–one? Is number fifty–one here?”
Kayleigh and Nicole look up from their phone trance, roused by the cashier’s sonorous voice. Only now do they notice their order has arrived.
“Hey, food!” Nicole exclaims.
“Thanks Janet,” says Kayleigh.
“Yeah, thanks,” Nicole repeats.
* * *
“’Fifty. Large framed, well–proportioned, robust, socially active divorcee. Children grown, empty nest. Outgoing, generous, fun–loving, outdoorsy.’ Mom! You can’t use that!”
“It’s brutally honest! You have to shade things! Nuance! Sell yourself! Make the best possible presentation.”
“Monica, I’m through with that. No more games. I’m taking another approach. Everything up front. Total honesty. I’m laying my cards on the table, and I’m gonna find a man who does the same. No games. The less you have to fudge, the better. No lies to get caught in. No stories to keep straight. Just me, just him. Now doesn’t that sound better?”
“Uh, yeah. To have. But not to get. First you have to get. And to get something—”
“—whatever. To get someone interested you have to present yourself in the best possible light.”
“Sweetie, I want to present myself in the simplest possible light. Keep it simple. I’ve done this before, in case you don’t remember.”
“Yeah, dad told me.”
“Very funny. Trust me Monica. This is what I want. Humor your old mother for once, will you?”
* * *
Fifty large centerpieces adorn the tables and serving buffet. The restaurant opens onto a food court in an upscale mall. Krissy presides over the hostess stand in a short black skirt, dark stockings, and heels. Thoughts very far from serving patrons burden her mind, but duty calls. She doesn’t want to lose this job.
A middle aged woman approaches the hostess stand. Says a reservation has been made in a certain gentleman’s name; has he arrived yet? Krissy checks the book: no, the gentleman isn’t here yet, would miss like to have a drink at the bar? No thanks, the woman says, she’ll wait in the food court. She wades into the tables and finds one that’s been wiped reasonably clean. She takes a seat and starts thumbing through a newspaper someone has left. A few tables away three girls are horsing around. One of them notices her. “Omigod,” Nicole whispers to Janet, “isn’t that Monica’s mother?” It is.
A large–ish man arrives at the restaurant entrance. He feels good in his new jacket. Makes him look prosperous, he thinks, maybe slender too, which would be nice. He checks his watch: still a few minutes early. He decides not to go in yet. Doesn’t want his date to think he’s too eager. They haven’t met in person yet and he wants their first meeting to be a good one. He buys a newspaper and finds a vacant table in the food court, not too near where three girls sit gossiping and giggling. Nothing personal, he’s sure they’re nice kids, they’re just a bit too boisterous.
The man opens the paper and reads about a wildlife conference being held at a venue across town. Some scientist, somebody Steenhoemer, is giving the keynote address. They’ve discovered several dozen large quadrupeds in some remote area where scientists had no idea they existed. The man in the jacket knows nothing about zoology but finds himself reading the story all the way through, and is pleased. Any time you discover something like that, he thinks, unspoiled nature where you didn’t expect it, it’s cause for hope. Tells us there may be something good for us, each of us, waiting out there, just beyond our view.
Fifty feet away the woman opens her newspaper to the same article. She too reads it all the way through. She too is heartened. So, she muses, we haven’t totally destroyed our planet after all, at least not yet. So there’s still hope. Funny how this stuff still inspires me, she thinks. How great would it be to meet a man who shares the same values I do? We could have something in common. We could just hit it off.
At the hostess stand Krissy surveys the house. A decent night so far. Look at all these people, she thinks to herself, all these couples; are they happy? She doesn’t know them from Adam and Eve, but she hopes they’re happy. She wants them all to be happy.
Michael Yaworsky is a licensed attorney who works as an editor and writer for a legal information and publishing company. He lives in Rochester in the 19th Ward.