Raymond Carver (1938 –1988)
sitting over coffee and cigarettes at my friend Rita's and I am telling her
Here is what I tell her.
It is late of a slow Wednesday when Herb seats the fat man at my station.
This fat man is the fattest person I have ever seen, though he is neat-appearing and well dressed enough. Everything about him is big. But it is the fingers I remember best. When I stop at the table near his to see to the old couple, I first notice the fingers. They look three times the size of a normal person's fingers—long, thick, creamy fingers.
I see to my other tables, a party of four businessmen, very demanding, another party of four, three men and a woman, and this old couple. Leander has poured the fat man's water, and I give the fat man plenty of time to make up his mind before going over.
Good evening, I say. May I serve you? I say.
Rita, he was big, I mean big.
Good evening, he says. Hello. Yes, he says. I think we're ready to order now, he says.
He has this way of speaking—strange, don't you know. And he makes a little puffing sound every so often.
I think we will begin with a Caesar salad, he says. And then a bowl of soup with some extra bread and butter, if you please. The lamb chops, I believe, he says. And baked potato with sour cream. We'll see about dessert later. Thank you very much, he says, and hands me the menu.
God, Rita, but those were fingers.
I hurry away to the kitchen and turn in the order to Rudy, who takes it with a face. You know Rudy. Rudy is that way when he works.
As I come out of the kitchen, Margo—I've told you about Margo? The one who chases Rudy? Margo says to me, Who's your fat friend? He's really a fatty.
Now that's part of it. I think that is really part of it.
I make the Caesar salad there at his table, him watching my every move, meanwhile buttering pieces of bread and laying them off to one side, all the time making this puffing noise. Anyway, I am so keyed up or something, I knock over his glass of water.
I'm so sorry, I say. It always happens when you get into a hurry. I'm very sorry, I say. Are you all right? I say. I'll get the boy to clean up right away, I say.
It's nothing, he says. It's all right, he says, and he puffs. Don't worry about it, we don't mind, he says. He smiles and waves as I go off to get Leander, and when I come back to serve the salad, I see the fat man has eaten all his bread and butter.
A little later, when I bring him more bread, he has finished his salad. You know the size of those Caesar salads?
You're very kind, he says. This bread is marvelous, he says.
Thank you, I say.
Well, it is very good, he says, and we mean that. We don't often enjoy bread like this, he says.
Where are you from? I ask him. I don't believe I've seen you before, I say.
He's not the kind of person you'd forget, Rita puts in with a snicker.
Denver, he says.
I don't say anything more on the subject, though I am curious.
Your soup will be along in a few minutes, sir, I say, and go off to put the finishing touches to my party of four businessmen, very demanding.
When I serve his soup, I see the bread has disappeared again. He is just putting the last piece of bread into his mouth.
Believe me, he says, we don't eat like this all the time, he says. And puffs. You'll have to excuse us, he says.
Don't think a thing about it, please, I say. I like to see a man eat and enjoy himself, I say.
I don't know, he says. I guess that's what you'd call it. And puffs. He arranges the napkin. Then he picks up his spoon.
God, he's fat! Says Leander.
He can't help it, I say, so shut up.
I put down another basket of bread and more butter. How was the soup? I say.
Thank you. Good, he says. Very good, he says. He wipes his lips and dabs his chin. Do you think it's warm in here, or is it just me? he says.
No, it is warm in here, I say.
Maybe we'll take off our coat, he says.
Go right ahead, I say. A person has to be comfortable, I say.
That's true, he says, that is very, very true, he says.
But I see a little later that he is still wearing his coat.
My large parties are gone now and also the old couple. The place is emptying out. By the time I serve the fat man his chops and baked potato, along with more bread and butter, he is the only one left.
I drop lots of sour cream onto his potato. I sprinkle bacon and chives over his sour cream. I bring him more bread and butter.
Is everything all right? I say.
Fine, he says, and he puffs. Excellent, thank you, he says, and puffs again.
Enjoy your dinner, I say. I raise the lid of his sugar bowl and look in. He nods and keeps looking at me until I move away.
I know now I was after something. But I don't know what.
How is old tub-of-guts doing? He's going to run your legs off, says Harriet. You know Harriet.
For dessert, I say to the fat man, there is the Green Lantern Special, which is a pudding cake with sauce, or there is cheesecake or vanilla ice cream or pineapple sherbet.
We're not making you late, are we? He says, puffing and looking concerned.
Not at all, I say. Of course not, I say. Take your time, I say. I'll bring you more coffee while you make up your mind.
We'll be honest with you, he says. And he moves in the seat. We would like the Special, but we may have a dish of vanilla ice cream as well. With just a drop of chocolate syrup, if you please. We told you we were hungry, he says.
I go off to the kitchen to see after his dessert myself, and Rudy says, Harriet says you got a fat man from the circus out there. That true?
Rudy has his apron and hat off now, if you see what I mean.
Rudy, he is fat, I say, but that is not the whole story.
Rudy just laughs.
Sounds to me like she's sweet on fat-stuff, he says.
Better watch out, Rudy, says Joanne, who just that minute comes into the kitchen.
I'm getting jealous, Rudy says to Joanne.
I put the Special in front of the fat man and a big bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup to the side.
Thank you, he says.
You are very welcome, I say—and a feeling comes over me.
Believe it or not, he says, we have not always eaten like this.
Me, I eat and I eat and I can't gain, I say. I'd like to gain, I say.
No, he says. If we had our choice, no. But there is no choice.
Then he picks up his spoon and eats.
What else? Rita says, lighting one of my cigarettes and pulling her chair closer to the table. This story's getting interesting now, Rita says.
That's it. Nothing else. He eats his desserts, and then he leaves and then we go home, Rudy and me.
Some fatty, Rudy says, stretching like he does when he's tired. Then he laughs and goes back to watching the TV.
I put the water on to boil for tea and take a shower. I put my hand on my middle and wonder what would happen if I had children and one of them turned out to look like that, so fat.
I pour the water in the pot, arrange the cups, the sugar bowl, carton of half and half, and take the tray in to Rudy. As if he's been thinking about it, Rudy says, I knew a fat guy once, a couple of fat guys, really fat guys, when I was a kid. They were tubbies, my God. I don't remember their names. Fat, that's the only name this one kid had. We called him Fat, the kid who lived next door to me. He was a neighbor. The other kid came along later. His name was Wobbly. Everybody called him Wobbly except the teachers. Wobbly and Fat. Wish I had their picture, Rudy says.
I can't think of anything to say, so we drink our tea and pretty soon I get up to go to bed. Rudy gets up too, turns off the TV, locks the front door, and begins his unbuttoning.
I get into bed and move clear over to the edge and lie there on my stomach. But right away, as soon as he turns off the light and gets into bed, Rudy begins. I turn on my back and relax some, though it is against my will. But here is the thing. When he gets on me, I suddenly feel I am fat. I feel I am terrifically fat, so fat that Rudy is a tiny thing and hardly there at all.
That's a funny story, Rita says, but I can see she doesn't know what to make of it.
I feel depressed. But I won't go into it with her. I've already told her too much.
She sits there waiting, her dainty fingers poking her hair.
Waiting for what? I'd like to know.
It is August.
My life is going to change. I feel it.