The Concept of Dread
B. A. Fidler
When I came to, I didn't know where I was. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my head a timpani played. I'd heard the tune before. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and slid down my nose like Olympic ski jumpers. My heart raced and I was hyperventilating. I stared at the bare light bulb and decrepit floor joists above me. Had somebody slipped me a Mickey Fin?
Slowly it all came back. I was at my friend Dexter's house, and I'd slipped myself the Mickey in the form of a twenty-six of cheap whiskey. The familiar evidence lay on the floor beside the couch. Love does crazy things to a fella. Ever since Big Ethel had thrown me out, I'd been a nervous wreck.
Dexter had grudgingly agreed to rent me his hide-a-bed for twenty dollars a month, and I'd been there ever since July. That was three months ago, and I still had plenty of money left from the sale of my last story. Enough for two more months at least. I hadn't moved, except to use the basement toilet, and bed sores had developed on my skinny little ass. The delivery boy from the Ambrosia Liquor store delivered my whiskey and beef jerky right to the bed. What more did a man need? With a little luck I'd choke on my own vomit and die one night. Then Dexter could just roll me up in the hide-a-bed and take me to the dump. What was the sense in living? I'd lost the two things I'd ever loved: Big Ethel and my ability to write. My life was meaningless and empty. Closing my eyes until the shakes and nausea passed, I replayed it all in my head like a syndicated sitcom.
Smoke hung over Yo Yo's bar like a cheap suspended ceiling. My whiskey stood, neat, in front of me on the walnut bar. I looked down into the calm surface trying to see my future. My last story about native suicide had hit the front page like a revelation. Didn't those fools know that Indians have had the highest suicide rate in North America for over forty years? It didn't matter, death sells. It's something the do-gooders can really sink their flat vegetarian teeth into until the next outrage comes along.
Suddenly ripples began emanating from the center of my whiskey, and then I felt it. The floor of the bar was shaking. The shock waves grew in intensity until my image in the mirror behind the bar was completely out of focus. Was it an earthquake? Then I saw her. As she passed behind me, she totally eclipsed my view of the wall. She was a human movie backdrop. A fat facade of a woman.
She saw me looking at her, my slack jaw hanging open, and stopped. A big meaty paw roared past my ear and landed on the side of my face. My head snapped violently to the left and I had to hold onto the bar to keep from flying off the bar stool.
"Whatta you gawkin at pinhead?" a nasty voice sneered. "Ain't ya neva seen a big woman before, honey?"
Shaking the cob webs out of my bean, I spun around on my stool and had a good look at her. I could have said, like Spillane, that she was wearing a dress that was too tight last year, but it would have been a lie. This dress, or any other for that matter, had always been too tight. In fact, there wasn't a dress on the planet that would fit this woman. She had to tip the scales at 500, or I wasn't a cheap muckraking journalist.
Her huge porridge colored thighs were riddled with cellulite. The varicose veins on her legs looked like some new fancy hosiery, only they didn't make nylons that big. Her bellies rolled down the front of her dress in waves of fat, the lowest one hanging well into her crotch and straining against the short dress that resembled a sausage casing ready to burst. Lycra really was a miracle fabric.
Her buttocks looked like a sack full of fighting hogs. Daylight hadn't passed between her legs for many years, maybe never. Her jowls shook as she laughed at me through a tiny slit mouth that was smeared bright red. Her eyes were tiny slits almost lost on the lunar landscape which was her face. It was all capped with a shock of terrible purple hair back-combed into total chaos. Unusual odors of sweat, mingled with perfume, emanated from the various fissures and crevasses of her immense body. This wasn't just a woman, but a world unto itself.
"Are ya gonna answer me fuck wad, or just ogle me all night?" she tittered. "Maybe you could even buy a lady a drink. That's if you're not as cheap as you look."
"I'd be honored, mademoiselle," I said, regaining my composure. "Have a seat," I said, standing and pulling over the stool next to me.
"Ya think I can sit on that ya moron? That's only enough for part of one cheek. Get with it ya geek!"
"Sorry," I said, blushing like a school boy. I leaped nimbly into action and arranged a semi-circle of four stools which strained and groaned as her huge girth came to rest.
My eyes were riveted on her again, and I thought back to my childhood when I'd accompanied my mother on her bi-weekly visits to Vic Tanny's Health Spa. I'd sat there, a skinny little runt, watching in awe the rows of females gyrating beneath the belts of the reducing machines. The hypnotic jiggling motion of their huge rear ends delighting me.
"Hey, sphincter head, snap out of it! I'm so thirsty I could fart dust," she jawed. Lifting her left cheek, she passed a tremendous fart which puckered the naugahyde of the bar stool as its shock waves rumbled across the room.
"Ha, ha, ha!" she bellowed, slapping me on the back and rearranging my spine like a quack chiropractor. "See what I mean?"
"I'm sorry," I said. "I was thinking about something from my childhood."
"You don't look much older than a kid at that. A regular ninety-eight pound weakling, I'd say."
"I've always been small. Actually, I'm twenty- . . ."
"Can it, loser, before I kick sand in your face! Now about that drink."
I motioned to the bartender. After he'd emptied the fourth shot into her glass, she stopped him. "Leave the bottle," she grunted before gulping down the booze. "So what's your line, big boy?"
"David. The name's David. I'm in the newspaper business. I write feature articles for the Globe. You may have read some."
"Do I look like a person who reads the news, shit-for-brains?" she said, refilling her tumbler with straight hooch. "The name's Big Ethel, and I drink, fight, and fuck, in that order. If you're innerested, I got a room across the road in that dump," she said, pointing a thumb the size of a large carrot over her shoulder.
I flushed in embarrassment.
"What's the matter, my little one? Never been with a whore before?"
"No, it's not that," I said timidly, my voice cracking. I was falling for Big Ethel like a Douglas fir. "It's just that I've never met anyone like you . . ."
"Let's not get personal," she said, punching me square in the ribs. "I may be a little overweight, but some men like . . ."
"Nooo!" I gasped, crawling back onto my bar stool. "You don't understand. I . . . I want to get to know you . . . better. My mother was a large woman. These fools who fall for the skin and bone routine the ad men are peddling don't know what they're missing. I've written articles about it. Exposés of the fashion and advertising industries. I've even done pieces on eating disorders."
"Oh, sorry, kid," she said, softening from titanium to pig iron.
"As a matter of fact, I'm working on a story right now about sex in advertising. How sexual stereotyping oppresses women."
"Yeah? Tell me about it," she said suspiciously.
"It's all about Ivory dish washing detergent. It looks exactly like male semen. Every time a woman squeezes some on her hand and washes the dishes, she pleases her man. It's like she symbolically gives him a hand job every night after dinner. Then he dozes off in his chair in front of the TV."
"Ha, ha, ha," she scoffed cruelly, her laughter gnawing at the air. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. If you think shit like that will change anything, you're stupider than you look. The only thing those Wall Street bastards will understand is force. I'm talking all out armed insurrection, honey. A fuckin women's revolution."
I watched her in wonder as she ranted and raved. She had no intention of doing what she said, but rather, reveled in her ideas as forms of self-gratification. A true hedonist.
"Could you imagine them arseholes as POWs on the end of my leash?"
I flushed again and began trembling all over. Not only could I imagine it. I wanted to live it. "Let's go across the street," I squeaked meekly. "I mean, if that's okay?"
"I thought you'd never ask," Big Ethel said, grinning wickedly.
It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. She totally enveloped me, the fat covering me like a blanket. Her sweaty body smothered me, and I choked in ecstasy.
After it was over, she put my head between those two marvelous melons and slapped the sides of my tiny cranium into semi-consciousness. "My little he-hee man, my little puny penised pup, my malignant little milquetoast," she quipped. She revived me by suckling me back into consciousness with a huge teat. I knew then that I was in love.
Suddenly a bell rang, breaking my idyllic peace. She picked me up by the neck and threw me off the bed into the cracked plaster wall like a rag doll. "Time's up, ring worm. That'll be a hunnerd bucks."
I gladly paid and then begged for more. I offered her a life of luxury where she could quit the trade and lay around while I catered to her every whim and fully supported her.
"Normally I'd gladly take your money, honey, but your kind gives me the willies. I like real men who will at least try to fight back. You're nothing. No, worse than nothing."
The last I saw of Big Ethel was from the gutter of the greasy street in front of her apartment where I'd landed after she gave me the bum's rush out the front door.
"If I ever see ya round here again, I'll kill yuz, you little piece of snot!"
I'd been reluctant to leave, and when I started begging it had been too much for her. And that's how I came to rent Dexter's hide-a-bed. Big Ethel was right. I was nothing. The more I thought about it, the worse it got. I tried to visualize death. What came after? "Nothing!" my brain screamed. And the dead rolled over me like a doom ladened cloud. Doomulus Nimbus.
And if I was nothing, and there was nothing after death, then anything I did was nothing. Worse than nothing. Hence my writing, my very existence, were meaningless. It was all so clear when Big Ethel explained it.
I thought of trying to stand up to her, but I knew it was hopeless. People can never really change. She'd kill me, and I was basically a coward. So I just lay here and drink, eating a beef jerky now and then, trying to slow the steam roller of dread. Obliterating the haunting nothingness with booze. It's ironic that by blacking out I achieve a true state of nothingness: killing my dreams, my ideas . . . my very soul.