We were all sitting at the dinner table the first time Baby brought up that she wanted to get the gastric bypass surgery. Momma was dead set against it from the beginning. I can still hear Momma’s high pitch voice squealing across the room, her hands frantically smoothing the table cloth.
“Oh god no Baby. You don’t want to do that Baby. You’ll die on that table Baby. I just know you’ll die.”
Baby just stared down at her marshmallowy hands, biting her lower lip, her face scrunched up that way it would get when she was upset.
“Oh no Baby. Please Baby. You’ll die on that table. Lord I just know you would just die.”
It was always pointless to argue with Momma when she got herself worked up into one of her fits. No damn use at all. Baby shut her trap and Momma went back to eating her chicken. Baby didn’t go back to eating. She pushed her bucket away and tears started flowing down her face. Momma didn’t notice. She kept her eyes on the table. I waited until I knew Baby wasn’t going to eat anymore, then finished her chicken up for her. There was no food wasted in that house. Momma’s house. Momma’s rules.
Baby was always fat. Hell, even her baby pictures looked fat. When I came along she was already ten, but chunky enough that she mostly wore sweatpants to school. Things did not improve as she got older. Baby just got bigger. By the end of high school her going to the doctor for knee and joint pain was a regular thing. She couldn’t cut it in college. Too much walking around to class. Baby was back home before the end of the first year. When she got back Momma just hugged her tight, told her there there, everything will be just fine, and brought out a big old chocolate cake she baked special for the occasion. That cake didn’t last too long.
Baby never really knew her daddy. Momma always said he was a big man. A big man with a big appetite and a laugh like a train whistle. Baby always said I was the lucky one. Lucky because I had the skinny daddy. Gave me my skinny genes so I could eat whatever I wanted. Baby always blamed her daddy for giving her the wrong genes, making her fat. I don’t know. No one would ever describe me as skinny. I never met my daddy either. Momma just always called him the skinny one, but then again, Momma had never been a small gal herself.
By the time she hit twenty-five Baby weighed 400 pounds. She had to go on permanent disability. Hell of a thing to see. A woman her age, having to wheel around town in one of them scooters. Use to drive me nuts when I was in high school. Sitting there, trying to watch TV, listening to Baby wheezing.
“Choo choo,” I’d say, “coming down the number four track, the express to Atlanta.”
Baby would get mad. Who could blame her? I was being a little shit, but what could she do about it? She was stuck there on the couch. Down there on the far side where no one else would ever sit because it was all caved in. She’d just scream and yell until it wore her out, then go back to wheezing again. God she had a mouth on her. If Momma was about she’d give me a smack. Yell at me to leave my damn sister alone. Never really fazed me much. Seemed like about anything got me a smack back then. I guess at the time I didn’t feel too bad for Baby. It seemed like she was in a mess of her own creation.
In all fairness, Momma certainly didn’t help the situation any. When Baby’s daddy cut loose, he left Baby and Momma in quite a bind, or at least that’s the way Momma put it. Lots of living out of cars and doing the best you can type of stuff. There were a couple of years there where things were pretty lean. Though you wouldn’t have guessed it looking at the pictures of Baby. Either way, when Momma got the good job down at the courthouse, she seemed to make it her mission in life to make sure her kids never went hungry again. We never had much for Christmas presents, but lord, our house was always full of food. Momma liked watching us kids eat. I’m betting it was her favorite thing in the whole damn world.
That first time wasn’t the last time that Baby brought up the surgery. For awhile it seemed like there was a big fight about it every month. Every time it ended the same way. Momma getting all hysterical, spouting no Baby this and no Baby that. It didn’t take long until it was just the two of them screaming at each other. I’ll give Baby props. She did her research. Read up on it as much as she could. Knew all the ins and outs. Figured out all the risks. Hell, even called the insurance to make sure they would cover it. It didn’t matter. Anytime Momma even got a hint that Baby was looking into it she’d freak out, screaming and crying.
“Don’t do it Baby. God sakes, please don’t do it. They’d kill you on that surgery table Baby. Kill you straight dead. Then where would I be Baby? Where would I be?”
There was just no reasoning with her. I stayed out of it. You know how Momma gets. There ain’t nothing you can do when Momma gets that way.
I think what really got Baby starting to think about getting the surgery was after she got stuck in the tub. Momma and I were both at work. She was taking a shower and slipped, fell right on her back and couldn’t budge an inch. Spent a good hour in their screaming before anybody heard her. Finally Mr. Johnson next door found her and called the fire department. They called Momma and me. It was quite an ordeal to get her out. I didn’t go in. I didn’t want to see Baby that way. Besides, there was nothing I could do that the fireman weren’t already doing. Momma was convinced they were going to have to bust up the tub. She spent the whole time fretting, making plans for what we’d do for showers and the such until we could get it fixed.
They got Baby out just fine, nothing hurt but her pride, but she was real quiet for the next couple of days. Then one night at dinner tears started flowing down her face and she just started balling to beat all. Momma of course came all unglued. Peppering Baby with questions to try to figure what was wrong.
“What’s wrong Baby? Why you crying? Tell Momma honey. Tell Momma what’s wrong.”
Baby had to choke out the words. She couldn’t get herself to stop sobbing.
“When the fireman were getting me out of the tub. One of them….”
“Yes Baby, yes, what did the fireman do?”
“One of them put his hand in my vagina.”
Momma just came uncorked at that one. Started screaming and pounding the table. I thought the damn vein on her head was going to pop. She just kept yelling, more noise than words.
“Those bastards. I’m going to kill those bastards. Don’t worry Baby. Momma’s going to get us a lawyer. Momma’s going to make sure those bastards rot in hell.”
Baby kept crying, but started freaking out too, waving her arms around, trying to talk louder than Momma.
“No Momma. It was an accident Momma. An accident. He didn’t mean to do it. He just couldn’t tell one fold from another. It was an accident Momma.”
You could see the gears shift in Momma’s head. I’m willing to bet without a clutch.
“Christ child. An accident. Why’d you freak me out like that? Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”
Baby stared down at her dinner plate, her face bright red. Momma just kept right on a going.
“Don’t I have enough stress without you adding to it? Good god what a shock. Christ Baby, if it was just an accident, why are you bawling?”
Baby just started crying again. I felt like I outta reach over and give her shoulder a squeeze or something, but I didn’t. I just kept eating. I didn’t really want to get involved.
“You just don’t understand Momma. You just don’t understand.”
Momma and Baby fought about that damn surgery for a little over a year, right up until the day Baby died. It was during that real hot weather in July. Baby went out to the store to get a soda. The batteries on her scooter went dead halfway back. She decided to try and walk it. Died right there on the sidewalk. Heart attack at thirty-one. Hell of a thing. Just a hell of a thing. We had to get a special wide casket so we could bury her. Momma was inconsolable. She just kept screaming about Baby this, and Baby that. Blubbering to beat all. I don’t know. Just a hell of a thing. It was about three months later that Momma go that gastric bypass surgery. Slimmed her right up.
Shawn Campbell was born in Eastern Oregon. He currently resides in Portland where he works as an economist and lives with a house plant named Morton. His first book, The Uncanny Valley, and his first short story collection, An Unsated Thirst, are available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. You can learn more about Shawn and his work at www.shawnwcampbell.com
Baby was first published in Issue 12 of Apeiron Review.