Hello all -
Just joined this community. I've been banging my head against the wall trying to market this novel. Won a little recognition in some contests, but with only regional journalism experience, I'm struggling to get the attention of an agent. I'm nearing the I-give-up-I-need-to-clean-my-house-and-pay-more-attention-to-my-kids point. Would appreciate any thoughts if you have the time to wade through it.
I really didn’t
see this whole thing coming. Just last week my life was my life. Maybe a bit narrowly lived, but still it was my life.
I walk in to the
Shop N Save to grab the weekly donuts for the staff meeting. Not that I’m
invited to the meeting. I’m only an assistant claims adjuster. But truth be
told, I don’t really adjust anything, except everyone else’s paperwork. I don’t
eat donuts either, too much sugar, white flour, and transfat.
Waiting in line, I
study Leann, like I always do. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by her.
Sometimes you can’t divert your eyes from things that repulse you. Maybe that’s it. The back of the cashier’s stand
cuts into her butt, dividing her in two and causing her fat to pile on the
stand like newspapers waiting to be delivered. That can’t be comfortable. It
must leave lines on her skin the same way my lawn chairs tattoo the back of my
dirt-colored hair usually hangs in her face, but some days, like today, she pulls
it back on one side with a tiny pastel colored plastic barrette, the kind my
mother uses on her Shitzu. Her teeth are straight, but yellow, and the only
makeup she wears is a garish green eye liner.
Leann calls for a
price check and stands picking at her nails. I don’t have time for this. I’m
already late. I’d skip it, except the donuts make everyone else at the office
happy and somewhat indebted to me. The fashion magazines at the check out catch
my attention, and I mentally compare myself to each of the cover models. I look
up to see Leann roll her eyes at the nervous woman who says she doesn’t need
the olives anyway and to forget the price check.
When the man in
front of me steps up Leann nods at him. He teases her. It’s just a little
charitable flirting. I arrange my groceries on the belt and smile blandly at
the man as I reach over his groceries for a plastic divider. He looks me over
appraisingly and starts to say something, but is cut off by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a telling ring tone for
a balding white man.
I’m not certain of
the next chain of events. I remember Leann wrestling with the change drawer.
She can’t slip the credit card receipt in the little slot because something is
blocking it, so she begins shaking the machine to shift the contents. The pole
with the lane number sign and light begins to sway as Leann’s bulk rattles the
cash register. Sometimes events happen in slow motion and your brain freezes
and you just watch the train wreck or the car accident as it happens. I see the
sign falling; I watch it crash towards me. I wonder briefly why this is
happening. Then everything goes black.
When I come to,
blood pools around my head and the manager kneels next to me frantically stuffing
magazines under my head. I’m not dead because I hear my own voice asking,
“Christ! What happened?”
As I watch myself
all I can think is the blood is ruining my newest Anne Taylor jacket and I’m
not doing anything to prevent it. I’m just lying there growing whiter. The red
faced manager is yelling, “Leann, are you alright?” I look down at my grotesquely
swollen arms and then reach for my pounding head. None of this makes sense because how can I be
standing here with a throbbing head if I’m lying on the ground covered in
I try to move, but
I’m trapped in the cashier stand. When I turn to get out, I feel my stomach
press against the bars from the bag rack.
clerk, the older one with the mustache whose hands always shake when she bags
groceries, looks right at me and says, “You all right, Leann? That Valentine
display clocked you good when it came loose. Guess it weren’t attached to that
pole so tight, huh?”
This cannot be happening. Somehow I am trapped
in the body of Leann, and that doesn’t make sense. I need things to make sense.
I’m a practical person. I don’t read science fiction; I don’t believe in God;
and I’m not the least bit superstitious. I am in control of my life, my future,
and most certainly, my body. This could not be happening. But when I try to move,
I have to wedge my hips out of the checkout booth. People swarm the lane and
someone produces a blanket. When I step out into the exit aisle and look around
at myself lying on the floor next to the rack full of chewing gum, chocolate
bars, and travel size hand sanitizers, my world begins to spin. I stumble back
to the bench where old men sit waiting for their wives. Luckily, it has been
cleared by the excitement of my accident. I slump down, shocked that my butt
doesn’t completely fit on the bench and I watch.
personnel come and lift me on to a stretcher. Someone opens my purse and finds
my identification. I listen to the woman mispronounce my name. It’s Carin
Fletcher. Carin sounds like Car-in,
just like it’s spelled, but no one can ever say it right. They always say
Karen, and so does the woman with the orange hair and black roots as she places
my purse next to me on the stretcher. The ‘me’ on the stretcher appears to be
unconscious now. The ‘me’ on the bench can’t utter a sound.
After the ambulance
leaves, the manager comes and sits next to me on the bench.
“Leann, I need you
to tell me exactly what happened.”
I look at him like
he’s nuts, because he must be. This can’t be happening. I read his name badge.
It says Vernon
Slick, Assistant Manager. I
don’t say a word. I just allow my mind to fumble along with all this. I stare
at him and I nod. He sighs and takes out his cell phone.
“I’m going to call
corporate and let them know what happened. You look a little spooked Leann. Maybe you should go lay down in the break room.”
I don’t move. I
just watch him like he is a science documentary. I’m fascinated, but completely
uninvolved. When a voice comes on the line, he gets up and begins to pace the
aisle explaining what has happened. When he’s finished, he yells, “Phyllis,
come take Leann back to the break room. Have her lie down for a few minutes.”
The other cashier,
the one with the mustache, puts her hand on my shoulder and looks down at me
kindly. When I don’t move, she puts her other hand under my elbow and lifts. My elbow rises with her, but the rest of me remains
on the bench anchored by the extra 200 pounds and the shock of what is
happening. She lets go of me and says, “C’mon Leann, don’t make a fuss. The
registers are backin’ up.” Her expression is equal parts frustration and pity.
I don’t know what
else to do, so I heft myself off the bench and follow her. My thighs rub
together uncomfortably and more than once I knock into customers as I figure
out how much space I require. Right in front of the canned tuna, Phyllis stops
and asks, “You alright Leann? You look kinda sick.”
I just stare at
her wondering when I’m going to wake up. She shrugs. “I gotta get back to my
register.” She turns and scurries back up the aisle.
I sigh and wait. I
close my eyes and try to relax my body – maybe I’m hallucinating. I take deep
breaths. A woman with a loaded shopping cart stops in front of me. I turn and
look at her. She’s watching me expectantly, and I think she’s about to explain
it all or shout, “You’re on candid camera!” I stare back at her and she raises
her eyebrows. I don’t know what she wants me to say, so finally I blurt out,
“What the hell’s going on?”
She glares at me
and growls, “Can you let me by?”
I’m blocking the
aisle. I try to apologize, but really there’s no explaining myself, so I back
up against the cans of tuna and let her by. I’m not sure how it could be
possible, but this is real; I’m not dreaming. I can click my heels together and
take all the deep breaths I want, but I will still be this fat woman with hair
in my eyes and sweat behind my knees. I wander the rest of the way down the
aisle towards the back of the store. I find a hallway I have never noticed
before, tucked between seafood and the butcher shop.
I enter through
the door that says, “Employees only”. Two well worn couches slump together in
front of a small TV set. One wall is covered in lockers. I find the locker that
has Leann’s name on it and open it. Inside is her purse. It looks big enough to
hold a small child. I search it for car keys. I have to get out of here. The
purse holds nothing except a paper clip with ten dollars and a driver’s
license, a small pack of crayons, her green eye liner, a baggie full of bus
tokens, and a house key. I look at her
license. Leann Marie Cane. Finding no car keys, I take the ten dollars and put
the purse back. I need to leave before Vernon Slick comes looking for me.
I make it to the
front of the store without seeing an employee. I walk too close to a display
and my hip takes out a package of toilet paper, sending the entire pyramid of
paper tumbling, but no one reacts. Phyllis is busy at her checkout, and Vernon squints at the
register in Leann’s spot, so I duck out through the express lane.
Outside it is
cold, and I realize I have forgotten to bring Leann’s coat. I hug myself,
horrified and at the same time intrigued by the fat rolls that engulf me. We
have no taxis in our town, at least not ones that take people anywhere but the
prom, so I look around for a bus stop. I’ve never noticed it before, but it is
right on the corner next to the store. Several people, laden with blue plastic
shopping bags, wait under a sign. I stand in line with them. I have no idea
where the bus goes. When it arrives I realize I didn’t bring the bus tokens. I
offer the driver my cash, but he waves me on. He knows Leann and apparently
considers her good for it.
I fill the entire
bus seat, side to side, front to back. It is uncomfortable and a bit
claustrophobic and I wonder briefly what would happen if the bus were in an
accident. Would I be wedged in here and
left to burn to death? Would the other passengers band together like
Christopher Robin and Rabbit and pull me out of the tight spot? The bell rings
requesting a stop and it dawns on me that I have nowhere to go. If I go to my
apartment, how will I get in? No one will recognize me, and I don’t have a key