Lady Troddenhill: A Short Story (Jennifer Semple Siegel)
From the beginning, I have hated Lady Troddenhill.
There she stands in the family room, large and imperious, her slim gray lines, her curves, her blinking green display, her nagging beeps.
Like a wild horse, she bucks, threatening to toss me off like a rag doll.
Who needs that?
Yet, for Sheldon, she performs perfectly: as Sheldon runs her tread – first at 4 mph, eventually reaching 5.5 mph, 15% grade – her well-oiled motor hums evenly.
For the past three and a half years, Sheldon has run in place for one hour, every day, wearing out three pairs of Nikes.
My song, defiant and zaftig, echoes:
“Fat Lady Phantasy in B-Minor”
Oh, Lord, I’m just another fat lady
What song would you want me to sing?
I’ll sing my song all over this place, praise Thee!
I’ll mix the blues with a symphony of paisley.
Tell me, Lord, what colors may I bring?
Oh, Lord, I’m just another fat lady.
Tell me, Lord, You think I’m red hot crazy?
Please bestow me with rainbow pitch, no strings.
I’ll sing my song all over this place, praise Thee!
I promise, Lord, to bend lines into curves – maybe
Not today, but surely tomorrow when the sun rings.
Oh, Lord, I’m just another fat lady.
My palette sings epics: russets of woe and malady.
But, Lord, my kaleidoscope spills bloodstone tidings.
I’ll paint my song all over this place, praise Thee!
Strip from me some slivers of red – now maybe
You know what happens when I, the fat lady, sings,
Naked before all. No, I’m not just another fat lady.
Yes, I sing: ruby rocks, all a cappella – praise me!
Who cares about all that fitness crap?
Aren’t I, after all, a healthy fat lady? Haven’t I made peace with my fat almost 10 years ago? Am I not that empowered woman/artist who decided she didn’t need to cultivate a Madison Avenue body?
Oh, Lord, I’m just another fat lady...
What does my song mean to my sister Sal?
It’s January 17, 2001.
In my 51st year, my life has been turned upside down.
I need Lady Troddenhill now.
She’s my salvation.
If I thought turning 40 was traumatic, I absolutely had no clue what my 50’s would portend.
I’m not sure I can tell Sheldon about Sal’s betrayal.
Maybe because I don’t quite believe it myself.
The idea is just too incongruous.
Sal, who would die for her own children, a cohort in a scheme to rid the family of a child.
It just doesn’t make sense.
Candy and Sal have changed everything.
Still, I can’t blame them for everything.
In the past year or so, I have noticed small physical maladies: shortness of breath when I walk short distances, a bum foot, an aching leg, creaky joints – my boobs, underarms, and thighs, pointing south...
Gray roots, red hair now courtesy of Lady Clairol.
Sheldon has noticed too, I can tell. But he won’t say, another tacit agreement between us.
My fat, my bodily state, is non-negotiable. Sheldon can take it or leave it.
Does he accept me the way I am?
He’s still, here, isn’t he?
And yet...I, sometimes, feel old, washed up, tired all the time. Just getting through the day feels like a major struggle.
I dream of buying a mechanized/ computerized wheelchair, perhaps a Jazzy or a Hoveround, whisking me around. I yearn for a comfortable, movable chair, preferably one that will read my desires, take me around the world, perhaps blast me off to the moon...
I would never have to propel my own flesh around, ever again.
I didn’t feel this way 10 years ago.
I, after running around all day, could dance well into the night and then get up early the next morning. When I exposed my core at that awful family reunion, I felt high, exonerated, reborn, powerful.
Ready to take on France.
And I did.
Menopause is no fun....
Soon, I’ll be the woman I saw at the mall.
Her 400-pound body stuffed in a Jazzy, her flesh, bulging from the side rails like sausage stuffed in its casing, her chins blending into her chest, her breaths loud and labored. Her companion, a grizzled rail of a man, pushing the chair forward, his face red and sweaty, his hair mussed and spiky.
People stare, children point fingers:
“Oooh, Mommy, look! That lady is SO fat.”
But the look of disgust and blame on the mother’s face, the patina of civility worn thin, are unmistakable.
After all, aren’t fat women in wheelchairs responsible for their own state of being?
I want so much to move beyond the petty prejudices of the masses; I try to feel empathy for this woman, but I can’t.
All I feel is fear.
She’s about my age.
I want to hide, cry, feel sorry for myself.
I’m old because I feel old, my body about to betray me.
Maybe it already has.
Sal already has.
I’m 50 years, three months, and five days old today.
Perhaps that’s why I’m so morose. I should feel warm and happy – my husband, after all, has just blasted me into orbit – but I’m tired and worn, like an old woman whose trip to the doctor requires a three-hour nap afterward.
The leap from 50 to old age doesn’t seem so far – a tiny step into senior citizen land – not the chasm it seemed just one year ago.
Forty-nine still felt okay, but 50 is undeniable.
The epilogue grows shorter every minute. Soon enough, I will experience that awful, sinking feeling when my life will be measured in months, days, minutes, seconds.
Of course, one never knows when Death will come sneaking into the bedroom to snatch my soul.
It happened to Jessica Smithers, just 47, last month.
Dropped dead of a heart attack. Can you imagine that? A skinny 47-year-old woman who goes from absolute vitality to stone-slab dead within seconds.
Three years younger than me.
Is that even possible?
God, I hear echoes of Nana’s voice, and it’s no longer just in my head.
Her voice begins in the pit of my stomach and bursts out of my mouth. My Nana’s voice superimposed on my 50-year-old voice, an old cranky voice who obsesses about its mortality, whines about aches and pains.
I swore this would never happen to me, but it’s happening, and I’m powerless to stop my body rot from spreading, like a cancer.
I weighed myself last Friday, the 12th.
Well, the nurse at the doctor’s office weighed me – I had no choice but to step onto the scale and listen for its groan of protest.
I swore I wouldn’t look at the number, and I didn’t, but the nurse muttered “225” as she entered the number into my record.
God, no matter how I look at that number, I can’t fathom it; that can’t be my body tipping the scale like that.
It must be another body, Mrs. Niles reincarnated into my 225-pound body and going up, up, up, the same 500-pound lady who had been buried in the piano crate way back when I was still groping for my voice.
Samantha Anne Mallory, don’t expect any sympathy or respect from a society that places so much emphasis on thinness, youth, and vitality.
People who haven’t seen me in quite a while are shocked when they run into me.
They don’t say anything, but I can read the cues.
First, the slightly raised brow, then the subtle shudder.
Maybe they’ll stumble around a bit, trying to find a positive spin or even just a neutral comment.
Make small talk.
Avoid eye contact.
Talk about the weather – anything but what’s really on their minds:
God, what happened? How did you get so fat? How can you live with yourself like that?
You know they’re dying to know the whole story.
You just want to blurt out,
“Yeah, I’m fat, I’ve gained weight, I eat like a horse, I sit around on my ass, and my exercise program consists of frequent treks to the refrigerator, so what’s it to you?”
But you don’t. You bite your lip, pretend you’re in a hurry, which you are, in a hurry to escape the scrutiny of the thin or even of the not-so-fat who are obviously relieved that at least they’re thinner than you, so you say, “Look, I gotta dash, gotta run,” which is not quite accurate because you’re not about to run much of anywhere these days.
You lumber off, feeling their eyes burning into the back of your caboose, chugging away.
You hear their voices all too clearly:
God, Donna, guess who I saw today? You wouldn’t believe how huge Sam is! How could she let herself go that way? I’d rather die than be that fat...
They’ll need a derrick to carry you around, and when you die, they’ll have to find a piano crate...
I’m 275 pounds from being buried in a piano crate.
Somehow, 500 pounds doesn’t seem all that unreachable.
I’m the opposite of Kafka’s hunger artist.
While the artist of minimalism cultivates and prunes his hunger – nurtures its lack into high art – I fear mine.
At the first hint of emptiness, I need to chase it away, snuff it out, with refined carbs, overcooked meat, and oil: fluffy, white McDonald’s sesame buns; seared meat patties; special sauce; hot, crispy fries. A little lettuce on the side.
I cultivate my fat, feel it shake when I walk, struggle as if I’m carrying a heavy piece of overstuffed luggage.
But I want to be like the hunger artist.
I’m jealous because he lovingly embraces that big empty hole in his stomach; he embraces the thin skin that stretches taut like leather over sharp, angular bones.
I, too, want my bones to stick out.
I want to bump my bony pelvis into those catty women who would dare talk about me...
Stab them with lethal bones.
Self-acceptance. Hell, no.
Just when I thought I’d come to terms with my body, my body has rebelled, screams at me, begs me to do something before I drop dead because my heart is weary and can no longer support me times two.
I feel like a Judas, but I don’t want to die before my time.
I want to fend off death…
I want to die an old woman with translucent skin stretched over bone.
I don’t want to be buried in a piano crate.
“Little girl, Samantha, I want you,” Lady Troddenhill whispers.
If she had fingers, she would be beckoning to me.
She just wants to entice me so that she can toss me to the floor and crack my spine.
She just wants Sheldon.
She’s a bitch, I tell you, a judgmental bitch who dares me to take her on, climb her virtual hills, pound her tread with my heavy gait, huff and puff miles across the country, yet going nowhere important –
In front of the TV, where I’ll watch the daily dramas of characters whose obsessions would land the rest of us in the psych ward.
A switch in my head flips on.
I dig out my workout clothes out of the size-22 box and pull my dusty Nikes from under the bed.
I still hate that Lady Troddenhill, but, I swear –
I’m going to whup her ass.
(Author’s Note: I wrote another version of this story back in 2001.
It may or may not be a chapter in my novel The Fat Lady Sings, a work in progress.
I include it here because it fits well with the theme of this site, but it will not be included Fat Woman Walking.)