It melded perfectly in his hand.
His fingers caressed the barrel, the familiar weight and heft of it bringing him comfort. Satisfied that it was loaded and ready to fire, Wayne “Mad Dog” Myers unloaded the chamber and carefully replaced the bullets in the beat up old bureau, second drawer on the left. Holding the pistol brought back a wistful remembrance of his Marine Corps days, the only time in his life he’d ever found any real purpose.
Every day, he lovingly disassembled and cleaned his sidearm, keeping it well-oiled and at the ready. With a resigned sigh, he placed the pistol back into the drawer and wheeled himself over to the window. Ma would be getting up from her late afternoon nap soon; seeing the gun would only agitate her. Marlene’s health was even worse than his, if that was possible.
Long ago, in his boxing days, Wayne was at the very pinnacle of physical excellence. The Corps and his love of a good fight had kept him in top form, corded muscles and washboard abs decorating every part of his massive six-foot-five inch frame. A well-oiled killing machine, he’d earned the name “Mad Dog” while pummeling his opponents in the ring. More than one CO had made a hefty profit out of his explosive fists. Now the only explosive thing about him was his epic meals. These days, Wayne tipped the scales at a mind-blowing 656 pounds.
The musical ding of Wayne’s computer sent his heart into a nervous flutter. It was Pavlovian, the hold his battered old laptop had over him. He wheeled himself over to a tiny desk in the corner, the only place in the house he felt was truly his own.
PhatChick: RU there??
MadDog78: Hello darlin! I was just thinking about you. Had the dream again, the one where we meet
PhatChick: How did I look???
MadDog78: Scrumptious :)
PhatChick: Betcha say that to all the girls!
Mad Dog slammed the laptop shut in a guilty rush, explicit thoughts still dancing through his mind. He might be nearly forty, but Marlene’s voice could instantly revert him back to childhood. It was her superpower.
“Wayne, sweetie?” her voice was light and lilting, years younger than her actual age. “Did the pizza come yet?”
“Hang on, Ma !I’m coming”
“Judge Judy is about to come on!”
He always brought Marlene her dinner at precisely half-past five. She was mostly bed-bound, a state that Wayne’s great height and previous years of physical activity had saved him from thus far. As it was, he got painfully winded walking from room to room so the chair became his legs, Wayne using its metal arms to hoist himself up when the situation required him to stand up and take care of his mother.
Another hundred pounds and he shuddered to think of what their fate would be. Dark visions of her ankle-biter dog, Peppy, subsiding on their dead, bloated bodies danced through his mind. Mad Dog knew he needed to get things in order before it was too late. Marlene deserved better, even if Wayne thought he did not.
“Wayne? Hurry! Judy’s on!”
“Just a sec, Ma!”
Mad Dog furtively pulled open the laptop. He knew he was acting like a simpering schoolboy, but he couldn’t help it. Wayne was madly in love.
PhatChick: Did I scare you off??
MadDog78: Sorry, babe. Ma wants her dinner.
PhatChick: Who’s on Judge Judy today?
MadDog78: TTFN, beautiful. Tell you more about my dream later….
PhatChick: counting on it…
A single yip informed him that his wheelchair had caught Peppy’s tail again. The damned dog was half-blind with only one good ear. Not an ideal situation when Wayne had to maneuver his chair around the small house without being able to see over his ponderous stomach. It was a miracle that the Yorkie-poo was still walking the Earth; Peppy had to be well over 18 years old at this point. What a house! Full of invalids both human and canine, he thought in dark amusement.
Mad Dog balanced the tray precariously on his lap, taking a moment to adjust the pale pink rose. His rose bushes were one of the few things he still took pride in. Wayne loved to see his mother’s face light up each spring evening when he would include a rose with her evening meal.
Marlene ate like a bird, the polar opposite of her son. Only a single slice of pizza with nothing but green olives and one lonely chicken wing adorned her plate. Her son was flummoxed at such abstinence. Without eating, Wayne didn’t know how he would make it through the long days of his existence. Food was his greatest blessing and biggest curse.
He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t think about eating, all day, every day. Maybe his early years in the Corps when he didn’t have the luxury of leisurely thought, pounding the ground for miles on end with a pissed off DI yelling in his ear. Even in those heady days, he could really pack it in. Food had become his best friend even in the bleakest of times. It never judged, betrayed, or scorned him. It was solace, it was sustenance. It was life.
Only now, miracle of miracles, he finally had something else to occupy his thoughts. The cyber love of his life, Drea Carmichael, aka PhatChick. They’d met on a weight loss support website, one of the many, many times Wayne had tried and failed to get his health back on track. He knew Drea had lost a bunch of weight over the months they’d been talking, Wayne was her biggest cheerleader. Drea knew he was overweight, but he didn’t dare tell her how much.
Whenever she asked him for a picture, he’d send one at least five years old or make excuses about why he couldn’t take a new one. He knew he was being dishonest, but he didn’t want to scare away the only woman he’d ever loved. MadDog78 was his link to a possible future—or any kind of happiness—and he wasn’t about to screw it up with reality.
Wayne wheeled over to Marlene’s ancient blue formica kitchen table, Peppy futilely nipping at his bloated ankles along the way. He dropped a piece of pizza crust onto the floor, sending the annoying little Yorkie scampering away in triumph. For the next thirty minutes, Wayne would find peace in his dinner with only the distant strains of Judge Judy to mar his contentment.
The smell of the extra-large pepperoni literally made his mouth water as he eagerly tucked into his meal. A dozen honey glazed chicken wings and a two-liter bottle of soda joined the pizza in Wayne’s massive stomach, topped off with an enormous double fudge brownie for dessert. The warm glow of satisfaction quickly cooled, guilt replacing happiness as he took stock of the empty box and pile of tiny bones and gristle.
Mad Dog knew this meal and countless others just like it were killing him one bite at a time, but he felt powerless to stop. A fresh wave of self-loathing washed over him as he boxed up Marlene’s leftovers, knowing the remaining seven slices of pizza would sustain her for the next week. She wouldn’t miss it if there were six slices instead.
With one last pilfered pizza slice in hand, Wayne turned back to his laptop, the ding of a message wiping away his dark mood, at least for the moment.
PhatChick: so I was thinking, we need to make your dream a reality MD
MadDog78: whatcha thinking gorgeous?
PhatChick: we need to meet, hon. It’s been over 6 months. We could at least FaceTime? I want to hear your voice, see your face. You always say we’ll meet someday, how bout now??
MadDog78: I’m sorry babe. My laptop camera is broken or I’d
PhatChick: yes, and your cell phone. I’ve heard it all a million times before. Wayne, you know I have feelings for you. What’s wrong? Why are you hiding from me?
PhatChick: radio silence once again. Ping me back when you’re finally ready to be honest.
MadDog78: Goodnight, honey :(
Wayne tossed and turned, the remnants of his dinner doing somersaults in his stomach. A sharp wave of heartburn caused him to sit up in agony, wishing for death. His mother’s constant snoring could be heard through the paper-thin walls separating their rooms, although Marlene was very insistent that ladies never snored. The clock on the nightstand told him it was almost 3:30 in the morning as he tossed around his dilemma over and over, searching for some kind of a solution.
He couldn’t hold her off any longer; their relationship had progressed too far for that. Too many nights of long, deep conversations and flirtation. She knew him better than anyone else, except Marlene. All of his dreams and regrets, his history and plans for the future he poured out to Drea, and she’d responded in kind. Wayne shared the secrets of his heart, stopping just short of the one thing he knew could drive her away: the reality of Wayne himself.
With a heavy sigh, he maneuvered his massive bulk onto his right side, clutching a pillow for support. He had an important decision to make in the morning. If he told Drea the unvarnished truth, there was a very good chance he would lose her, but if he was not honest, he definitely would. It was an impossible situation, one Wayne did not see himself escaping without getting his heart seriously broken in the process.
“Ma, would you say I’m a good person?”
“Oh Wayne, of course you are! You are my baby boy.”
“No, Ma. I mean, do you think anyone, umm…anyone else would ever like me? As I am…now?
“What have I always told you? True friends will stand by you, warts and all! Martha Jane and I, back in the seventh grade when she…”
“Yeah, Ma, I know, you’ve told me a hundred times, but I never had any friends, none to speak of. No one, you know, special…a girl…”
“Hush, baby, you just haven’t met the right one yet. M.J.’s daughter is recently divorced, I could give her a call…”
“Never mind, Ma. I need you to do me a favor. I’m going to stand up now. Take my phone…no, hold it like that, wait, no, turn it…Ma, no…that’s right. Now push the camera button. No, not that button, Ma, that one! Okay, are you ready? Now!”
MadDog78: Drea, I don’t blame you for not responding to me. You’re right, babe, I haven’t been honest with you. I was too afraid. Drea? Are you there?
MadDog78: OK, I know you are upset. Here’s the thing, I was so proud when you lost the weight, still am. I wasn’t being honest about losing with you, honey. You know I have struggled all of my life, but I didn’t tell you the extent of it.
MadDog78: OK, so here goes. No more holding back, babe, moment of truth time. I apologize for everything and understand if you never want to talk to me again. Also, forgive the quality of the pic, Ma took it.
MadDog78: One last thing before I send the pic. Just in case this is it.
MadDog78: Drea Marie Carmichael, I love you.
Mad Dog gently polished the pistol with a rag, making sure it was perfectly cleaned, his mind a million miles away. It had been over three days with no response from Drea: complete, terminal silence. He’d tried a few times to get her to reply with no success, his worst fears confirmed. The constant dull ache in his stomach itched away at him. He didn’t know if it was heartbreak or hunger, but he welcomed them both. Wayne hadn’t had a bite to eat in two days.
Reassembling his sidearm, Mad Dog retrieved the bullets from the drawer and loaded them, checking the chamber and cocking it into place. Marlene was taking her nap; he’d left a single pink rose on her pillow and gently kissed her forehead as she slept.
All of his documents were in order. He made sure his life insurance was current and sufficient enough to support his mother for the remainder of her life. She would be bereft, but well taken care of. Wayne prayed she would survive the shock.
Peppy followed along, nipping away at him as he reached the door. Mad Dog threw down a large piece of steak, a final present for the old Yorkie as it ran away with the prize. The steak was half Peppy’s size; it would take him awhile to eat it.
Finding decent clothing at over 600 pounds was a challenge, but Wayne did the best he could with his tent-like T-shirt and best pair of sweats. He could never fit into his old uniform, but at least he would go out in a semi-dignified fashion. His thoughts turned to Drea as he wheeled out of the door, down the ramp, and onto the front lawn. Even though the outcome had been as he feared, he couldn’t bring himself to be angry with her. Their friendship had been an oasis in a sea of pain and he was grateful for it.
He dialed 911 and reported a suicide at his address, wanting to spare Marlene the trauma of discovery. At least outside, there would be less mess to clean up and they could take him away quickly. With any luck, she’d never even have to see his body.
Mad Dog arranged himself as best he could in his chair, pulled the pistol from his lap, and placed it in his mouth, closing his eyes on the world for the last time. The slam of a car door jolted him back. His eyes flew open as he quickly lowered the gun and clicked on the safety. Sweat was running down his forehead into his eyes. Wayne hastily wiped it away with shaking hands, his heart hammering in his chest.
A woman was standing on the sidewalk in front of his house, holding a large leopard print suitcase. She had short, curly red hair and kind green eyes. Wearing a nice pair of jeans and tan leather jacket, Wayne knew that she had worked hard to fit into them. This was her “goal outfit,” the one she was saving for a very special occasion. They had discussed it many times; he couldn’t believe she was actually standing before him wearing it. Maybe he’d already pulled the trigger and she was an angel, coming down to escort him to the pearly gates.
“MadDog78, I presume?”
Wayne blinked hard, wanting to be sure she wasn’t some kind of apparition.
“PhatGirl? Is it really you?”
“In the flesh! I’m sorry I’m late, I’ve been stuck in airports for two days trying to get here and my laptop crapped out. Besides, I wanted to tell you something in person.”
Wayne could hear the sirens in the distance and tried to tune them out as he focused only on her face. Her nose was perfectly turned up at the end with a light smattering of freckles on each cheek.
“What do you want to tell me, Drea?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Wayne Myers, if you’ll do me a favor and put that damned gun away.”
Wayne absentmindedly stuck the pistol into the side pocket of his wheelchair as she came over and took both of his hands into her own.
“I love you too. Now, let’s get you up and out of this chair. Every journey begins with a single step.”
As the paramedics and fire truck pulled up to the house, Wayne stood up to greet them with Drea at his side helping him to stay upright. He would have to explain this strange situation, but all he could think of in that moment was how he couldn’t wait to take her inside and introduce her to Marlene.
Drea would be firm with him. It would mean a drastic change in every single part of his life, but he didn’t care. She’d insist upon him going to therapy, especially after today. Marlene would wholeheartedly agree.
Wayne “Mad Dog” Myers was ready and excited for his new journey to begin, truly alive for the first time in his life. Peppy yipped through the screen door as the paramedics drove off, leaving MadDog78 to escort PhatGirl over the threshold, and into their new shared reality.
Wayne sighed as he slowly lowered the pistol, images of his fantasy meeting with Drea still floating through his head. Marlene would never survive without him, or maybe it was simply a lack of courage that caused him to hesitate. In either case, it did no good to sit in his front lawn with a gun in his mouth, looking like a fool for all the neighbors to see. The old couple across the street were infamous for gossiping; his mother would be mortified.
Placing the gun in his lap, Wayne turned and took a final, longing look at the empty street before wheeling his way up the ramp and back into the house. It was almost 5:30 and Judge Judy was about to come on; he had only minutes to get Marlene her dinner and settle in for the night. Maybe tonight he would only check his messages thirty times instead of fifty. Hell, it was as good a place to start as any.
Marlene’s insistent voice pierced through the window as MadDog78 wheeled himself through the front door, locking the dead bolt firmly and resolutely behind him.
A. Elizabeth Herting is an aspiring freelance writer and busy mother of three living in colorful Colorado. She has had over 40 short stories published and also has a collection of short stories called Whistling Past the Veil that will be published by Adelaide Books in April 2019.