The Good Things in Life
By Jerry Thomas
“Stop complaining, Paul, and eat your salad!”
Susan glared at me angrily from the other side of the table. It was a sunny but cool spring Sunday and as usual Susan and I had gone to her favorite café for lunch. For the last six weeks Susan had had me on a strict salad diet, ever since she decided that I was getting much too fat.
“This is rabbit food,” I said, “and it doesn’t even have any bacon bits or shredded cheese to make it more appetizing.”
“Bacon bits and cheese are fattening, Paul, and the whole point of this diet is to get some of that weight off of you.”
“But at least you could have let me have the creamy ranch dressing,” I pleaded.
“No, dearie, that’s fattening too. The vinaigrette is much better for you.”
I always hated vinaigrette dressing and I was no lover of salads either. But Susan, not liking the paunch that had grown over my ever increasing waistline, had condemned me to salad hell.
She sat across from me daintily picking at her food. God forgive me, but I was truly beginning to detest her. I thought sadly about how our relationship had changed over the last few months.
We had met almost a year ago in a bar near Brown University. Susan was finishing up her junior year in art history, and I had just graduated and landed a job as a computer programmer with the Great State of Rhode Island. I had noticed Susan standing with two friends at the other side of the horseshoe shaped bar. She stood out from the others with her platinum blond hair and well-endowed curvy body. I thought she looked like a chubby Marilyn Monroe and found her extremely attractive. I made my approach, struck up a conversation, and before long, Susan and I were dating on a regular basis.
One thing led to another and soon we were making out in her small student apartment whenever her roommate was out. I was crazy about Susan’s body; she was plump without being fat and I loved caressing her soft womanly curves and voluptuous breasts. She responded enthusiastically to my lovemaking and enjoyed touching my strong, muscular body.
Aside from making love to Susan, the only other thing that kept me busy was my new job with the State. It was my first real job after college and I wanted to make an effort not to screw up. I worked longer hours than my more experienced colleagues and was so exhausted when I returned home at night that I would just flop on the couch and watch television.
I was still learning the ropes, so the job was turning out to be fairly stressful for me. I coped with the stress by eating more and more, and my desk drawer started to fill up with snacks for me to nosh on during my workday. The pounds started piling on and gradually I was transformed from a hard muscular guy into a soft, flabby fatty. I was horrified when I realized that I had gained a total of 80 pounds since starting my sedentary job.
About the same time as I was putting on the weight, Susan decided that she didn’t like her own chubbiness and she went on a diet. I watched sadly as those fantastic curves started to melt away while Susan grew thinner and thinner with each passing week. Her hefty breasts started to shrink and her curves flattened out. We still made love, but something had changed. I felt disappointed, like something I loved had been taken away from me.
My weight increased steadily as hers decreased, and I had this weird fantasy of her pounds magically being transferred to my body while we slept together.
“You look great,” I told her one day, “don’t you think it’s time to go off the diet?”
“Oh no,” she said, looking at herself in the mirror. “I’m still much too fat, just look at this bulge right here.”
I looked but I didn’t see anything. She was getting skinnier and skinnier and I had a bad feeling about how all this would turn out.
Susan’s personality started to change as she lost weight. She was crabby and more and more often her face bore a sour expression instead of her former cheerful smile and happy laugh.
She also began to nag about the way my body size was changing. “You know, Paul, you really should consider going on a diet too. Just look at yourself – you’re starting to get fat boobs like a girl. It’s disgusting. Just how much do you weigh now?”
I was really offended. She was right about me getting fatter, but I felt that she had insulted my manhood. That was when she decided to put me on the Miami Beach Diet, and my previous hearty meals of steak and baked potato were replaced by those god-awful salads.
And so it happened that a skimpy salad with wilted lettuce was the only thing on my menu for those Sunday lunches together with Susan. We didn’t talk much. I was mad at being forced to do something I didn’t want to do, and Susan sat there looking at me like I was the fattest, most repugnant creature on earth.
Our strained silence was only broken by the arrival of the waitress. “Hi, I’m Maria and I’ll be your server today. Would you like coffee or anything else to start off with?”
I was in a foul mood and I looked up morosely. What I saw was like an angel of hope sent to alleviate the suffering of a lost soul in hell.
The waitress had a beautiful, smooth, olive complexion and a somewhat round face framed by long dark hair. Her tight-fitting uniform revealed a very sexy hourglass figure, not fat, but by no means skinny either.
I was thunderstruck -- it was like the sun had unexpectedly broken through the clouds on a stormy day. But before I could say anything, Susan interrupted.
“Yes, both of us will have the Slender Figure Special Salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing. And don’t bother bringing any bread or rolls.”
Susan and I sat together without speaking, trying to avoid eye contact. Eventually, the waitress came back with our salads and a glass of water for each of us. I looked woefully at my salad and the waitress must have noticed it, because she gave me a little smile as if to say, “Don’t worry big boy, I’ll sneak you something under the table later.”
“Anything else?” she asked, still glancing in my direction.
“No, we’re fine, thanks,” Susan answered gruffly.
We started eating and the silence continued. After she had eaten about half of her salad, Susan looked up suddenly and appeared to be ill. She put her hand to her mouth, got up quickly, and said “excuse me for a minute,” as she rushed off to the ladies’ room. This had happened before during our meals together and I wondered what was going on, though I did have a theory.
While Susan was away in the restroom, the waitress came back to our table to see if everything was alright.
“That’s not much food for a big strong guy like you,” she said sympathetically.
“You’re telling me, but she,” and here I nodded toward Susan’s empty chair, “she has me on this concentration camp diet to help me lose weight.”
“You look fine to me,” and she actually seemed to be admiring my heft. “It’s not good to starve yourself.”
“Yeah, but try to tell her that,” I said, again addressing my comments to the empty place at the table.
The waitress continued to linger and I had the feeling that she wanted to say something else.
I felt the awkwardness of the moment, so I said to her, “Maria, that’s a very nice name. Are you from this area?”
“Yes, I’ve lived here since I was nine years old. My family still lives in East Providence, but I have my own little apartment in Warwick,” she said.
“Warwick’s a nice area,” I replied. At that moment I spotted Susan out of the corner of my eye, returning from the bathroom.
“If you need anything, just let me know,” Maria said and left quickly as Susan approached.
“Whew!” Susan sighed as she sat down. She was very pale and her hands were shaking. “Sorry, I’m just not feeling well. Could we go now?”
I had not finished my salad, but under the circumstances, I didn’t really care anyway, and I left a couple of bills on the table to pay for our meal, plus a generous tip for Maria.
* * *
Maria walked through the door of her small apartment, kicked off her shoes, and dropped on the couch exhausted. It had been a long, busy day at the café. She still wondered about the interesting gentleman she had served the salad for lunch. Such a big guy, she thought, and there he is eating that tiny salad. She felt sorry for him. And who was that bitch he was with? If she was his girlfriend or wife, then I feel twice as sorry for him.
Maria had a bit of a thing for heavy men. In high school she had always been attracted to the chubbier boys. And even when she was still a little girl living in Portugal, she remembered her best friend Paulo, who was really quite fat, at least compared to all the other skinny kids she knew. She wasn’t sure if her family knew about her preference and perhaps they wouldn’t understand, so she kept it to herself.
She had only just started working at the café, so the man was a new customer for her. She worried that maybe he wouldn’t come back and she would never see him again. She had noticed his big, round love handles and she had a thought that she was slightly ashamed of. I’d certainly treat him a lot better than that skinny bitch, she reflected.
* * *
Susan is a creature of habit, so a week later later we were back at the same place for our regular Sunday feast of salad and water.
I was not in as bad a mood as the previous week, maybe because I was anticipating seeing Maria again.
Sure enough, I was not disappointed. She came up to our table and gave me a big smile, showing me her beautiful white teeth. She seemed glad to see me again. She nodded to Susan somewhat more coolly.
“And what will it be today, the usual?” Maria asked with a touch of sarcasm that didn’t escape me.
“Yes,” Susan said, “the slender salad as usual, but today we’d like it with a few croutons and an iced tea instead of the water.”
“But dear, aren’t the croutons too fattening?” I said, mimicking Maria’s sarcasm. I could see Maria trying hard to keep from laughing.
“Well, a little bit,” Susan replied in all seriousness, “but after all it’s the weekend, so maybe we can splurge a little.”
I merely rolled my eyes, but Susan didn’t notice.
After Maria had brought our salads, Susan and I sat munching listlessly. Susan seemed to have something on her mind, but I had the impression she was hesitant to say it.
“Well,” I said to break the ice, “you seem troubled today.”
“Actually, Paul, I do have something important to discuss with you. You see, this is how it is,” she paused to take a sip of her tea.
“You’ve been on this diet for a couple of weeks now, and you don’t seem to be losing any weight at all. Are you sneaking food behind my back?”
“No, of course not,” I lied, thinking of all the goodies I had stashed away in my desk at work.
“Anyway, Paul, this is the thing. I just don’t think we can continue the way we’re going.”
I had been expecting this conversation for quite some time, but now that the moment had come, I was still shocked.
“Why?” I asked, “We’ve always had a pretty good relationship, don’t you think?”
“Yes, Paul, it was really good at the beginning and I was happy with you then. But,” she stopped and looked at my oversized belly, shaking her head. “It’s just that you’ve gotten so fat lately and I just can’t stand it. I’m honestly ashamed to be seen with you in public.”
I knew that things had not been the best between us, but her words cut me like a knife.
“You’re ashamed of me?”
“I’m sorry Paul, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the fact is that I’m totally turned off by fat guys. And I hate to say it, but you really are fat.”
And with that, my relationship with Susan was over.
* * *
I don’t know why, but even after we broke up, I felt the urge to go back to that café and order Sunday lunch like I used to with Susan. The place was full of bad memories and going back there was like rubbing salt in a wound, but I couldn’t resist. Maybe it was because I was really hoping to see pretty Maria again. I was so glad to see her when she approached my table.
“You’re all alone. Where’s your lady friend today?” she asked.
“She dumped me,” I replied bluntly. “I guess I was too much man for her.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, basically, she ditched me because I’m too fat. She said guys like me turned her off.”
“Oh,” Maria said, and I noticed that she was glancing discretely at my body. “I would say that your friend was very, very foolish.”
“Really, do you think so?”
“Yes, of course. If you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with you. Quite the contrary,” she smiled and seemed slightly embarrassed.
“Well, I’m really glad to hear you say that. It helps to repair my bruised ego,” I laughed.
“You know my name, but I never did ask you yours.”
“Oh sure, my name’s Paul . . . Paul Schmidt.”
“Paul,” she repeated and her eyes suddenly brightened. “I had a good friend in grade school named Paulo, almost the same name as yours.”
“Well, Maria, it’s a real pleasure to see you – again,” and I reached out and took her hand.
She seemed flustered and looked down for a moment.
“Likewise. So Paul, what would you like today, the slender salad again?”
“Heck no!” I blurted out without thinking. “I’m a free man now. I’m going to have some real food for once.”
“The buttered burger platter with seasoned curly fries is very good. It does have a small salad on the side, but you don’t have to eat it,” she joked.
“I’ll never eat salad again! Yes, I’ll have that please, with a large cola. And I will take the basket with the bread and rolls. Extra butter too.”
She gave me a sweet smile as she took my menu and I thought she put a little extra wiggle in her broad hips as she turned to go.
* * *
After I had enjoyed the first substantial meal I’d had in a long time, I worked up the nerve to ask Maria if she’d like to go out with me sometime. I was very pleased that she said yes, and we agreed to go out to eat the following Saturday.
“But not here,” she said. “I know a restaurant that’s much nicer. And the food’s better too.”
* * *
I met Maria as planned at a cozy little restaurant in East Providence. It was called Lisboa Antiga and had a very warm, intimate Mediterranean-style decor, with walls painted in soft pastels and a Portuguese fountain made of blue and white tile. We walked in together and were met by a distinguished looking man with a Continental flair.
“Where would the lady and gentleman like to sit?” he asked.
Before I could answer, Maria said something to him in Portuguese.
“ . . . um lugar romantico. Sim, Senhor, obrigada.”
He led us towards the back of the restaurant to a somewhat secluded spot away from the other diners.
We sat down at a small square table with two candles burning brightly and I was impressed.
“This is very romantic, Maria,” I told her, “an excellent choice.”
“Yes, of course, I bring all my lovers here.” She laughed to make sure I knew she was joking, but I immediately decided I wouldn’t mind being one of her “lovers.”
Soon the waiter appeared dressed in a formal white uniform, very European-looking.
We ordered a carafe of red wine and began looking over the menu. I was not very familiar with the cuisine, so Maria made a suggestion.
“Start with the caldo verde, the kale soup,” she said. “It’s very hearty and a good way to start a meal. Then, since I think you’re a beefy kind of guy, I would recommend the bife com um ovo a cavalo, which is Portuguese-style steak with a fried egg on top. Very filling and I think you’d enjoy it. For myself, I’m going to try the espetada, a kind of Portuguese shish-kabob.”
The waiter returned and we gave him our order. He wrote it down on his pad and looked up from time to time to observe both our faces bathed in the soft candlelight.
Maria was right, the dinner was delicious and I had to admit that she made the perfect choice for me. In between bites, she told me some more about her background, about how she had come to New England from the Azores Islands while still a girl.
“Sounds like a beautiful place,” I remarked, “I’d like to see it sometime.”
“Yes, it is wonderful, I go there with my family every so often to visit our relatives. Maybe next time you could go with me. They always say the Azores are for lovers.”
I don’t know if she did it deliberately, but again she used the word that made my heart beat faster. She smiled at me and I felt like I was melting inside.
I looked around the restaurant and noticed our waiter standing a ways off talking to one of the waitresses. They were talking quietly and looking in our direction. The lighting was not that bright, but it seemed to me that they were smiling at us.
As I was eating my meal, Maria kept looking at me attentively. I had just gone through a bad experience and doubts started to creep into my mind.
“Maria,” I said, “you keep looking at me and, um, how can I say this, but do you mind that I’m so . . . I mean does my weight bother you?”
“No, Paul, not at all. In fact, I like everything I’m seeing, every ounce of it. Too bad your old girlfriend couldn’t appreciate the good things in life. But her loss is my gain.”
“Mine too,” and we both broke out laughing at the double meaning.
After we had finished our entrees and the waiter had cleared our plates, he came back with a special dessert for both of us, even though we hadn’t ordered it.
“The chef insists that you have it,” he said beaming. “No charge, it’s on the house, for the beautiful couple.”
He placed before us two servings of pastel de nata, a rich custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon.
Maria and I looked at each other and at that moment something electric happened between us. I can’t describe what it was, but we both felt it.
As we were getting ready to leave, I mentioned to Maria that I loved the dinner, but was afraid that I had eaten way too much.
“Oh, Paul, why starve yourself? Life is too short as it is and there are so many good things to enjoy, like good food and good, well, you know . . . other things. From now on, you’ll never have to go hungry again. I’ll make sure of that.”
Maria took my hand as we walked together out of the restaurant. She squeezed it tightly and her eyes were shining like stars. I had the feeling our night together was only just beginning.
Return to Main Page