Harold―Harry―always rebels against the norm. In fact, he says, “Wishes are like saying grace―something to be said before every meal.” So he wishes at least five times a day, while growing exceedingly fat.
However, good ole Harry has an excuse.
“If I wish hard enough,” he tells his wife Beatrice, “my wishes will eventually come true.”
Harry’s a TV fanatic and, surprisingly, fairly intelligent. He spends about ten hours a day parked in front of his ten-year-old Sanyo television with the remote control in hand, while watching shows on just about everything. The next day, he can tell you all about it; his recall is nearly perfect.
He never once contemplates actually working a forty-hour week and earning money. He’s already maxed out the VISA and MasterCard, plus a small bank loan that Beatrice knows nothing about. And now he’s waiting for his fortune to fall in his lap. Sadly, there’s no room there, so whatever good luck finds him usually ends up in a puddle on the floor.
Harry’s good with puddles. He’s a plumber by trade, when he bothers to do a job. The truth is, he’s been having trouble maneuvering under kitchen sinks; his stomach keeps getting in the way. Six months ago, he was depressed, which made him eat more. He’d almost lost faith that there is something better for him…somewhere…out there, and then fate stepped in.
After a chance run-in with an old classmate (Harry nearly knocked him down a flight of stairs when they passed on a landing), who happens to be very wealthy and who recommends one book, Harry’s life changes forever.
The Secret sits on the shelf behind the toilet. Harry reads it while relieving himself of the pounds of food he’s eaten each day. Since he’s always there a while, he can usually get through five or six pages a visit.
“I’ve read it now from beginning to end at least five times,” he boasts to his friends.
Of course, he hasn’t quite figured out that one must work towards receiving the good things in life, whether by deed or thought. He just figures that if he wishes for something, he’ll attract it. Eventually.
Be careful what you wish for, Harry.
* * *
On this fateful Friday night, Harry is sitting in his favorite recliner, the one with the sagging springs and torn leather footrest. He scowls at the television and balances a bowl of popcorn on his gargantuan stomach. Not an easy task.
“I wish to be rich and famous,” he says, just as he does at least twice a day. A handful of greasy popcorn follows and his stomach rumbles in rebellion.
Harry wants everything out of life―recognition, an inexhaustible supply of money and the perfect family to share it with.
He glances over his shoulder at his wife. Beatrice is ironing his work shirt for tomorrow, a pinched expression on her face. He studies her for a moment. She’s wearing her regular work outfit―a skirt and jacket in dove gray. It would look great, he thinks, if she was twenty years younger. Beatrice is thirty-nine. And why won’t that woman do something with her hair? Beatrice has grown out all the blond hair color he likes. It’s now a rusty gray, which she twists into a lump at the back of her head and fastens with one of those clamp thingies.
“You finished work early,” she says without looking at him.
“It was an easy job.”
Harry lets out a resounding belch in b-minor. The ominous sound is followed by a crescendo of sour pepperoni breath. It reminds him that there’s still a half bag of mini pepperoni in the fridge.
Beatrice looks up. “Why not take on a few jobs a week, Harry? We could use the money.”
She’s holding her breath. He knows this because when she says money, it sounds like buddy.
“You’re making enough for us to get by on, Bea,” he says. “’Sides, I’m waiting for my lucky streak to kick in.” He doesn’t want her to ask why he’s been taking a hundred dollars out every week. “You have faith in me, dontcha?”
Beatrice returns to her ironing with a loud sniff. She’s annoyed. He can tell.
“It’s gonna happen soon,” he says, more to himself. “I can feel it. My luck’s gonna change, and when it does, you’ll be sorry for doubting me.” He laughs. “And I’ll say, ‘I told you so.’”
He pushes the nearly empty popcorn bowl onto the end table beside his recliner and leans forward, grunting and shifting, trying to right the recliner. Finally, the footrest kicks into place. Then, with a deep breath, he grasps the arms of the recliner and throws his body forward and upward, and―ta-da!―we have lift off. Harold Fielding is standing.
With huffing breaths, he lumbers toward Beatrice.
* * *
“He’s one step from the grave,” her mother had told her just last week. And Beatrice has to agree.
She hears his heavy breathing moving closer but doesn’t want to look at him. She doesn’t want to see her reflection in his eyes, to know that her dull brown eyes rested in emaciated pits of shadowed skin, caverns that bespoke of countless sleepless nights.
It’s Harry’s fault. He snores loud enough to wake the dead. Sometimes he stops breathing for so long that she holds her own breath so she can listen. Is he dead? And every time, she jerks when a gasping, strangled choke rises from the depths of Harry.
She lifts her chin and finally looks at him. Her husband. The man she married over twenty years ago. ‘Til death do us part.’ She scowls. Well, how long is that going to take? And as quickly, she takes it back.
Harry wasn’t always like this. When she had married him, he had a bright future ahead of him and plenty of plans. They were going to build their own home, have three children and live in style. None of these dreams have come to fruition. The house they started building collapsed into a sinkhole when it was nearly completed. They had one daughter who moved out the day she turned eighteen and is now backpacking across Europe with a known drug dealer named Felipe. And as for living in style…?
She glances around the sad looking room. The sunflower wallpaper―circa 1970s―is peeling in long banana peel strips from the walls in the kitchen area. The dinette set is something they found on Kajiji.com, purchased from a couple who were moving to Toronto. Harry has already broken two of the four chairs.
In the living room, the matching couch and armchair in pastel periwinkle sink so low to the ground that it looks as if they will get sucked into the floor and earth below. Another sinkhole perhaps? A wayward spring sometimes jabs Beatrice in the thigh when she sits in the armchair, and the cushion is as flat as a pancake. Harry’s girth has taken care of that.
As her husband approaches, his massive belly flops over his pants and appears below the hem of his t-shirt. The waistband of his dirty track pants disappears beneath the drooping mass of dough-like flesh that hangs below his crotch. Oh, and there’s his bellybutton. You could hide a bar of soap in that.
Harry’s limbs are short and thick, tapering at the wrists and ankles, then flaring out into misshapen hands and feet that are always swollen and red. He scuffles and shuffles rather than walks, stopping to catch his breath every so often. Think of a gigantic Galapagos tortoise moving across the sand and you’ll get the picture.
“Our savings is nearly gone,” she says softly.
* * *
The only sound in the room is a ripping fart that Harry forces out as he passes her. He’s been into the mini pepperoni sticks again, with a platter of eggs, it seems―by the noxious potpourri that simmers in the air.
“Maybe you can teach some extra classes at the college,” he replies.
Beatrice bites her tongue. She already works full time teaching at an elementary school, plus she teaches the occasional adult class at Grant MacEwan. The college is already booked for courses for the next six months.
“I really think it’s time you find more work,” she persists.
“I wish you’d stop saying that.”
He moves to the fridge, grabs another beer and waddles back to his recliner. He wipes his perspiring brow with the back of a chubby hand. His fingers look like sausages ready to explode from their casings. Then he reaches into the bowl of popcorn, flops back into his chair and picks up the remote control, thereby completing his exercise regime.
Beatrice clamps her mouth shut.
When is the last time I saw him without that godforsaken remote control in hand?
She remembers. Last spring, they’d taken a plane trip to New Brunswick to visit Harry’s ailing mother. It wasn’t a cheap trip either; they had to pay for three seats―two for Harry.
And how long has it been since we’ve gone to a movie?
The last time, poor Harry wedged himself into the theatre chair so tightly that it took Beatrice, three attendants and some of that fake butter topping to dislodge him. On the drive home, she saw him wipe his fingers over his greasy jeans and lick each plump digit. It was obscene.
She misses the old Harry. The slimmer one.
When’s the last time he kissed me or told me he loves me? How long’s it been since we made love?
She shakes her head. Sex is completely out of the question. The last time they tried, she ended up with a dislocated hip and two fractured ribs, not to mention acid reflux symptoms that lingered for days afterward. They even tried to be adventurous, with her on top, but that only made things difficult to locate, and the last thing Beatrice wanted to do was go digging around under the sweaty layers of stomach and between Harry’s cellulite-dimpled, thunderous thighs. Plus Harry can’t lie on his back for long anyway. He might pass out.
So why does she stay with him? After all, their daughter is grown and has flown the coop, leaving behind a tired old hen and an obese rooster who has no more “cock-a” in his “doodle-do”.
She watches him now, a longing in her heart, wishing so desperately that he would return to the Harry she once admired and loved. Can it be that that man is gone permanently?
* * *
Beatrice recalls the day they were married.
The wedding was simple and sweet, and it took place a few months after college. Harry, decked out in a three-piece Armani suit that he’d borrowed from his brother, looked like the popular football jock that he was; Beatrice, wearing an elegant white dress cut low in the back, was the class valedictorian. She’d been so happy back then…and so in love. And Harry? Why, he’d literally swept her off her feet in a short five months.
Now he can barely lift his own feet.
They’d had such innocent dreams for their future together. She was going to teach wonderful, sweet children to read and write, maybe even homeschool their three equally wonderful and sweet offspring. Harry would own a plumbing company, hiring at least ten contractors, and they’d specialize in new homes. They’d target all the local builders and coax them with special deals. They’d all make a fortune.
But instead, reality had given her a classroom of unruly, spoiled children, a hectic schedule and one child of her own whom she’d had no time to homeschool. Harry’s company lost customers daily because of his poor work ethic and the three contractors he’d hired last fall had all quit. Better pay elsewhere, they’d all said.
Beatrice catches sight of her reflection in the mirror above the dinette table. What happened to me?
Her thin lips are pursed in discontent as she flicks a look over her shoulder and stares at the protuberance in the recliner. Things have got to change around here, she thinks.
She hangs Harry’s shirt over a wooden chair. “Goodnight, Harry.” She pauses in the doorway.
In answer, her husband of twenty years points the remote at the television and switches channels.
Beatrice can’t take much more of this.
She turns away. I wish that things would change.
Be careful what you wish for, Beatrice.
* * *
On this night―the night that ‘IT’ happens―the weather takes on the frightening quality of an orchestra gone awry. A merciless, miasmic symphony of heat and humidity is brewing, churning the heavens into a hazy, hellish hue of burnt amber. Bitter black clouds as dense as tar pits clash overhead. Hot rain is spat out, a trumpeting torrent that splatters and spreads into running rivers, flooding the grass and streets. Jagged lightning spears are thrown down to earth, landing with precision in a field of sleeping cattle, then on a power line, causing the lights in Harry’s rented abode to flicker. Thunder booms through the tiny two-bedroom house and an enraged wind drums on the doors, windows and the stove vent.
A pile of long overdue bills that Beatrice has left on the coffee table flutters to the ground, caught in a fluted draft that seeps under the front door and across the living room, and Harry shivers. The electricity in the air makes the hairs on his arms stand at attention.
“Goddamn storm,” he mutters.
He knows that Beatrice is probably tossing and turning in the bedroom down the hall, but he isn’t finished keeping his ever-vigilant watch of the small screen before him. There’s fifteen minutes left of the hockey game and he’s got a vested interest in the score. He’s wagered a thousand dollars he took in increments of one hundred from their savings. One thousand dollars for the home team to win.
And he has a feeling…
The doorbell rings. His pizza is here.
He pays the delivery guy, who yawns sleepily and hands him the two-for-one box.
“Keep the change,” Harry says, handing the guy a twenty.
The man gives him a scowl. “Thanks, buddy. I may be able to pay for the gas with that…uh,” he looks at the receipt, “forty-eight cents.”
Harry closes the door and waddles back to his chair, clutching the pizza box like an excited child holding a Christmas present. He opens the box, inhales about a thousand calories in one breath and downs a pizza in record time. He’s starting on the second one when something crackles.
Harry jumps. “What the―?”
The lights wink again. Off, on.
“There’d better not be a power failure,” he yells at the television.
The game is in the final minute.
“Come on! Get the goddamn puck, you assholes. Now, shoot it!”
He holds his breath, watching as the tiny puck on the screen glides across the ice toward the net.