“Why are you so big?” Puffs of her breath punched out into the cold air.
Clyde looked down at the waif of a woman as if looking into a shallow well. Next to their concrete platform, steel train tracks pointed the way home. “I’m a mass on this planet to be recognized. If I take up two seats on the train, so live with it.”
“I’m curious. Just think how I am. You could crush me with just your foot.”
“This is not a topic we’ll discuss any more. Your smallness is your problem. I exist in a universe of large bulk where I don’t understand you.”
“I can’t be big like you. You’re five of my sizes. Maybe six. We’ll keep it between us.”
“I cannot understand your physical dimensions. I’m sorry.” Clyde wished he had not apologized. He wanted the train to come, yet it was late.
Clyde wondered if she had a Rubik Cube personality. Having a relationship with her would be extra work that could burn off calories. Get a psycho girlfriend, stress over why you got her, and worry when she leaves. Clyde pictured exploding hearts instead of lost body weight.
Around them, the waiting passengers tensed up and pushed closer together. The lateness of the commuter train had hit some unmentioned milestone causing murmurs between strangers to grow in volume.
Clyde stood firmly on the concrete platform with the point of his oxford shoes touching the edge of the yellow caution strip. He hoped the concrete he stood on would not crack. When he thought about his body weight, all he could relate to it was with the extra cloth sewn in the inside of his trouser legs where his thighs rubbed together. His pants lasted longer that way. The minor difficulties of his life.
Clyde glanced behind him. Passengers for the next train began gathering in the back of the growing crowd. To him, everyone looked like slim, successful dieters who wanted to be home eating grilled sirloin and roasted potatoes with hot buttered rolls. Maybe they wanted to get back the weight they lost, Clyde thought. Shouldn’t have lost it in the first place. I kept mine. Clyde liked that he had people’s attention with his size.
He figured that most of the people surrounding him believed in body image. Yeah, they may have some body mass, too. But, I control more space in the universe than they. I know enough not to even try to control my weight. Clyde wondered if his largeness made other overweight people appear thinner which is why they stood next to him.
As more people pooled at the back of the waiting crowd, the small woman next to Clyde panicked. Or at least he thought so. She looked left at a tall man dominating that view. Clyde became her right view. She turned around to face all of the passengers who looked over her head for a train that refused to come.
Clyde glanced down at the diminutive woman who hid her slight acne scars with layers of makeup. She pressed her bony arms tight against her sides looking like she wanted to suppress her desire for panic or maybe just to keep warm. What happened to their conversation?
At the same moment, the diesel locomotive rounded a bend in the tracks and sounded its horn. The waiting passengers made a forward movement like an infant tsunami. The crowd shift drove everyone to take at least one step closer together. Clyde thought of compactors.
Attention refocused. Clyde forgot to talk to the diminutive woman and thought that with luck he could be first on the train with his choice of empty seats. He wouldn’t have to sit with people who grimaced when he sat next to them.
“Excuse me,” said the woman. Yet, it was misunderstood, not heard because of her small voice, or ignored by the impatient passengers. She faced the crowd with her back to the yellow caution strip. Clyde thought that someone besides himself should notice that she faced the wrong way to board a commuter train.
Quietly, her body shifted in the wind and Clyde caught the sweet fragrance of her perfume, moody in a nice sort of acidity way. It had the taste of her smell buried inside coming out slowly, cautiously, with memories of a thermonuclear explosion about to take place.
“I’m large because I eat a lot,” Clyde told her. Resuming their talk may help, he considered.
She ignored him like the other waiting passengers ignored her. Clyde watched people whose eyes stayed on the coming train as if it might either run right past them or disappear into a mirage. Instead of trying to guess where the train doors would open, this smaller woman focused her attention toward survival, panic, and escape. At least, that’s the way Clyde saw things.
Cautiously, she tried to move her slim body into the milling crowd and away from the yellow caution strip and coming train. Yet, she could not compete with the quantity of human flesh massed and staged for entry into the coming rectangular box. Maybe she had not mentally prepared herself to enter a train car that looked like a coffin. She’s probably one of those nervous types who had too many wild flailings. She’s perfect for that kind of panic, thought Clyde.
“Don’t use me, people, just because I’m an easy target.” She really said this.
“I’m too big to understand how to be small. What do you want?”
She caused a slight tremble to erupt from her psyche. “Excuse me.” Her voice was lost in the rumble of approaching diesel.
The ears of the waiting passengers immediately ignored her small noise as the engine rumbled past them pulling semi-full train cars. The passengers looked over her head watching to see where the open door would stop like watching the ball on a roulette table. The best she could do was talk into their arm pits or bellies. Clyde realized he had a good opportunity to have the doors stop right in front of him.
“Can’t you wait a few more seconds before the train stops?” Clyde asked. He understood the importance of having a good spot to place one’s body. He also understood panic like wondering if one morning his previous day’s weight gain would confine him to bed forever.
“Hold off half a minute and the train’ll be right here. The doors will open almost where we’re standing,” Clyde pleaded with her.
“I can’t wait,” she said in a weak, strained voice.
“All right, I’ll get you out of here.” Clyde faced the worried crowd because he was bigger than all of them in girth and height. “Follow me,” he called to her as he held her thin arm in his pudgy hand. She felt like a fragile, dry twig that could break with the slightest pressure.
She did not or could not say anything, but follow. “Excuse me, people. I need to get this lady out of the crowd.” Clyde did a man’s duty.
He felt like Moses parting the Red Sea. An opening cracked apart in the crowd. Proudly, Clyde kept his back straight (or as much as he could with the weight it held) and moved forward pulling the small woman behind him.
Clyde passed through the crowd and entered open spaces on the backside of the human mass before realizing it. Next to him stood the small woman whose features looked paler under her makeup.
“You all right?” Clyde wanted to continue touching her, yet any more would have been awkward.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said and walked away.
“Wait a minute.”
She walked fast slapping her high heels into the concrete platform like a yelp of pain. He watched the woman’s back recede from him like a hot poker being yanked from his gut. Behind him, human forms funneled into two narrow, rectangular doorways. One of the doors opened exactly where Clyde had been standing.
Clyde got pissed. “Hey, I gave up my prime spot on that platform for you. Now I’ll be the last one on. I’ll have to stand on the train for twenty minutes before I get an empty seat.” Clyde kept his voice low so that only the targeted woman could have heard. That is if she had not been so fast and gone to the other end of the train car and away from his voice. Only those boarding the train probably heard, if they paid attention, which they weren’t.
“I saved her, can’t she see that? Now look at her walk to the other door.” Clyde’s hot breath hung in the cold air and dipped back into his face.
Clyde stood on tired knees and sore feet that would get worse if he stood much longer. All because I helped an ungrateful woman. All because I wanted to be a hero, at least once in my life, he thought. If I hadn’t led her out, I’d be taking a nap on the way home. Instead, she’s walking away from me like I’m some hideous monster. She didn’t even thank me.
Clyde lumbered toward the narrow train entrance that the indifferent woman had just entered. Last to get on, he grabbed the cold metal handrails that no one but himself used. Clyde pulled himself up in a battle against gravity.
He spied the rescued woman nestled alone in a two person seat. Clyde pushed his bulk forward sidestepping to avoid back of the seats that held the aisle to an aisle form. He did not care that people had to lean out of his way when he fleshed past them.
Anyone watching could see that Clyde’s mass could not easily slip into the compact seat next to this thin woman without pushing something aside. Clyde’s body fat lowered down like a space capsule pushing through thick atmosphere for splash down. He felt his ass push outward as pressure from his upper body met the seat’s resistance. All of his body cells scrambled for room. Maybe the woman’s panic will return. I don’t care, Clyde thought. I’m getting off my feet and sitting down. She can find another seat if she wants.
“I’ve given you some more room, mister,” she said like a child’s whisper. He looked down and realized she was right. She had angled herself into the corner of her seat exposing a smidgen more of precious seat space.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to take up your room,” he said.
Clyde started to get up, but the woman’s small hand fell lightly on top of the billowing weight of his forearm. He relocated his body mass back in the seat.
“You’re all right where you are,” she said. “I don’t know how I got out of that crowd back there. Did you help me?”
“Just to make sure you got away from all those people. Nothing else.”
“Thanks.” In her lap, she held a glossy magazine and he disappeared from her attention.
Clyde did not understand how his size could go unnoticed so easily. As the train slid across steel tracks, the two of them rode silently together rocking to the moving tilt of the train car. Instead of napping, Clyde tried to think of something to say. At the third stop, she excused herself and got off with other passengers big and small.
For the rest of his commute, Clyde watched his belly fat roll with the train’s movement. He wanted to treat his stomach like a pocket door and pull it shut. Shut in everything that kept him from living a life that could attract a diminutive woman like this one. Clyde remembered the touch of her small hand like he remembered the need to eat.
Tomorrow I’ll demand that she pay attention to me. I’m not this big for nothing, he thought. “You don’t have to like me,” he said while riding alone on a commuter train with fewer people. “Just notice me, please.”
Clyde’s stomach hurt and he dispensed any will power that remained to control it. He sighed with heaviness. Tomorrow I’ll tell her she’s too thin and I got fatter because of her. I just hope I can get out of bed in the morning to tell her this.
Published on October 31, 2011, by Slow Trains