Vincent knows he is fat, but he tries to make up for it by being helpful. When the bell rings and rude classmates are bullying their way between classes, he holds the door open. He is always first to duck and pick up a dropped pen or keys, and will quietly let you know if your zipper is down. When he is in public, he clenches his cheeks and contains his bodily gases, even though it makes his stomach hurt. He chooses his chairs carefully, always next to an empty one, which he saves with his backpack so his body won’t overlap on someone else. He drops little generosities like pebbles marking a trail throughout his day.
Vincent’s feet haven’t grown in two years, and that lets him know that he isn’t going to grow into a big guy, the kind of guy whose bulk is the frame of a tough package. His size eight wides say, “You are not going anywhere vertical bud, better get used to growing horizontal.” A five foot six guy is not imposing or threatening, and at the end of ninth grade Vincent’s round head is still stuck under the same pencil mark that has been on his closet door since September.
The noise from the cafeteria hits him the same time as the smells do. Some leftover and vaguely Italian odor wafts on waves of sound. Books and backpacks thud, benches screech and stray words lift above the roar.
“….it was the worst thing you ever…”
“…like, you will not believe this. Like it…”
Vincent stands in the beverage line to get his milk. The beverage line never has more than ten people in it, not like the pizza cart line that snakes around the wall under the smudgy windows and out the door. Vincent doesn’t like to wait in the food lines. He would enjoy buying pizza or even a tray with whatever the hairnet ladies are serving today, but he feels self conscious standing in lines, and he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. A deep crease divides his arms from his wrists; and his hands look like they were sewn on as an afterthought. Mutt calls them “glubs”. Mutt tends to say things straight out. If she thinks it she says it. That’s why she is semiavailable as a sort of friend. She doesn’t have any real friends either. The same day she told Vincent that he had “glubs” she told Kendra Phipps that her laugh sounded like she was gargling snot. It was as true as the Bible, but not exactly how to win friends and influence people.
The cafeteria aide with the cool black glasses scans Vincent’s card and hands it back without looking at him. He fumbles as he stuffs it back in his wallet, trying to hurry. He drops the wallet, bends over and grabs it. When he straightens, a little whoosh of air comes out of his mouth.
“Move it wide load.” Vincent doesn’t turn around, but he can tell it is a girl’s voice. He picks up his cartons of milk (one white, one chocolate) and hurries away. The tables with their attached benches are pushed together in long lines of chipped white formica. He scans the room for Mutt and then remembers she wasn’t on the bus this morning. Not that they usually sat together. Mutt never makes an effort to sit by Vincent. If there is a space by him, fine, but she doesn’t seek him out. They have an unequal cafeteria relationship, and as usual Vincent is on the weighty side.
Vincent looks for a spot on the end of a row because climbing into a bench seat is awkward. He sees one in the corner by the grey trash bins and heads for it. He veers away when he sees Kirk there, presiding over his harem. He finds a fairly wide empty space and puts his milk on the table, thudding his backpack beside the cartons. Bracing a hand on the table, he steps over the bench with one leg and plops his rear end down. A delicate grunt escapes as he hefts the other leg over the bench and under the table. He unzipps the backpack and pulls out his lunch. As usual, it has been compressed into a curved loaf in a brown paper skin. He skillfully separates the thin plastic from the sandwich that has morphed into a bread/peanut butter/ sugar amalgam. The cafeteria noise fades as Vincent’s ears become attuned to his tastebuds. There is a graceful rhythm to his eating; Bite-chew-swallow-bite-chew-swallow-slosh-of-milk-and swallow. Repeat. The second sandwich is even flatter than the first and each bite is delicious.
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