She is fat. Her rolls have rolls. And she has given up on trying to find clothes that fit. Instead she wears a king-sized sheet from Value Village as a poncho, simply cutting a hole in the middle and tenting it over her head. Her habits, and I mean bad habits, include nicotine, vodka, and delivery pizza. Alice rarely leaves her house. She neither works nor plays. Alice drinks. Her life is a haze of bottles, empty and full. Full, then empty. And the nice people at Dial-a-Bottle replace and remove the empty Absolut bottles with almost daily consistency. They’re closed on Sundays. Alice dozes. She smokes. She eats. She drinks. Her life is one of miserable indulgence.
Alice was never popular, not in play school and not in high school. When we were in high school she was the girl the “cool” kids made cruel jokes about. When she was near they would point and laugh and say things like “You’d have to roll her in a bag of flour to find the wet spot!” or tease, “We know what you’re going to do with that hot dog Alice… Get a room!” and pretend to gag and vomit. I think if Alice had ignored the taunts the teenage miscreants would have left her alone. But that wasn’t in Alice to do. She would turn guiltily red or, worse, burst into tears and run to the principal.
Perhaps it was her mistreatment at the hands of childhood peers and warped adolescents that brought her down the rabbit hole. Or maybe it was due to being fathered by the inbred mail man. Well, that’s what I always told her. Whatever the cause, it seems that there was no way for my sister to escape her fates. By the time she was supposed to have graduated Alice had eaten herself up to a massive 435…582….677….714lbs! She became loud, angry and obnoxiously rude, perhaps even more ignorant. Anybody who felt sorry for my sister earlier on in life learned to despise her. Even me. At home I ignored her completely; at school I joined the ranks of her tormentors to protect myself from becoming a target by association.
In the end it wasn’t a surprise that Alice turned to the bottle for comfort. And it was a relief that becoming an alcoholic eventually led to becoming a shut-in. We no longer had to put up with her loud and presumptuous rambling monologues on the “shitty-ass” state of the world, lack of clothing stores for “big girls” and sexual fantasies involving the promiscuous Bill Clinton and/or Lindsay Lohan.
For years Mom and Dad paid Alice’s rent and kept her well provided with enough cash to drown herself in vodka with. But that got old and they got old too. One day they just took off and retired to Florida or Arizona or God-knows-where, leaving me responsible for doling out her trust fund. It falls to me to deliver the rent check and pay her booze tab. I’m the one who has to go over every week, poke her with a stick, and make sure she is only passed out and not rotting, dead, on the couch. Every week I leave the reality I created for myself and have to go see her. It wasn’t so bad before my son was born but now, sometimes, it just feels like too much to juggle: baby, husband, career, friends, volunteer committees, and useless lump of a sister.
The Friday before Thanksgiving everything changed. The town woke up to bright orange spray-painted scars across store windows hiding immaculate window displays. “www.savealice.com” was spray painted in a beautiful cursive. When the store owners tried to remove the tag they were disappointed to find that the web address had been permanently etched into the glass beneath it.
I would like to believe that I was one of the first to visit the site. One of the first to make a shocking discovery. Alice had been kidnapped! Her life hung in the balance. Unless a million dollars was raised by Christmas she would be executed on live feed. On the plus side if the money was raised then Alice would be dropped off at a Betty Ford Clinic for a ninety-day spin dry and a second chance at life. No mention was made of what was planned for the rest of the cash.
The website was magnificently designed. The kidnapper must have realized that proof would be needed to inspire donations. The mostly black page featured live-feed of Alice. Above the video, “Save Alice” was splashed in the same color orange that now decorated the town’s windows. Beneath the video was a thermometer that was in place to measure the amount of money donated and a “Donate Now” button. Banners ran along both sides advertising Prozac and Financed Liposuction Therapies.
This was not the Thanksgiving the townspeople had imagined. Their dreams of moist golden turkeys, fresh homemade cranberry sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, almond rosemary stuffing, seasoned wild rice, and of course wine, both white and red, were dashed. The flavour went out of their food and all that was left was extended family; whiny snot-nosed children, some with full diapers, touchy feely uncles hiding behind bowler hats and bushy mustaches and half a dozen mother-in-laws, nagging and smelling of too much Calvin Klone perfume. I know this because they suddenly remembered that Alice was my sister and while no one came by to offer their condolences many people stopped by to bitch at me. I was well rewarded for being related to the fat blimp that had managed to corrupt the holiday.
The townspeople did not forgo the festivities altogether. Though, after visiting that webpage and seeing live feed of Alice sprawled out half-naked on a mildewing couch, in the middle of what looked like a dilapidated root cellar, a blur of ham thighs and puffy Pilsbury doughboy arms, they did lose there appetites. Some were unsure if they were more disgusted by the fact that Alice might be mercilessly killed so that some one could make a quick buck, or at the nauseating sight of her.
My mother-in-law, that hag, was particularly disgusted by Alice.
“I’m surprised that thing,” Mother said, “is still alive at all.” She looked down her nose at me and harrumphed, clearing her throat. “The child is grossly over weight and absolutely hideous in appearance. In my day we used to take sick animals into the field and shoot them. Alice is your sister, eh dear? She should be put out of her misery, perhaps not on live feed, no, that would be rather gruesome, wouldn’t it…” The old lady looked at me expectantly.
“It would make for great television ratings,” I joked.
Henry, my husband, nodded in agreement, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “If it is televised perhaps I could execute an exclusive advertising deal. I bet the NRA would buy a spot.”
While he spoke, he watched our pride and joy, two-year-old Sweet, play on the cherry hardwood of the living room floor. A perfect blue-eyed bundle of baby fat and blond hair that curled tightly against his head, Sweet is all we could ever have asked for in a child. He was lifting his toy cars into the air and happily bashing them together, squealing with innocent delight.
“Can you imagine of Sweet ever became as disgusting as your sister?” Henry said. He immediately regretted voicing his errant thoughts. His mother and I turned in unison and gave him looks that could peel decoupage off a side table.
Because we lived in a small town Alice’s kidnapping and impending death caused me to become suddenly famous. In the spotlight there was only one way to react. I threw myself into fundraising for Alice’s safe return. I organized bake sales, door-to-door chocolate sales, magazine subscription and Christmas basket sales. I got the ladies in the PTA to open up a temporary day spa, and all the proceeds went to saving Alice. I enrolled Sweet in playschool so that he can learn to socialize; he will not become my sister. In the first week almost $100 000 was raised, $97 732.03 to be exact.
In the next couple weeks sales began to slump and by the end of week four the thermometer on the Save Alice website was sitting steady at $259 498.00. We were a quarter of the way to the goal. The glass was ¾ empty with just a month and a half left to go. Alice, who had once been the ugly duckling media darling, was being forgotten in favour of things less gross. Brightly decorated trees and sparkling, colorful lights lined the streets. Santa’s villages were being raised in the malls. Eggnog and gingerbread men lined the grocery shelves. Christmas was coming. No one wanted to look at my disgusting sister. No one wanted to help her. They were all caught up in the magic of Christmas and Alice was just a little too much reality for them. She wasn’t going to ruin a second holiday this year. Even the ladies at the PTA who had been so kind to help had now abandoned the cause.
I suppose I could have let it go then, and just let Alice be killed, after all I was only fundraising to keep face, but I decided to forge on, to see how close I could get to reaching the goal. I decide to go for the big fish: My parents.
I wasn’t sure where they were. Somewhere in the Southern states. Every couple of weeks I would get a postcard from Kentucky or Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Florida. They moved around exploring the winter heat in a customized motor home.
I hadn’t wanted to call them at first. Didn’t want to upset them. Alice was a huge disappointment. Didn’t want to take their money. But something had to be done about Alice.
Mom answered her cell phone just as I was about to hang up and try again.
“Hello?” she said.
“Darling, I was thinking about you,”
“And your sister.”
“I was reading the paper today, the Sun. Is it true?
“You were supposed to take care of her. How dare you shame our family this way? It says she wears a sheet and drinks all day. I knew that, you knew that, NOW THE WHOLE WORLD KNOWS…”
Mom’s sobs filled my ear. I held the phone away, waiting for her to stop. I didn’t want to hear her blubbering on about my failure as a dutiful daughter and sister. My thoughts turned suddenly to Alice. I didn’t want to think about her, I had seen enough of her this morning on the web page. All day while Alice had slept, her sheet-poncho had been twisted about her in such a way that it framed her large and surprisingly hairy ass, for all to see. If only she knew. I watched as her eyes fluttered open and she realized where she was. Watched her sit up and wipe the drool off her lips and reach for the two-six of vodka. Alice clearly enjoyed her first drink of the day. Each time she brought the glass to her lips a look of pure contentment crossed her face. Each time she put the glass down on the floor in front of her she glanced at it wistfully and picked it up quickly for another sip.
“Darling? Are you there?”
“What can we do?”
“I’ve been fundraising to try to raise the money but nobody is donating anymore. We’ve only raised $4000 this week. It’s not enough. Can you and Dad pay the balance?”
“Of course, of course, but listen honey I don’t want to pay anymore then necessary. You keep fundraising there and on Christmas Eve Dad and I will hold a press conference and donate the rest. We’ll pretend like it took a while to get the money together.”
Dad had inherited several million dollars when his parents died. The money wouldn’t be hard to find at all. “Oh… ok. Sure mom. Thanks.”
“I’m very disappointed in you. We took care of that girl for years without anything bad happening. You were supposed to look after her.”
“I know mom, I’m sorry. I call you this weekend and let you know how the fundraising is going, ok?”
“I have to go Mom, bye.”
On Christmas day I woke, peaceful for the first time since my parents had retired and I had been put in charge of my sister.
Christmas Eve had been a different story, I had woken up to reporters pounding on the door. My parents had paid the ransom. Alice was saved. I spent the day talking to reporters and holding prayer vigils. Ninety percent of the time kidnapping victims are not returned safely, even if the ransom is paid. By nightfall there was still no news. But Alice was alive, we watched her go about her daily binge drinking on the website. Because I was certain she would be safely returned today I had slept fitfully. After a light breakfast and an argument with Henry over who had to clean Sweets incredibly full diaper, it smelled like rotten potatoes, I packed my family into the van and we drove off to find a little holiday magic. After all the stress of fundraising and trying to save Alice, we had decided to take a tropical vacation.
Driving towards the city I watched the snow dusted scenery fly by. Trees stretched naked towards the sun, stark lines against white fields. Hay bales dotted the land reminding me of Frosted Mini Wheats. In the seat beside me Henry sipped at his coffee and read a National Geographic. Every now and then I would glance in the mirror and see the sleeping face of my beautiful child. Being in the car always lulls him into a heavy doze.
As the van ground swiftly on I thought of Alice. My parents had put so much energy into saving her when we were younger. It was always Alice this and Alice that. They never had time for me. When I performed the lead in Chicago they were in counseling with Alice. When I graduated high school they were at home staging and over-eaters intervention for Alice. When I married Henry my dad didn’t walk me down the aisle; He was at the hospital visiting Alice. She had ran into a little trouble experimenting with masturbation and fruit. Her advice to me on my honeymoon was “Don’t peel the banana first.” My thoughts turned to the mashed banana I had fed Sweet for breakfast. I gagged, bile rose, burning, in my throat.
Looking back at the road, I saw a large rock leaning into a creek bed. The creek meandered away from the road towards an abandoned barn. Slowing the van I turned onto a driveway hidden by 6 inches of snow. Henry looked up from his magazine.
“We’re here already?”
Nodding I pulled to a stop in front of the barn and checked on Sweet once more. Still sleeping soundly.
Henry pulled back the barn doors and we stepped into the musty chill. I followed him down a set of stairs. As we stepped down into the cellar I smelled something putrid rising up to embrace me. At the bottom of the stairs Henry opened the combination lock on a solid steel door. We had locked her in just in case she became drunk enough to want to make snow angels or play in traffic.
“Come on Alice.” I said. “Your apartment’s finished being renovated. You can go home.” The final straw had been when her landlord evicted her. The smell of drunken unwashed filth had begun to spread to other units in the building. He had come to talk to her and found the apartment in large disrepair. Maggots crawled in the garbage and fruit flies swarmed thick in the air. The carpet that had been white when Alice moved in 5 years earlier had become matted and spotted with urine stains. That had been the end of her lease, and there was no way she was moving in with me.
“Hurry up Alice.” Henry said. “Or we’ll leave you here and you can walk.”
I shot him a look. Alice was struggling to get of the couch but neither of us moved to help her. She was beyond help.
“Go home?” Alice asked.
“Yes, it’s all renovated.”
I went back to the van to keep an eye on Sweet while Henry and Alice came slowly up the stairs behind me. Sitting back in the driver’s seat I examined my nails tracing the edges with my thumb. The van sunk down and I looked over my shoulder and saw Alice crawling into the back of the van. We had removed the back seat so that she would have plenty of room. Henry closed the trunk and slipped protectively into the seat beside our son.
We drove down the drive and onto the highway following the double lines into the city. At the airport, we met with a representative from the Betty Ford Clinic and I left Alice in the care of a woman so annoyingly peppy it made my teeth hurt. The contrast between the two women as they boarded their flight was striking, like an elephant lumbering slowly onward with an excited yappy dog nipping at its ankles. They were on their way to the clinic in Texas. Maybe my parents will stop by and visit her.
I don’t think I looked back as my family got onto our own plane. The pressure was hard on Sweet’s ears and he screamed bloody murder as we took off on our way to a new life.
Three weeks later I ran across a Sun. The paper reported Alice’s death. My repulsive sister had snuck a number of cigarettes in to the Betty Ford by hiding them deep in her skin folds. When she passed out on her bed one night she dropped a smoldering cigarette onto her sheets. Her bedding caught quickly, engulfing her form in flames. Perhaps she might have woken and saved her self, but her oxygen tank sparked and exploded. Fire fighters arrived quickly, but there was nothing they could do, they didn’t have the equipment to move some one her size. Nurses and Firemen alike watched from the windows as Alice burned. The food network blared in the background. The smell of Alice baking was thick and not unlike pan-fried bacon.