Sample text for Charade / Gilbert Morris.
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Copyright © 2005 by Gilbert Morris
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Charade / Gilbert Morris.
ISBN-10: 0-310-24702-0 (softcover)
1. Computer programmers--Fiction. 2. Disguise--Fiction.
3. Revenge--Fiction. I. Title.
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I, Ollie William Benson, am obsessed by mirrors. It's not that
I want to collect them, or that I'm fascinated by them. Au contraire!
I wish that I lived in a world where there were no mirrors.
The problem, you see, is that when I look into a mirror, I see
That may sound strange to "normal" people. Obviously, mirrors
were made for just such a purpose. But ever since I became
aware that I was different from other people, I've hated mirrors
and avoided them whenever possible. When I say "different from
other people," you probably think I have a hideous deformity--
maybe something like John Merrick, the Elephant Man--but I
don't. On the other hand, maybe I really do, for at the height of
exactly six feet I weigh four hundred and six pounds.
I don't think anyone of normal size understands what it
means to be obese. You have to be there. When a normal person
flies in an airplane, he buys one ticket. But I have to go first
class or buy two tickets. I can't waltz into Tommy Hilfiger's and
buy a shirt or a pair of slacks. I have to find a shop on a back
street that makes clothing that could be worn by whales with
arms and legs.
I guess you have to be obese in order to recognize the disgust
and pity that flickers in the eyes of people when you meet
them for the first time. I'm sure that some doctors can feel compassion
for the obese, but most of them I've met seem to have
a covert attitude of: The big tub of lard, he ate himself into this.
It's his own fault. They smile and say comforting things, but
that's what they really think: He brought it on himself.
So that's my problem. I'm fat, shake like a bowl of jelly, and
at the age of twenty-nine, when most young guys are at their best,
I spend my life hiding from the world in my little cubicle at the
rear of Maxie's Electronics. Then I scurry home to my apartment
and pull up the drawbridge to keep people out. I cook meals that
I know I shouldn't eat but eat anyway, wondering from time to
time what it would be like to be a normal person. What would it
be like to have a girlfriend? What would it be like to put on a pair
of swimming trunks and not feel like a pale hippopotamus?
Maybe if I had a family, things would be different, but my
dad died before I was born, I lost my mom when I was only seventeen,
and I didn't have any other relatives living nearby. Even
before Mom died, I was a fat freak.
So that's why I hate mirrors, and that's why I don't have any
in my apartment--except in the bathroom. I got rid of all the
rest, but that one was built in as part of the decor. It's three feet
wide and goes all the way to the ceiling. It must have been
designed by a bodybuilder or a beauty queen, someone who
loved to look at themselves.
As soon as I moved in, I knew I couldn't face taking a
shower, stepping out, and seeing a mountain of gluttonous fat,
which is what I've become. My solution was simple enough. I
simply bought a life-size poster of John Wayne, a still taken from
Stagecoach, his first big hit. You've seen it--the one where he's
carrying the rifle and standing beside his saddle. I fastened it
over the mirror with Scotch tape so that when I got out of the
tub, instead of seeing myself, I saw the Duke.
Over the next couple of years, I changed the poster several
times. Steve McQueen did his duty for a few months, and he
was succeeded by Randolph Scott--an actor nobody remembers
except us old-movie buffs. Lee Van Cleef was one of my
favorites, and he lasted nearly six months. The most recent one
was Clint Eastwood wearing his Mexican serape and his flatcrowned
hat, with a thin cigar clenched between his teeth. I suppose
a shrink would probably have something to say about how
all of these dudes were what I was not--strong, virile, lean,
mean, and ready to face anybody down before or after breakfast.
Well, let them say it.
When I think about all that happened, it seems to have
started that Friday night with the mirror in the bathroom. Just an
ordinary day, nothing special. I got home early, took off my
sweaty clothes, for it's hot in Memphis in July, and threw them
in the hamper. I turned the water on as hot as I could stand it,
and soon the room was filled with steam. It was almost as good
as being in a sauna--or so I thought, although I'd never been
in one. That's another of those things I would never expose
myself to--getting into a small room naked with normal men.
By the time I was about ready to vaporize, I turned the water
off, flung the curtain back, and stepped out of the shower. Then
I stopped dead still.
Clint Eastwood wasn't there--
I was there!
The steam had peeled the Scotch tape from the mirror and
the poster lay coiled in an obscene sprawl on the floor. I stared
at myself, unable to move. No way could I avoid seeing the double
and triple chins, the flab that hung on me, and the stomach
that looked as if it had been inflated by a huge bicycle pump.
Everything about me was disgusting, and suddenly I was trembling
uncontrollably. I grabbed a towel and wheeled away from
the mirror, trying to forget--but I have a very good memory, too
good in fact. Even as I toweled myself down, a scene flashed on
the back of my eyes in full color and with stereophonic sound.
I could even smell the odors of the weight room where I had
gone to try once again to lose weight. I was on the stair-climber,
which I had set at the very lowest level. The little red dots were
all across the bottom of the screen, and I was huffing and puffing,
trying not to fall off.
Then a girl eighteen or nineteen, wearing a tight, white spandex
top and black shorts that clung to her like an extra skin,
stepped onto the machine next to mine. She set it on max, with
all the red dots at the top, and as soon as it was going full speed,
she moved with an easy rhythm.
I remembered that when she finally stopped the machine,
she turned and looked at me, fat and huge and gross and sweating
like crazy. She smiled, showing a lot of teeth, and said cheerfully,
"Keep at it. You'll make it."
But I saw the pity and disgust in her eyes, and when she
walked over to her friend on another stair-climber, I heard her
whisper, "Hippo will never make it, he's too far gone."
I shoved that memory back into a dark closet (knowing full
well it wouldn't stay there). Well, we all have things to get over.
I dried and put on my underwear, and then I went back to the
bathroom. The rodeo guys say when you get thrown by a horse,
you go get right back on.
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Computer programmers -- Fiction.
Disguise -- Fiction.
Revenge -- Fiction.