When the men come to tear down Annie-Mae's bedroom wall, she is ready for them. She can hear them talking on the other side.
"Wider, you need to go wider." Routine. Just another job for a couple of construction guys.
How many walls have they knocked down to remove a fat woman from her bedroom?
It's not as though Annie-Mae hadn't attempted to lose the weight. But losing 453 pounds isn't good enough when you weigh 1,255 pounds to start with. Even at a trim 802 pounds, she still couldn't squeeze through her bedroom door.
The power-saw flutters noisily above her, struggling in and out of the layers of the wall, as she lies waiting, positioned just right. It took her 23 hours to shove all 802 pounds of wobbly lard upwards, her head now kissing the wall, lined up perfectly just south of the saw. Annie-Mae waits.
It's been exactly 20 years since Annie-Mae stepped foot out of her home. Her memories haunt her mostly at night:
The nippy wind whipping through her silky blonde tresses. Pose. Smile. Snap!
Breezes lifting her skirt, flirting above her shapely knees. Marilyn Monroe. Pose. Smile. Snap!
Sweltering sweat dripping down her curvy spine as she crawls along the tip of the ocean, sand sticking to her limbs. Pose. Smile. Snap!
Rain pelting her angular face, drenched, sexy, the scent of dirt and worms and wet leaves. Pose. Smile. Snap!
The Sun blinding her as she drives her shiny cherry red Corvette to and from work. Her job? A fashion model. But don't tell those construction men on the other side of the wall. Hide the pictures! They couldn't handle it if they saw the "before."
Not that she was some kind of super model like Christie Brinkley or anything. No, nothing that extravagant. But she was good enough for the people in her hometown to pay her homage that one time by naming a street after her.
Imagine that. A street named after me.
And she was certainly good enough that no matter where she went she was ogled by men all the time, and asked downright if she was some kind of a model or something.
Annie-Mae remembers coming home exhausted at the end of a long work-day, kicking off her shoes, Harold rubbing her achy feet. Famished. What's for dinner? Back when Harold and his perfectly trimmed goatee were still here to wonder how Annie-Mae's day went. Back when Annie-Mae and Harold weighed exactly 300 pounds combined. When they burned Nag Champa incense and drank Merlot on Monday afternoons as they played hooky, often celebrating in her own success, or Harold's sporadic success as a struggling artist.
Annie-Mae didn't care if he ever sold anything. She loved to watch him paint, his body so still, his eyes focused and staring, the brush barely touching the canvas, as if his whole being was frozen in time.
Annie Mae's post-Harold life has been different, of course. For starters, nearly 1,000 pounds had been added to the household. Social Security check stubs and empty vodka bottles and Ring-Ding wrappers litter the bedroom carpet. Chicken bones and pizza crust caught up in the multitude of rolls and flaps that spill over the width of her King Size bed.
Annie-Mae had gotten used to her new life. No choice. Montel Williams, Court TV, and all the important people: Ellen, Dr. Phil, Oprah and Barbara Walters. In fact, she lived for just two things: the TV people and her mother's daily visits ("Oh Annie- Mae, you smell something awful, we need to get someone in here so we can bathe you . . . your bed sores are worse too." . . . "Ma, move, you're blocking Oprah.").
Annie-Mae now stares up at the water stain that's been on the ceiling since Harold left. The water stain? A perfect Martha Stewart, no smile, in pain. It brings Annie-Mae comfort.
Annie-Mae thinks back six months, when Maria came in with her Windex and rubber gloves. Maria swiped a Windex-soaked towel across the nightstand with one hand, and covered her nose with the other rubber-gloved hand as she leaned in towards Annie-Mae.
"Ms. Annie, you're mamma dead."
Annie-Mae stared up at Maria, their 1,155-pound difference not lost on Annie-Mae even at that critical moment. "Dead?"
"In her sleep. Her heart." Maria pointed to her chest with the Windex glove. "I call hospital for you."
Annie's mouth formed a Cheerio. "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
"No fuckin' way! No hospitals! I'm not leaving." My mother is dead?
"Ms. Annie, no one left to care for you. I call."
Annie-Mae reached out to grab the tiny woman, rolls of fat flapping and swinging from her left limb. Maria ducked, running from the room.
The Social Service people came with their suits and notepads. There were many days of silent assessment as the smart people took a look at Annie-Mae. As they absorbed what they saw, their brains calculating how the heck they were gonna move something the size of a small Volvo. They eventually came up with a plan, but Annie-Mae had a better plan.
Annie-Mae can now hear the Channel 12 people outside. The word had spread fast:
FORMER SUPER MODEL, ANNIE MAE BRYSON, NOW NICKNAMED ONE-TON-ANNIE, GETS AIRLIFTED OUT OF HOME
Annie-Mae wants to point out to those stupid news people that she NEVER weighed a ton. Plus, she was never an actual super model. And, she isn't being airlifted anywhere! But if they want a show, she would give them one.
As she waits for the power saw to do its job, Montel is still talking about husbands who beat their wives. A slice of the Sun peeks through a curtain, landing on Montel's teeth, casting playful shadows on the abusive husbands.
She smiles at Montel's teeth, remembering how it felt to have the warmth of the Sun on her face on a brisk autumn day, crisp golden-orange leaves fluttering about like a million butterflies. Her love for the seasonal changes had stayed with her, burning a hole in her heart, making her yearn for her former life.
As the silver-toothed saw plows its way towards Annie-Mae's head, she is staring at Martha on the ceiling, quietly praying, the words not matching her thoughts. She wonders if Harold will be surprised when he sees how she has changed.
When the saw finally makes contact, Annie-Mae lets out a scream too light for a woman her size. A squeak. Exactly 802 specks of blood spit at the wall, as if someone had taken a paint can or two and just thrown it at the walls, splattering the bed, the floors.
Annie-Mae sees the "light," just like they say. Then the Sun, warm, so warm against her face. Then she becomes the Sun.
Cool leaves brush against her limbs, so wet and soothing. She becomes the leaves.
She is small, skinny, fat, then skinny, then nothing, then everything. It doesn't matter anymore.
She sees a man with a goatee smiling, holding a glass of Merlot. She rushes to him, fluttering like a butterfly. She IS a butterfly.
Annie-Mae feels love. She IS love.