Margaret could smell fresh pizza dough, brushed with butter, covered in tomato sauce and mounds of cheese. Deep dish pizza, one of her favorite indulgences, sat on a table in front of her, steam rising off of the top of the gooey white mozzarella, the savory scent as real as the sound of the rain pattering against her office window. She kept her eyes squeezed shut and watched as the Margaret in her visions lifted a large slice from the pan, cropping off the stringy cheese that clung to the sides and plopping the pizza on her plate. She was about to shovel a forkful into her mouth when something crashed onto her desk.

“I need these by 7, Madge,” said Janice, her supervisor Martin’s beefy assistant. Margaret’s eyes fluttered open and she watched Janice waddle away, back toward the cubicle outside Martin’s office. 

“You can’t outrun a fork,” Margaret said, closing her eyes again and imagining herself pouring gasoline over the entire pizza. She lit a match and watched everything burn.

You can’t outrun a fork, it’s true, and Margaret had tried. The only thing that burns fat is to eat less, and less, and less. Moderation is for quitters, for people who aren’t serious about being slim and beautiful, and that was the only way to feel happy if you asked Margaret. 

She used to love going out to eat with her friends, but the problem was none of them was a man and none of them wanted to date her. She knew why she’d never found “the one” — though she stood at just 5’3”, she weighed over 200 pounds, a figure largely attributable to her love of fried chicken, cheese curds, doughnuts, and, of course, deep dish pizza, coupled with a complete lack of self control. On her 28th birthday, her friends decided to throw a dinner party at Margaret’s favorite Mexican restaurant. She showed up at 6 o’clock, excited to start the night off with a platter of Fiesta Nachos, which were delivered promptly to the table, though Margaret was the only one in her party who’d arrived. When the clock struck 6:30, Margaret was still sitting alone. Had they forgotten? Had she come to the wrong restaurant? Did they change the date? But a scan of her calendar and email account showed she had everything right. By 7:15 o’clock, Margaret had consumed a chorizo chimichanga slathered in sour cream and guacamole, a full order of rice and beans, a plate of churros with chocolate sauce, the entire platter of nachos, and three large house margaritas. Standing outside the restaurant afterward, her phone began to ping again and again. She pulled up her voicemail and listened as each friend made her own excuse in turn — stomach bug, something came up at work, Jerry needs me home early. She walked the five blocks home to her apartment in the dark, and on the last block she tripped and fell full on her face, scraping her cheek and bleeding all over the sidewalk. She rolled over onto her back and tried to get up, but the amount of food she’d eaten somehow hadn’t soaked up any of the tequila, and in addition to being stuffed she was also drunker than she’d been in weeks. She simply could not stand up, and she couldn’t tell if it was the booze or the food that held her down. She laid on the dark sidewalk crying. People passing by walked around her, as if she were a construction cone, or the gaping hole the construction cone was meant to block off. One man, drunker than she was, didn’t see her, and her body became a speed bump that caused him to stumble down onto the sidewalk beside her. He looked young, maybe just out of college, and when his brown eyes met hers he muttered, “Get out of the way, lard-O,” before springing up and heading on his way.

That was two years ago. Today, after much hard work, she’d cut her waistline in half and was sporting size 2 clothes. She looked fit and very pretty, and so everyone told her as they watched the pounds melt away, revealing a pleasant face framed by smooth black hair, a waist that curved nicely in form-fitting shirts and skirts, and shapely calf muscles Margaret enjoyed admiring in her new full-length bedroom mirror, where she flexed in her high-heeled pumps. 

She made new friends, ones who didn’t forget her birthday and who enjoyed book clubs and game nights instead of wild nights out drinking. Once, she hosted a “sign-making” party, where she set out fruit and nuts and protein balls nobody else seemed to eat. She’d purchased slabs of wood and acrylic paint, setting out the lot on her dining room table. Some of her friends had painted their boards with silly sayings such as “Kiss the chef” or “Mama’s kitchen,” but Margaret had decided to create reminders for herself.

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels!” hung above the refrigerator in her apartment. Margaret’s “You can’t outrun a fork” sign was much smaller, and so was propped up on her desk at work. It helped keep her in line when her coworkers did selfish, unhealthy things. At the holidays, for instance, not a day had gone by in the past two weeks in which the office kitchen smelled of scones or Bundt cake or cookies. Nobody seemed to appreciate the value of a little discipline when it came to avoiding empty calories. Except for Margaret, that is.

She looked over at Janice’s desk and noticed a plate of half-eaten carrot cake, which had been sitting there since noon. Now it was 5 in the evening, meaning she had exactly two hours to finish this paperwork, dash home, eat her quinoa bowl, and get back by 8 for the office Christmas party. She’d planned to run a 500 calorie deficit so she could have a glass of wine, and while the prospect of a drink was exciting, she felt a little tetchy, and the smell of baked goods was setting her even more on edge than normal. She put her head down and got to work and didn’t look up until it was finished.

“Here’s the paperwork, Janice,” Margaret said, hurrying to drop off the papers and head out the door. 

“Thanks, Madge,” Janice said. “Hey, guess what?”

“What, Janice?”

“I’m bringing my boyfriend tonight. Do you wanna meet him?”

Margaret nodded, looking her colleague up and down. Janice’s mousy brown hair was brushed back into an accidental mullet, probably because she hadn’t bothered about a proper haircut in a few years, or maybe she was growing out thick bangs. She wore no makeup, and so Margaret could make out every pock and pore on her face. The only redeeming quality about Janice was her blue eyes, which twinkled in delight, giving her the appearance of a child who just opened a much-wanted Christmas gift or a dog anticipating a juicy milk bone. Her midsection had the look of cottage cheese that had spilled on the table and been covered up by a napkin, bulging out here and there, and her short legs swam in a pair of shapeless black trousers that were about three inches too long and dragged in the back, wearing out the hemline. This boyfriend must be a real troll, Margaret thought to herself.

“Sure, Janice. Now, I really do need to head out. I’ll see you tonight.”

“OK, Madge. And by the way, I asked the caterers to serve nachos tonight — your favorite!”

“Right,” Margaret said, huffing as she walked out the front door.

Margaret arrived home and took great care in applying foundation, “Kiss me Pink” blush, a tasteful amount of brown eyeliner and mascara to highlight her green eyes, and a new mauve lipstick she’d picked up on her way home from the gym earlier in the week. She slid on a new pair of nude panty hose and climbed into the shiny black satin dress she’d bought for the party. She zipped it up and smoothed out the fabric, stepped into a pair of open-toed platform heels, and pulled on her white jacket, then headed back to the office for the party.

A familiar smell greeted her as she entered — Janice’s nachos, spread out on large trays on the front table, covered in black olives and sour cream and guacamole and hot, melted cheese. Bowls on the side were filled with ground beef, pulled chicken, barbacoa, and veggies. 

“It’s make-your-own nachos, Madge!” Janice said, shouting at Margaret as she made her way through the crowd. “Come over here and get some with me!”

“No thanks, Janice,” Margaret said, then walked over to the bar where she ordered a large glass of Chardonnay. She closed her eyes as she took the first sip, keeping them shut as she drank another, bigger drink. When she opened her eyes again, she saw she’d already drained half of the glass, then chastened herself, vowing silently to savor what was left in her glass. The wine was sweet, and though it was cool against her lips it warmed her insides and relaxed her mood. She made her way to a table and chairs in the middle of the office, which had been cleared of its usual workspace furniture. Sitting felt good and gave her feet a break from the heels, but she could feel the loose skin around her middle bulging beneath the smooth satin and sprang back to her feet. She heard someone walking toward her. 

“There you are again!” Janice said. “I told you I wanted to introduce you to my boyfriend. Well, here he is! Madge, meet James. James, this is Madge.”

“Hello—“ Margaret said, reaching out her hand only to pull it away again. Standing in front of her, next to plump Janice in her grape-colored velvet dress, was James Jefferson, the boy she dated the whole of her senior year in high school. The boy who broke up with her over Christmas break during their freshman year in college because she’d put on too much weight. 

“Margaret?” James said, eyeing her closely. “Margaret Peterson?” 

“Yes, James. Hello.”

“Wait, you two know each other?” Janice said. Margaret nodded.

“Margaret and I knew each other in high school,” James said. “A long time ago.”

“Indeed,” Margaret said. “A whole decade ago.” She was doing her best to conceal a victorious smile, because the man in front of her looked nothing like the boy who took her to her senior prom. Back then, James had a thick head of dirty blonde hair that fell across his forehead just above his big brown eyes. He was slender but strong and was one of the best middle-distance runners on the track team. Today, it seemed to Margaret, that the only running James did must be the distance from the couch to the car to the closest hamburger joint, because he was as round and out of shape as Janice. 

“Well, that’s just great,” Janice said, smiling. “Because James was worried he wouldn’t know anyone at this thing. Margaret, could you keep him company for a minute? Martin asked me to help him with something real quick.”

Before Margaret could say no, Janice was off, hurrying to the far corner of the party where Martin stood. She turned back to James in resignation.

“So, what have you been up to?” Margaret said. James told her about college, about switching his major from biology to business and how he’d landed a job in finance that was covering half the cost of his MBA program. 

“That’s actually how I met Janice,” he said. 

“James, Janice is not studying to earn an MBA.”

“No, no, we met at the bar next to where I take classes at night,” he said, then told her all about how they’d been sitting next to each other at the bar, had started talking about the football game on TV and, when his buddies left him there, she’d made sure he got home OK. 

“Truth be told, I’d had a few too many drinks after finals. She really just takes good care of people,” he said. Margaret nodded. 

Janice. Frumpy, dumpy Janice, who never wore makeup or washed her hair and was at least 50 pounds overweight. Janice, who might not have ever been truly pretty. Janice, James’s girlfriend. 

“I’m heading to the bar,” James said. “Want anything?” 

“Another Chardonnay,” Margaret said. 

James and Margaret drank their wine and sat together at the table. After a while, they both ordered another drink, and then another. By 10:30, Margaret was on her fifth glass of wine.

“Can you show me where the bathrooms are?” James said. Margaret nodded.

The pair left the office and walked down the narrow hallway that led to the washrooms. 

“Here’s the men’s,” Margaret said, pointing. She lost her balance and fell into James, who caught her. She looked up at him, feeling his big arms around her, and kissed him. His lips were dry and cold, but they kissed her back for a moment. When the kiss ended, James took his hands off of Margaret and rushed into the men’s room. Startled and off balance, Margaret stumbled into the women’s bathroom and leaned against the sinks while looking at herself in the mirror. Her makeup was holding up alright and the dress still looked good, but her stomach was bloated from all of the wine and she noticed a slight bulge bumping out at her midsection. Try as she might, no amount of sucking it in caused the bulge to retract, and Margaret gave up.

She walked back out to the party, tripping over one of the thick carpets HR had brought in to decorate for the party. She caught herself on the front table and felt her hands plunge into the nachos. She lifted them up, covered with cheese, and was about to walk back to the bathroom to wash up when she heard James’s voice. She found him standing in the center of the room — he was kneeling down in front of Janice, whose hands were covering her mouth. Her blue eyes twinkled with delight.

“Will you marry me?” James asked. 

“Yes!” Janice said, tackling James, who fell backward. Margaret watched them loll around on the floor like a pair of harp seals on fresh ice after a meal. It should have been romantic, but it made Margaret’s stomach churn watching them, listening to the two of them giggle and kiss, hearing the crowd clap and cheer for the newly engaged couple. 

Instead of heading to the washroom, Margaret stood in front of the nacho table and looked down at her hands. She began to lick the warm cheese off her fingers, then grabbed fistfuls of chips, dipping them into the ground beef, chewing and swallowing, then grabbing for more. She kept eating and eating, tasting globs of sour cream and cheese, feeling the crunch of the chips between her teeth, savoring the meat and the guacamole with abandon before realizing that the crowd, which had so recently been focused on James and Janice, was staring at her agog as she tore through the nachos. She raised a handful of nachos in one hand and someone’s half empty glass of wine in the other.

“To Janice and James,” she said. The entire party cheered. Margaret finished the wine, wiped her hands on her dress, and headed for the dessert table.

December 29, 2023 20:21

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Honey Homecroft
21:47 Jan 11, 2024

I thought this was a wonderful take on the prompt and the writing really sealed it — an excellent story!


03:15 Jan 18, 2024

Thank you so much, Honey! So glad you enjoyed it.


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Morgan Aloia
13:44 Jan 11, 2024

Hey hi! We got matched for the critique circle. The prose really works to capture the character’s internal senses, which in turn tie very closely to the themes of the story in total. Overall, very well structured. Of all sections, I felt that the introduction could be pulled up a bit to match the quality of the rest of the piece. The protagonist’s spite in this early scenes feel pretty jarring, consider amending to ramp the reader up into the narrator’s worldview.


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Alexis Araneta
15:30 Jan 10, 2024

Beautifully written. Margaret so reminds me of myself and how I (unlike her) landed myself in a hospital in an attempt to get skinny. Your use of imagery is impeccable !


03:13 Jan 18, 2024

Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words, Stella. I am so glad Margaret resonated with you. I had fun writing her.


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12:05 Jan 10, 2024

Such great sensory detail! I loved that the perfect pizza experience turned out to be a memory. And the description of the mexican night was vivid. She had quite a journey, and you captured it well.


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Trudy Jas
10:32 Jan 10, 2024

I loved your story. It's so easy to hate one thing about ourselves. I give Margaret kudos for losing the weight, then promptly take them away for judging Janice. An emotional journey that is not finished.


03:15 Jan 18, 2024

Trudy, it makes me so happy that you connected with Margaret. Thank you so much for reading.


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Kristi Gott
21:02 Jan 06, 2024

The incredible sensory details almost had me heading for the kitchen to get something to eat. I love the in-depth characterization of Margaret, and the insights and sensitivity of the writing. I felt engaged emotionally, feeling empathy for Margaret. This is very well written and the journeys of the characters made the plot character-driven. Excellent.


01:42 Jan 07, 2024

Kristi, thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed the story!


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Jody S
17:51 Jan 06, 2024

Loved all the twists and turns of your tale! I was so rooting for Margaret and hope if her story continues she finds the love and happiness she deserves!!


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E. B. Bullet
17:09 Jan 06, 2024

This was written incredibly well! I do love a bitter character, maybe because I see myself in their struggle. Margaret is just the type of character I root for because they try so hard but it turns out they're trying at the wrong thing, and in the end they're less miserable, but they're not more happy (if that makes any sense). She's not at the end of her journey, because giving in to this purge, as rewarding and cathartic as it might be, still isn't healthy LOL She has so much work to still do in terms of coming into her own person, and I...


20:22 Jan 06, 2024

Thank you for this feedback! I can definitely see your point about the "Madge" sentence and will ponder edits there. Thanks so much for reading.


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Nicki Nance
12:33 Jan 06, 2024

I love the story, the lesson, and the imagery that has me salivating.


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