Weight Problem

Some things are better left unguessed

When I was 16, I dated a girl named Jessica who guessed people’s weights at Valleyfair. “How do you do it?” I asked her one night. ¶ “I don’t know,” she told me. “I just do.” ¶ Jessica had dark brown hair and very blue eyes and I felt lucky to have a girlfriend, any girlfriend, so I did not press her about this. ¶ Sometimes Jessica and I would go to the mall and walk around. As we passed other people, Jessica would call out their weights. “236,” she might say. Or “161.” ¶ Some of these people did not notice, but some of them looked shocked, like she’d just slapped them right across the face. ¶ “You’re not at work now,” I told her. “You don’t have to do that.” ¶ “I’m always at work,” she said.

MY JUNIOR YEAR in high school, I asked Jessica to the prom and she said yes. I rented a stretch limo with my best friend, Tony. I got my older brother to buy us a 12-pack of beer and a bottle of peach schnapps. 

On the night of the prom, I picked Jessica up and brought her over to my house to take pictures. She looked great—her hair was in ringlets that fell down around her shoulders. She was wearing a strapless black satin dress.

“My son tells me that you have quite a talent,” my father said.

“I don’t know about that,” Jessica said.

“Will you guess me?” my mother asked.

Jessica looked my mother up and down, and then she told my mother her weight.

“That can’t be right,” my mom said. We all walked to the bathroom and stood there while my mom got onto the scale. The number was the number Jessica had said. My mom had put on quite a bit of weight in the last few months.

“Wow,” my dad said, shaking his head. “Jeez.”

“Sometimes I wish I was wrong,” Jessica said.

WE DROVE TO THE DANCE with Tony and his date Ellen. On the way over, we drank the entire bottle of peach schnapps and much of the beer.

“Can you stop telling people how much they weigh?” I whispered to Jessica. “At least for the next few hours.”

“I’ll try,” she said.

For a while, Jessica did pretty well. Every time I introduced her to one of my friends, though, I saw her lips move. She was still saying their numbers, but instead of saying it out loud, she whispered it to herself. 

“You are doing great,” I said, kissing her cheek.

WE HAD RENTED a hotel room and all of us went up there to drink. After a bit, Ellen got up into Jessica’s face. She had heard all about Jessica from Tony.

“What you do is mean,” Ellen said.

“Why do you care what I do?” Jessica asked. 

“There’s such a thing as privacy,” Ellen said. “There is such a thing as keeping the truth to yourself.”

Jessica paused for a second. She looked Ellen up and down and then she pursed her lips like she was going to spit. I knew what was coming next.

“142,” Jessica said.

After Jessica said that, Ellen grabbed onto one of her ringlets and pulled her to the ground. Tony and I ran to separate them. After we got them apart, I hauled Jessica out in the hall. We sat down on a bench.

“I love you,” I told her, “but not this much.”

Jessica began to sob. I tried to give her a hug to calm her down, but she stood up and tore her corsage off her dress. She threw it on the ground and pressed her heel into it. She took off down the hall, pointing at everyone she passed. 

“131,” she said. “208, 119.”

At that point, I could have chased her down. I could have apologized, made everything better. I did not budge. I sat there and watched Jessica run off, getting smaller with each stride, shrinking, melting away.

John Jodzio is the author of the recently published short-story collection If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home (Replacement Press). He lives in Minneapolis.