Defender of the Girth
By John Taloni
Jerome sat in the examining room, waiting for the doctor to return. The chill metal of the examination table bit into his thighs. The too-small gown, open wide in back, provided little warmth. As the minutes ticked by Jerome tried the chairs in the room. They were all too small and the sides pushed into his legs.
After a half hour, the doctor finally came back. He gave Jerome a quick look, then stared at his clipboard. “Well, it’s arthritis,” he said, “Bone on bone.”
“I see,” said Jerome, “I’d pretty much guessed. So what are my options?”
The doctor barely looked up from his clipboard. “Lose some weight,” he replied.
“Um.” Jerome tilted his head, “Of course I’ve tried many diets. It’s not really as easy as that.”
The doctor grunted but didn’t respond further. Jerome went on, “I’ve heard of knee replacement surgery.”
“Ah, well, you’re too overweight for that. No responsible surgeon will take it on.”
“Um. I see,” said Jerome, “Are there specialists who could work with me?”
“No, not really. You’re just going to have to lose weight.”
“Which,” Jerome continued, “I’ve already told you I’ve tried to do.”
“Here’s my recommendation,” said the doctor, “Watch this video, Forks Over Knives. More fiber, fewer fats.”
“I’ve tried that,” said Jerome, “Diets leave me hungry. I’m not depressed or binging. Just hungry.”
“Well, eat smaller portion sizes,” said the doctor.
“I read your website before making an appointment,” Jerome continued, “It said that you were friendly towards larger patients.”
“Did it?” responded the doctor, noncommittally. He continued to stare at his clipboard.
“Do you…have any other advice for me?” asked Jerome. It’s going to happen again, he thought.
“Here.” The doctor didn’t answer, but passed some paperwork towards Jerome. It contained his weight and suggestions for several popular diets, all of which Jerome had already tried.
“I…see,” Jerome said. I’ve got to get out of here before it happens, he thought. “Thank you, doctor.” He dressed quickly and left the room, then swiftly exited the doctor’s office and the building.
Act natural, he reminded himself. Jerome got into his car and exited the parking lot. He was almost a quarter mile away when he heard the sirens. A casual observer looking into his car would not have seen the tears streaming down his face.
Somehow Jerome got home, dressed, and went to work.
* * *
A month later, Jerome awoke to a loud knock at the door.
“Hold on, hold on,” he mumbled. He pulled on a t-shirt, then went for the shorts. First, he leaned down and pulled the shorts over his arthritic leg, then bent the other to go through its leg hole. He grimaced as he stood up, the pain from his knee spreading up and down his leg. He looked around for his cane. It was a few steps away. He limped over, leaning heavily on the cane as he walked to the door. The knee was always stiffest when he woke up.
The knock came again, louder and more insistent. “I’m coming, I’m coming!” said Jerome loudly. He walked slowly to the door, using the cane almost as a crutch. He pulled the door open slightly, leaving the chain in place.
Jerome looked through the crack and saw a man in a suit that was freshly pressed, no wrinkles. “Detective Rivera. Police department.” He held up a badge so that Jerome could clearly see. “Jerome Footley?”
“Yes,” replied Jerome, “What can I do for you?”
“I want to ask you a few questions,” responded Detective Rivera.
“Sure, um, give me a minute,” said Jerome. He unhooked the chain. “Please, come in.” Jerome looked around the room. The living area was disheveled, books and blankets on each surface. He cleared off a chair.
“I’d rather stand,” said Detective Rivera.
“Okay,” replied Jerome, “But I’ve got to sit.” He was already breathing heavily from the effort of standing. “What brings you out on a Saturday?”
“Following up on a case. No time the rest of the week.” The policeman took out a small notebook and pen from his suit coat pocket. He flipped the notebook open quietly and looked at Jerome. “You visited Dr. McCarthy a month ago.”
“Yes,” said Jerome, “He’s a knee specialist. I was seeking advice for my arthritis.”
“Are you aware that he died shortly after your visit?”
“No,” Jerome lied, “What happened?”
“Car accident, as he was walking across the street. Hit and run,” said Detective Rivera, “Six months ago you visited a Dr. Richards. General Practitioner.”
“I went for help with Bronchitis,” said Jerome, “Persistent cough.” He crossed his hands in his lap. All he could do was lecture me about my weight, Jerome thought, it had nothing to do with the Bronchitis.
“Dr. Richards also died under mysterious circumstances,” Rivera continued.
“What happened?” asked Jerome, putting on his best quizzical face.
“No conclusive cause of death from the autopsy,” Detective Rivera said, “He seems to have just…died. Toxicology didn’t find any drugs or poison. But there are undetectable substances.”
“Mmm,” said Jerome, his tone neutral.
“It happened just a day after you visited him,” Rivera went on, “And then there’s Dr. Sullivan.”
“Yes, I went to see him first,” said Jerome, “For my knee. It had just started to hurt.”
“And what was the outcome of that meeting?” Detective Rivera looked at his notebook, but Jerome felt his eyes scanning him.
“He…” Jerome trailed off, “He told me to lose weight.”
“Nothing else?” Rivera scribbled in his notebook.
“No. I…did not find the advice useful. He also charged me five hundred dollars for x-rays and his professional opinion. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me I’m fat. I’m not exactly in denial about my weight, I just needed medical help. Which I didn’t get. So I didn’t go back.”
“Dr. Sullivan also died,” said Detective Rivera, “Car crash. His car suddenly accelerated and crashed into a tree. We didn’t find any evidence of tampering, but the fire could have destroyed any evidence.”
And that’s when I first became aware of The Presence, thought Jerome. It’s why I waited so long to see another doctor. To the detective, Jerome said none of this. He just looked up and said, “Yes, I heard. Terrible shame.”
“It’s an awfully odd series of coincidences,” said the Detective.
“Yes. Yes, it does seem very odd,” said Jerome. And it’s why I did research on doctors sympathetic to heavy people, he thought. Death follows me when a doctor focuses on my weight instead of the medical problem. He looked up at the policeman. “That’s terrible. I suppose I can see why you came to see me, but I’m not sure what else to say. I know I didn’t do anything to them.” That, at least, was true.
“All right,” said Detective Rivera, “We’re going to check out a few other things. Don’t leave town, eh?”
Jerome grinned a thin smile. He waved the cane. “It’s not like I can get far,” he said.
Detective Rivera packed away his notebook and made ready to go. As he headed for the door, he turned. “Hey, and sorry to hear about the knee. I mucked mine up playing football in high school. Took a few too many shots to it. Hurts if I walk too much.”
“Me too,” said Jerome, “Although I’d guess that my definition of ‘too much’ is a bit shorter than yours.”
The Detective grunted an affirmation and left, closing the door behind him.
* * *
The day went by slowly. Jerome stayed in, unwilling to face the world. He left the TV on but could not concentrate on any of the shows. The internet held no interest for him. Night came, and he eventually fell into a fitful sleep.
Jerome awoke in the inky blackness of full night. He looked at the nightstand and squinted at the clock. Three-something. He rolled over on his back. With a sigh, he put a pillow over his eyes.
After a few moments, he went to adjust the pillow. A small red light glowed in the corner. Must belong to one of the electronics, he thought, hazily. Half-dozing, his mind wandered. Then his eyes suddenly widened. He didn’t own any devices with a red light.
He inched the pillow off his eyes. The red glow remained. It was not a figment of his imagination or the holdover of some dream. As he watched, the glow bobbed up and down.
Jerome threw the pillow off and sat up. “Show yourself!” he shouted. The red light grew brighter. Jerome reached for the nightstand and switched on the lamp, knocking the alarm clock to the floor in the process.
“Ugh! Turn it off Let me finish manifesting first,” said a voice.
Intrigued, Jerome did as asked. The red light grew brighter and brighter, then abruptly went out. “Okay,” said the voice.
Jerome turned the light back on. Floating several feet off the floor of his room, he saw a…man? Not quite, although it was certainly of human shape. The skin shone copper red like a native of Mars in the Barsoom books done by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Horns protruded from his forehead. He was dressed only in a loincloth.
He was also barely two feet tall, and immensely fat for his frame.
“Who…what..are you?” asked Jerome.
“You should instead ask what I am not!” said the creature. “I am not here to harm you, or tempt you, as others of my ilk are tasked to do.”
“You’re a…demon?” asked Jerome.
“Sir!” said the creature. “I am…” He said a name that went on for a minute.
“Do you have a shorter name? Nickname?”
“You can call me Beelze, bub.
“Beelzebub?” asked Jerome.
“Nah. Just Beelze.” He drew himself up to his full height. “I am an Imp. We have far more latitude than those other creatures of the Deep Below, though I will admit that our power is less. I am here only to watch. And am allowed to intervene in your life as I see fit.”
“Are you…have you been…did you kill those doctors?” Jerome asked, fascinated.
“It took skill. I can only take small actions in this frame,” said Beelze. “And did they not deserve it? I have watched you and am puzzled by your concern for them.”
“I didn’t like the way they treated me, but yes, I was disturbed by their deaths. It’s the human thing to do.”
“Indeed,” said Beelze. “Human. I am not constrained by that morality. As to your medical visits, you paid, did you not?”
“Sure, I pay the same medical premiums as everyone else,” said Jerome. “I pay my deductibles and co-pays too.” Jerome paused for a moment, then went on. “Medical insurance can be a little complicated -”
The Imp held up a hand to cut him off. “My brethren came up with medical insurance regulations. It is…deliciously complicated. You should see what the ones in charge of banking regulations did. The section devoted to mortgage applications alone…but I digress. You have paid for service, and not received it.”
“Well yes, that’s true,” said Jerome. “But you can’t just kill them!”
“Why not?” asked the Imp. “When they give you useless medical advice, do they not put your life at risk? When they dismiss your concerns out of hand and fail to investigate the actual cause, are they not slowly killing you?” He slapped his ample belly. “We must stick together. I simply provide justice. And speaking of! The Detective will live. He was sympathetic.”
“Justice…” Jerome paced for a minute, using his cane like an extra limb. “Can you do…less? How subtle can you be?”
“Sir, I have watched humans for centuries. There is little I do not know about them.”
“And anatomy?” asked Jerome.
“You are not the first of my charges to run afoul of the medical establishment. I have watched many doctors.”
“Then how about like for like?” asked Jerome.
“Hm,” said the Imp. “Hmmmmmm…an eye for an eye…yes! It could be done. For the unfeeling knee doctor, a jolt to the cartilage will give him the same problem. For the general practitioner who ignores your symptoms and focuses only on your weight, a slight adjustment to some glands will produce a hormone imbalance and cause weight gain. Yes…yes…the other Imps will like that one.” Beelze’s eyes glazed over.
Beelze turned to Jerome. “It will not be helpful if you stay away from doctors as you have been. You must seek treatment. And I will be right beside you.”
“So we have a deal then?” asked Jerome. He reached out a hand. The Imp spit in his palm and shook.
“You must visit a doctor soon,” said the Imp, “And often.”
“Try and stop me,” said Jerome, “I think I can even get an appointment early next week.”
Moments later, the two were scouring the Internet looking for physicians with the worst ratings. Jerome made a special search on the size acceptance boards for those insensitive to weight issues. Beelze made a list that grew longer and longer.
Oh yes. It was time to see the doctor.