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Also by Amy Sage Webb:
Lost and Found | Blood

Lost and Found

Fat Joyce trailed behind Mr. Christman up the shop steps and into the kitchen where he had fixed to have a smoke. Large hips lolling from side to side, her flanks looked like two slabs of granite liable to grind a small man like Mr. Christman between them. She was panting, and as she gained the top step, Fat Joyce turned and surveyed the parking area behind her as though she had achieved the look-out of some famous monument from which to view the land and people below. She leaned against the door frame so that her terrific weight could be eased from one foot onto the other, and stood with the awful calm of a boulder after a storm. She squinted against the morning sun. The two brown buttons of her eyes, sunk into the great, white cheese of her face took in the bits of broken glass in the lot, the weeds cracking through the sidewalk, and the pile of empty propane cans that lay alongside the shop. She did not hear the finches whistling where they nested in the eaves above her. She snapped her hearing instead upon the sound of Mr. Christman striking a match in the shop.

This room opened through a metal door upon the walk-in refrigerator, and it was this refrigerator, Mr. Christman had informed her this morning, which had been emptied. Seventy pounds of cheese. Forty seven-pound bags of ground beef. Boxes upon boxes of iceberg lettuce. Boxes of tomatoes. Twenty-three tubs of sour cream. And the salsa. Thirty jugs of salsa in all, twelve spicy, eighteen mild. Whoever had taken it all had expressed no preference for hot over mild. They had come through the window, the shards of glass seemed to proclaim, and now all of it: gone, gone, gone.

Fat Joyce turned and stood blocking the sun in the doorway, her eyes staring dully forward like two pieces of cut glass. She shifted her weight to her other foot in a manner that caused the weak wooden boards of the steps to groan beneath her. Beams of light pierced into the kitchen on one side of her at just the height to flash into Mr. Christman's eyes and leave the negative of her image there. When he closed his eyes, he could see the shape of her head and the bulge of her side drawn by sun upon the blood-flower canvas of his retina. Inside his eye, Fat Joyce mapped the Atlantic Ocean. The light beside her corresponded to the shape of the state of Florida.

Fat Joyce was looking at the remnants of Mr. Christman's tenure as an employee of the Burrito Shop. Outside, across the parking lot by the garage where the Buggy was stored, Fat Joyce's husband Mr. Dimlinger had slithered under the trailer to examine the hitches and safety chains. He was visible only to the waist, the rest of him squashed under the hulking shadow of the Burrito Buggy, but Fat Joyce felt his presence keenly as she turned to face Mr. Christman.

Mr. Christman had lit his cigarette and was smoking it and leaning on the counter with one open-palmed hand. He wore a clean blue shirt and canvas pants, but Fat Joyce perceived a sour smell on him. A man like Mr. Christman was there to do as she told him, like children or dogs. But here he stood, this shop worker, staring at her eye for eye and leaning on the counter in a way that most provoked her. Here was Mr. Christman, sulking in her shop, smoking right in front of her and flicking his ashes onto the floor.

Fat Joyce moved forward just at the instant that something moved in the shadow of the Buggy behind her. Christman could detect Mr. Dimlinger dusting off his pants outside. Mr. Dimlinger was a skinny bald man who wore straw hats all year. He smoked Havatampas, which is what Mr. Christman knew a man did if he wanted to keep a woman from getting near his mouth. Mr. Dimlinger pulled at his pants legs and waved them back and forth at the knees before brushing the length of his legs from hip to shin.

"Chains is all right. Didn't seem to bust the lock, neither," he called to the shape of Fat Joyce's back in the door frame. She snuffed and shut the door behind her.

Inside, Fat Joyce flipped the electric switch that brought the kitchen overhead on with a flicker and a buzz. She maneuvered herself past Mr. Christman to where the walk-in door stood open and pulled it to. It was a heavy, metal door with a great sliding handle that locked into place from the outside.

"You mean to tell me you saw no one? You slept right through there—" she gestured at the narrow door off the kitchen with her right arm, the flesh swinging "—and you heard no one? No thing you heard?"

Mr. Christman nodded.

Fat Joyce wrapped her arms across herself and pulled at the sleeves of her giant, flowered dress. "You are less good to me than a deaf dog, Mr. Christman."

Yes ma'am," he said, grinding the cigarette butt under the toe of his boot and then stooping to pick it up and place it in his pocket.

Mr. Christman stared at the walk-in door, allowing his gaze to focus on the latch so that everything, including the great bulk of Fat Joyce, disappeared. Then he opened his gaze slowly, taking in every aspect of the door and Fat Joyce beside it. She had been in the Guinness Book, it was storied in town. Before she had hired the diet coach and gone on all the reduction plans. She had made the town famous. Signs along Route 30 still proclaimed it: Home of the World's Fattest Woman. Now she was merely fat. Mr. Christman felt a twinge of sympathy for Mr. Dimlinger, outside.

Mr. Dimlinger had married a woman large as a frigate, and there was a kind of fame in that, too, for Fat Joyce was that ship set sail, pigeons jamming her escutcheons, on a motorized cart each holiday down the main street of town. Pink ribbons for Easter. Green for St. Patrick's Day. Sewn into a giant red suit for Christmas. Fat Joyce had been the heart, the great, round heart of the town of Peadro. She had blushed through television interviews alongside Mr. Dimlinger. Mr. Dimlinger, wearing his straw hat at a rakish diagonal, had told the world what it took to keep his sweetheart in sweets: four whole pies for breakfast alone. Whole kitchen sinks-full of tapioca pudding. Once, Mr. Dimlinger told the world, he had, in a pinch, doused several loaves of Wonder Bread with maple syrup. You had to improvise, he said. Improvisation was key. Fat Joyce had blushed and blushed.

Mr. Christman felt a kind of swoon come over him now as he thought of it—to be the greatest something, the greatest anything in the world. What would that mean? Mr. Christman turned around and ran tap water onto his wrists. He savored the cold water and the metallic smell from the pump. Then he turned to face her again.

She had lost weight. Not enough to become simply Joyce, but enough to become merely Fat Joyce. Not the fattest woman in the world. And now, a mere two days before the State Fair, it appeared that she was no longer set to rake in the greatest yearly gold mine of vending money in the county, either.

Mr. Christman thought of the empty space in the walk-in behind the door, and then looked at Fat Joyce, staring directly at her eyes.

"You are less good to me than a child in a candy shop," she said.

"I suppose that's so," he said.

Mr. Christman was neither a child nor a dog. Fat Joyce fanned one hand at him as if waving away a fly. The Burrito Buggy, with only thirty-eight boxes of tortillas and nothing to fill them, was not a candy shop, either. Fat Joyce sighed heavily. Through the closed door of the shop she could feel the presence of Mr. Dimlinger in the parking lot. Poking under the Buggy, upturning propane tanks, and spearing pieces of paper with a stick. He thought to find a clue, she knew, and the sleuthing of Mr. Dimlinger outside and the sulking of Mr. Christman inside prickled under her great skin like a rash.

"You cannot think where a person would store this food?" She asked Mr. Christman.

"Maybe they dumped it all. Vandals. They could of dumped it at the narrows."

"But that is not what happened." Fat Joyce moved past him and pushed the door open, spearing him in a beam of sunlight like a trout. "Mister Dimlinger! " She called to her husband, who now sat primly on the Burrito Buggy trailer hitch smoking. Smoking was a habit she could not abide. "Mister Dimlinger, we need to get finding the food now. The Fair is in two days."

"Buttercup," he said, "I'm afraid those boys whatever did it is long gone by now. Ain't a clue to they whereabouts."

She made her way down one step, then the next, and across the parking lot toward him. She was slow, but she was steady. He would give her that. Fat Joyce was the rock; not the sand.


Mr. Dimlinger found Mr. Christman that afternoon at the Pink Pig Pub on Highway 30. Mr. Christman ate deviled eggs and sipped from a beer while Mr. Dimlinger talked and gestured with his hands.

"She's going to find it, you mark my words."

Mr. Christman pushed another egg half into his mouth and shrugged his shoulders.

"She will sniff around and poke around until she finds it. Ain't nothing come between that woman and food, she won't find it." The woman never would, he thought, listen to a damn thing he said. She would drive herself all over the county in the rumbling yellow Buick with reinforced floor boards and special, steel-belted radials. She would heave herself up one set of steps and the next, if need be. Slowly and steadily, one way or another, the woman would foil his plans. Fat Joyce was the tortoise, Mr. Dimlinger thought, not the hare.

Mr. Christman dabbed his mouth with a napkin and sipped from his beer again. The velvet yolks of the eggs dissolving in his mouth and the cold bitterness of the beer brought a warm gold to his chest.

"Who you're talking to is an unemployed man." He pushed his bar tab toward Mr. Dimlinger, and felt the gold spread through his arms and torso like a stain.

Dimlinger snatched the slip of paper. "Fine. That's just fine, then."

Mr. Dimlinger pulled two bills from his wallet and laid them on the bar. Then he pulled more bills from his wallet and counted them against his thigh. "One, two, three, four, and five is a hundred. That's a hundred showed up front, a hundred later."

Mr. Christman took the money and folded it into his shirt pocket without speaking.

"Plus three eggs and a beer." Mr. Dimlinger scanned irritably around the Pink Pig. Only one man in the place besides themselves, and he was sleeping in a booth with his back to the door. Verlene, the day bartender, leaned over the juke box, punching numbers. She did not look up.

“What's happened to service in this world?" Mr. Dimlinger rubbed his sleeve across his face and wrinkled his brow at Mr. Christman. "She ain't even turned around since I come in here. A paying customer, no less."

Mr. Christman nodded. He smiled.

Music blared suddenly through the Pink Pig, the plaintive wail of a singer named Johnny Lee Handover, a local boy from Riggs who had hit it big. Only two towns over, Mr. Christman thought. He had seen that Johnny Lee a few times at the State Fair as he had stood warming tortillas on the flat iron of the Buggy oven door. Mr. Christman had listened to Johnny Lee Handover sing this very song. From the trailer hitch, he had been able to see the left part of the stage where every few minutes Johnny Lee paced with his microphone, tipping his black hat and crooning, “broken heart and barbwire. . . .” Johnny Lee Handover in snakeskin boots and leather pants, wailing over a crowd of girls that undulated beneath him like a sea. Mr. Christman had thought then the boy might amount to something. It was a thing, that's what it was, to hear him on the radio now. A boy from Riggs. Mr. Christman sipped at his beer and watched Mr. Dimlinger light another tiny cigar. People did the most amazing things. You just never knew, he thought. You never did. He lit a cigarette of his own and smiled at the sound of the music and the sight of smoke, his own and Mr. Dimlinger's, ribboning over the two men in the gold-yellow light of the bar.

“Salvation," he said to Mr. Dimlinger. “Song's called 'Salvation.'"


Fat Joyce stood with her hands on her hips. But for the great heaving of her chest as she panted, she might have been a stalagmite, splintered up through the floor as she stood amid the shavings of broken wood and glass. Here was the block of cheese it was for Mr. Christman to have garrotted into bricks and shredded. In front of her on the floor sat boxes of head lettuce, tubs of sour cream, and whole tomatoes stacked like hearts into two great pyramids. Behind her, testament to the great, splintering bulk of her will stood the door of Mr. Rafael's vending shop. The lock, sundered as if by a wrathful bolt from on high, lay in a twisted knot where it reflected the overhead light in a dull metallic wink. The up-turned trash barrel lay just behind her feet, spilling wrappers and cellophane. Fat Joyce stared into the fluorescent glow of Mr. Rafael's walk-in refrigerator, sagging with supplies for his buggy, the Hamburguesa. She wiped her palms against her hips.

She thought of Mr. Dimlinger's straw hat. Mr. Dimlinger with a toothpick in his teeth. Mr. Dimlinger smoking on the stoop. Here it was, just as easily as she might have imagined it. Fat Joyce shuddered in the umbilical of light from the refrigerator. Alongside the wall of Mr. Rafael's shop stood box upon box of buns and ketchup dispensers and mustard tubes. On the walk-in shelves stood huge plastic jars full of green relish, boxes of burrito ground beef, burrito salsas hot and mild, and of course, the cheese. Her cheese.

Mr. Dimlinger was a man, that was all. She stood with the blood thrumming through her legs, kneading the soft flesh of her neck in her hand, and somewhere beneath, the butterfly thyroid in her throat. The whole thing weighed upon her immensely, alternating between wrath and mercy. What was to be done? A parakeet she could love. Fat Joyce admired parakeets of all colors-lavender and bunting blue for Easter, sunny-side-up yellows and kiwi greens. She had kept seventeen parakeets in her house. The birds hopped from table to plate as she ate, leaving fork-shaped bird tracks in the potatoes and meat loaf. She had fed them scraps from her fingers, lifted birds to her shoulders and the fierce net of her hair. Fat Joyce loved parakeets. But a man? This was something else. A man was less than a parakeet. Like a slow-moving river fish or turtle that had remained the same, unevolved, for generations. A man was a bottom-dwelling, self-loving thing.

Sugar Pop and Sweet Biscuit, he had called her. He had sat in the swing of the sagging front porch and sipped lemonade and strummed a ukulele like a seersucker crooner in a movie. A man with a tiny guitar, this Fat Joyce did not trust. Mr. Dimlinger with his straw hats and cigarillos and his little guitar that sounded out notes like rocks plunking into a well. You could marry a man, people said. You could not marry a parakeet. Fat Joyce had married Mr. Dimlinger and Mr. Dimlinger had given all the parakeets to Woolworth's. The thought of those bright birds on the tables and curtain swags, and the thought of Mr. Dimlinger in her kitchen, wearing his apron and holding out to her his gold-plated spoon sent a flutter to her stomach and set up a great growling there.

Fat Joyce turned and moved through the debris in Mr. Rafael's shop, pulling a box of ground beef behind her like a barge through ice. There were two skillets on the wall above Mr. Rafael's range. She eyed them steadily, still holding one flap of the box. Five pounds of food per skillet at least, she estimated. She pulled each one from its hook and set them on the burners, one and two. Fat Joyce tore through the clear tape binding the box, through the plastic bags beneath, and into the soft, cold weight of the meat. It was clear what could be done. It was bright as day. Between her hands she began pounding and shaping the flesh into disks, and laying them one by one into the skillets.


In the Hamburguesa Buggy shop, Mr. Rafael swept short whisks along the floor with his broom. They were gone. The wrappers and cellophane and boxes, the crumbs of yellow cheese, the tomatoes split into empty skins, the greasy iron skillets and sheaves of torn lettuce leaves. Mr. Rafael had swept and scrubbed the debris into bags. He had stacked the bags into the city truck and watched it drive away. Along the wall, untouched, were the packages of buns and the condiments: mustard, ketchup, relish. Rafael swept his way in short strokes to the end of the room, and pushed the line of dirt out the shop door. He paced the length of the shop and began again, sweeping.

Outside, framed in the rectangle of open doorway, Mr. Dimlinger stood talking to Sheriff Lipton in the waning afternoon light. Through the line of trees behind Mr. Rafael's shop, the sun made small gold specks like a thousand birds, moving in the leaves. The sheriff wrote with a pencil onto a pad of paper while Mr. Dimlinger pushed his hat back upon his forehead and looked up toward the sky. Mr. Rafael watched the sheriff snap the pad closed upon itself and place the pencil in his pocket. "A thing like this, it just boggles the mind," Sheriff Lipton wheezed.

"It does at that," Mr. Dimlinger said.

Sheriff Lipton shook hands with Mr. Dimlinger and called around him to Mr. Rafael in the shop, "It's a tough thing coming right before the Fair and all."

Mr. Rafael merely watched as the sheriff walked away toward the cruiser which sat idling in front of Mr. Rafael's red buggy, El Hamburguesa.

"Some things," Mr. Dimlinger called after Sheriff Lipton, "are just beyond the common man."

Mr. Dimlinger watched the car drive away, then climbed the steps and stood watching until Mr. Rafael stopped sweeping and leaned against his broom.

"No criminal charges, under the circumstances." Mr. Dimlinger struck a match against the back of its book. He allowed it to bum down between his finger and thumb before tossing it out the shop door and lighting another in the same way.

"I would not have filed, of course." Mr. Rafael pulled a folded bill of sale from a trouser pocket beneath his apron and handed it to Mr. Dimlinger. “Under the circumstances."

Mr. Dimlinger's eyes narrowed. He did not move.

Mr. Rafael set the broom aside, walked forward, and placed the receipt in Mr. Dimlinger's hand. “It's not right."

"She's gone to a better place," Mr. Dimlinger said. A tiny smile revealed the sharp yellow points of his teeth in the red creases of his face. He looked, Mr. Rafael thought, like a rat. If you saw a rat in the day time, his father had once told him, you stayed away from it. It was rabid. Mr. Rafael stood surveying the clean empty lines of the hamburger shop and the red, rat face of Mr. Dimlinger.

“She was right there." He gestured toward the range.

Mr. Dimlinger shook his head. “Don't dwell, son."

“The burners were still on, but the pans she took down with her when she fell. The whole place would have gone up."

"When you can't change a thing, it ain't good to smart over it." Mr. Dimlinger placed the book of matches and the bill of sale into his shirt pocket. “It's over."

Mr. Rafael thought of the great pine box that would be needed. A packing crate of some kind, he imagined. Fat Joyce had been rolled like a sea lion to one side, the blanket shoved under her, then rolled the other way like an awkward piece of furniture. The crew had rolled the great leaking bulk of her flesh onto the cloth and pulled her to the door, then unceremoniously down a ramp of plywood laid over the steps and into the truck.

"She must have hated you," Mr. Rafael said. “Or loved you. It is hard to say."

Mr. Dimlinger squinted as if thinking. “Gives the body a chill, don't it?"

Mr. Rafael walked over to the stove and squatted down onto the floor. “There is a place in Texas I saw once. They have a seventy-two ounce steak there. If you can eat it in an hour, you can have it free. But it is not just the steak. They give you potato and salad and dessert and a drink. You have to finish it all. Not just the steak. Everything. They have people watching the whole time to make sure you don't cheat and put some in your pocket."

"I heard of that before." Mr. Dimlinger leaned against the counter on the opposite wall, sliding down slowly until he sat in a squat across from Mr. Rafael. "How many pounds is that, seventy-two ounce?"

"About four and a half."

"Four and a half." Mr. Dimlinger whistled through his teeth. "How much you think is in a box of beef? Four, five bags?"

"About that. Seven pounds each."

"Thirty-five pounds a box." Mr. Dimlinger whistled again. "It makes a body just shudder, don't it?"

Mr. Rafael stared along the line of the floor to the open doorway where the sun pierced inward in one yellow shaft, glinting against the sprung hinges. He felt a chill when he thought of it, to be endowed with—what? Such an ability? It was massive. What would it be, to have this—this—be one's gift from God? He shook his head. "They ought to have said something before they took her away."

"They did. They said 'holy shit.'" Mr. Dimlinger stared in the direction of the swaying trees behind the parking lot. "Don't take it so hard, son. It ain't a thing we could of seen." He raised himself slowly. His knees popped and he exhaled hard. Mr. Dimlinger pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and counted them, smoothing each one onto the counter top. "It's all there but fifty. I imagine you'll be wanting that by and by."

Mr. Rafael waved him away.

"All right then. Be seeing you." Mr. Dimlinger pulled his hat down over his forehead and turned toward the door. More of his joints popped audibly. "See you around, now."

Mr. Rafael watched him go, then stood again and took the broom in hand, sweeping again in small whiffs across the floor. "Amazing Grace," he thought. "How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me." As a boy when he had learned the hymn, he had thought of the verse as being about a woman named Grace. There had been one Grace in Peadro then, a large neighbor two doors down, Grace Fitzsimmons, who served lemonade in spotty glasses. Amazing Grace. Mr. Rafael smiled and drifted with the movement of sweeping, forth and back, back and forth. The hymn fit with the rhythm of the broom and Mr. Rafael began to sway slowly in the beams of light that penetrated the empty shop. He faced the metal door of the walk-in refrigerator and touched the fingers of his right hand to his head, his right collarbone, his left. "Miraculoso," he whispered. "Celestina." There was this day a woman lifted to the bosom of God.

Printed in the Spring/Summer 2001 issue of CLR

Amy Sage Webb

Amy Sage Webb teaches creative writing, literature, and film at Emporia State University. Her fiction appears recently in Red Rock Review and Eclipse. She is the recipient of a research and creativity grant for the completion of her first book of short fiction this year.

You can find Amy Sage Webb on the web at:
—  Emporia State University
—  Flint Hills Review

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