Sarah scanned the aisle. No one else was there. She reached up and grabbed the protein bar and brought it to her waist, concealing it slightly behind the zipper of her hoodie. She lifted the flap where the ingredients were written in tiny letters. She drew it close to her eyes for inspection.
ORGANIC NUGO CRUNCH (ORGANIC SOY CRISPS (ORGANIC SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, ORGANIC BROWN RICE FLOUR)
Brown rice. Soy. Healthy. A woman entered the aisle with a babbling child in the front of her cart. The child, a girl with wispy blonde curls was going on about Dora. The woman stopped near the crackers and grabbed a box, uh-huhing whenever the girl paused for a breath. The girl caught her eye and smiled as the woman hurried past. Sarah smiled back, keeping her cracked lips closed and pulled her baggy sweatshirt farther over her protruding wrist bones. She tucked her own once sleek, blonde hair behind her ears. The hair crackled in protest to being handled.
ORGANIC CRISP (ORGANIC BROWN RICE KERNELS, SALT, BARLEY MALT EXTRACT), ORGANIC ROLLED OATS, ORGANIC CHOCOLATE (ORGANIC SUGAR, ORGANIC UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE, ORGANIC SOY LECITHIN, ORGANIC VANILLA)
Chocolate. She couldn’t remember the last time she had tasted chocolate. Probably the Halloween she was ten. She wore a pink princess costume. Her mother had made it for her. There really had been no other option. That was the first year they weren’t able to find a costume in her size in the stores. She would have needed an adult size and adults don’t wear pink princess costumes very often.
It was pink, just as Sarah had wanted and she had loved it. No matter that the sleeves weren’t quite the same length, or the hem at the bottom was uneven, or that the only adornment was a simple sash made of leftover material. It was just what she wanted.
Sarah’s mother had tried her best, but she was no seamstress. The costume was a little snug. It stretched across Sarah’s belly and got caught in the rolls. Still, it didn’t matter. Sarah put on her dress with matching sash and the tiara they had found in the store and twirled in front of the mirror. Beautiful, her mother had said. And Sarah had known it. She was beautiful.
She pulled the hood up and wiped her eyes.
ORGANIC TAPIOCA SYRUP, ORGANIC AGAVE SYRUP, ORGANIC ISOLATED SOY PROTEIN-GMO FREE, ORGANIC MALTODEXTIN, ORGANIC COCOA POWDER, ORGANIC ACACIA GUM, NATURAL AND ORGANIC FLAVORS AND ORGANIC SOY LECITHIN
There was sugar in the bar. Sarah wasn’t sure about the sugar. She flipped the label back and looked at the nutritional information. She wasn’t supposed to do that. Sugars 15g. And there it was, Calories 180, calories from fat 45, total fat 5 g. Five grams. Five grams she would have to work off. Five grams that would stick on her body. She pinched the skin of her concave stomach. Fat. Five grams.
Sarah had gone out trick or treating that night, skipping down the street. She went door to door, piling loot into her bag. M&M’s, Twix, Reese’s peanut butter cups, her favorite. They were fun sized, but that was okay, she would just eat a lot to make up for the small size when she got home. In between houses, she unwrapped a Snickers and popped it in her mouth. She was chewing on it when she rang the bell.
“Trick or treat!” she slurped. A little chocolate drool leaked out of her mouth. She held her bag wide open.
Sarah flipped the label back. She was allowed to look at the ingredients. So she could see the nutrients her body needed her doctor told her. Back to the ingredients.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS: VITAMIN a PALITATE (VITAMIN A), ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), D-ALPHA TOCOPHERYL (VITAMIN E), DICALCIUM PHOSPHATE (CALCIUM), CYANOCOBALAMIN (VITAMIN B-12), FOLIC ACID, RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2)
Vitamins. It was chock full of vitamins. That was good. And protein. The front said ten grams of protein. She was supposed to eat protein. She could do this. No problem. She walked to the express check out lane. The woman with the little girl was in the next lane, placing a full cart on the conveyor belt. The little girl reached into the cart and tossed a bag of noodles on the ground.
“Aubrey!” the woman said, “Stop that!”
Aubrey reached in the cart and threw a bunch of bananas on the ground. The woman, in one smooth movement, scooped up the bananas, tossed them on the conveyor belt, and grabbed Aubrey by the shoulders. She shook her slightly.
“Stop that,” she hissed. “I mean it. If you do that again, no cookie when we get home. Got it? Got it!”
Aubrey drooped her head and nodded. The woman continued to empty her cart.
Sarah handed the bar to the lady behind the register.
“Did you find everything okay?”
Sarah nodded. She paid for her bar, stuffed it into her pocket, and went to her car. She climbed into the driver’s side and pulled out the bar.
NUGO ORGANIC DOUBLE DARK CHOCOLATE
Brian Martin stood at the door. He was twelve, in the sixth grade. He had brown hair, a little shaggy, that hung in his face and green eyes. Green like the ocean after a storm. Sarah caught her breath, her mouth open a little. He was beautiful. She knew it.
Brian opened his mouth too. Then he grabbed his stomach and started laughing. Big, belly shaking laughs. He must have been having a Halloween party because before Sarah knew it, there were six of his friends standing around her laughing and pointing.
“Look at the fat sausage,” they mocked.
“I don’t think that’s a sausage,” Brian said, “I think it’s a fat, pink piggy!”
Laughter erupted. Sarah pushed her way through them, clutching her candy bag. She ran, their calls echoing behind her.
“Oink! Oink! And the little one ran, wee, wee, wee, all the way home!”
More laughter and oinking. Sarah still heard it two blocks away at her house. She ran into her room , slammed the door, and threw herself on the bed. Her mother knocked quietly.
“Go away!” she screamed, throwing a pillow at the door.
Her mother gave her time. Sarah sobbed leaving wet splotches on her princess dress. She wiped her tears and stood in front of the mirror. Now she could see it. The rolls of fat popping out all over, even on her back. Her wide backside. Her chubby cheeks that were more than just baby fat. She could see it all.
She peeled herself out of the dress and stood in her panties in front of the mirror, examining herself. She pinched fat and poked herself, mesmerized by the jiggling. She slid her hands along her face, pulling the skin taut. There was the Sarah she knew she could be. The skinny Sarah.
Sarah put on her nightgown. She gathered up her candy bag and marched past her mother to the kitchen. She dumped the whole thing in the trash.
“Sarah, what are you doing?” her mother asked.
“Throwing out the candy. It’s not good for me.”
Her mother let it drop as Sarah marched back into her room with a new found determination to free skinny Sarah from her sausage casing.
In her car, Sarah unwrapped the bar. She inhaled, smelling the sweet chocolate. She closed her eyes. And there it was again. Nine years later and she could still hear them oinking at her when she closed her eyes. No matter how little she ate, how little she weighed, she could still hear the goddamn oinking.
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, rolled down the window, and dropped the bar. She pulled out of the parking lot and headed to the gym. The sound of her feet pounding on the treadmill quieted the oinks.