glenna anne turnbull

Glenna’s short fiction and CNF has been published in Room, Reflex, the Same and is forth coming in The New Quarterly. She’s also had her work featured on CBC Radio. Her first novel is in final stages of labour, in fact it’s crowning. She is hopelessly addicted to blueberries. 

 

dog breath

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I’m sitting here staring at the Marathon Mom. I hate her. Her glossy magazine smiles up at me as if she’s just conquered the world. 

    

     With three children and a part-time job, finding time to train was tough...

    

     Right. She probably has a Nanny to look after the kids, and her definition of “work” is probably some volunteer thing-a-ma-jig she does once a week for an hour. I hate women like her. So sure anybody could do what she did, certain that somebody might even care. I don’t care, I just hate her. She’s probably married to some rich guy and drives one of those BMW SUVs, a kid tucked neatly into each corner.

     I shift in my seat and reach for another magazine from the pile on the waiting room table. The receptionist is staring at me again. Bitch. Nosy bitch, that’s what she is. Didn’t want to give me an appointment until she knew exactly what my problem was. Whenever I call, she always asks in that snippy tone of hers, "What do you want to see the doctor about?"

     I could picture her sitting behind that tidy white desk of hers, peering through her bifocals at the scheduling page on her screen. Well, I wasn’t about to tell her what was wrong, so she starts insinuating that maybe I will have to wait longer to get an appointment, that maybe she could slot me in next week. I lost it and yelled through the phone, “You want to know why? Because maybe I'm thinking that today might be a good day to kill myself but before I do, I'm thinkin’ about having sex with the dog. What do you think, should I come in for a visit?”

     The silence went on so long, I thought maybe she’d hung up. But she hadn’t. Victory! I can zing them out when I want. But now the bitch is just staring at me. God, I hate her.

     Magazines, magazines and more magazines. More beautiful women staring up at me. Princess Kate and her new sister-in-law Meghan, Jennifer Aniston whose face is so filled with plastic she can’t even smile and an even scarier Kardashian. All so thin, so beautiful. So fake. I go back to the first magazine and find the Marathon Mom. I flip it open and there she is, hugging her three children at the finish line, glowing – not with make up but with health. Exhilarated. She’s not pencil thin like the models, she’s worse. She’s lean. Fit. And her front teeth are crooked like a real person.

     I flip to the index to find the start of the story. For some sadistic reason, I need to know more about this woman. 

 

     I started running after my first child was born, in an effort to get back into my pre-pregnant clothes...

 

     After my first was born I had to lie on my back and use pliers to yank up the zipper on my jeans. Bet she never had to do that. She’s probably never run to the bathroom and stuck her fingers down her throat after dinner either.

 

     So I decided that, instead of spending Thanksgiving in my kitchen basting a turkey, I was going to run a Marathon...

 

     Last Thanksgiving would have been less painful if I’d hobbled through a bloody marathon than being stuck in the stifling kitchen of Roy’s parents’ apartment, watching him and his Dad go at each other. The turkey sat there abandoned like road kill on the arborite table while the vegetables drowned in their pots. Roy’s Mom stormed off and locked herself in the bathroom, so I got the job of breaking it up as the kids watched from the hallway, screaming each time one of them landed a punch.

     “Mrs. Kwalenski, the doctor will see you now,” the receptionist says, glancing over her bifocals. Her name is Minnie. What kind of a name is Minnie? She reminds me of what Olive Oil from the old Popeye comic books would look like as a grandmother – hair all pulled up in a bun, perched on top of a stick like body. Dressed in crisply creased floral scrubs, she’s springs out of her chair as if she were half my age and bounces on her toes down the hallway in her sensible white shoes to show me into the examining room. I pick up the Marathon Mom to bring along as I’ll no doubt be stuck waiting in there too. My doctor is always overbooked.

     Minnie hands me a gown. “Here, you might want to slip into this, if you think it’s necessary.” She won’t make eye contact with me. Fuck her! She's worked here as long as I can remember but she still made me spell my last name for her again today. Well, she bloody well knows who I am now doesn't she: I'm the suicidal one with dog breath, remember Minnie? Maybe next time I call, I’ll just woof at her.

     I don’t really need to put the gown on, but I begin removing my clothes. Not even bleach will get out the yellow sweat stains under the armpits of my blouse. I look down at my tattered bra, covered in little balls of greying fluff. I don’t know what will be more embarrassing: to have Dr. Robertson glimpse this ratty old bra or have him see my sagging, fat boobs. The bra wins.

     My sweatpants are covered in lint as well. I should know better than to buy clothes from Wal-Mart. The dryer at the laundromat destroys them. But at least they still fit. 

     Even my underwear looks a dingy white under the bright florescent lights in Dr. Robertson’s examining room. I hide them under my sweat pants and bury my socks deep inside my sneakers. I look in the mirror at my swollen face and stick my tongue out at myself, then bend over and pick up my magazine. I hop up onto the examining table and return to my spot in the story.

 

     I remember after our first group run, when we got back, all sweaty, and realized we’d run ten kilometers. By the end of our training schedule, we’d be expected to run more than four times that distance...

 

     Ten kilometers? Christ, I couldn’t even walk that far and she could run ten bloody kilometers before she even started training for the marathon? No wonder I hate her. I remember running 400 meters one time in a high school track meet fifteen years ago and collapsing at the finish line. I used to love sprinting though. Wouldn’t know it to look at me now but fifteen years ago I could kick butt against every girl my age and half the guys on our school team. I used to run anchor in the 4 X 100m relays. I wonder if I could ever get into shape again? I look down at my belly, folded into symmetric rolls of blubber under my gown as I slouch on the examining table. Nope. This body ain’t going anywhere.

 

     By the end of the third week of training I was ready to quit. Every muscle in my body hurt. I tried to bend over to tie my shoes to go for my daily run, and fell to the floor in tears. My body felt completely out of control. It had gone on strike. 

 

     God, I hear ya! Sometimes I think my whole life is running out of control. My body goes on strike every morning when I try to haul it out of bed. If I didn’t have to take care of Roy and the kids, I’d crawl under the covers and never get up. Cover this 2X body and leave it there where nobody can see it. 

     I can’t remember the last time I let Roy see me naked. I started changing in the bathroom a few years ago. He doesn’t even try to touch me in that way anymore. Guess he’s as repulsed by my size as I am. I look back at the shining face of the Marathon Mom. It’s hard to believe her body ever went on strike. She must have been looking for some catchy kind of writer’s phrase. I bet she gets laid every night. I can’t even remember what it feels like. Maybe that’s why I had that disgusting dream about having sex with the dog.

     There’s a quick rap on the door, then it flings open and in strolls Dr. Robertson.  As usual, he’s looking absolutely gorgeous. I think what makes him so handsome is his nose. It’s kind of crooked, like he must have broken it playing hockey or something, at least, that’s what I’ve always imagined. If it wasn’t for his nose he’d be too pretty, but instead, he looks like a real rugged man. I don’t know why it is I always fall in love with my doctors, like Dr. Bertrand, who took out my appendix four years ago. I went back to see him twice afterwards to get him to check my stitches. He told me if there were any more problems, my family physician could handle them.

     Dr. Robertson is dressed casually as usual. Today it’s a green golf shirt and beige walking shorts. He’s flipping his fingers across the screen of his tablet and nods at me as he enters. When he looks up, I feel those deep blue eyes penetrating my gown. I pull it closer around me. Already I’m too embarrassed to ask him for what I need.

     “Hello, Gina, what brings you in today?” I love that he calls me by my first name. I begin to regret what I said to his receptionist. What if she told him? That bitch. I bet she did. I wonder if he believed her? I start to sweat and realize I forgot to put deodorant on. My body is betraying me and the stink grows stronger. Fuck! I feel sick.

     “Gina? Are you okay?”

     No I’m not fucking okay. I feel my stupid eyes welling up with tears already. He’s going to think I’m a dog loving neurotic stinky bitch. The tears start to fall and I look away, pretending to read the diagram of the stomach and intestines he has hanging on the wall as decorations.

     “Here.” He hands the small box of stiff Doctor’s-office-style tissues to me.

     “It’s my allergies,” I lie. 

     He starts reading through my chart again, probably looking for previous allergy history. “Is that why you came in today?”

     No, that’s not why I came in, I’m so fucking depressed I want to die. “Yes, that’s it, just need another prescription for the nasal spray you prescribed for my allergies last spring.”

     “Well, I can write you up a prescription, but while I have you in here, I’d like to check over your ribs, see how they’re healing up,” he says, reaching into the medicine chest for a pair of rubber gloves. “Okay, lay down on your back and raise your arms up.”

     Please, please don’t put on the gloves. Please Dr. Robertson, touch my body.  “You must think touching fat is contagious, eh?” I laugh, trying too hard to sound light about the matter.

     “Are you worried about your weight, Gina?” His latex-coated hands begin exploring around my rib cage, feeling where they were cracked last month. He hits the sore spot and I wince.

     “Hell no. It’s much safer to walk around town at night when you look like this.” I can sure dish’em up. A regular fucking comedienne.

     Dr. Robertson sits down in the chair opposite the table I’m on. By the way he removes the gloves, I can tell he’s going to lecture me. At least he cares enough to look me in the eye when he talks. See Dr. Robertson, I’ve got beautiful eyes, don’t I?

     “What is really going on, Gina?” he says in such a concerned manner, it’s almost sexy. 

     Let’s see, I’m now more than forty pounds overweight, I haven’t been laid in nearly two years and I’m pretty sure my husband is fucking someone from work.

     “Nothing is on my mind. I lost it years ago.” He doesn’t smile this time. I can feel water creeping up around my eyes again. 

     I sit up, swing my legs over and jump down off the table. I grab for my clothes, careful to pick them up so my dirty underwear doesn’t fall out of my sweatpants. “I’m just going to head home. Sorry to bother you Dr. Robertson. I was having troubles with my allergies, but they seem better now. Bye.”

     I start trying to walk out of the examining room. I’m still wearing the stupid gown and now he’s getting an eye full of rear-end cellulite. But I can’t just turn back and admit defeat. I’d rather die than have to face him now. I reach quickly for the door handle, but Dr. Robertson grabs my arm. “Don’t go yet, please.”

     I can feel the warmth of his gloveless hand and I long to turn around and hug him. Hold me please Dr. Robertson, please just wrap your arms around me and hold me tight. Don’t ever let go of my arm. I stand there transfixed in the small examination room. I’m afraid to move.

     “Gina, I know there’s more going on than just allergies. I wish you could talk to me. Are you having trouble with your husband again?”

     “No. He hasn’t so much as touched me since I came home from the hospital last time. He thinks I’m too skinny.” I turn my head to try and dazzle him with my smile. I’ve been told I have nice teeth. Nice teeth. Nice eyes. Nice hair. That’s what they tell me now that I’m fat. 

     “That’s the third reference you’ve made to your weight since you came in today Gina. Would you like me to set up some sort of weight loss plan for you?”

     So, he thinks I’m fat too. I can feel my face burning, as obvious as a guy with a hard on wearing a Speedo.

     “What the Hell would I want to lose weight for? My husband would wear himself out if he had two woman to satisfy.” That does it. Like ants heading to a picnic basket, the tears march one by one over the lids of my eyes.

     Dr. Robertson lets go of my arm. As it falls to my side, abandoned, it works like a lever in a sink, pulling the plug and the trickle turns to full on waterworks. Like everything else in my life, I have no control over them. More Kleenex. The more I try to stop the tears, the harder they fall. 

     “Are you concerned that your husband might be having an affair?” asks Dr. Robertson, while I blow my nose.

     “Concerned? I suppose if he was doing both of us I’d have to worry about getting AIDS or something, but no, there’s nothing to be concerned about.”

     Dr. Robertson looks down at his hands, which he keeps folding and unfolding. I must make him nervous or something. Maybe he likes fat women. Maybe he wants me as badly as I want him. Hey Dr. Robertson, how about it? Make love to me right here, right now, on the examining table. I watch his hands. He crosses his arms and begins absentmindedly caressing his right bicep. I remember the warmth of his hands and watch them as they move slowly up and down, up and down. Over my hips, my waist, my breasts...

     “Mrs. Kwalenski, what do you think you should do,” he asks.

     What should I do about what? About Roy? About my lust for you, Doc? About the fact that your nurse thinks I’m having sex my dog? What a fucking loaded question. “I don’t know, maybe get a good lawyer? Maybe buy the other woman a sympathy card? Who the fuck cares!”

     “I care.” Dr. Robertson uncrosses his arms and walks over to the small set of drawers located under the examining table. He pulls the top one open and begins fumbling through various brochures. 

     “Have I given you one of these brochures for the Women’s Shelter?”

     “Yeah, I keep meaning to bring some of those back to you. You give me a new one every visit. And the ones for family counseling, the John Howard Society and Al Anon. I’ve run out of Overeaters Anonymous one’s though, I think the dog ate them.”

     I did it. I actually get a smile out of him! See Dr. R., I really have a great personality. 

     Dr. Robertson sits down beside the examining table and beckons me over with his hand. “Come here and sit down for a minute,” he says, watching as I dutifully obey.  “You know, it’s safe to talk to me. Tell me what I can do to help you.”

     He takes my hand and bends over and begins to kiss my fat. He kisses my arms, my hands, my face. He reaches behind my gown and unties the strings. He gently slides it off my body and begins to kiss my neck. He unhooks my suddenly white bra and stares in amazement at my breasts. They’re beautiful, he says as he leans over them and begins to kiss them too. He takes my left nipple into his mouth and begins to suck on it until my breathing is so laboured, I think I’ll explode right there and then...

     “Gina? Would you consider going to get some counseling?”

     Reality check. Slap in the face. Okay, so he thinks I’m crazy. I am crazy. 

     “What if I’m deemed certifiable and lock me up? What’ll happen to my kids?” I ask, stalling for time, desperately trying to recapture my interrupted fantasy. 

     “Come on, you’re perfectly sane. Nobody is going to try and commit you if that’s what you’re worried about. All they want to do is help you work through some of these issues, but you have to make the first step.”

     I’ve hardly heard a word he’s said. I’m too busy staring into his eyes. I can feel the heat. Can’t you feel the electricity between us, Dr. R?

     “If you want, I can write down the name of a free counseling service. I’ll also ask Minnie to book an appointment for you at the Health Unit to see the new nutritionist there. I hear she’s a whiz at putting together diets that are easy to follow and give lasting results.”

     It’s no use, the image of Dr. Robertson ravishing my body is gone.

     “Sure.” I give him my very best grin. See Dr. Robertson, I can be so cooperative.

     “Okay, get dressed then meet me in my office, and I’ll have all that information ready for you,” he says, smiling back. What a smile! Oh, Dr. Robertson, if only we could kill Roy and run off together. Ha, run? Right.

     He closes the door behind him, and I uncover my dirty underwear. They look so disgusting I don’t even want to put them on, so I toss them into Dr. Robertson’s trash. Let Minnie find them. See if she checks them for dog hairs.

     I put on my clothes and shove the magazine into my purse. I open the door out of the examining room but instead of turning towards Dr. Robertson’s office, I turn the other direction, towards the emergency exit at the end of the hall. I’ve used it before.

     I fling open the door and step into the sunshine. I reach into my purse to for a peppermint and my hand brushes up against the magazine. I pull it out and there’s the Marathon Mom staring at me from the cover. I look at her one more time, shove her back into my bag and yell to no one in particular, “Fuck you!”

     I start for the bus stop, picking up my pace with each step. By the time I reach the corner, I’m almost jogging. The air stabs my lungs as I gulp it in and my mind makes a split decision to keep on going. Right past the sign.

     “FUCK YOU!” I yell again.

     I will hurt for this later but I don’t care.

     I run.