The New Year’s Eve party had grown small. The music rocked on, but the DJ had retired, letting a playlist do his work for a handful of diehards who still danced under the spinning disco ball. A few children were left, screaming and running around the empty tables.
He sat alone in the next room, where the shy and the uncool and the too cool had escaped to, where there was less pressure to have fun.
He should gather his family, make polite goodbyes. But he sat, slumped on the couch, staring at his belly. It was obscene. When had it gotten so big? The music’s vibrations rippled through the mound of fat, and he imagined it wobbled a little with each beat.
It sat on his frame like a blinking neon sign: fat, failure, fat, failure, fat, failure.
Was a time he’d had muscles there. Abs. If he went way back, he could remember a six-pack, back from when he’d broken the school record for discus.
His throwing arm twitched, as if it remembered the sport it hadn’t played for twenty-five years. He closed his eyes, and he could feel the discus tucked under his hand, the step-step-step, spin-spin-spin, and then the exhilaration as he released the discus, watched it fly down the field.
He’d been a winner, then. Second in the state. Silver trophy and everything. The determination had been easy; the focus, second nature. The strength had required little effort.
He looked down at his arm, almost expecting to see the brawny muscles once again, but his arm hung limply from his shoulder, thick and flabby.
If he’d never gone to the bathroom—or the “little boy’s room,” as he’d quipped to those in the castoff room—he’d be having a good time with his kids right now, maybe chasing them around the empty tables as the wait staff cleaned up the party.
After he did his business, he headed towards the doorway, timing his exit so he’d be zipped up before he emerged, but he was still wrestling with it when he walked into the hallway. Damn thing was stuck. He ducked behind an unlit Christmas tree, grunting and puffing and tugging.
“He’s let himself go,” he heard. He froze, somehow instantly knowing his boss was talking about him. His fingers hovered over his prick. Or, as his wife called it, The Man.
“Johnny has no one to blame but himself,” she said.
His co-worker laughed. “Did you see that stupid hat he’s wearing?”
His boss’s boss had put the damned paper hat on his head. Show some company spirit, he’d said.
“Gotta cover that bald head with something. We’re firing him Monday,” his boss said. “I waited until after the holidays.”
As if this were a kindness, now that he’d spent the next two months’ salary on Christmas presents, Christmas parties, Christmas dinners, Christmas dresses, Christmas decorations, Christmas pictures, and even a Christmas outfit for the dog, for fuck’s sake.
Like a loser, he hid behind the tree. Twenty fucking years at the company. Fired. Because he’d “let himself go.”
After they were gone, he stumbled out to the party room, still numb. Stood dumbly as the employees got in a circle and announced their New Year’s resolutions, one by one. Some made it a joke, and everyone laughed. Some made suck-up-to-the-man resolutions, but everyone clapped and cheered anyway.
When they got to him, he couldn’t speak. He’d prepared. He’d planned his resolution carefully.
Fired, fired, fired.
Let himself go.
His boss prompted, “Johnny? What’s your resolution?” There was a mocking tone in her voice, as if everyone was in on the joke that he was getting the ax on Monday.
The pink slip.
The elastic on the party hat dug into the folds of his double chin. His wife glanced up from the game she was playing with their little boy.
What would she think when she found out?
The countdown began. Twenty, nineteen, eighteen, and now everyone was counting and clapping. Three, two, one, and the room erupted into Auld Lang Syne and hugs and cheering and toasting. Confetti swirled through the air; kids screamed and jumped up and down.
He stood alone, his zipper still down.
At one, his wife rounded up the kids, brought them to their father in the cold, bright room. He embarrassed her. He could see it on her face, the way she looked him up and down, then looked away so he wouldn’t see the disgust.
She hadn’t married him. She’d married the athlete she’d met in college. She’d married the ambitious go-getter who’d nailed his first interview and gotten the entry-level position all his friends envied, the man who burned with ambition and had success written all over him.
Now he embarrassed her.
At least he’d finally gotten the zipper up. His belly lifted as he breathed in, round and almost firm. Then he sighed, and it flattened, spilling over his sides.
All the best of himself, all gone.
He glumly stared at his belly. It was like the fat was a cancer, a huge tumor.
Fat, failure, fat, failure, fat, failure.
He couldn’t even meet his daughter’s eyes. She jumped on his lap anyway, forcing a grunt from him. He absently stroked her hair, tucked it behind her ear.
She poked his belly. She pushed it with both hands, and it shloshed back and forth in wide waves.
He blinked fast, hoping his face wouldn’t crumple. He started to apologize for it. “Sweetheart, I’m—”
She giggled. She kissed him on the cheek, then rested her head on his offending belly, draping her arms in a hug that didn’t even reach halfway around his waist.
“It’s a pillow of pudding!” She laughed and squeezed, making it slosh again.
His son tried to squeeze on, but there wasn’t enough room. “I want Daddy’s pillow!”
“Wait for your turn,” his wife said.
And then his face did crumple. But he was laughing, too.