Christie Shary

Short Stories - Jane

Jane

Jane was mediocre. In fact, she always had been. She didn't inherit her mother's silky flaxen hair or blue eyes. She didn't inherit her father's thick lashes or auburn hair; only his mediocrity. She was so plain and ordinary that it was almost as if whoever came up with the title of 'Plain Jane' had her in mind.

As a child, Jane was the only one in her playgroup who could not jump rope when the rope switched to 'pepper.'

"Gypsy, gypsy, please tell me, what my husband's going to be. Rich man, poor man, beggar man thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief," Mary Alice and Becky chanted, followed by 'pepper' as they twirled the jump rope faster and faster. Of course Jane, in her mediocrity, got ridiculously strangled in its grasp and fell to the hard pavement.

"You all right, Jane?" they asked.

"Yes . . . I guess so," she answered. Yet her bruised and bleeding knees did not hurt half so much as her damaged pride-her four-year-old feeling of inadequacy.

Now her sister, Anne, who was two years younger than Jane, perfectly fit the title of 'blond and beautiful.' And Jane had desperately hated her since her parents brought her home from the hospital wrapped in a bundle of flowered pink.

For Anne was well beyond the depths of mediocrity, and remained so. In fact, Jane's mother often told her, "Look what an early cooer Anne is, Jane! What a smart little baby, don't you just love her? And look at those beautiful golden curls."

At that, Jane's eyes flooded with tears as she ran and head under her bed with her stuffed dog, Charlie, hugging him close to her.

Jane and Anne started piano lessons the year Jane turned five. Anne, although two years younger, passed her up in a month.

"I can't play this Yankee Doodle," Jane told her mother. "My fingers get all tangled together like they're stuck in taffy."

"Why don't you ask Anne to help you, Dear? She whizzed right through that silly Yankee Doddle."

But Jane didn't ask for help, even though she never got through the song. She was stuck there for three months; just her and Yankee Doodle, separated by black and white piano keys, for an hour a day, while Anne flew by her on the wing's of Mozart's Minuet.

Jane soon quit piano lessons. And her parents constantly reminded her of her failure as she squirreled like a hyperactive two-year-old during Anne's recitals for the next ten years.

When at last the welcome arms of grammar school rescued Jane from home-and from Anne-Jane was happy for a while. She almost excelled. For her teacher, Mrs. Wagstaff, really seemed to like her. But her mother, as usual, got in the way of her progress.

"I'm going to enroll Anne in a special private school for gifted children," Jane heard her tell their father one night. "Why she already knows her ABCs and I'm sure she'll be reading before we know it."

Her mother was right. Anne was reading before Jane totally learned her alphabet. So Jane finally gave up trying as she'd decided it was no use anyway. She just plain didn't care any longer, and even Mrs. Wagstaff's support seemed insignificant as Jane witnessed cute little Anne with her bouncing golden curls, always elevated by her mother's praise and affection; the same mother that made her feel like she belonged in a basement root cellar like some kind of mole. Even Jane in her mediocre way, realized that competition with this monster with yellow curls was impossible.

"I hate her! I hate her!" Jane told herself over and over again, as if she was memorizing a poem. "I wish she'd just curl up and die!"

"What was that I heard you say about your sister," her mother interrupted, as she stormed through Jane's bedroom door like a Nazi spy, pulling the vacuum cleaner behind her.

"Nothing, Mother, nothing," Jane whispered, as if fear had stolen her voice. "I didn't mean it, honest."

"Why I'm going to wash your mouth out with so much soap that you won't taste anything else for a week you naughty, naughty girl!"

She did just that. That night Jane's dinner tasted more like Ivory Liquid than spaghetti, and when she refused to eat it, she was immediately sent to her room to think about what a bad girl she was.

And so the years came and went. Anne became even more beautiful and talented, each and every year, while Jane seemed to move in the opposite direction. Of course Anne's body seemed to enter puberty so gracefully, while Jane's stumbled. She never did shed her childhood plumpness and her body and clothes seemed always at odds.

"Jane, you've got to get busy and do something with yourself," Anne told her, the day after she turned thirteen. "Mother says you've got blackheads on your nose and that you don't do well in school because the teachers don't like you. And if you don't pull yourself together, the boys won't like you either." She smiled at herself in the mirror, admiring her perfectly aligned teeth as she tied her curls in an upward bunch with a pink ribbon.

Jane looked at her and sighed. She reminds me of a springtime bouquet. And I want to flush her down the toilet!

"Shut up, Anne!" Jane said. "Why are you always so mean to me?"

"I'm so sorry, Janie," Anne said.

For a moment Jane almost thought her sister sincere, until she reached out and patted Jane on the head like a little puppy.

"And I am doing something about myself!" Jane added. Mother's going to take me to the orthodontist next week to get some braces on my teeth. I'm sure I'll look better then. At least it will be a start."

"Braces?" Anne replied. "Yuk, I hate braces! Now all the kids at school will call you 'tin mouth' and 'railroad teeth," she added.

So Jane decided against braces, after all.

Three years later, high school hit Jane in the face with a blast that nearly finished knocking her off her feet. She felt like she was lost in a maze, unable to get out.

"You're getting fat," her mother told her in her sophomore year. "And you can no longer blame it on puberty," she added, passing her ice cream cone cruelly close to Jane's nose.

"I can't help it. Everything I eat seems to turn to fat."

"It's all that junk food you eat in front of the T.V. I keep telling you not to watch television with your father. You always seem to learn his bad habits." She shook her finger at Jane. "But then who ever listens to me?"

"Finished, Mother? I need to go. It's almost time for Perry Mason." She left the kitchen before her mother could answer, grabbing a donut off the counter.

"Good heavens, Jane," her mother's words trailed after her. "Doesn't anything ever lodge itself in that little brain of yours? What do you think we've been talking about"

She looked back at her mother on the way to the family room and shrugged.

By the time Jane reached her junior year in high school, the nightmare of piano lessons was long buried with her other failures, so she decided to give the guitar a try. She'd always felt that her voice was a bit past her normal mediocrity. But Joan Baez she was not.

One night after dinner as she was twanging for her father and mother in the family room, Anne, and her boyfriend, Paul, walked into the room and sat down. Anne was soon locked comfortably in Paul's arms.

"I've got to get the cookies made for my pea knuckle club tomorrow," Mother said in the middle of This Land is Your Land.

"And I've got to go and fix the leaky faucet in the bathroom," her father said. He belched loudly as the chorus rolled around.

Soon Anne and Paul turned on the television set, preferring the healing skills of Dr. Welby over Jane.

"You don't mind, do you?" Anne asked. "It's my favorite show."

"No problem," Jane sighed. "It's just the middle of my debut concert." Nonetheless, she quietly tucked the new guitar back into its velvet-lined case forever, nicking it in two places.

After giving up on the guitar, Jane decided to divert her attention to boys. Speaking of boyfriends, Anne always had an abundant crop. They were all good looking, and most were football players or in drama productions with her. But Jane finally landed a couple of guys as well, but hers blended in with her mediocrity and were heavily studded with pimples.

Ann was a cheerleader in high school and to Jane it seemed she never stopped cheering. She also boasted of Concert Choir, the Drama Club and the Honor Roll Society, Jane, on the other hand, struggled with C's and the French Club, the later from which she was dropped at the end of her junior year since she flunked French.

"Who needs to know other languages?" she asked herself. "I'm never going any place but right here in Cleveland, anyway."

Jane graduated from high school in 1968, not with a banner waving over her head, but just the same, she finished. Anne didn't. Her boyfriend got her pregnant instead. Jane could not help but chuckle, remembering how cute her parents had thought it when Anne was snuggled in Paul's arms, just like a little bunny rabbit in its nest. Now she's cuddling up in her and Paul's dumpy apartment, just to keep warm. Oh, my beautiful sister with a swelling watermelon tummy, you must be hating that.

Although Jane decided to attend college in spite of nothing better to do, she flunked the ACT test and was assigned to remedial classes. Still she struggled and hated getting out of bed each morning to go to school.

"I've got t get out of here," she finally told herself. "It's not where I want to be. It's not where I belong."

One quarter at the university was enough for her. Instead, she got a job at Sweet's Candy Company boxing chocolates. In her mediocrity, she seemed to do pretty well at that. For as the chocolates went by on a conveyor belt, it was her job to put three of each kind into a silver-colored box.

"Three caramels, three cherry cr¸mes, three nuts rolls, and three maple balls," she called out to herself all day long.

This job worked out quite well for Jane, except that she put about the same number of chocolates into herself as she did the boxes, and what little figure she once had, was soon hidden under layers of blubber.

Food in general soon became an obsession with her, as well. She had to admit that she had always been too fond of her mother's chocolate chip cookies and shared caramel corn with her dad on Sunday nights. But her obsession had escaped entirely beyond its beginning realms.

For every day after work, Jane squeezed herself behind the steering wheel of her blue Pinto and hit several drive-in restaurants around town.

"Let's see, where do I want to go today?" She knew that Big Jim's was great for hot dogs; Yumbo's for shamrock shakes, and Fonzie's for pizza, piled high with oozing cheese, just the way she liked it. The thought of all that food really made her hungry, so she decided to visit all three of them. She pushed on the gas pedal even harder, anxious to get there.

After visiting the drive-in restaurants and gloating herself, she ventured to Pinkey's Ice Cream Palace for desert. It was her normal nightly routine. It was here, while she was balanced on a swiveling lime green stool at the ice cream bar that she first met Herbert, who just so happened to be doing a routine inspection for the State Board of Health.

"Hi there," he said. "Mind if I sit next to you?"

Jane shrugged. "Sure, go ahead. She continued to eat, twisting her spoon in the nut-blanketed sundae bathed in chocolate sauce.

"These are some sundaes, aren't they?" Herbert said.

"Sure are. I come here every day for one."

She didn't have to tell him that. It was obvious by looking at Jane, stuffed into a Levi skirt like pork into a bratwurst skin.

"I wouldn't mind doing that," Herbert laughed. "What's your name?"

"Jane."

"I'm Herbert. Herbert Houghton. Nice to meet you, Jane."

And it was at Pinkey's that each and every night after that the two of them gorged on chocolate sundaes together. A relationship built on sundaes may seem strange, yet Jane was more than happy with that. Even though she knew it was not outstanding, it was fulfilling a need in her that she never had.

For Hebert seemed to match her mediocrity precisely. He was one of those dull guys who worked for the State. He always bit his fingernails off and chew on them for a while, and he had some linger pimples leftover from puberty, and, after a few weeks with Jane, he had a great pot belly caused by too many chocolate sundaes.

Yet Jane felt comfortable in his presence. She didn't have to strive to be something she wasn't. Hebert liked her just the way he was and he told her so.

"Jane," he asked her one night over sundaes. "Do you love me?"

"Why, yes, I guess so."

"Well then, will you marry me? I'd really like that."

Jane nodded and smiled at him, as a bit of gooey chocolate slid down her chin. "Yes, I'll marry you!"

Three months later, Jane married Herbert. It wasn't a fancy wedding, only close family and friends, accompanied by two flower arrangements, tropical fruit punch and a wedding cake that her mother had made, topped by a fat bride and groom. But it seemed fitting for Herbert and Jane.

Anne, however, was still interfering in her sister's life. She wore a long, lacy pink dress to the affair, her figure back to normal after childbirth. Of course everyone told her how beautiful she looked and practically forgot all about the bride in her light blue pant suit.

After a honeymoon in a small lodge beside Lake Erie, it didn't take Herbert and Jane long to lapse into married life. They sat in front of their television each night and ate their way through two years of marriage. Becoming huge as snowmen, they could barely squeeze themselves in and out of their car.

Since Herbert preferred that she not work, Jane began sleeping in late. And one morning as Jane was sitting in bed snacking on Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a package of Twinkies, an announcement for a place called Happy Village took over the screen.

"Are you tired of that over-weight, useless feeling?" the handsome announcer asked.

"Yes," Jane replied without hesitation.

"Do you feel like your life has come to a dead end? Do you want to become something more than you are? Do you strive for recognition?"

"Yes, yes, yes!" Jane replied, as she sat up excitedly on the edge of the bed like a fat hen about to lay an egg.

"Then come stay with us at Happy Village, where every dream comes true. All it takes is one phone call to 1-800-439-4857 and you're on the way to a new you!"

Jane immediately called the number.

"Hello," the recorded message said. "Thank you for calling Happy Village."

It went on to describe their wonderful facilities and programs, all of which cost a mere$1,000 per week.

Jane was enthralled with the idea and that night presented it to Herbert, along with his favorite creamed chicken casserole, and chocolate cake heavy with marshmallow frosting.

"No!" he told her. "Absolutely no! You know we don't have room for that in our over-strained budget, Jane."

"Oh, Herbert, please. I've got to do something with myself! I need help! And besides, I've never asked you for anything before."

"I said 'no,' and I meant it. All they do at those places is accustom you to luxury, and stuff you full of thousand-dollar carrot sticks and psychological nonsense. And you can eat all the carrot sticks you want to right here at home."

"No, Herbert. It's not the same thing as dieting at home on my own. I need some professional guidance."

"You can get all you want of that right here at home." He cleared his voice and looked at her hard. "Remember, I took Psychology 101 in college, so I can tell you what you need to know. And I can buy you some 'shrink' books, as well, so I don't want to hear any more about that 'Frolicsome Village' place."

"But . . . Herbert . . . " By this time Jane was in tears.

"

Don't 'but Herbert me. I said the subject is closed. Now cut me another piece of that delicious chocolate cake."

Jane raced to the bathroom instead and locked herself inside. She refused to come out until Herbert bribed her with a promise of a trip to Pinkey's for chocolate sundaes. Still, later that same night, she cried her pillow so full of tears that she thought she would drown.

The next day, however, Jane started on a strict starvation diet called 'Dr. Spoof's Pounds Off in Days Diet Plan.' It consisted of nothing but water, carrot sticks and grapefruit. She tried so hard to stick with it, but could only do so for three days, then gave up in silence as the pounds didn't leap off of her like she thought they should. And in the long-run, she ended up gaining an additional ten pounds because she ate for two days solid just to refill her stomach.

Next she bought books and filled herself with 'How To Be Successful on Any Diet,' 'A Guide For The Faithful Dieter,' and 'The Weightwatcher's Guide to Good Eating." The messages they contained turned out to be too much for Jane, and she finally ended up using the books to prop up the broken leg on the television set.

She was slowing sinking deeper and deeper into despair each day, each week and each year. She was living in an empty shell of boredom and depression that she couldn't seem to overcome. She knew that it if she didn't soon do something, that she would fall into a whole from which she could never get out.

So she tried a tole painting class, but gave it up when she ended up being more paint-covered than the pictures she painted. Anyway, they painted mostly food and it made her hungry. Besides, her daisies looked like rabbit ears forking out in all directions, and her apples, well the instructor had subtly indicated that they look liked they belonged in spaghetti.

Jane gave skiing a try since she read that exercise was the most important part of dieting. It's not that she minded hiking, but when Herbert told her they should hike up the hill instead of buying lift passes, she quickly lost all interest in the great outdoors. Anyway, the day she had decided would be her last on the slopes she fell when she did a kick-turn and ended up with broken leg and twenty additional pounds from lying n bed for two months eating ice cream.

In another effort to get her mind off of eating, she tried teaching a Bible school class at their church, but after three times of preparing the wrong lesson, she also gave up on that. Anyway, the kids always laughed at her behind her back and she often heard them saying how plump she was, so she would go home very hurt and eat herself into a trance.

As a last attempt at success, Jane decided that maybe she should try having babies. Little Billie and Susie turned out okay, but they were not pretty bright children. They both had buck teeth, knock knees, and were entirely covered with freckles. And with their addition to the family, Jane became even more confined by dirty diapers, baby food, whining and trips to the pediatrician. In fact, she felt about as lost and hopeless as the day her sister Anne was born.

"I've gotta get out of here!" she said to herself one cold January morning. "I can't take it any more." She threw the baby's bottle on the floor and headed to the closet. "If I see one more dirty diaper, I'm going to slit my wrists."

So she dropped the toddlers off at her mother's house and went to the grocery store to do some shopping.

Her life of crime started out simply enough. While shopping at King Sooper's, she stuck a couple of cans of shrimp into her purse. A rump roast squeezed comfortably into the elastic top of her green stretch pants, which were covered with the maternity top that she always needed to wear. She found that the caramels the kids liked slipped nicely into the side of her high-topped furry boots.

She loved what she was getting away with! For once in her life, Jane had tasted the sweetness associated with success. And it made her feel happy.

"I know what I did was wrong," she told herself on the way home from the store, "but I've always done everything wrong anyway. And I love it! I can't help it, but it makes me happy."

The next week she renewed her stealing campaign once again, and the next week and the next week after that.

Herbert became happier, too. "You've been serving some real great meals, Honey," he told her. "I don't know how you do it on our budget."

"It's not too difficult. I'm just a wise shopper, that's all."

"You certainly are."

And Herbert didn't even yell half as loud the next time she left the frying pan full of hot oil on the burner, scorching up the kitchen curtains and blackening the walls.

"It's alright," he told her. "I'll scrub up the walls. "Here, take this money and go buy some new curtains."

But Jane didn't need the money. She simply drove to Apply Valley Mall, went into J.C. Penney's and stole some. They didn't have quite the shade of green she preferred. "But what the heck," she told herself. "At this price, I'll take what I can find."

So stealing soon became a greater obsession with Jane than food had been. It was a game which she couldn't seem to loose. In fact, some days she came home so fully padded with merchandise, that she could hardly waddle.

Unfortunately, she soon got carried away with this sensation of power-of success, as she thought of it.

One day while stealing her way through the mall, she stopped in front of a large jewelry store to admire the diamonds, which glittered at her from the showcase windows. So she decided to go into the store and admire their brilliance more closely.

Anne has plenty of these things. And she doesn't deserve them. Why is it that both her and Paul had been able to finish high school, and Paul even become a lawyer? And all after the baby was born! It isn't fair. And why does my luck always go down and hers 'up?'

Infused with ambition to catch up with her sister in the 'jewelry department,' Jane bent over the counter and looked at the jewels more closely. She jarred the showcase with her knee, hoping it would break, but at the same time she was afraid that the salesman on the other side of the room with another customer would hear the cracking of glass. But it didn't break, so she boldly kicked it with the heel of her boot, and there was a loud bang and glass flew out in all directions. Quickly, she reached into the shelf and grabbed as many pieces of jewelry as she could carry and raced from the store. Immediately alarms began to ring and the salesman shouted after her.

"Stop thief! Stop! he yelled, chasing after her.

Jane continued running as fast as her weight would allow her as bits and pieces of stolen merchandise from other stores escaped from her padded torso. From under her skirt leaped pink towels. From beneath the hat perched on her head flew two crystal soap dishes. From her overflowing purse fell hair dye, a blow dryer and a book titled Success In Sixty Minutes.

But Jane continued to run, hopelessly burdened by her added cargo. Yet deep inside, she knew she had lost her new-found game this time; that she was back to her mediocre self.

She surrendered to two security guards in the parking lot a few minutes later. They were tired from the chase, their hands filled with court exhibits that she had dropped along the way.

"Sorry, Lady," the short one said. "You'll have to come along with us."

They led Jane's matronly body toward a waiting police car which was flashing an impatient red.

"I'll come," Jane said. "But please don't pull at me."

Jane's trial came and went. So did her family. So did Herbert and her children. But she didn't seem to care. It was like she was in an 'eternal' trance. For she sat in the corner of her jail cell each and every day, seldom sleeping, but humming softly to herself. She hardly ate a thing and eventually reached a normal weight, and she refused all the books the wardens offered or trips to the television room or gym. The only thing that Jane seemed to have any interest in at all was stealing an occasional spoon off her meal tray.