Rita Turner would be happy to volunteer. She probably holds the world’s record for being on a diet for the fewest minutes ever: one morning she was absolutely committed to a new diet when she got out of bed, and off it before she even hit the kitchen. In addition to swearing off sugars, fats and every food that’s white, she has even resolved to give up dieting from time to time…. This time, for example:
Rita leaves the three of them at the Emergency entrance to University Hospital. She takes the car home so she can change her clothes, clean the puke off the back seat of the car – as much as possible at least, considering that she can’t get the garage door open and it’s minus fifteen in the driveway and blowing snow – and do something about the mess on the living-room rug. While she’s at home, she takes the opportunity to run downstairs and grab a few Mars bars from a box at the back of the shelf in the guest-room closet. She eats one and puts two others in her purse, and immediately feels much better.
Rita has given up on giving up, at least for the time being . . . for three weeks, to be exact: until the first of January. She’s decided she’s been putting too much pressure on herself by going on so many diets all the time – and then ruining her self-esteem by going off every one of them before a week is up. Well usually, to be more honest, before the first day is up. Or even less than that.
So what if she gains another pound or two between now and January 1? She’s 223 as it is, and at two pounds a week that’s fifty-one weeks of losing weight to get to where she wants to be. What difference will it make if she ends up facing another week or two? None. It’s going to take a year or more, no matter how you look at it. A huge amount of time.
Not that she’s not going to do it. She is. Starting January 1. She just needs a little rest-up first. A breather – a bit of time to draw some breath. Christmas is too hard anyway. Even normal people eat too much at Christmas.
In the meantime, she isn’t going to suffer. She’s earned a holiday from deprivation. “Overstock” has become her creed and motto. She refuses to be stranded ever again with no willpower and no food. Ever. As of the first she’ll have the willpower, and for now she’ll have the food. These days when she gets the Plymouth for an hour she zooms straight over to the shopping centre, leaves the car ticking away its warmth while she hustles through the drug store, grocery store, liquor store, hard- and house-ware stores – pre-drafted lists in hand – topping up supplies of the necessary and the might-be-necessary. She’s gone mad with freedom: secreted boxes of Wagon Wheels and Oreo cookies on rafters in the laundry room and in the storage closet in the basement guest room, hidden candy bars throughout the house, loaded three four-litre tubs of ice cream into the downstairs freezer – one each of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. (She has a complex explanation ready involving coupons and a Christmas recipe for Neapolitan flambé if anyone should ask about the ice cream. And if Simon or Ida should find her chocolate bars – well, she’ll be amazed.)
So what’s her problem? you may well ask. Well, one of her major problems is that her husband, Graham, used to be married to the most perfect woman in the world – Rosa – but Rosa is, unfortunately, dead, and Rita can never hope to fill her shoes:
Rita stands in the McKittredges’ front vestibule waiting for Noreen and Graham to bring the children from downstairs, where they have fallen asleep on the couch in front of the television set. It is nearly two in the morning and Noreen says they didn’t fall asleep until almost one. “Good as gold,” she said. “Just sat there on the couch, still as little owls, staring at TV.” Rita considers with a sinking feeling what they’ll be like tomorrow after sitting still as owls for seven hours and then not getting enough sleep.
Graham and Noreen have been downstairs for quite a while. The house is still; maybe they’re talking about Elmer. Harry must have gone to bed, or maybe he passed out down there watching TV with the kids.
Rita looks through the living room and into the dining room, and thinks that Simon and Ida must have liked to come here once: this house is so much warmer and more welcoming than Elmer and Coralea’s place, where they like going very well, and so much nicer and more spacious than their own home. The living room is softly lit by a gold-footed floor lamp that stands beside the couch, its cream-coloured shade trimmed in elegant long fringes. The overstuffed body of the couch itself is covered in a dark green velvety fabric, and a multi-coloured afghan made of bright granny squares is draped across the S of its wood-framed back. Rita feels her eyes grow heavy as she imagines herself sinking down across those seat cushions, drawing the afghan up. She imagines the soundness of the sleep that would immediately come over her, the way the tock-tocking of the grandfather clock in the dining room would keep her down, down in the plaited darkness.
In this light, the thread-bareness of the house disappears and the living and dining rooms seem richly flocked and shadowed, battened in browns and blacks, dark greens and golds and reds. At the top of the carpeted stairway, with its square newel posts and dark broad rails, wood deeply shone by all the hands that have run over them for decades, the hallway is in darkness. Even that darkness seems soft to her, appealing.
She straightens, forces her gaze to move around the room in order to keep her eyes open. Her shoulders, arms and legs ache with weariness.
Rita imagines coming home at night to this, when everyone else is in bed. Imagines that Noreen’s left the light on, just as it is right now, set it low after checking the clasps on the windows, locking the doors, going upstairs to join her husband. Or maybe it’s him that does the last jobs, Harry – not the drinker he is today. Maybe Noreen’s already gone up there and readied herself for bed, and now she is settled under their duvet reading a hardcover by the light of her bedside lamp.
Down here, their young, still unmarried daughter opens the door on these familiar rooms cast in their muted light, smells the faint lingering aftersmell of the day’s baking and the evening’s dinner, hears the slow even tock-tock-tocking of the grandfather clock. Rosa steps inside and closes the door behind her, closes herself inside. Others have worked to preserve this place for her while she’s been gone; they’ve made it safe for her. This is where she comes for restoration – for food, for rest, for solitude. She hasn’t needed to think about it, doesn’t need to think about it now—she can take it all for granted. She hangs up her coat and heads for the stairs, her only inclination to go to bed, to sleep. The voyageur is home.
Growing up in a place like this, Rita thinks with envy, would make perfection possible.
It’s not Rosa’s fault, of course – how can anything be her fault when she is dead? – but Rita’s envy of Rosa, combined with a lot of other issues, have helped turn her overeating problem into a full-fledged food addiction.
You can read Rita’s story and the story of how she finally gets a grip on it in the The Whole Clove Diet, a novel, which is available in paperback or in ebook format. (Check out the reviews while you are there – and if you read the book, and especially if you like it, please post a review. Thank you!