At 11 o’clock most nights, Bud Blues stood in front of an open fridge. He hated himself for eating too much, but he never seemed able to resist the temptation. I’ll just eat one Tim Tam, he’d say to himself. Or one chicken leg, some cheese and ham, two pieces of bread and mayonnaise, and maybe a handful of potato chips. Eating gave him relief; it gave him pleasure, until he felt full of food and disappointment.
Bud Blues had had a liking for food since he was a child. He would always observe life from the outside looking in, and because he was vulnerable and shy, he was bullied at school. ‘Dud Bud’ the boys in his class called him, and ‘Fatso’. When he was left out, he’d find a place on his own in which to sit and, head down, close his eyes, the tears rolling down his cheek. Then, he’d pull a muesli bar from his pocket and eat it slowly.
He found those early years really tough. He would run around the grounds from tree to tree, hiding, waiting for the bell to ring. When a group of girls from the grade above him, sensing his loneliness, asked him to join them at lunchtime, he was so relieved, sharing his sandwiches with them. He could just about get by then, but for the boys in his class.
‘You’re a girl! You hang out with girls!’ they said. He told his class teacher but when her back was turned, they only teased him worse. They took to hiding his lunch box. And he was constantly last to be chosen on the playing field. He tried to hold his nerve. However, one day at recess, he punched the ring leader in the face until the boy cried. That felt good at first, but left Bud feeling guilty, because he did not want to be like them. He grew tall, put on weight, and lost his interest in running, instead, he would buy a snack at the school canteen – a carton of milk or a meat pie.
By the time he was eleven, Bud was already five feet six, and when he went to swimming lessons with his grade, he stood out. He had shiny chestnut hair, a little longer than the other boys, with a wavy fringe down the left side of his forehead, and olive skin.
‘You think you’re so good, do you? Pretty boy!’ they harassed him. On one occasion, four of them surrounded Bud. They laughed and sniggered at his body. He felt like shouting, kicking, retaliating. Suddenly, he lunged, pushing two so that they slipped on the concrete surface, and two fell in the pool. Laughter came from the crowd of children. The teacher, who had been watching the incident, addressed the five boys.
‘Right! Detention, this lunch hour, and fifty lines, ‘I must not make fun of other people.’
At night, before he fell asleep, he wondered why they bullied him, the tears were bitter in his eyes. How long could he stick it out for?
He must tell his father. That would make it better. He loved his parents. They made him feel safe. He sat with his Dad on the couch watching footy. He spoke with a lump in his throat.
‘I don’t get why they pick on me, Dad. Why are they so mean?’
His father’s first reaction was to tell the head mistress, but Bud thought that would make him look weak. With his arm around his son, his Dad told him: ‘Bud, you’re ten times better than any of those kids. Don’t take any notice of them. They’re just jealous.’ He’d lean against his father’s body for a while; the warmth, the smell that Bud knew well comforted him.
When Bud was in senior school, a girl came along who wanted to stick up for him. Her name was Melissa, she was sweet and shy, and she gave him hope. They were able to talk about the dark days. She was bullied too, because she was quiet and liked reading. The girls in her class would say, ‘Go to hell, Mel!’ as they ran ahead into the playground, laughing and leaving her behind.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Bud reassured her. ‘They’re all just a bunch of dick heads.’ The two found a secluded spot in the playground where they’d sit at lunchtime, hand in hand, to forget the others.
‘I’m glad we’re friends,’ she had said, smiling at him.
They walked home together, along the main street through the crowds of students. He’d buy her an ice cream and himself a Fanta or packet of chips. They studied together, often at his house, and other times at hers. In winter, they sat indoors, where it was warm and ate buttered fruit toast, and in summer they sat outside and ate frozen yoghurts. They were comfortable reading to each other, helping one another with their work. But when she had held her head close enough for him to kiss her, he didn’t know how to do it.
What if she doesn’t like it? Then she won’t like me, he thought, and he looked away. Bud knew he would regret that.
By the time school was over, they separated. She soon went to university in London, and he got a job at a supermarket. With her being so far away, he didn’t know when he’d see her again.
Why didn’t I kiss her? He would agonise. He felt like such a coward. Lonely much of the time, he turned to food to comfort himself and contain his feelings.
Now twenty two, Bud was renting his own place, and growing older, he figured he must carry his life and its burden on his own. Six feet six, weighing 115 kilos, he felt too heavy, too visible walking to the bus stop and avoiding looks from other passengers on the way to work. Bud began spending his evenings at home. He’d sit down at the end of the day, and eat a large lasagne, or sometimes he would cook himself a chicken dinner with gravy and veg, and eat at the table, his thoughts keeping him company. He liked to watch TV at night, with a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of beer.
On Friday nights, he’d go to the local sports bar to watch the league and mingle in the crowd. Recently, standing out on the side walk, beer in hand, two men approached him, one asking for a light, the other brushing past, spilling Bud’s beer, as if trying to knock him over.
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ Bud said.
‘Alright mate, keep your shirt on!’ said the first man, whilst the other came right up to him, close enough to spit in Bud’s face. ‘You got a problem dearie?’ he said.
Bud had reached his limit. ‘Yes I have actually, so fuck off!’ throwing his bottle on the ground, he swung his right hook at the guy, who fell back, tripping over the curb, Bud stared at the two thugs as if to say, ‘just try it!’ The second guy got up from off the ground. ‘Now get the fuck out of here.’ Bud said, and he watched them back away.
He tried to believe he was just the same as everybody else, more or less. But he didn’t feel the same. He felt alone.
This night, a lonely Tuesday at ten o’clock, Bud lay awake. He pulled the covers over himself, but he could not help the tears streaming down his face. He thought of his mother and how, when just five or six, he had fallen out of a paper bark tree, grazing his knees and shins, making him cry. She picked him up and held him.
‘There, there, Bud. It will be better soon,’ she had told him, stroking his hair. He put his hand on his head and tried to remember the touch of hers.
Getting out of bed, despairingly, he dragged himself downstairs to the kitchen, sitting down in front of the open fridge. He started pulling things out from the cold, plastic shelves. A box of half eaten pizza, a chocolate cake, a bottle of fizzy drink. Forcing the food in his mouth he began to sob. He let the sobbing come without fear of its sound. Impulsively, he threw the food on the floor, almost emptying the contents of the fridge. He snatched at an orange and without peeling it, he took a large bite, the juice dripping down his chin. Lying down to sleep on the kitchen floor, his dressing gown kept him warm.
Bud often had dreams, but this night would be different. As he found himself dreaming, he looked down at his arms and legs and rushed to the mirror. He was dressed in a striking blue pin suit and matching hat, tilted to one side, in a 1940’s fashion. Stepping back, he was beautiful, skinny and attractive. He looked older, and he liked what he saw. Then, through the window, the intruding moonlight pierced him and he felt some peculiar change. He tore off his jacket and hat and howled at the top of his lungs.
Now, to his horror, hair was emerging on his face, and where his hands had been were claws. He felt overwhelmed by the sight. What was happening to him? He ran from the room, down the unknown steps that seemed to go further and further down. When he reached the darkened street, he was surrounded by people, some turned in fear, some tried to strike him; he felt the urge to bite every one of them. Finally, he grabbed hold of one – a woman. She had sympathetic dark eyes. He bit her on the arm, then the shoulder. He bit gently at first, then hard. She cried out. Then he kissed her. He felt alive. He placed his arm around her back, pulled her to him, then touched her face with his paw. Her lips were warm, and so were his.
Suddenly, he felt ashamed. He let go of her, and she stumbled back, nearly falling.
‘Sorry,’ he said. He ran again.
He ran until he came to a river. The full moon was shining overhead, and looking in the water, he could not resist its pull, the luring of it. He flung himself in. Submerged, he was unable to swim. He felt the chill of the water, drinking it down, like medicine. It was as if there was some choice to be made – live or die.
He opened his eyes. Groggy and cold, for a moment, he didn’t know where he was. The clock was ticking loudly. It was after two-thirty. He picked himself up, pulling his dressing gown around him. He went slowly back up the stairs to bed, thinking of the dream.
What was that? He remembered the warmth of her lips, the cosy feeling of her body in his arms. Was she Mel? What about the river bit? Ok, he realised almost scared, things are pretty bad. Grabbing hold of his pillow tightly, he fell asleep.
When he woke, it was a quarter to eight. Waves of morning light peeped through the curtains. He felt shaken, not fully himself. He called in sick.
It was like walking into a crime scene, when he went downstairs to make coffee. The kitchen floor was littered with food. A carton of split milk, loaves of bread, a sauce pan of spaghetti and a can of baked beans. He would have his coffee black. It was hard not looking in the fridge. He felt torn between his desire to eat, and inevitably eat too much, and his will to stop it from happening. With a feeling of self-loathing, he obeyed the craving for something sweet. He opened the freezer door and reached for the ice-cream, then picked up a jar of strawberry jam from the cupboard, and a spoon from the drawer. As he was licking the spoon, he closed his eyes, lowering his head, he was beginning to cringe. Was he going to continue to drown himself in food, or was he going to do something about it?
He had to be strong, he told himself, opening his eyes to examine what was left in the fridge. There were steaks in the meat tray, and left over burgers and fries and milkshake containers in the vegetable compartments. This wouldn’t do anymore. He must get some help. He went to the window and looked out over the city, opening it to let some fresh air in. Then he turned and began cleaning up the mess. He would be kind to himself now. He realised he had the strength to make a change. Picking up the phone, he dialled his parents’ number. He remembered Mel’s face, her sweet smile and her hand; how nicely it fitted into his. He’d made himself alone, and he didn’t want to do that anymore.